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2013 Scion FR-S Review By Steve Purdy

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More fun for the Scion crowd

By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

Less than five years ago Akio Toyoda asked his people the simple question, “Where is the passion in our lineup?” When they found none he followed up with, “I want to build a sports car.” So they did, teaming up with Subaru to co-develop the car. Mr. Toyoda is an avid racer himself, by the way, and quite competent we understand. Coincidentally, the day of our testing was Mr. Toyoda’s 56th birthday. He did not join us for the launch, however.

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We’ve come to Las Vegas this week to thoroughly examine the coupe they came up with - the Scion FR-S, a front engine, rear-wheel drive, 2+2. With this relatively lightweight little car we expect to have great fun at a sweet little race track near Pahrump, NV where we had both track and autocross opportunities. The desert roads through Red Rock Park, past Blue Diamond and over the pass at Mountain Springs provided some real world feel as well. So, this is just an introduction and preliminary review with a full review to come when I get some really serious road time.

Scion, as our astute readers will know, is Toyota’s youth division. With products that are inexpensive, versatile, and fun, they hope to bring youngsters into the fold so that, as they mature and prosper, they can move on to Toyota and Lexus products. The new FR-S is the ‘halo’ car for the Scion brand as it encompasses all the right values and philosophy. As we revealed above they did not do this car by themselves.

Enter Subaru partnering with Toyota to codevelop the car so that both have a version of the ultimate product and share the huge development costs that come with any clean-sheet-of-paper project like this. Teams of engineers and designers from each brand combined their talents and resources to come up with a car that will serve both brands. The Subaru version is called BRZ and I’ve not experienced that one yet. It will be the only Subaru without all-wheel drive.

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While we don’t think of Toyota as a company that produces enthusiast oriented sport cars, particularly ones with rear-wheel drive, there is precedent. They brought three cars here to make that point: the lovely and well-known Toyota 2000 GT, a lesser-known, cute-as-a-bug, two-cylinder Toyota Sports 800 from the late 1960s and the cult pocket racer known here as the GT-S from the mid 1980s. The latter’s model designation was “AE86.” Taking advantage of that moniker a stylized “86” is designed into the new car’s logo along with two, horizontally opposed pistons.

Before we reveal the significance of the pistons let’s examine the styling and design.

With proportions and appearance much like the Hyundai Genesis Coupe, the FR-S looks like it’s ready for action when standing still. Styling queues have only slight reference to other Scion models, which tend to be simple and a bit boxy. The sleek and swoopy FR-S is the fifth car in the Scion lineup and considered the “halo” car. A low hood (the hood is aluminum, by the way) made possible by the boxer engine and other design decisions, adds to the sports car ambiance. With judicious underbody cladding and careful attention to design details they’ve achieved an amazing 0.27 coefficient of drag while including graceful styling.

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The FR-S moniker refers to Front engine, Rear-wheel drive and Scion or Sport, whichever you prefer. The enthusiastic Scion PR team say it also means Friggin’ Really Sweet.

The interior is done with aplomb. Well-bolstered seats, front and rear, are finished in a nice faux-suede with contrasting stitching. Gauges and controls are all simple and intuitive, just what we expect from Scion cars. Rear seat ingress and egress are quite limited and if you were to accommodate 4 people they would have to be small and flexible. Trunk space is meager at just 6.9 cubic feet. The rear seat back folds flat but the releases are a challenge to reach. That’s another disadvantage to the coupe design. One of the design parameters required that the rear accommodate a set of racing tires and a few tools. Another was that it would accommodate a roll cage without major modifications. A tip of the hat to all the young racers who’ll want this car.

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Now, to those pistons, horizontally opposed ones, just like Porsche, the original VWs and of course, Subaru. I’ve always felt there is something unique and satisfying about the rhythm of a ‘boxer’ engine. It must be in the inherent balance. This one, a 2-liter, 200-horsepower unit with a Toyota-style dual fuel injection system (one injector in the intake port and another in the cylinder) makes only 151 pound-feet or torque. That makes it feel mighty tepid at lower rpms, but once over about 3,500 it feels strong enough. We understand there are no plans for a turbo addition but we could see a supercharger from Scion in the future. Look for the aftermarket to do the turbo and plenty more. To enhance the driving ambiance they’ve ducted engine noises into the cabin on hard acceleration. Nice touch.

We don’t yet have a reliable zero-to-60mph time but it’s not likely to be impressive with that lack of torque. Fuel mileage is impressive for a 2758-pound car, though, at 22mpg in the city and 30 on the highway for the manual and 25/34 for the automatic. Not long ago we could confidently assume that a manual would get better mileage. These numbers are a testament to transmission technology and this six-speed unit is a charmer actuated by paddle shifters or the conventional console-mounted, leather-wrapped switchgear. The manual shifter is even more charming with short throw and smooth, tight feel.

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The electric power steering is amazingly quick and precise with good feedback. The steering wheel is just the right size and wrapped in leather. Front suspension is McPherson strut but the struts are mounted lower and more inboard than most contributing to the low center of gravity. The rear setup is a double wishbone design. All the common chassis dynamics are included but with the option of turning off the traction and stability controls we were able to thrash it around with confidence. I heard no complaints from these often-jaded journalists about handling and I loved its feel.

On the race track and the autocross course it felt great. Lots of power once revved high enough and great handling characteristics. We’re keeping the rpms up mostly above 4 grand. The lack of torque was felt most vividly climbing the modestly steep and long grade up Spring Mountain to the pass. The automatic had to downshift (which it was entirely willing to do) and with the manual we went down to fourth gear just to keep up with traffic.

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Prices for these “monospec” cars start at a no-haggle $24,200 with manual transmission and $25,300 with the automatic. Option packages are eschewed in favor of a la carte accessorizing. The basic cars are well equipped with that suede-like seating and trim, very nice materials throughout, 17-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels with summer tires, a decent audio system, lots of safety equipment and charming good looks. What more could you want. Well, maybe 18-inch wheels, aero body cladding, fog lights, special exhaust system or maybe a strut tie brace. Lots of stuff will be offered by Scion and look to the aftermarket for lots more. The car was designed to encourage that kind of customization.

As with all cars aimed at the youth market it must come with connectivity so they offer as an accessory their new voice activated BeSpoke system that connects with your Bluetooth enabled devices. At launch it will only be accommodating Apple products but the others will come shortly thereafter.

The Scion FR-S will be at dealers about June 1st.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Toyoda. You gave us a very nice gift.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved