I’ve now had my BRZ for 15 months, and for the most part I absolutely love it. There is however one thing about the car that I found myself endlessly annoyed by on day 1 and hate every bit as much more than a year later. Is it the Prius tires? The power? The engine noise pumped into the cabin? Nope, it’s this motherfucker right here.
The factory stereo unit in the BRZ is far and away the worst modern era unit I’ve ever used. The lag is abysmal, the dials are vague, the call menu is mediocre at best, but the real hell comes when you connect it to a phone, either via bluetooth or USB.
Starting with the simplest of tasks: playing music. Play music stored on your phone and it’s fine. Track info shows up on the screen along with cover art (if you have the cover art in your library), just as you’d expect. Pandora is similar, though it would crash on me every third or fourth use. Use Spotify or another audio player though and it all goes to hell. The display will show the track info for the first track you play, but won’t change when the track changes. You can be three hours into a drive and the display will still be showing that first song it played.
Next there’s Starlink, Subaru’s signature interface. On their more robust cars with the extra safety features and cameras and such this is probably pretty good. The BRZ though got a stripped down version which basically looks and feels like a back alley bootleg of Apple Carplay (it should go without saying at this point that the unit doesn’t have actual Carplay or Android Auto). Starlink is a handful of apps; news, weather, some no-name music apps, a concert app, and Yelp, and they’re all pure garbage. Go into News and it looks like an early 2000s high school student HTML project. Go into weather and you get the same quality graphics and your only weather location options are your current location plus a selection of major cities. If you’re headed anywhere else you’re SOL on knowing what the weather’s like. All the apps have an average lag time of 5-10 seconds between every single command/selection given (yes, I timed it), and most don’t work at all unless the car is stationary. This is good and reasonable from a safety standpoint, but literally no one sitting stationary is going to choose to use this ugly laggy mess over the smartphone connected to the car to provide the ugly laggy mess with internet connectivity in the first place.
And then there’s the piece de resistance. The be all end all reason I knew from my very first road trip that I needed to replace this turd of a head unit. When you listen to a podcast or an audiobook on an iPhone (and perhaps on an Android as well, I have no experience with one so can’t compare) and have navigation going the phone will pause the book/podcast when giving nav instructions so you don’t have the two talking over each other and miss something. This makes total sense. However, when the phone pauses the audio program the stereo mutes itself and won’t unmute until the audio program resumes. This means you completely miss the navigation instruction and if you weren’t looking at the screen of your phone (which you’re not supposed to be doing in the first place, this is the whole point of spoken instructions) you miss your turn/exit/whatever. Whoever thought this was acceptable needs to be fired. Out of a cannon.
I could go on listing the many other frustrations and issues with the radio (like the fact that there’s no way to turn the screen off, even when the system is turned off), but that was the big one that started the replacement countdown timer. I’d originally intended to keep the car completely stock until it was paid off, but that stereo made itself my one exception.
While I knew I wanted to replace the unit, it took a while for the opportunity to actually do it to present itself. Other issues kept taking my time and money (I had to replace both my phone and my laptop last year, and I’m one of those suckers using overpriced iFruit), and as the year approached the end I was still swearing my way through trips with the factory unit. Then Christmas brought a surprise.
Pioneer’s AVH-1440NEX. Not new or top of the line by any means, but it has decent graphics and all the features I wanted. Plus Pioneer units are by far the easiest to install in Subarus. Autoharnesshouse.com offers a full plug and play setup for Pioneer units so no cutting/splicing/soldering/etc is required.
I spent an afternoon searching through the forums to see what I would need and what issues people had encountered, then placed orders for the harness and some dash trim (more on that in a bit). The harness was the first to arrive, and as promised it made installation shockingly easy.
First, the disassembly of the car to do the installation. I had to remove the fake carbon fiber dash trim from the dashboard to access the factory head unit, then remove the glove box, A-pillar trim, and pull down the headliner to install the mic in the factory position (not the easiest spot to locate it, but I wanted the install to be as clean and unnoticeable as possible). Only two pieces in this process require tools, the sun visors, which need to be removed in order to pull down the head liner, and the stereo head unit itself. Everything else can be pulled off by hand without much difficulty. (A note to anyone attempting anything similar, the plastic clips that hold the sun visor in place have push tabs on the front and back. These can easily be pressed in with a small hard object - I used my smallest allen key. If you try to remove these clips without pressing the tabs you’ll likely break them).
Next step was the wiring, and as stated the harness made it easy. The complete harness kit ($100) came with three parts, the main harness which provided all the power/functionality/back up camera input/audio output/etc (that’s the harness hanging down in the photo), an adapter for the AM/FM antenna, and an adapter to retain connectivity through the factory USB port at the base of the center console. I was particularly happy about that last one since it means I don’t have an iPhone/USB cable hanging out of the dashboard/glovebox all the time that I wouldn’t be able to remove without taking the dashboard apart. This way I can easily swap between phones/operating systems or just remove all cables and have the clean look back.
The hardest part of the installation was honestly running the mic up the A-pillar and securing the mic and wire in a position that wouldn’t shake the mic or cable around too much. Everything else was done inside five minutes. A quick power up showed everything was up and running properly.
Putting the carbon fiber trim back on demonstrated the main cosmetic issue with changing out the factory unit. While the factory unit is technically a DDIN, the face of the unit is wider than a standard DDIN. Furthermore, the unit isn’t a rectangle but a trapezoid, wider at the top. This means a straight head unit swap results in massive panel gaps.
Unacceptable. I’d known about this in advance, so I’d ordered two trim pieces to help solve the problem. The first came the day after the wiring harness, a plastic rectangular surround piece meant to fill in the difference between a standard aftermarket DDIN unit and your typical rectangular Toyota factory unit. The piece I ordered was from Metra and, simply put, it’s kinda crap. The plastic is flimsy and glossy piano black (hello, finger smudges) and while the vertical opening is correct the width is still about 6 mm wider than the unit. Even worse, instead of Metra having a different kit for different cars and sending you the correct one for your car, they just have a single kit which includes every bracket for every car.
Of the ten pieces of plastic in this photo seven went straight into the trash. None of it was even recyclable. Furthermore I had to spend a better part of a half hour breaking the 20 incorrect tabs off each of the two brackets I actually did need, then spend even more time cutting the bracket down to fit. So much needless waste. (I’ve since bought a second trim bracket from Scosche, which I’ll be trying for comparison. More on that when it arrives.)
With the plastic trim piece installed this is how the unit looked. Much better than it was, but still a noticeable gap.
Scosche does offer a trapezoidal DDIN trim kit that would (supposedly) take care of this issue, but I opted for a different solution. In some other countries the car comes with a standard rectangular head unit, akin to the pre-2o16 U.S. market BRZ. In these countries instead of the two-piece fake carbon fiber dash trim of the 2016, or the two-piece black-with-red-stitching of the 2017+ (which also suffers from the trapezoid head unit), cars come with a single piece black-with-red-stitching trim piece. This to me looks much better than the carbon fiber since it matches the seats, shifter, handbrake, door trim, etc. Despite this not being a USDM item, you can still order it direct from Subaru in the States (part number 66077CA201). Prices vary by as much as $50 on these. MSRP is $164, and most of my area dealers were within $15-20 of that, but a bit of shopping around found it as low as $113.
The Subaru dash trim came the day after the Metra bracket. A quick tug on the factory trim and a quick pop in of the new one and I had the swap completed in under three minutes. Fitment still isn’t perfect, but it’s a massive improvement over the trapezoid and does overall suit the interior better.
I’m going to keep toying with trim brackets until I find one that does a satisfactory job sealing the panel gap, but overall I’m thrilled with the swap, both in terms of functionality and appearance. I feel like the new head unit isn’t providing as much bass/deep tones as the factory unit (when I have to pull it out to install the new brackets I’ll plug the old unit back in to test this), and the FM signal isn’t as good as it was, but otherwise the unit is so much better than what I had and absolutely worth the effort.
UPDATE: The reduced bass and FM signal issues were the result of a loose connection. Fixed the connection and both are now fantastic. I also received the dash trim kit from Scosche, which you can read about here.