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2013 Scion FR-S Review By Carey Russ

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2013 Scion FR-S


2013 Scion FR-S Review

After attending the press launch of the Scion FR-S a few months ago, and being mightily impressed by its abilities on the track and street, I've just had the opportunity to spend a week at home with one. It works every bit as well in the everyday world as it does at a track day or autocross. And if you're careful, you could easily drive one to the track, play, and drive home after --just like in the early days of sports car racing. Back on the street, it's easy to live with, combining its excellent handling with good comfort, more space than might be expected in a small 2+2 coupe, and a surprisingly quiet and economical driving experience.

A quick background refresher: The FR-S is the product of a joint venture between Scion parent Toyota and Subaru, which is partially owned by Toyota these days. It's sold in Europe and Asia as the Toyota GT86, and by Subaru as the BR-Z, with minor differences between the variants. It combines Toyota's styling with Subaru-developed chassis bits and signature flat-four engine that uses Toyota's direct-and-port fuel injection for an even 200 horsepower out of two liters displacement and a low center of gravity for the car for improved handling.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Why a sports coupe? There is a precedent at Toyota, although not recently. The late Celica, Supra, and MR2 may be the most familiar Toyota sports cars to Americans, but they were preceded by the 800cc Sports 800 from 1965 through `69, and the 2000 GT from 1967 through `70. And then there was the sports version of the last rear-wheel drive Corolla, code-named AE86 and featuring a dual overhead cam engine when such technology was rare in affordable cars. The AE86 became and still is a cult classic in Japan.

Toyota President and CEO Akio Toyoda is an enthusiast driver, and recently went on the record as saying that he wanted a passionate sports car in the company lineup. What the boss says goes, especially when his name is on the product.

What better way to bring Toyota and Subaru engineers together than in the design and development of an affordable sports car? From the beginning the concept was classic -- lightest possible weight for the price point so less power would be necessary for performance. Less weight also means better handling and fuel economy. A 2+2 coupe has a potentially larger market than a pure two-seater, and if done right the slight increase in size and weight compared to the two-seater should be minimal. And there have been plenty of sports cars throughout the history of the automobile with a vestigial rear seat, and the one in the FR-S is a bit more than vestigial.

As is the way of Scion marketing, the FR-S is a single-specification car. Buyers order only color and transmission, six-speed stick or automatic, with all other options dealer-installed. Luck of the draw, my test car had the automatic. But with six speeds, multiple shift modes, only a 50-pound weight penalty, and manual-shift paddles, the automatic is not particularly detrimental to the car's performance, even in "D". If you're looking for an "economical small commute car" (a line that has sold many a small sports car over the years) here you go -- and with a 29-mpg average during my week, that line isn't even a stretch of the truth. If you want to be completely honest and want an excellent and uncompromised sports car, here it is.

APPEARANCE: For inspiration, one of the 350 2000GTs built was placed in the design studio when the FR-S's shape was first being sculpted out of clay, and its influence is readily visible. But it's an homage, not a retro-copy, and the result is a well-proportioned fastback coupe with an athletic but not muscle-bound look. The fender shapes and roof cutout are the most noticeable 2000GT influences, followed by the roofline, especially when viewed from the side just behind the center of the car. The cat's-eye headlamps make for a very anime face and are echoed in the taillights. Note that the roofline gives no indication that the FR-S is not a two-seater.

COMFORT: Form follows function here, with driving being function number one. Stylistically, it's subdued for a Scion, with more conservative styling than is usual for the brand. That says "sports car", not "video game console". Materials are first-rate, with textured soft-touch surfaces and just the right amount of matte-silver plastic trim to contrast with otherwise dark surfaces. Upholstery is grippy cloth, with useful bolsters on the front seats that are not too high to impede access. The front seats are manually adjustable, including cushion height for the driver. The steering wheel adjusts manually for both tilt and reach and features a comfortable stitched-leather rim. And a surprising lack of buttons, emphasizing this as a car for driving, not a mobile entertainment environment. The shift lever is positioned perfectly, with manual shifting (in automatic-equipped examples) by it or paddles mounted behind the steering wheel spokes.

The tach is the most apparent instrument, in classic black-on-white colors. If the neighboring analog speedometer is difficult to see, no problem as a digital speed display set into the center of the tach is much better. Yes, there are all expected electronic amenities, AF/FM/XM/CD/jack and USB audio, and cup and bottle holders and storage compartments. It's an everyday car, not a weekend toy. The rear seat will work for people under 5-6 or so unless front passengers are extremely tall, and a full-seatback passthrough to the trunk adds convenience and cargo ability if this is an only car. And it easily could be that.

SAFETY: Like all Toyota family products, the Scion FR-S uses the Star Safety System™, comprised of antilock brakes (four-wheel vented discs here), electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, traction control, and vehicle stability control. Its unibody structure is designed for passenger protection, and frontal, front side, and side curtain airbags are standard equipment.

RIDE AND HANDLING: This is the best-handling car I've driven in a long time. On the track, limits are high, it's stable at speed and immediately responds to driver inputs from both the steering wheel and right foot. The rear end can be kicked out in a controlled manner -- not a good idea on the street! but in case of a quick need for an emergency maneuver, said obstacle is more likely to be avoided by driving around it. And there is plenty of road feel through the steering wheel, even though steering is electrically assisted.

Good track cars often make poor road cars as the suspension setup that limits weight transfer from body yaw, pitch, and roll can be uncomfortably stiff once the adrenaline and endorphins wear off. No problem here. Yes, the FR-S's MacPherson strut/double wishbone suspension is (appropriately) firm, but not uncomfortably so. Interior noise levels are surprisingly low, with tire noise the most apparent. I would have no problem at all with a 500-plus mile day in an FR-S, on any sort of paved road.

PERFORMANCE: A low center of gravity helps a vehicle's handling characteristics, and a horizontally-opposed engine is nice and low. This design has helped Subarus with eight or more inches of clearance handle very well indeed, and with its much lower stance, that works even better in the FR-S. The short engine -- two cylinders per side -- is placed well back in the chassis for optimum front-rear balance. It makes the magic 100 horsepower per liter, 200 hp at 7000 rpm from its 2.0 liters displacement, with 151 lb-ft of torque at 6400 rpm. The boxer configuration is naturally well-balanced and smooth, and careful attention to interior detail means that it works very well up near redline when maximum performance is required but there's enough low- and mid-range torque for easy everyday driving -- or economical highway cruising with an automatic. Efficiency is enhanced by the D-4S direct-and-indirect fuel injection and a 12.5:1 compression ratio. (Which does mean feed it unleaded premium ONLY and any serious turbo attempt will need lower-compression pistons at a minimum and probably everything below them as well in order not to be a potential grenade. But no worries -- this car is about balance, not maximum power, and it is exquisitely well balanced.) A standard Torsen limited-slip differential ensures that the power gets to the ground.

The manual transmission gives best results for sports driving and driver involvement. But the automatic works surprisingly well, with only a minimal impact on acceleration and a slight improvement in mileage as it usually keeps revs down. With 29 mpg for my week, no complaints there, and I wasn't even trying for mileage.

CONCLUSIONS: The Scion FR-S is a well-balanced gem of a sports coupe.

2013 Scion FR-S

Base Price			$ 25,300
Price As Tested 		$ 26,097
Engine Type			horizontally-opposed DOHC 16-valve
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.
Horsepower			200 @ 7000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			151 @ 6400 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		101.2 in. / 166.7 in.
Curb Weight			2806 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		14.0
Fuel Capacity			13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded regular
Tires				215/45R17 87W Michelin Primacy HP
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / vented disc,
				 ABS, EBD, BA, TRAC, VSC standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent double wishbone
Drivetrain			front engine, rear-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		25 / 34 / 29
0 to 60 mph				6.2  sec