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2013 Scion FR-S Review By Steve Purdy

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2013 Scion FR-S

A True Sports Car From Scion

By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

Not long 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 teamed up with Subaru to co-develop this car. Mr. Toyoda is an avid racer himself, by the way, and quite competent we understand. He also appreciates exciting design as exemplified by just about all the fresh products from that formerly stodgy company.

Last summer we all went to Las Vegas for a thorough introduction to this sporty coupe Toyota and Subaru came up with - the Scion FR-S, a front engine, rear-wheel drive, 2+(barely)2. We expected a competent and fun little street racer and we were not disappointed. We had great fun at Spring Mountain race track near Pahrump, NV where we had both track and autocross opportunities, then took the desert roads through Red Rock Park, past Blue Diamond and over the pass at Mountain Springs for some real world feel as well. I promised a full review when I get some really serious road time. I got that time this week taking a long road trip and whizzing around town as well.

The FR-S moniker, by the way, 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.

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, as they mature and prosper, they can move on to Toyota and Lexus products. Scion products tend also to be stylish enough and customizable, qualities that appeal to young, first-time new car buyers. The new FR-S is essentially the ‘halo’ car for the Scion brand as it encompasses all those values and that philosophy plus it provides a huge measure of sporting raceability as a big bonus.

So, Subaru partnered with Toyota to develop the FR-S 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.

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 displayed three cars in Nevada last summer to make that point: the lovely, collectable and well-known Toyota 2000 GT (an example of which just brought over a million dollars at a collector car auction), 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 Corolla GT-S, a rear-wheel drive sporty little thing 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 representing the Subaru boxer engine.

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 make little reference to other Scion models, which tend to be simple and boxy. The sleek and swoopy FR-S is the fifth car in the Scion lineup and considered the “halo” car. A low aluminum hood made possible by the low profile of 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.

The interior reflects a no-nonsense philosophy. Well-bolstered seats, front and rear, are finished in a nice faux-suede with contrasting stitching. Gauges and controls are reasonably simple and intuitive with the large tachometer taking center stage in the instrument cluster wit a small, difficult-to-read speedometer to the left. Rear seat ingress, egress and practicality are limited. It’s hard to imagine a person small enough to get in that rear seat. If you want to take your pals out cruising on a Friday night this is not the car to take.

Trunk space is meager as well at just 6.9 cubic feet and the opening will barely allow a full-size suitcase to slide in. The rear seat back folds nearly flat but the releases, accessed only from the trunk, are a challenge to reach. That’s another disadvantage of this slick coupe. One of the design parameters, though, required that the rear cargo area 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.

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. Red line is an amazing 7,500 rpm and it gets there with enough controlled sound and fury to be gratifying to this enthusiast. Zero-to-60 time is reported to be 6.6 seconds with the manual transmission and 7.9 with the automatic. We understand there are no plans for a turbo addition from Toyota but we could see a supercharger from Scion in the future. We’ll 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.

Fuel mileage for this 2,758-pound car is rated at 22mpg in the city and 30 on the highway for the manual and 25/34 for the automatic on premium fuel. Not long ago we could confidently assume that a manual would get better mileage. These numbers are a testament to transmission technology and the six-speed automatic we tested in Nevada is a charmer actuated by paddle shifters or the conventional console-mounted, leather-wrapped switchgear. The manual shifter on this week’s test car is even more charming with short throw and smooth, tight feel. We burned three tanks of fuel this week, the one that came with the car and two that we added. I inadvertently put regular fuel in the first time and managed 31.5-mpg predominantly on the highway. Then we put the proper premium in and easily got 35.8 on the way back from Chicago. As you might guess, I tend to drive hard and fast so these numbers are especially impressive.

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. Quick flicks of the wheel resulted in quick lateral moves on the road. The rear setup is a double wishbone design and it comes standard with four-wheel vented disc brakes. 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. Without a lot of sound insulation we enjoyed the ability to feel and hear the texture of the pavement but had to raise our voices to chat when at highway speeds on less-than-ideal pavement.

Price for these “monospec” cars start at a no-haggle $24,200 with manual transmission and $25,300 with the automatic. Option packages are skewed 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 – all of which you can have for a few bucks extra. Expect lots of stuff to be offered by Scion and the aftermarket. The car was designed to encourage that kind of customization.

The Scion FR-S has little direct competition in the market. For sportiness we might compare it with a Mazda Miata but the latter is a 2-seat roadster. As a compact, rear-wheel drive sport coupe we have the Hyundai Genesis Coupe with a V6 engine option and more content with higher prices. The hot little VW Golf GTI is front-wheel drive and has at least an adequate rear seat.

Scion’s new car warranty covers the whole car for 3 years or 36,000 miles and the powertrain for 5 years or 60,000 miles.

With a light weight, agile chassis, decent performance credentials, great style and ultra-sporty ambiance, the Scion FR-S is sure to find a loyal following in this specialty niche market, but I would dearly love to see a drop-top version.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved