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WRX vs. BRZ: Which of Subaru’s affordable tuners belong in your garage?

So you have $30,000 to spend and you want to get something sporty.

You could go a lot of different directions. You could spring for a prancing, snorting, if fairly basic, Mustang. Or you could go another direction and get a refined, Teutonic Volkswagen GTI. But, for our money, two of the most interesting performance offerings under $30,000 come from one company: Subaru.

The BRZ and the all-new 2015 WRX represent very different paths for the performance-oriented motorist, both with a lot to recommend them. In the end, choosing between them might say more about the driver than the car. But, still, which should you get?

As an aside, yes, the BRZ is also sold by Scion as the FR-S. Subaru, however, designed the platform. So even if you buy the Scion FR-S, I still think of it as a Suby.

Performance

For $30,000 you aren’t going to get a Lambo-demolishing street racer. The kind of pop you do get for the $30,000 mark is surprising. The 2015 WRX packs 268 horsepower from its turbocharged 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder. The BRZ uses a naturally aspirated version of that very same flat-four, but only scrapes out 200 hp.

That might suggest that the WRX walks away with this category, but it’s not as simple as that. The BRZ was built from the ground up to feel like a sports car. It has rear-wheel drive and the Subaru designers even put the BRZ on European Prius tires to make it livelier and more dynamic.

The WRX is a lot bigger, heavier, and – frankly – built to tackle a wide variety of terrains. All of the tweaks to make the WRX a gravel-tossing dynamo make it also slightly less driver-focused than the BRZ. The all-wheel drive WRX rally machine would monster the nimble BRZ in just about any muddy circumstance. The lady or gentlemen in the BRZ might have a much better time at track-day event, though.

I am going to call this category a toss-up, as it really comes down to personal preference. Do you want a track-tamer or an all-wheel drive, compact sedans capable of handling some sweet jumps? I slightly prefer the feel of the BRZ. To be fair, however, I won’t get to drive WRX until December. So this conclusion could change drastically if the 2015 WRX wows me like I hope it will.

Practicality

This may be the ultimate battle for entry-level performance car buyers. Unlike someone buying a Ferrari, we can’t just hop in our Rolls-Royce when we need to take the kids to school. This means that a good, entry-level performance car has to at least pretend to be practical, so that you can justify buying it.

Let’s first look at the BRZ, which immediately runs into some problems on this front. Sure, it has backseats. They are so small, though, that only legless children on the way to soccer practice will find them comfortable – and that kind of defeats the purpose.

As for the front seats, they’re at least spacious enough that even my freakishly tall editor, Nick Jaynes, can fit. So there’s that.

Subaru brags the BRZ and the WRX have big enough trunks that they can fit four spare track-day tires and a floor jack. This is great until you realize that the rear seats need to be folded flat in both cars in order to achieve this goal.

The BRZ isn’t wholly impractical, though, as with the automatic you can get 28 combined mpg, even when driving it like a fool.

In the end, even the BRZ’s ability to comfortably seat automotive journalists suffering from gigantism isn’t enough to overcome what has always been the selling point of the WRX: practical, affordable performance.

Although the all-new WRX is only sold in sedan form, as the hatchback has been sent the way of the polar bear, it still is far-and-away more practical than the BRZ.

Step outside the all-new WRX interior that boasts nearly two more inches of rear passenger legroom and it also benefits from Subaru’s permanent ‘symmetrical’ all-wheel drive system with torque vectoring. Having a torque-vectored AWD system means you can drive it through the battle of the Somme and over Donner-pass on your way to go skiing without ever losing traction. I dare you to try that in a BRZ.

Advantage: WRX.

Lifestyle

Buying a sports car is like buying a Wonderbra; you might look good in it, but when somebody gets you out of it they are going to be disappointed.

I mean … buying a sports car says that you are an interesting person that enjoys driving interesting cars. Yeah … that’s the ticket!

Honestly, though, this is the problem that we car bores face; we want to drive something cool without looking or feeling like a nincompoop or complete ass.

The entry-level market has always made this hard, because most automakers compensated for a lack of performance with shout-y bodies and annoying ad campaigns.

Both the Subaru WRX and the BRZ are a big step up in this direction. Yes, 23-year-old unemployable frat boys traditionally comprise the average WRX driver. The new one, however, is a dramatic improvement. And I suspect the changes will also improve the sort of fellows who buy it.

The lines are grown up and so is the interior. The WRX still appears to be aimed at  frat boys, but now they are all five years older and have kids. This means that everyone who has always loved the WRX but has been afraid to be seen in one is finally free to shout their passion from the rooftops … well maybe whisper from the rooftops.

The BRZ definitely has a bit of that Subaru rally car, look-at-me styling. It also benefits from being something very rare indeed: a cool sports car. It manages to be unpretentious and also have universal appeal. In fact, it is one of the few sports cars that I see driven by women almost as often as by men. To me, the cross-gender appeal of the BRZ is a great reason to own one.

Advantage: BRZ

Conclusion 

The BRZ is a tremendous car, and I think one that will be remembered for a generation to come. In an era of hyper-powered computers on wheels, the BRZ stands out for its old-school simplicity and focus. It is a very cool car.

Because I am not cool, and own a dog, I would probably walk into the Subaru dealership, stare mournfully at the BRZ, and then drive out in the 2015 WRX with a big smile on my face and my dog in the back. There just isn’t anything equivalent in terms of practicality and performance to the WRX, especially now that The Mitsubishi EVO is nearing its 1,000th birthday.

That being said, I might change my tune if a BRZ STI finally appears. For now, though, the 2015 WRX has my heart.

Tell me why I am wrong in the comments. 

Editors' Recommendations

Peter Braun
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Peter is a freelance contributor to Digital Trends and almost a lawyer. He has loved thinking, writing and talking about cars…
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