2013 Scion FR-S First Drive Review
We hit the track to drive the 2013 Scion FR-S
Web2Carz Contributing Writer
Published: May 14th, 2012
Few all-new designs have been as eagerly awaited as that of the Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S duo (seriously, when was the last time a Toyota product that keenly anticipated?), and now the duo (the shared platform has been dubbed "Subieyota" by the snarkier elements of the motoring press) is finally hitting the market, with the FR-S going on sale June 1st.
We were assigned the arduous task of flying all the way to Las Vegas, taking the car from the outskirts of Sin City to a racetrack, and spending a day putting it through its paces under the desert heat. It's hard work, but someone's gotta do it. We sighed, strapped on our driving shoes, and volunteered.
Cynics will tell you that the BRZ and Scion are identical save for badging, while Scion reps will say that differences in the suspension and other aspects of the car set the two apart. We find that we don't care if the Scion-branded car is being built at a Subaru plant in Japan, or if it uses a Subaru horizontally-opposed "boxer" engine (both companies' names are emblazoned on the engine cover), or the styling is almost identical between the two. We're just happy that the Toyota family has a true rear-wheel drive sports car again.
Power comes from the aforementioned "boxer" 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which pumps out 200 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque, and there are just two transmission choices: a six-speed manual and six-speed automatic.
A double-wishbone suspension underpins the rear and there's a MacPherson strut setup up front. The FR-S rides on 17-inch wheels shod with summer tires.
Features & Prices
The FR-S starts at $24,200 for the manual transmission and $25,300 for the automatic, and as usual with Scion, there are plenty of aftermarket accessories that buyers can add on. In lieu of option packages, Scion sells its options a la carte style, and some of the available features are fog lamps, 18-inch wheels, a performance exhaust, a rear spoiler, a cold-air intake, performance brakes, and Scion's BeSpoke audio system (BeSpoke uses an iPhone app to allow users to find other BeSpoke users through Twitter. Owners can then meet up for coffee, for example). Standard features include: cruise control, an auxiliary port, a USB port, digital and analog speedometers, cruise control, air conditioning, a rear window defroster, a leather-trimmed tilt/telescope steering wheel, and aluminum pedals.
The features list is short, and that's because Scion is keeping things simple with the FR-S. We find that refreshing in this day and age of feature bloat, and we suspect weekend warriors will appreciate the car's 2,758 lb curb weight on track days.
Road And Track
On the street, we were initially underwhelmed by the FR-S, due to the dearth of low-end grunt. We immediately wished for a turbo--that is, until we wound the needle north of 4,000 rpm. Not only does the exhaust note change at that point, but the engine comes alive. Keep the car in the peak rev band, and it wants to play all day long.
This is precisely what we discovered on the track at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada. This may have been a case of the track being a perfect match for the car, but the FR-S was just unflappable on the track. Indeed, Spring Mountain's short straights made it easy to keep the rpm's between 4,000 and 7,000, thus allowing us to wring the most out of the motor. We found that if we did it right, we could simply keep the car in third gear for an entire lap, although we did sometimes find ourselves smacking the rev limiter in third on the back straights, necessitating a quick hop to fourth, and we occasionally grabbed second coming out of the low-speed hairpin. Once we found the engine's sweet spot, we accelerated out of turns in a hurry, shooting down the straights with a race-car soundtrack from the exhaust. We haven't driven such a perfect track car in some time--the FR-S reminded us of a poor man's Mazda RX-8.
The razor-sharp steering inspired plenty of confidence--the car goes where it's pointed with no complaints or confusion. The brakes hauled the car down with ease and we didn't worry much about fade. Additionally, body roll was well-muted, keeping the car nicely planted. Even during our one "oops" moment--we overcooked a corner with the traction control system turned completely off--we never really worried about meeting the desert on its terms.
Most of these track traits carry over to the street, although the car's ride is tractable enough (at least on pristine Nevada roads) for around-town cruising. The steering does get a tad nervous on freeway jaunts, but it's a fair trade, we think.
We're happy that Scion gave the traction control various modes of intervention: it can be fully on, the traction control can be turned off, the traction control and vehicle skid control can be turned off, or the car can be put into VSC Sport mode, with the traction control off and the VSC system left on but set to be less restrictive. We sampled three modes (fully on, VSC Sport, and fully off) on an autocross and found that for pure performance, turning the system all the way off was the most fun. Automatic transmission cars also offer a Sport mode and Snow mode for the transmission.
We didn't spend much time in the automatic (just some autocrossing and several laps on the track) but we found it to be fairly competent, and it has paddle shifters for those who like that sort of thing. We'll stick to the manual, though, thank you very much.
One thing to note: Scion is so serious about performance that the steering wheel is free of audio controls or switches of any kind, and even a turbo seems to be off the table, since the engineers want drivers to actually do the heavy lifting.
We liked the swoopy styling overall--this is a car that means business. If it reminds viewers of other RWD Japanese sports cars from years past, that's the point. Indeed, between "86" badging and the 86 millimeter bore and 86 millimeter stroke of the cylinders, Scion is definitely honoring the Corolla GTS/AE86 of old.
The cabin is a bit of a letdown to aesthetes everywhere, although we loved the purpose-built gauge cluster. The radio head unit looks like an afterthought, and few materials feel upscale (we had no chance to sample BeSpoke), but we suspect most buyers won't care. This is a car for the track, not the country club.
Scion lists the FR-S as a four-seater, but the backseat won't fit any humans that have grown past the teething stage. Unless you have very young children, think of it as a parcel shelf.
Fuel Economy & Safety
Scion is promising fuel economy of 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway/25 combined for the manual and 25/34/28 for the automatic. Safety features include ABS, traction control, vehicle skid control, and six airbags.
The FR-S will appeal to a specific audience, mostly comprised of twenty- and thirty-somethings who don't need a backseat or much trunk space (though, some older and more moneyed buyers will buy the FR-S as either a weekend car or a mid-life crisis mobile). Given the price tag and performance, we think it will do well with that audience, especially those weaned on the Fast and the Furious franchise. It's very, very good on the street and excellent on the track.
Toyota has been pilloried for being staid and boring, and even Scion's other offerings, quirky as they are, haven't done much to combat that rep. The FR-S changes all that. Toyota needed to partner with Subaru--Subie had the parts and performance expertise, Toyota had the cash--to make this car work, and that's fine. This is one case of platform prostitution that we won't mind.
Because the cars are so similar, most buyers will choose between the FR-S and the BRZ based on brand loyalty, and dealer experience. That's fine. We haven't yet tested the BRZ, but if it's anything like the FR-S, we think buyers won't be steered wrong.
Perhaps the best thing about the FR-S isn't its street performance or track day cred. It's that the FR-S proves that Toyota (with Subaru's assistance) can build a credible modern rear-wheel drive sports car and price it right. We didn't think we'd see that again from the company in a long time.
We're glad to be proven wrong.
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2013 Scion FR-S, click here: 2013 Scion FR-S.