Let me tell you about a man named Larry. Larry works for a company called STI Fleet Services, one of a few companies that are responsible for the cleaning, prepping, maintaining, scheduling, delivering and picking up of the cars we test on a weekly basis, not to mention a whole slew of other duties. STI and its competitors are the silent heroes of this whole automotive journalism biz. Larry is one of the guys responsible for a lot of the grunt work – he's been delivering cars to me for nearly seven years now, and because of that, we've developed a bit of a rapport. Now that I think about it, my history with Larry goes back farther than several of my friendships, as well as every romantic relationship I've ever had... combined.
With that much history behind us, Larry knows my taste in cars pretty well. And even though he doesn't voice his own opinions about what's being delivered to me, Larry silently knows when he's about to hand me keys to something truly special. When Larry arrived at my door with a bright red 2013 Scion FR-S, I tried to play it cool. But Larry knows me better than that.
"This is your car, man. It's all you."
Larry is right, too. I've been salivating over the Scion FR-S and its Subaru BRZ counterpart since the first set of spy shots landed in our inbox so many moons ago. And while a few of my coworkers had already driven these coupes in various locales (I am still so very jealous of Managing Editor Jeremy Korzeniewski and his Isle of Man rampage), this would be my first stint behind the wheel of the manual-equipped Toyobaru. (Full disclosure: I had already driven an automatic BRZ prior to this.)
I'll be honest, though. The FR-S isn't the one I'd have. Park it next to a Subaru BRZ and most people will have a hard time spotting all of the differences, but they're certainly there. And I notice. And for some reason – it could be the LEDs in the front fascia or even the subtle spoiler out back – the BRZ just turns the "want" factor up to 11 for me.
But that isn't to say the Scion isn't an attractive car. It's wonderful to see just how much of the original FR-S concept's design has carried over to the production model, including the sculpted front fascia with wheel arches that extend up beyond the relatively flat hood and the sloping roofline that flows into a clean, chopped off rear deck. No, the bold 20-inch wheels of the concept didn't carry over to the street-legal car, but the 17-inch rollers seen here do fill out the wheel wells enough to give the car an appropriately aggressive stance. The wheels themselves aren't particularly emotional or evocative in terms of design, but they're nice. And besides, that's what the aftermarket is for.
Its 11 inches shorter, an inch wider and 4.5 inches lower than a Honda Civic Coupe.
Overall size and proportions are where the FR-S gets really attractive, though. A lot of comparisons have slotted this car in with the Mazda MX-5 Miata and Hyundai Genesis Coupe, and in terms of its overall dimensions, the Scion is basically smack dab in the middle of the two. For another perspective, know that the FR-S is 11 inches shorter in length, an inch wider and 4.5 inches shorter in height than a Honda Civic Coupe. It's a short, squat little thing, and it's damn pretty.
That size comparison is a good way to describe interior dimensions as well. It's certainly not as cramped as a Miata, but a Genesis Coupe feels immensely more spacious by comparison. Taller passengers will certainly have a hard time getting comfortable in the Toyobaru – there isn't a ton of headroom, and even though the steering wheel does telescope some, you'll be doing your best Stretch Armstrong impression if you have to slide the seat back to accommodate longer legs.
But for those of us not in the 90th percentile of height, the FR-S fits like a glove. Despite having a rather complicated audio control setup (wait and see just how long it takes you to adjust the bass/treble – seriously), the center console functions are very simply laid out and easy to use. It's all you need and nothing you don't – three dials to control the heating/cooling; simple stalks coming out of the steering column to manage your wipers, headlights and turn signals; and a center console free of any clutter except for a tall, well-positioned six-speed manual shifter front and center.
Taller passengers will certainly have a hard time getting comfortable.
The cabin isn't uncomfortable, either. The front seats provide ample support, both in terms of overall butt-cushioning and lateral bolstering, and for two people, the interior is spacious enough that you won't want to kill each other on long trips. Those rear seats, however, are basically useless for anything resembling a human adult.
Fine, though. The FR-S isn't a vehicle meant to coddle and soothe – it's a driver's car, first and foremost. Power comes from a 2.0-liter boxer four, sending 200 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels via either the six-speed manual transmission you see here or an optional six-speed automatic. I've tried both applications, and while the auto is fine, I guess (don't do it), the manual is better. A lot better.
Anyone who has spent time behind the wheel of a four-cylinder VTEC Honda or a Mazda MX-5 will know the FR-S' engine dynamics rather well. Basically, stop worrying about fuel economy (22 miles per gallon city and 30 highway, if you need to know) and just rev the hell out of the thing. This is a light car – only 2,758 pounds – but come on, 200 horsepower isn't exactly a ton of grunt. Aiding in off-the-line slowness is the fact that the full 151 pound-feet of twist doesn't come on until 6,400 rpm, so basically, any time spent mashing the throttle below 4,000 rpm is not time well spent. Downshift, and downshift often. Keep the revs high and you'll be happy. And so will the Scion.
Any time spent mashing the throttle below 4,000 rpm is not time well spent.
Because of that need to shift frequently, you definitely want the manual transmission. It's clear that Subaru took the lead on development of the six-speed do-it-yourself tranny, as the shifting action feels closer to WRX STI levels of involvement than anything Toyota has ever put out. The transmission all works flawlessly with a nicely weighted clutch pedal that doesn't require a ton of travel and a gearbox that rips off crisp, notchy short shifts. Throttle response is equally good, with a linear power delivery and not a ton of juice flowing right at initial tip-in. It's all very engaging, and very, very well done.
It may not use the strongest of engines, but if there's one thing I've learned throughout time, it's that tons of power does not necessarily a good car make. Yeah, a thousand horsepower is fun, but not if the car falls all over itself putting that force to the ground. And in the FR-S, chassis development was clearly priority Number One. Weight distribution rings in at a 53/47 front/rear split, and overall tuning was done to make the coupe involving and dynamic above all. Yes, that means ride comfort is compromised over rough pavement, but get some smooth tarmac with lots of twists and you won't care.
MacPherson struts reside at the front and there's a double wishbone suspension setup at the rear, with stabilizer bars (18 millimeters in front, 14 millimeters out back) keeping things stiff. But the tuning done to this setup is what makes it shine – body roll simply doesn't exist and there's excellent feedback being delivered to the driver from all four corners. The stock Michelin Primacy HP summer tires are grippy enough while still letting you easily kick the tail out, but man, this thing grips.
Overall tuning was done to make the coupe involving and dynamic above all.
Like so many other new products hitting the market, the FR-S uses electric power steering, and while we've had our reservations about this setup in a number of Toyota products, things are a-okay in the little Scion. The steering is direct and linear with a good weight on center, and from behind the wheel, you really don't get any of that wishy-washy false feeling that electric racks have been known for in the past (especially those associated with a Toyota badge).
The FR-S isn't quite as perfectly balanced and flickable as a Miata, but it's really, really close. And that's still high praise. It is slow off the line, but so is the Mazda (the FR-S' 0-60 time of 6.8 seconds is three-tenths of a second quicker than Miata-san), but once it gets going, it's good.
You were right, Larry.
All in, this 2013 FR-S stickered for $25,255 including $755 for destination, and aside from a choice of transmission and a few accessories, the car pretty much comes one way. If you want niceties like leather, keyless start and a prettier audio display, you'll have to option up for the BRZ Limited – $28,265 including destination. But as a starting point, the FR-S is a really sweet package. As far as rear-wheel-drive sports coupes go, this thing absolutely wins the fun-per-dollar category.
This thing absolutely wins the fun-per-dollar category.
What's next? Turbo power. It's coming, and we've also heard reports of a convertible version joining the lineup, too. I'm all in favor of expanding this FR-S/BRZ lineup here in the States, and that forced-induction version is absolutely calling my name. The naturally aspirated 2013 FR-S is a honey, and if this is the sort of starting point we have to work with for a more powerful version down the road, I'm on the edge of my seat. But Larry already knows that.