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.
New Car Test Drive
The return of the affordable sportscar.
Don't look now, but the '80s are back. Thankfully, there's a bright spot among the nauseating resurrection of neon jeans, blue eyeshadow and shoulder pads: The return of the affordable Japanese sports car. And there's no better example than the 2013 Scion FR-S.
But hold onto your parachute pants, because the FR-S is anything but dated. The front-engine, rear-wheel-drive coupe is all new, built in collaboration with Subaru, which, along with Toyota engineers, co-developed a flat 4-cylinder, horizontally opposed, direct-injection boxer engine. The two companies worked together to develop both the chassis and the small, lightweight engine with a shape and size that allows it to sit very low in the engine compartment, equating to a lower center of gravity (which Scion loves to point out is lower than the Porsche Cayman) for better balance and handling. Paired with a choice of a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission, the 2013 Scion FR-S makes a respectable 200 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque.
Performance-oriented features abound on the 2013 FR-S, including a front MacPherson front suspension, a double-wishbone rear suspension, and ventilated disc brakes all around. Inside, the cargo area was configured, per a Toyota engineer's request, to fit four full-size tires and a jack with the rear seats folded flat. In other words, it's ready to head for the nearest autocross or track day event. Like other Scions, the FR-S is mono-spec with a plethora of optional a la carte accessories, including a cold air intake, big brake kit, sway bars, and body kit.
EPA fuel economy estimates for the 2012 FR-S are 22/30 mpg City/Highway for the manual transmission and 25/34 mpg for the automatic. All cars will be built alongside the Subaru BRZ, sister car to the Scion FR-S, out of Subaru's Gunma assembly plant in central Japan.
The primary inspiration for the FR-S was the 1983 Toyota Corolla, the fifth-generation of the Corolla, code-named AE86. Called the Hachi-Roku in Japan, the AE86 was a breakthrough sports car for Toyota. Its lightweight and high-revving engine powered the car to many track, rally and autocross wins. Toyota gives a nod to the AE86 with a stylized 86 on the FR-S badge. You may also notice the tailpipes measure 86 millimeters in diameter. Two other models influenced the FR-S as well: The 1965 Toyota Sports 800 and the 1967 Toyota 2000GT.
With that much of an homage to its history, some are left scratching their heads over why Toyota would brand the FR-S in the U.S. as a Scion. First, the Toyota brand image in North America these days evokes about as much excitement as a toaster. Consumers buy Toyotas for practicality and reliability, not so much for eye-catching design or breathtaking performance. Second, Scion, which boasts the youngest owners in the industry, needs a halo car, an attainable object of desire that draws new customers to a lineup of econo-boxes. But will it work? Scion execs think so. They anticipate the FR-S will appeal not only to teenagers and college-aged kids, but to older enthusiasts in their 30s and beyond. With its low base price and customizable setup, Scion expects even well-to-do customers will step forward for the light, tossable track car.
The 2013 Scion FR-S competes with compact sports cars like the rear-wheel-drive Hyundai Genesis Coupe, a car that boasts more optional power and larger dimensions, but also a heftier price tag. Then there's the evil twin: the Subaru BRZ, sister car to the FR-S. While the platform, powertrain and most parts are identical, the FR-S packs a firmer, more sporty suspension, which should appeal more to weekend track warriors. Base versions of the Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro are also potential rivals, as is the Mazda Miata MX-5, all rear-wheel-drive cars.
The 2013 Scion FR-S is available in a single trim level and comes with a choice of a 6-speed manual ($24,200) or 6-speed automatic ($25,300) transmission. Standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels with 215/45R17 summer tires, chrome-tipped dual exhaust, keyless entry, power door locks and side-view mirrors, power windows, air conditioning, 6-way driver and 4-way manually adjustable seats, cloth upholstery, leather-trimmed tilt and telescoping steering wheel, leather-wrapped shift knob, aluminum sport pedals and scuff plates, cruise control, a one-piece folding rear seatback, Bluetooth handsfree phone connectivity and an 8-speaker, 300- watt Pioneer audio system with AM/FM, CD player, HD radio and AUX/USB ports.
Safety features standard on the 2013 FR-S include a first aid kit, six airbags (driver- and front- passenger, front-seat-mounted and side-curtain), anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic brake distribution (EBD), brake assist, traction control and stability control.
Accessories include 18-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, fog lights, mud guards, wheel locks, paint protection film, cold air intake, upgraded exhaust system, lowering springs, upgraded air filter, strut tie brace, sway bars, upgraded brakes, performance brake pads, an interior center arm rest and an upgraded audio system using Scion's forthcoming BeSpoke interface.
Scion says the exterior design of the FR-S was inspired by the Toyota 2000GT of the late 1960s. And while the FR-S lacks the long hood and relatively short passenger compartment of the old car, one can see that it echoes the 2000GT's long, sleek shape and its pagoda-style roof.
The front fascia of the FR-S is much busier than its ancestor, with angular headlamps and upward-swooping fenders. The wide-mouthed front grille employs a unique mesh pattern (Stealth bombers? Bejeweled gems?) that's cleverly repeated behind the driver's instrument cluster. From the side, the pointy, shark-nosed FR-S clearly has abandoned the proportions of the old cars in favor of a shorter hood and softer-flowing lines over the passenger compartment. In back, the FR-S has a low, wide rump. In continuing the 86 theme, the exhaust tips are 86 millimeters across. A combination of round and sharp geometric lines on taillights and lower LED accents, which sit squarely between the twin tailpipes, evoke faces of strange Japanese anime characters.
Managing airflow around the car was a design priority, not only for better fuel economy, but to help keep the engine and other systems cool. To this end, the FR-S uses bumper covers in the back for improved aerodynamics. Add the aerodynamic treatment underneath the car and the FR-S earns a drag coefficient of 0.27, according to Scion, which beats the Hyundai Genesis Coupe's 0.32 Cd.
Unlike many performance-oriented cars that have a driver-focused cockpit, the 2013 Scion FR-S has a symmetrical dash, presumably to control costs in producing both left- and right-hand drive versions. Like all Scions, the instrument cluster and center stack in the FR-S is blissfully clean and simple. Climate controls consist of three large knobs that are easy to see and reach.
At the center of the cockpit is an all-new steering wheel, the smallest on any Scion. At just 14.4 inches in diameter, the wheel is easy to handle on the track. On cars equipped with the automatic transmission, paddle shifters are attached to the wheel, rather than affixed to the steering column. We like that the wheel can telescope as well as tilt, a feature not often found on lower-priced vehicles. Achieving a proper driving position is important on the race track or autocross circuit.
Fit and finish are admirable for price, with soft-touch dash materials, good fit and finish, and thoughtful touches such as aluminum pedals and the sporty mesh pattern behind instrument cluster that mirrors the front grille mesh. Some elements look cheap and plastic-y, though, like the removable cupholder unit in the center console and the fake carbon-fiber-print trim in front of the front passenger. All in all, though, the interior on the FR-S is well executed, and we think perhaps even better than the pre-production Hyundai Genesis Coupe we drove earlier this year.
The driver and passengers sit low in the cockpit, which can take a while to get used to, but visibility is still good. The fabric seats are highly bolstered and comfortable, although there is no lumbar support and the range of adjustability isn't as wide as we'd like. The cloth upholstery used on the seats is soft and grippy, almost like the much-pricier Alcantara, although we wonder how durable it will be, especially on the bottom seat cushions.
The rear bucket seats are ridiculously cramped. While there is enough hip and knee room for small adults or young children, the lack of toe room makes it almost impossible to carry people in the backseat. Most likely we'd use the rear seating area for storage, which, when the single-folding seat back is flat, provides open access to the trunk and enough room for four full-sized tires. Glaring omissions on the FR-S was a lack of a roof handle on the passenger side, as well as rear handles/hooks for rear passengers and/or dry cleaning.
Audio controls vary depending on what system you choose. We found the controls on the base stereo to be nonsensical and aggravating; the upgraded system with the touchscreen is much more intuitive and easy to use. Sound quality from the Pioneer audio system is fair, but since Scion customers tend to be big on customization, we expect music aficionados will roll with aftermarket speakers anyway.
The FR-S debuts a new, optional infotainment system called BeSpoke, powered by Pioneer's Zypr technology. While our test cars were not yet equipped with the new system, we were able to see a freestanding display outside of the car. The new system offers drivers connectivity via the usual apps such as Facebook and Twitter, but we were disappointed to learn that BeSpoke is compatible only with Apple's iPhone and iPod, which might not sit too well with a vast number of the younger set opting for Andriod-powered smartphones.
When it comes to performance, the FR-S will meet your expectations, as long as they are realistic. For a sub-$25,000 car powered by a four-cylinder engine, the 2012 Scion FR-S delivers tight handing, good feedback and plenty of fun. Electronically assisted steering, which can often be dull and dead, feels surprisingly responsive and engaging.
While driving on the street, we found the FR-S didn't have a ton of power at low revs, and acceleration performance was inadequate for safely passing on a two-lane road at higher elevations. There's no turbo here to help generate power in the thin air. In these situations, we had to allow ourselves plenty of space for passing.
The firm suspension, while great for performance, makes for a rough ride over speed bumps and into driveways. Wind noise was evident at freeway speeds, although we didn't notice a lot of road noise coming from the 17-inch wheels and summer tires.
On the track, the car was able and forgiving, and while the low end didn't throw us back in our seats, we had ample power in the higher revs. The car felt balanced and hunkered down, with very little body roll around corners. With its nimble handling, we preferred the lower-speed autocross to the high-speed track. Nevertheless, the FR-S was plenty impressive in all applications.
Although the naturally aspirated engine is currently the only available option, we expect it's only a matter of time before someone figures out how to shoehorn in an aftermarket turbocharger. Toyota engineers are mum on whether an OE turbo-charged version will ever hit the market, but we guess it could happen in the next year or two.
A so-called sound creator pipes engine sound into the cabin to give drivers an ego boost. We're not big fans of this ever-increasing practice but suppose it's good fun. The sound on the FR-S isn't as sweet and throaty as the one in the Hyundai Genesis Coupe, but it does put out a bit more grunt above 4000 rpm.
Cars equipped with the automatic transmission have automatic rev matching, which means it will blip the throttle while downshifting to match engine speed for maximum performance. This is particularly helpful on the track. Shifts with the automatic are relatively quick but not lightning fast.
On manual transmissions, the shifter feel strikes a nice balance between easy to move but not sloppy. Same with clutch feel. Engineers said they designed the clutch, shifter, and throttle feel to be similar and in synch, and it seems as if they were successful.
One interesting feature on the Scion FR-S is a rev indicator, which lets the driver set an alert at certain rpm. Common on race cars, it helps drivers shift consistently at the redline without taking their eyes off the track.
EPA fuel economy estimates for the 2012 FRS are 22/30/25 mpg City/Highway/Combined for the manual and 25/34/28 mpg for the automatic.
The Scion FR-S offers track-day fun at an attainable price. Its traditional rear-wheel-drive layout with double-wishbone independent rear suspension and low center of gravity make for an entertaining driver's car.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Laura Burstein filed this report after her test drive of the Scion FR-S near Las Vegas.
Scion FR-S 6-speed manual ($24,200), 6-speed automatic ($25,300).
Options As Tested
Scion FR-S ($24,200).
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