In terms of affordable front-engined, rear-wheel drive grip monsters, the Subaru BRZ is an enticing prospect. The naturally aspirated boxer 4-cylinder provides a modest amount of power but keeps the center of gravity low. In combination with the BRZ’s near 50/50 weight distribution, 6-speed manual transmission, and 4-way Torsen LSD, its natural habitat is the racetrack.
Even new, the Subaru BRZ is a solid budget-friendly modern track-day option. Most people fall into two camps when it comes to building a track day car. Some enthusiasts opt to purchase an older, cheaper starting chassis and build it up to a workable standard. Others choose to go with a more modern chassis that is equipped to handle some on-track abuse from the get-go. The BRZ is the perfect choice for the latter. When properly maintained and prepped for track day antics, BRZs are extremely reliable. In that sense, you’ll have the leg up on enthusiasts with older hardware.
Since the BRZ’s release in 2012, the aftermarket community has truly gone wild. If you can think of a modification for the BRZ, chances are it is easily available. There truly is no limit to how far you can take a BRZ at this point. With a big enough budget, everything is on the table. That includes everything from power mods like forced induction to high-quality suspension components.
With that being said, this guide will focus mainly on the best BRZ modifications that will provide the most fun at the lowest price. While the BRZ can unquestionably benefit from more power, we’ll skip over forced induction due to the cost. Despite that, power isn’t the recipe for fun on the track. A well set-up Subaru BRZ is a perfect example of that. While this guide covers quite a bit, this is meant as a jumping-off point. There are plenty of other BRZ track day modifications out there, this guide is meant to give you a solid start.
Subaru BRZ Track Car Considerations
The process of building a track car is a nuanced one full of personal preferences and individual performance goals. Are you prioritizing straight-line speed? Cornering? Reliability? Those are all questions that you’ll have to answer for yourself. Since we are trying to remain budget-conscious, we’ll primarily focus on reliability and cornering performance.
Subaru BRZ Track Build Engine Considerations
First-generation Subaru BRZ, Scion FRS, and Toyota GT86s are all powered by a Subaru FA20 2.0L boxer 4-cylinder engine that produces 197-204 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. Obviously, there will be cars on track with you that have much more oomph. While that is okay, it can’t hurt to spring for a couple of performance modifications that will increase your BRZ’s overall engine performance.
Best BRZ Track Car Engine Upgrades
BRZ/FRS/GT86 Performance Headers
Upgrading your BRZ’s stock headers is one of the most important engine modifications that you can do when prepping one for the track. That has a lot to do with the BRZ’s extremely poor factory header design. The BRZ, and all other FA20D-powered cars for that matter, are infamous for having severe torque drop-off at around 4,000 rpm. In the BRZ community, it is commonly referred to as ‘torque dip.’ That is a significant issue on track, as torque is important to keep your momentum through corners. One of the main causes of the issue is the design of the factory headers.
The factory BRZ exhaust system is restrictive. That is because Subaru has to meet stringent emissions regulations and also because it is so tightly packed into the car. The factory exhaust also features two catalytic converters that breed backpressure. The BRZ’s exhaust system goes in this order: headers, over-pipe, front-pipe which houses the catalytic convert, mid-pipe, and then muffler. The FA20 engines have unequal length headers from the factory, a common Subaru engine trait. This means that two of the exhaust ports have longer piping than the other two.
In terms of aftermarket options, there is a good selection of both equal-length and unequal-length headers available. Both make the same power levels so whichever you choose is up to you, here is a link if you want to check out the difference between UEL and EL headers.
When combined with a proper tune, a new set of aftermarket headers can help reduce torque dip while also increasing power marginally. You can typically expect around 10-15 horsepower and 8-10 lb-ft of torque from a header upgrade.
Listed below are some of the best BRZ performance headers and where to purchase them:
Magnaflow BRZ Performance Headers: 86Speed.com
Tomei Equal Length Headers: 86Speed.com
Light BRZ Engine Upgrades
The Subaru BRZ can benefit quite a bit from some inexpensive and easy-to-install bolt-on modifications that will give it a bit of extra pep on the track. A performance BRZ exhaust, cold air intake, and performance ECU tune can give a BRZ an OEM+ feel without sacrificing reliability.
BRZ Cat Back Exhaust
Cat-back exhausts are, without question, the most common type of exhaust fitted to lightly modified BRZs. Cat-back exhausts are exactly what they sound like. They replace all of the factory exhaust components from the catalytic converter to the exhaust tip. This type of exhaust is generally made of stainless steel and is made to improve exhaust gas flow out of the engine, resulting in a bit more power and a lot more noise. Typically, a quality high-flow exhaust system can increase power by around 10-20 horsepower and 15-25 lb-ft of torque with a proper tune.
Tomei Expreme Ti Titanium Exhaust: enjukuracing.com
BRZ Cold Air Intake
A performance cold air intake is another easy mod that can be done yourself that can yield some moderate performance advantages. The purpose of an upgraded performance intake is to increase engine breathability over the stock setup. In general, the performance of an upgraded intake scales with engine performance. Highly modified engines are often throttled by poor airflow. Overall, power gains from a cold air intake are highly debated. You can typically expect around a 5 horsepower bump.
GrimmSpeed BRZ Cold Air Intake: maperformance.com
BRZ ECU Tune
When it comes to beneficial engine mods that don’t break the bank, it’s hard to beat a flash tune. That is especially true when combined with other light BRZ performance modifications. Without forced induction, you can expect the largest gains from a tune. Generally speaking, a BRZ engine flash tune will optimize engine performance by adjusting ignition timing, air/fuel ratio, and other systems. BRZ tunes are offered by a ton of reputable companies, but here is a short list of our top suggestions:
Vishnu OpenFlash Tablet
Unlike the EcuTek tune below, the Vishnu OpenFlash option doesn’t require you to purchase the software from a specific tuner. The Vishnu tuner is truly plug-and-play and comes preloaded with a handful of performance maps for those not quite looking to get into custom tuning. It offers all the same features and options as described below.
At $500 this is our preferred option as it is slightly less costly and comes with preloaded tunes without having to hitch your horse to one specific tuner.
EcuTek tunes aren’t quite as simple as a plug-and-play option. They require you to purchase hardware and a software license from an approved tuner. Each of these approved tuners programs maps into the EcuTek hardware or offers custom tuning in conjunction with the purchase of the hardware and software. They also have different packages based on performance goals, current mods, etc.
Here are some prominent and popular tuners that you can buy EcuTek tunes from:
- Delicious Tuning
- FT Speed
- Counter Space Garage
BRZ/FRS/GT86 Track Car Suspension Considerations
A ludicrous power figure isn’t the recipe for fun on the track. How your car takes the corners is, though. For that reason, suspension modifications are extremely important in building a BRZ track car. With the right suspension geometry and setup, you’ll be able to make up the time lost on the straights in the corners. In addition to the suspension itself, other supporting components should likely be looked at for integrity. That is especially true if you have an early model BRZ, or purchased it pre-owned. Rear trailing arm bushings, sway bar end links, shock mounts, lower control arms, tie rods, and sway bars should all be inspected as they are all items that wear out over time.
BRZ Suspension Upgrade
Since the ZC6 chassis has become so popular so fast, there are a ton of options available in terms of performance suspension. For track applications, there are generally two paths that you can go down. Those include a performance shock/spring combination or coilover setup. Each has its own benefits. While coilovers perform better, upgraded shocks and springs will certainly provide an advantage over factory Subaru hardware.
In general, shock/spring kits will have stiffer spring rates and better damping characteristics that will allow your BRZ to corner flatter and reduce body roll. They’ll often lower ride height as well, giving your BRZ a lower center of gravity and better visual fitment. However, they do lack adjustable ride height which can prevent you from truly dialing in the exact suspension characteristics that you might want. A spring/shock setup typically costs less than a coilover setup due to this.
Coilovers, on the other hand, provide everything that an upgraded shock/spring setup does and more. Like upgraded shocks and springs, a coilover suspension setup will allow your BRZ to corner flatter and maintain more balance through turns. Coilovers have the added benefit of full ride height adjustability which allows you to customize your setup better. Most quality coilovers also offer some form of damping adjustment and sometimes feature camber adjustment as well.
HKS Hipermax 4SP BRZ Coilovers: enjukuracing.com
Racecomp Engineering Bilstein Shock Combo Package: racecompengineering.com
Subaru BRZ Suspension Supporting Elements
In addition to the suspension itself, a BRZ can benefit quite a bit from refreshed bushings, upgraded sway bars, and other chassis stiffening modifications.
While the BRZ isn’t an old car by any means, early model BRZ suspension bushings might be starting to lose some of their rigidity at this point. That is especially true if you drive your BRZ frequently. For that reason, it might be a good idea to replace them with new OEM bushings or stiffer polyurethane bushings.
While less comfortable on the street, polyurethane BRZ suspension bushings allow less suspension component play and keep suspension geometry in check. They can really tighten up the way that your BRZ handles, especially when paired with a good set of coilovers. The main bushings that you want to pay attention to are front control arm bushings, differential bushings, trailing arm bushings, and rear subframe bushings.
Upgraded sway bars can also add another element of rigidity to your BRZ chassis. In basic terms, a sway bar is a torsional spring that connects to both the left and right sides of the suspension to reduce body roll. This will allow your BRZ to corner flatter and make better contact with the pavement while sending it through turns. Most aftermarket sway bars have adjustable levels of stiffness depending on how you install them. Either way, they are a fantastic way to enhance your BRZ’s cornering performance even more.
Subaru BRZ Polyurethane Bushings: powerflexusa.com
Eibach Anti Roll Bar Set: eibach.com
Subaru BRZ Track Car Weight Saving / Safety Considerations
Of course, you’ll want your BRZ track car to weigh as little as possible while also being as safe as possible. There are a few ways that you can do that for very little cost. If you are building a dedicated track car and can sacrifice some usability, you can remove the front passenger seat. You can also remove the entire rear seat assembly for weight savings. With those seats removed, you’ll reduce your BRZ’s overall curb weight by over 65 lbs. Removing your BRZ’s carpets, sound insulation, spare tire, and speakers can result in another 37 lbs of weight saving. In total, 102 lbs of weight saving will make a significant difference on track which you’ll feel in both straight-line performance and through the corners.
Safety should always be at the top of your priority list when building a BRZ track car. Safety equipment / safety-related parts aren’t optional for a quality track build, they are required. For some people, that means the inclusion of a BRZ roll cage or half cage. While that might be overkill for lower-tier track driving, the safety benefits are undeniable. In most cases, a quality racing seat, a five-point harness, and a quality helmet should do the job. We’ll cover that more in following sections.
BRZ Safety and Weight Saving Upgrades
Generally speaking, weight saving is an easy one. Just remove anything that you don’t need on the track. The best part of weight saving is that it is a free way to gain more performance from your BRZ. We briefly discussed some way to remove weight from a BRZ above. In addition to removing those components, you can also remove your owners manual, internal trim pieces, trunk tools, and factory battery in favor of an aftermarket one to shed a few more pounds.
Best Subaru BRZ Track Car Racing Seats / Harness
Another way to decrease weight in the cabin while improving vehicle safety is with a quality racing seat. You might have the fastest and best handling car in the world, but if you get thrown around in the cabin, the benefits of performance suspension and a high-performance engine are for nothing. Having a loose-fitting seat that isn’t properly linked to the chassis can be extremely dangerous on the track. A bad seat won’t provide the strength and rigidity required to protect you in the event of a crash. It is important to purchase a quality seat made of quality materials for your own safety.
A solid racing seat can inspire confidence through corners. Of course, there are considerations to take into account when choosing the right seat, including bolstering style, size, and price. Sizing is perhaps the most important of the three. You want the seat to hold you tightly while also remaining comfortable for a long duration. If you are interested in learning more about sizing and fitment, check out this Best Racing Seats guide.
Of course, it is also important to find a racing seat that is compatible with your BRZ. That is in respect to both the seat’s size and how it mounts. Oftentimes, aftermarket racing seats aren’t able to bolt directly to factory Subaru seat rails. They typically need an adapter like the ones that Corbeau provides.
In combination with a quality racing seat, it is also a good idea to think about a harness that will hug you snugly in place. Racing harnesses increase the surface area in contact with your body which transfers loads more evenly. Some high-end belts also soften deceleration in the event of a crash.
Here are our top picks for quality BRZ racing seats, brackets, and harnesses:
Corbeau FX1 Pro Racing Seat: corbeau.com
BRZ Mounting Bracket: corbeau.com
Corbeau 4-Point Harness Belt: corbeau.com
Best BRZ Track Car Racing Helmet
When it comes to safety on the track, there are few things more important than a quality racing helmet. Most reputable racing series require a high-quality racing helmet to compete in any event. Certain events also require a specific helmet safety certification, so it is important to check the organization’s rules before making a decision.
As we discussed with racing seats above, there is not a one-size-fits-all racing helmet that will work universally. Certain helmets have particular head shapes built into the construction of the helmet. For that reason, it is extremely important that you purchase a helmet that suits your head the best, both from a safety and comfort perspective.
If you aren’t sure about which helmet will fit you best or be the right choice for your application, it is important to consult an expert who can guide you through the process of finding the best helmet for you. Competitionmotorsport.com has a ton of excellent information about racing helmets and is a great source for making sure that you make the right choice. Check out their Ultimate Racing Helmet Buyer’s Guide.
In addition to being experts in the field, they also carry a ton of helmets to choose from. You can take a look at their inventory at Competitionmotorsport.com.
BRZ/FRS/GT86 Track Car Brake Considerations
On the track, a solid brake setup is just as key to reduced lap times as increased power. Braking plays one of the most crucial roles in performance driving, as good brakes will allow you to brake later and manage your speed through corners. For short-session track day driving, stock BRZ brake calipers and rotors can do the trick when paired with new or performance brake pads. However, like every other component on an aging car, it is extremely important to check the condition of your brake components before hitting the track.
With that being said, factory BRZ brakes fade pretty quickly after a few laps. For that reason, it is smart to think about performance brake pads. A big brake kit is worth the investment in the long run. A big brake kit will dissipate heat faster and handle better for longer. High-performance brake fluid is another important consideration, as factory Subaru brake fluid tends to overheat easily.
BRZ Brake Upgrade Options
As we previously mentioned, stock BRZ brake hardware usually provides enough stopping power for light track duty. That is as long as they have been properly maintained. With that being said, many people in the BRZ community that want some additional braking force have found plenty of high-performance options out there. If you are looking to maintain factory hardware and simply want to have better braking performance once they reach peak temperatures, performance brake pads are your best bet. Upgraded pads will stay more consistent across a wide temperature range.
Brake fluid is another important consideration on track, especially when it comes to BRZs. Factory Subaru DOT 3 brake fluid is notorious for having a relatively low boiling point. For that reason, it is a good idea to replace the factory fluid with fluid that has a higher boiling point. There are plenty of aftermarket companies that provide better options. We’ll list some below.
Finally, let’s talk about big brake kits. If you are building a dedicated BRZ track car, you won’t regret springing for a BBK. Ultimately, there are a few crucial benefits to a BRZ big brake kit over a stock setup. Most BRZ BBKs utilize Subaru STI slotted rotors. In combination with Brembo or Wilwood calipers, your BRZ’s stopping capabilities will be night and day. In addition to providing more stopping force, BBKs tend to be lighter than factory brake hardware. That reduces unsprung rotational weight which improves overall handling.
Project Mu BRZ Brake Pads: project-mu.co.jp
BRZ Project Mu G-Four 335 Brake Fluid: project-mu.co.jp
RR Racing Sport Performance Big Brake Kit: rr-racing.com
How to Build a Subaru BRZ Track Car Summary
Since its release in 2012, the Subaru BRZ/Scion FRS/Toyota GT86 has been a fan favorite. It truly does check all of the boxes for a balanced, well-rounded track day animal. While it is unquestionably capable of light track work from the jump, some choice modifications can bring a BRZ to the next level.
Despite not being the fastest option from the factory, there are a few easy ways to squeeze a bit of extra performance from a BRZ. Some common BRZ bolt-on modifications include a cat back exhaust, cold air intake, and ECU tune. With a bit of mechanical knowledge, installing those parts is a three or four-hour job. For a yield of around 30 extra horsepower, it’s hard to argue that bolt ons aren’t a worthy investment. Additionally, high-flow aftermarket headers are a must for a track-driven BRZ. The dreaded BRZ torque dip around 4,000 rpm can be a joy killer while you’re laying down rubber and a header/tune combination can tackle that problem.
The BRZ can gain a lot from suspension modifications as well. Coilovers are the most common BRZ track day suspension modification due to the amount of adjustability that they offer. Adjustable damping and ride height adjustability allow you to truly dial in your setup exactly how you want it. A proper BRZ suspension setup will unquestionably take a few seconds off of your lap times. When combined with other suspension components, like bushings and sway bars, the difference will be dramatic.
Brakes are one of the most crucial components on the track. While factory BRZ hardware is usable to a limit, high-performance brake pads and brake fluid limit brake fade and increase stopping force. If you are willing to shell out for a big brake kit, it’ll be a good investment in the long run.