The Subaru BRZ was an exciting addition to our long-term fleet, at least at first. It turns out that there's a great reason to have long-term cars: over time, our opinions about the BRZ changed a lot. I'll admit that I was starry-eyed when it showed up, as it ticks a lot of the boxes of my ideal car on paper. Over time, we all found out that the BRZ has some flaws in daily use.
In addition, Senior Editor Jason Cammisa was intrigued by a stock dyno run that showed a serious dip in mid-range torque at around 3700 rpm. Could we cure this strange lack of punch by throwing some parts at the car?
After a period where the BRZ was in the doghouse, we decided to try and reignite our passion for the coupe with a tune and some free-flowing exhaust courtesy of .
Many folks in the office seemed to have made up their minds: off the track, the BRZ wasn't for them. The noncompliant ride that gave it that wonderfully neutral on-track feel was downright punishing on Michigan roads. Not all roads are as rough as the ones around our office, but that's where we are, and as often as I tried to ignore the bucking and banging, it wore me down.
That's why, on a day-to-day basis, the keys to this highly anticipated rear-driver remained on the car board's peg. When a lapping day appeared in our calendars, it took something pretty flashy to distract us from the BRZ's track antics. But when it was a Costco run with some freeway stop-and-go on frost-heaved surface streets, it didn't leave the lot.
The BRZ is too good to let sit. What could we do to fall back in love with the Toyobaru?
Sounds Good to Me
The question was simple: Would a better-sounding exhaust make a difference in how often the BRZ was driven on a day-to-day basis?
Frankly, no one liked the way the thing sounded. One editor summed it up by saying, "It sounds good on a redline upshift and that's it-everywhere else, it's rough and crude."
The first thing we actually changed on the car was pulling off the little intake resonance tube that pipes in some strange, nasty, artificial sounds from under the hood. You might be surprised to learn that if you make engine noises into the tube, it actually sounds a bit better. Silly. See the video proof.
Since the BRZ is the sort of car the aftermarket wistfully sighs at the mention of, there are loads of aftermarket parts that bolt up. Would new exhaust make a difference? We ed Nameless Performance, and they gladly whipped up an axleback system.
After bolting it on, we fired the engine up and tested the system out on the road. It sounded really nice. At idle, the tone was like the original exhaust, just with the bass knob on the EQ turned up to about 8. Under load, the sound was warm and baritone, without being particularly buzzy. Basically, it sounded like a factory sport exhaust option that was just a notch louder that we'd expect from an OEM system.
Of course, there was no perceptible change in the driving dynamic. But in terms of subjective enjoyment, the exhaust system helped. That being said, the hoped-for fight over the keys never seemed to happen in this office. My feeling is that this exhaust system is the kind of thing that an owner of an FR-S or BRZ should reward themselves with after a year or two of ownership, when the novelty is just starting to wear off a bit.
But it wasn't enough for us. So, we ordered more parts.
The Gloves Come Off, the Headers Go On
Stage two of our attempt to turn the BRZ into the car we wanted was a bit of an experiment. You see, Nameless has a street header, and a not-so-street friendly header for the BRZ/FR-S twins. But being tuners, they wanted to build some of the race header's capabilities into the street option. The end result was a prototype header, one-of-one, that arrived at our office.
Putting it on was a bear. There were some tight clearances, but we got it on securely. Then we fired the engine up.
Holy loud pipes. Where the axleback system merely let you know it was there, with that low-toned growl, the full headerback system sounded like it was going to set off car alarms. (Full disclosure: it didn't, at least while I was driving it.) I didn't care for the sound, and I wasn't alone.
But that was only half the story, because the next step was to pair the full exhaust system with a ECU reflash. Nameless provided us with a cable to hook up a PC laptop to the OBDII port, sent us a tune and the software, and talked us through the procedure. The company was immensely helpful in supporting us over the phone by making sure the tune was properly taken by the ECU, and we didn't have any major issues during the process.
We were encouraged to hit the road and put some miles on the car so the ECU could learn the tune and exhaust system before we took it to the dyno session. Didn't have to ask us twice. I hopped in the car and we hit the roads around Ann Arbor.
And we didn't notice much of a difference, really. The throttle mapping had changed, from a curved to a linear map, so it became harder to launch the car smoothly. It would bunny-hop for a bit in first gear, seemingly regardless of throttle or clutch modulation. Otherwise, some drivers in the office reported that they felt better midrange response, others didn't report anything. Nobody liked the throttle mapping.
We didn't have an opportunity to get back at Nameless to upload another tune, as we were under a crunch and the car was leaving soon. Nameless was so helpful that I can only assume that the company would have worked with us until we ended up with a tune that we liked.
The ultimate impression was, tuning a car like the BRZ is a process. You have to like the back-and-forth, and clearly that means you have to work with a tuner you like. We liked Nameless a lot, and the fact that we didn't love the way the BRZ turned out has more to do with us not having enough time to dial it in.
That being said, before we discuss dyno results, a few editors did report that they felt a difference in mid-range punch. It was subtle, but there.
It's funny; the Nameless exhaust and tune did correct one of the things we had hoped to fix, which was an odd dip in mid-range power delivery. It didn't do what we really wanted it to do, though, which was make us fall in love with the car again. In the end, we were left with a car that was even more compromised than it was before: it was loud (instead of just sounding lame), and it bucked and kicked in traffic, making us like it on the road even less. Unfortunately we didn't get to see what it would have been like to drive on the track with the tune and exhaust bits, but that's not the compromise we wanted. We already loved it on the track.
The dyno doesn't lie. The exhaust and tune were good for an additional 6.6 HP and 2 ft-lbs of torque at peak, respectively. If you stopped there and didn't analyze the charts, that's not too impressive. Dig a little deeper, and there are a few things to note. First, there's no loss of horsepower below 3000 rpm, and a gain of 9 ft-lbs of torque at 2400 rpm. At the mid-range drop in output, the tuned car moved that dip down in the rev range, and offset it with consistent torque and HP gains through the rest of the range.
We saw big gains up top, mitigating a serious horsepower drop off over 7200 rpm by up to 12 hp. Basically, under 4000 rpm, the upgrades were a wash, but over 4000 rpm, it's all gains, but at the cost of a lot (a LOT) of noise.
There will be some people who will love the way that the Nameless Performance exhaust sounded, and we encourage them to work with their tuners to get the car exactly where they want it to be. For us, looking for a quick and easy way to craft the BRZ we wanted from the beginning, we would have stopped at the phenomenal axleback system and found other ways of improving the car for the street. It's no surprise many of us would have liked to try out a supercharger, but surprisingly, the most common wish was for a slightly more compliant suspension for street use. One editor thought that waiting for the aftermarket to "figure out" the car and offer better solutions was a good strategy. Another felt that the engine configuration and calibration was, quite simply, disappointing, and it was best to leave the car alone and enjoy its charms.
What's clear is, there are no clear answers for what to do with the BRZ. It is a brilliant, and flawed, car. We would have liked a bit more time to tinker with it, but at least we'll have our memories of how great it was on track.
An extra special thanks to for providing excellent products and installation support in. They provided us with the header, exhaust system, ECU cable, and tune free of cost to test, after which we returned the equipment.