I had a 2018 Subaru BRZ Limited with a six-speed manual and half a day to play on wet, windy roads hemmed by pine trees in the foothills of a massive mountain range. But Michigan was on my mind.
Some cars work everywhere. Michigan’s the perfect place to find those that do: The roads are flat and pockmarked, and the seasonal extremes are brutal. It’s easy to love a car on one of those bucket-list Alpine passes, but on Michigan roads the car has to work hard to win you over. For example, the MX-5 Miata works in Michigan just fine. It’s fun in all conditions in which you can get the rear tires to hook up, and some that you can’t. It cheerfully entertains in traffic, on city streets, undulating but uninteresting country roads.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Put the 86 in a better situation and its foibles recede but don’t disappear. Straight, pock-marked slabs are the death of the thing. So I grabbed one out West, in Washington state where I now live, and fed it revs and curves until I was satisfied that the BRZ works as intended when you keep it happy. And when it’s happy, you’re happy.
The BRZ was on high-performance summer tires, and some of the best roads in Washington are up in the hills currently blanketed by slush and ice, so that was a nonstarter. But there’s a windy, weedy little farm road bending through a river valley just 20 minutes from my house. It’s got lots of sudden, blind bends — not to mention working farms — so it’s not the place to exercise a Corvette Z06. But there are enough turns you can see all the way through to make it fun, and three unbelievable uphill hairpins right at the end.
But it’s the symbiosis between the BRZ and this environment — and the extra challenge getting the summer rubber to hook up on these slick roads — that underlines everything great about the BRZ. So it’s not the generalist the Miata is, sure. The Miata spreads its fun around in all situations, and the BRZ saves its fun for high revs and technical twisties. If you can feed the tweaked BRZ what it needs to thrive, I think it (and its 86 twin) might be the best sports cars for the money, period.