Is this BRZ mule a go-faster prototype, a tester for the next-gen’s 2.4-liter drivetrain, or a simple facelift?

Back in June of 2019, we received confirmation that a next-gen Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ were in the works Then, in September, we learned that the new BRZ and 86 twins may take a re-tuned version of the Subaru Ascent’s 2.4-liter Flat-Four as their main source of motivation. Fast forward to the end of October 2019, and here we are looking at a random Subaru BRZ prototype undergoing the rigors of testing on none other than the Nurburgring. This begs the question of what Subaru has under its sleeve. Right away, I’m here to tell you that it’s not the next-gen BRZ, as that’s still at least a couple of years away. Based on the camo, this appears to be a hotter version of the BRZ, one that could be offered as a special edition or maybe even as a new range-topping model to hold us off until the next-gen BRZ arrives. Even better yet, we think this prototype is being pushed around the track by the Ascent’s 2.4-liter flat-four. After all, what better way to test the reception of a sport-tuned engine than to unleash it in a go-faster version of the current model.

Update 11/28/2019:The special edition Subaru BRZ that’s planned to debut sometime in 2020 was spotted testing on the Nurburgring being benchmarked against the Alpine A110 of all things. Check out the new images and learn more in our Spy Shots section below!

Spy Shots

November 28, 2019 – Special Edition BRZ Playing With the Alpine A110

2020 Subaru BRZ Special Edition
- image 873953
2020 Subaru BRZ Special Edition
- image 873959

Absolutely nothing has changed since we last saw what we believe is a special edition – or send-off model, if you will – Subaru BRZ. However, we now know that it’s probably packing some extra power and revised suspension as Subaru was benchmarking it against the Alpine A110 – a model that produces 252 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque from an inline four-cylinder. This is a big leap from the 205 horsepower available in the BRZ, but it also adds a bit to the confusion. If Subaru is trying to benchmark this against the Alpine A110, the possibility that this is a prototype with a next-gen powertrain becomes a little more prevalent. If that’s the case, we know that the next-gen BRZ will likely get that 2.4-liter engine and could deliver similar power output – hinting at an improvement of 40-50 horsepower from the first-gen model to the second.

On the other hand, this could simply be a more powerful version of the first-gen model that is no more than a limited-edition or send-off model to commemorate the final run of the first-gen BRZ. Either way, there’s certainly something exciting happening here, we just have to wait and see what it is.

Subaru BRZ Special Edition Exterior Design

  • New front fascia
  • Revised headlight matrix
  • New vent on fenders
  • New insert on rear fascia
  • Could have new decklid
2020 Subaru BRZ Special Edition Exterior Spyshots
- image 867736

The most notable thing about the prototype seen here is that there is camouflage in some very specific places, and there are some very specific changes to note.

The hood is identical to that of the current model, but the front fenders are just a little bit wider, and the headlights appear to be an evolution of those found on the current model.

In this case, they appear to be projectors with thinner LED strips. If this was, indeed, the next-gen model, the headlights definitely wouldn’t be the same exact shape and size. They would evolve, but they would also take on a deferent design as well.

2020 Subaru BRZ Special Edition Exterior Spyshots
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2020 Subaru BRZ Special Edition Exterior Spyshots
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Adding more fuel to the special edition or facelift (yes; this could potentially be yet another facelift to keep things fresh for now) is the all-new front fascia. Where the current model has this tall, fat grille similar to that of last-gen Audis, this prototype has a much wider, thinner grille that runs nearly the full width of the front fascia. Backing up this new, sportier look are revised vents in the corners with more character than ever. There’s also a revised lip at the bottom that’s much more aggressive, much like the lip at the top of the grille where the German license plate is residing.

2020 Subaru BRZ Special Edition Exterior Spyshots
- image 867732

Around back, we have a different story. Part of the taillights are taped off, as is a good portion of the rear decklid.

The taillights, for intents and purposes, appear to be the same as the current production model while at least some of the tape on the rear deck has little purpose beyond their rather poor attempts at concealing the BRZ logo and Subaru emblem.

There is no spoiler here outside of what could be a small raised lip built into the rear decklid. The only other real difference here is in that diffuser-like insert, which now features a weird, curved flic around the exhaust outlets.

2020 Subaru BRZ Special Edition Exterior Spyshots
- image 868613

At this point, all evidence points to either a somewhat extensive exterior facelift to help keep the BRZ fresh for the next couple of years. That would help hold over dealerships and encourage sales while Subaru and Toyota work on the next-gen model. Or, this could be a new model trim or special edition that sits at the top of the lineup. If so, there’s a damn good chance that Subaru is also using it as a testbed for tuning and integration of the Ascent’s 2.4-liter flat-four, but we’ll talk more about that later.

Subaru BRZ Special Edition Interior Design

  • No change in interior design
  • Could have nicer materials as special edition
  • Possible sports seats
2020 Subaru BRZ Special Edition Exterior Spyshots
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We don’t have a very good look at the interior of this prototype, but when you zoom in on the image above, you can see the same general interior that we have in the current model, shown here:

2017 Subaru BRZ High Resolution Interior
- image 677829

With the theory that this is likely a special edition or new range-topping model, then there won’t be any real significant change to the interior. Sportier seats and better contrast stitching are on the docket along with the potential for a flat-bottom steering wheel and maybe some revised infotainment graphics. Outside of that, however, you’ll have to wait until the next-gen model makes its debut to see any real change here.

Subaru BRZ Special Edition Drivetrain and Performance

  • Revised chassis
  • Revised suspension
  • Revised brakes
  • Even better handling
  • Could be quicker to 60 mph
  • Could be a mule for the next-gen’s 2.4-liter
  • Could be a faster special edition
2020 Subaru BRZ Special Edition Exterior Spyshots
- image 867734

The current Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 are powered by a 2.0-liter Boxer engine that’s good for 205 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque when mated to a manual transmission. Those with an automatic see a 5 pony penalty for whatever reason. The world has been begging both Toyota and Subaru for forced induction and more power, but both companies have remained unpleasantly clear that it’s not going to happen – not now and not in the next-gen models that should debut for 2021 or 2022 at the latest.

As such, you can’t expect any kind of forced induction here, either, regardless of this prototype’s purpose.

Now, if this prototype represents a run-of-the-mill facelift to keep things rolling until the next-gen model hits the market, then there may not even by any type of output improvement. That would mean you can still expect the same 6.7-second sprint to 60 mph and a top speed of 143 mph. Of course, Subaru wouldn’t be testing a facelifted model on the Nurburgring unless there was a good reason for it, and this brings up a couple of different possibilities. Before we get into those possibilities, though, it’s important we remember why Toyota and Subaru won’t turbocharge the BRZ or 86. To put it simply, these cars were meant to be driver’s cars, not speed demons. As such, it’s more important to maintain and improve driving dynamics that it is to add massive amounts of power via a turbocharger and extra fuel dumping.

2020 Subaru BRZ Special Edition Exterior Spyshots
- image 867729

With that in mind, the first reason for this prototype’s existence could be that it’s another facelift to keep the car fresh, and Subaru has made some suspension and chassis adjustments to improve the car’s driving dynamics and handling. This could, in fact, make the car quicker in certain circumstances, even if power output remains the same. The other possibility here revolves around word that the next-gen BRZ and 86 twins could be motivated by the Subaru Ascent’s 2.4-liter engine.

The Ascent’s 2.4-liter Boxer engine is a major improvement in its own right, even if it’s dropped from one production line into the other.

It delivers 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque. Of course, the Ascent isn’t available with a manual transmission, so Subaru will have to work something out there as the CVT in the Ascent would be a model killer in a car like the BRZ. However, that does add fuel to the fire that this prototype is testing the 2.4-liter \ six-speed manual combo that we’ll see in the next-gen model. And, with that in mind, it’s possible that a special edition model, downtuned from what the next-gen model will offer, could be introduced as a special edition or range-topping model to hold sales off for a few more years until the next generation is introduced.

2020 Subaru BRZ Special Edition Exterior Spyshots
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If this really is the case, you can expect the car you see here to sprint to 60 mph in around 6.3 seconds. Remember, it’s still not going to be a speed demon, so it’s not going to take on the Porsche 911, for instance. But, it will be quicker and will, hopefully, solve the constant whining about the lack of forced induction. Top speed could increase to as much as 155 or 165 mph, but I wouldn’t expect much more than that as, again, this thing is meant to straighten corners, not join your tonsils and sphincter together in holy matrimony in brief sprints.

Subaru BRZ Subaru BRZ Special Edition
Engine 2.0-liter four-cylinder boxer 2.4-liter Boxer engine
Horsepower 205 HP 260 HP @ 5,600 RPM
Torque 156 LB-FT 277 LB-FT @ 2,000-4,800 RPM
0 to 60 mph 6.7 seconds 6.3 seconds
Top Speed 143 mph 165 mph

Subaru BRZ Special Edition Pricing

2020 Subaru BRZ Special Edition Exterior Spyshots
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If the model we see here truly is a special edition or range-topping model, you can expect it to pull a sizable premium over the two models in the current lineup. With the BRZ limited commanding $28,845 and the BRZ tS commanding $31,495, you can expect whatever this baby is to scratch the bank for at least $35,000-$36,000 if not more.


Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Unveiled High Resolution Exterior
- image 670215

The Mazda MX-5 RF may be a Targa as opposed to a hardtop coupe, but it’s still a competitor, nonetheless. Even the latest model falls short in the power department, with both the Club and Grand Touring models only offering up 181 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. Thanks to the sizable upgrade in performance over pre-2019 models. That MX-5 RF can hit 60 mph in less than six seconds while top speed comes in somewhere around 150 mph. It’s certainly quicker to 60 that the current model, and it’s quite the looker too. A new special edition or range-topping BRZ could but the MX-5 RF in its place long enough to give Subie the upper hand until the next-gen model comes to market. Pricing for the MX-5 RF starts out at $32,345 for the Club trim or $33,335 for the Grand Touring model.

Read our full review on the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

Final Thoughts

2020 Subaru BRZ Special Edition Exterior Spyshots
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What’s really going on with this Subaru BRZ mule is a complete mystery, but we’re really hoping that it’s a testbed for that 2.4-liter drivetrain. If that means we get it a couple of years early in a special edition model or even a range-topper than that’s even better. But, it’s honestly more likely that this is either a straight-up mule for the drivetrain with no intent of it ever coming to market before the next-gen model debuts or it’s a facelift that will serve to keep the model fresh until that next-gen model can be introduced to the market. The latter is the more likely of the two, and, if so, it’ll probably come with performance-enhancing suspension, chassis, and brake updates. I wouldn’t hold out hope for power improvement in that regard, but the revised chassis and suspension could be miraculous when it comes to handling, cornering, lap times, and it may even shave a tenth or two off the current BRZ’s 60-second sprint time without diluting the whole driver’s car mentality it was born with.

  • Leave it
    • It will never be turbocharged
    • A facelift means the next-gen model is at least a couple of years out
    • The interior doesn’t appear to have changed at all from the angles we have
Robert Moore
Editor-in-Chief and Automotive Expert -
Robert has been an auto enthusiast his entire life. He started working cars at a young age, learning the basics from his father in the home garage on the weekends. As time went on, Robert became more and more interested in cars and convinced his father to teach him how to drive when he was just 13 years old. Robert continued working on cars in his free time and learned as much as he could about engines, transmissions, and car electrical systems, something that only fed his curiosity more and eventually led him to earn a bachelors degree in automotive technology with a primary focus on engine performance and transmission rebuilding.  Read More
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