Written by: Calvin Chan
Photography by: Don Cheng / Calvin Chan
You have $30,000 in the piggybank and you are in the market for a sports car. Wonderful. Good news is that there are an absurd amount of cars to choose from with that amount of cash. The bad news is being forced to choose just one. So we’re here to help you out. We’ve brought along two of the most popular $30,000 sports cars to find out which one is the better buy.
In the blue corner is the brand spanking new 2016 Subaru BRZ. You may also know it as the cousin of the Scion FR-S and Toyota GT86. The 2016 model carries over unchanged from 2015: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This purebred machine is gracefully enveloped in traditional sports car dimensions, sporting a low aggressive stance, an extensive rear spoiler, and a long front hood. The BRZ may be a little low on power, but its rear-wheel drive (RWD) setup and incredibly lightweight structure make it one of the best handling cars on the market.
Or how about the 2015 Ford Focus ST? This hot little hatch has been one of the most surprising cars of this year. The Focus ST features new springs and shocks for 2015, and Ford has also played with the electric power steering for a tighter feel. Boasting a peppy turbocharger matched to a front-wheel drive configuration, it’s not only fun to drive but it’s comfortable as well. Together with four doors and a decent-sized trunk, how could you possibly go wrong?
When you peel away the monroney stickers, you’ll begin to realize how different these two cars are. The BRZ was built from the ground up to be a track-ready sports car. The Focus ST on the other hand is a derivation and perkier version of a family hatch. Yet, both somehow achieve the same goal, and that’s to the provide one of the best driving experiences for a great price. So let’s go into a bit of detail, and see what makes the BRZ and Focus ST so vastly different.
First off, the Focus ST is not only taller, wider, and longer than the Subaru, but it also weighs 200 kg more. Its bloated dimensions don’t do it any favours, but the ST has noticeably more ground clearance and road manners than the BRZ. They both have four seats but only the ST’s are wide enough to be used by actual humans. Take a peek around back and you’ll notice that the pair are similarly sporting rear winged spoilers and aggressive exhausts. The ST bears a center-mounted racing stripe ($500) while the BRZ carries add-on STI accessories from the factory, such as the front, rear, and side lip spoilers, and a set of 17-inch STI black alloy-wheels (for a total of $3,031.60). Both amount to the same MSRP of just below $30,000 and an as-tested price reaching $33,000 after options.
Furthermore, the BRZ is a rear-wheel drive (RWD) car and the Focus ST is a front-wheel drive (FWD) car. What this means is that the BRZ only sends powers to the rear wheels, while the Focus ST only powers the front wheels. Their engines are quite different too. The BRZ utilizes a naturally aspirated four-cylinder BOXER engine that delivers 200 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. The Focus ST is also* equipped with a four-cylinder engine but with a turbocharger bolted on, producing a staggering 252 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. That’s nearly double the BRZ’s torque figure!
When it comes down to sheer performance, you’ll be working a lot harder in the BRZ to keep pace with the Focus ST. Lacking a turbocharger and an army of horses, it’s quite the knife-to-the-gunfight disparity. The BRZ doesn’t get a whammy of power until you hit above 4,000 rpm, which is right about where you would shift in daily driving. That’s the main reason why most people feel that the BRZ lacks power, when in fact it isn’t. You just have to be playing in the right rev range – 6,000-7,000 rpm to be exact. It’s not always ideal to be revving so high, and you’ll be spending most of your time in the underpowered range. But to be honest, unless you’re trying to outrun a cop or impress your friends, the BRZ’s output is more than enough. Yes, overtaking and riskier maneuvers become more of a pre-planned event than a quick downshift and thrust away, but the power is there. You just need to know where to find it.
The Focus ST has more immediacy down the pedal. Push it, and it boosts you into back of your seat. The revs come quicker and the power is more prompt and urgent. I wouldn’t call it punctual as turbo lag does sneak up on you from time to time, but you learn to adjust. Both the BRZ’s and ST’s exhausts are loud and vocal, but it’s the BRZ that wins the screaming contest. There’s something raw and rewarding about a naturally aspirated boxer engine winding up to 7,000 rpm.
Generally, RWD cars are more fun to drive – the BRZ makes sure of that. The steering is totally free from any engine or power influences, and there’s better weight distribution than FWD vehicles. And who doesn’t like to drift? The BRZ is also coined as one of lightest sports cars on the market – weighing in at just 1,260 kg. It’s four-cylinder BOXER engine is also mounted incredibly low and near the center of the vehicle. In fact, you sit so low in the BRZ that Mazda CX-3s start to look like CX-9s. What all this translates to is a low center of gravity, allowing for very direct handling and corner carving goodness. Tackle one sharp corner behind the wheel of the BRZ and you’ll understand why so many enthusiasts are flocking to this object of finesse.
The way the BRZ responds, snaps, and kicks around corners is heavenly. The steering wheel becomes a mere extension of your arm; it’ll do whatever you want it to. Consequently, the suspension lies on the firm side, giving you an excuse to dodge potholes and speed bumps like a dog running from a vacuum cleaner.
On the other side, we have the Focus ST, a FWD vehicle oversaturated with all the power and torque it’s setup could handle. Characteristic of FWD vehicles, and especially the ST, it suffers from what’s called torque steer – the car’s tendency to pull to one side during hard acceleration, causing the steering wheel to squirrel around as the wheels rummage for contact and grip. You’ll fight the wheels every time you floor the gas pedal, and it feels messier and less controllable than the BRZ. Whereas the Subaru had firm and direct steering, the ST isn’t as well-weighted and makes me a little weary around the bends.
However, what the ST lacks in a linear steering feel, it makes up for in its suspension. The newly tweaked springs and shocks have paid dividends in the way it handles undulating roads and off-camber turns. It’s suppler and more forgiving than the BRZ, and can absorb everything you throw at it. In addition, the ST’s larger 18-inch tires and wider stance make it more of a daily driver than the low-slung spirited BRZ.
Both vehicles come standard with a 6-speed manual transmission – it’s a purist’s choice. Whereas the ST comes exclusive with the manual, the BRZ can also be had with an automatic, but you aren’t going to do that. If you were to ask me which transmission is better, I’d have to go with the BRZ. Its shifter has a shorter throw, making it easier and quicker to punch it into gear. The clutch is also incredibly light and unambiguous, allowing for easy lift offs and clutch grabs. Subaru has also nailed the shifter position at the perfect distance from the seat.
The ST’s clutch on the other hand feels like a springboard – is that you down there Slinky? – and the pedal amplifies with each inch of foot movement. It surprises you with the slip point and successfully gives your calves a traffic jam workout. Don’t get me wrong though, the ST’s transmission is nearly flawless. The gearshifts are smooth and arguably even better than the BRZ’s. But the shifter’s throws are a little too long, it’s positioned a little too close to the driver, and the bouncy clutch is a bit of a letdown.
The winner in fuel efficiency is a no brainer here - more power means more fuel used. The BRZ averaged 10.0 L/100km and the ST averaged 11.9 L/100km. We can attribute the latter’s more expensive gas bill to it’s higher torque numbers and heavier curb weight.
Hop inside each vehicle back-to-back and you’ll notice how much more modernized the Focus ST looks compared to the BRZ. Creature comforts such as a heated steering wheel, power adjustable Recaro leather seats, and a rear view camera make it into the Ford, whereas the BRZ takes a much more old school approach. Just take a peek at the BRZ’s steering wheel: it’s a blank canvas with no buttons, no distractions. It’s a pure and driver-focused cabin.
You sit much lower in the BRZ than in the ST, but both cars have great visibility out the front, rear, and sides. As a two-door coupe, the BRZ’s blind spots can be a little scary at times, and would have benefited from the same safety equipment that is now available on the 2016 WRX. The Ford also has the better infotainment system, even though fingerprint stains on the touchscreen can become quite a nuisance. It’s easy to use and benefits from colour-coded menus. Subaru’s infotainment system on the other hand is getting a bit outdated. It looks like those aftermarket screens you’d tack onto your old Honda Civic.
There is no cast-iron winner here. Each vehicle has their own merits and shortcomings. The Subaru BRZ is your authentic, rear-wheel drive, performance-focused machine that sacrifices power and comfort for pure handling. The Ford Focus ST however, is more of a compromise. Carrying more guns to the fight, it’s bigger, comfier, boasts four doors and four usable seats, it’s easier to drive, and also makes for a better daily driver. However it’s porkier dimensions and front-wheel drive configuration make it feel less honed and concentrated than the BRZ. And at the end of the day, the Subaru is the sports car I want. It has the looks, the character, and all the modding capabilities to whet my appetite. The Focus ST is the car you’d drive everyday, but the BRZ is the weekend warrior. It’s the one that tugs at my heartstrings and is therefore, the $30,000 answer.
型号 Model: 2016 Subaru BRZ Sport-tech Package
顏色 Paint Type: World Rally Blue Pearl
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $29,395
試車售價 Price as Tested: $32,426 (with STI accessories)
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 2,570
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,235 / 1,775 / 1,285
車重 Curb weight (kg): 1,260
引擎 Engine: 2.0L DOHC, 16-valve, 4-cylinder Subaru BOXER engine
最大馬力 Horsepower: 200 hp @ 7,000 rpm
最高扭力 Torque: 151 lb-ft @ 6,400 - 6,600 rpm
波箱 Transmission: 6-speed manual
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, RWD
前懸 Suspension-Front: MacPherson strut
後懸 Suspension-Rear: Double wishbone
煞制-前 Brakes-Front: Ventilated discs (294 x 24mm)
煞制-後 Brakes-Rear: Ventilated discs (290 x 18mm)
油耗 Fuel Consumption (City/Highway/Combined)- L/100 km: 10.9 / 7.9 / 9.6
輪胎尺碼 Tires: 215/45R17 - Michelin Primacy HP
型号 Model: 2015 Ford Focus ST 5-Door Hatchback
顏色 Paint Type: Race Red ($100)
廠方建議售價 Base Price: $29,999
試車售價 Price as Tested: $33,249
軸距 Wheelbase(mm): 2,649
長闊 Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,359 / 2,045 / 1,466
車重 Curb weight (kg): 1,458
引擎 Engine: 2.0L EcoBoost 4-cylinder
最大馬力 Horsepower: 252 hp @ 5,500 rpm
最高扭力 Torque: 270 lb-ft. @ 2,500 rpm
波箱 Transmission: 6-speed manual
擺佈 Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD
前懸 Suspension-Front: Independent MacPherson struts with reverse-L lower control arms
後懸 Suspension-Rear: Independent short-and-long arm (SLA)
煞制-前 Brakes-Front: Power-assisted disc brakes
煞制-後 Brakes-Rear: Power-assisted disc brakes
油耗 Fuel Consumption (City/Highway/Combined)- L/100 km: 10.2 / 7.3 / 8.9
輪胎尺碼 Tires: 235/40R18 - Goodyear Eagle F1