“You asked for it! You got it!”, “Oh, what a feeling!”, “Who could ask for anything more?” – Three Toyota slogans from years past that may all seem appropriate for the Scion FR-S.
What is a sports car? Is it all brawn and no finesse? Can it dance like a coryphée? Is it a linebacker tripping over its toes? History has shown that a sports car can mean many things to many people. This story is about the Scion FR-S, a vehicle that aims to redefine a brand and rekindle driving aesthetics that are highly desired, yet rarely delivered: Small, light, fast and inexpensive.
I arrive at Toyota headquarters, fervently anticipating the delivery of the groundbreaking Scion FR-S. I have a swagger in my step, a gleam in my eye and an expectation of greatness not seen from Toyota since the 1989 MR2 or the 1992 Supra. Toyota doesn’t make RWD, fun cars anymore, do they? The tone is set: this will be epic! This is, the car that will change my perception of Toyota forever.
My eyes pour over the high arched front fenders, drenched in eye catching metallic black paint, which connect a gaping maw up front to the faux fender “vent” that proudly displays the “86” moniker. The 17”, two tone rims are pleasing to the eye although they are dressed in 215/45-17” “Prius tires”, Michelin Primacy HP’s to be exact. The curvaceous, aggressive lines continue through the door and into the rear fenders; this isn’t your everyday, pedestrian Scion, it is clearly meant to stand out from the family. The rear half of the car reminds me of a BMW Z4 hardtop which is a good, though not unique aspect. The dual polished chrome exhaust relays the FR-S’s sporting intentions but I could do without the faux carbon fiber appearance of the rear diffuser.
A tug on the door handle retracts the window 1 inch before the door pops open. The door is very light and is dressed in the industry standard for these days of hard plastic and fake aluminum accents. I give Scion high marks for adding 2 soft black vinyl elbow rests with contrasting red stitching on the top of the door card, where my elbow rests with the window down and on the door pull. That is a detail that is regularly omitted in vehicles of this price range.
I drop into the highly bolstered, microfiber, contrast stitched seats with a grunt, as did everyone who sat in it due to the extremely low seating position which is a plus in this “low center of gravity” field of vehicles. The side bolsters were a bit tight for my taste and they were right on the edge of digging into my kidneys, had they been adjustable, this would not have been an issue. The seats slide forward and back, raise up and down and the seat back folds forward a bit for rear seat access. The rear seat must only be there for looks because with the driver seat adjusted perfectly, the rear leg room is literally 1 inch at best. Sure I could slide the seat forward some, but that would make it rather impossible for this 6’1” tester to operate the clutch properly. The point is, you will not be going out on the town with 3 friends if you expect to have the 2 in the rear remain your friends in the morning.
The center console, as with the rest of the interior, is a mix of textured, hard plastics. The faux carbon fiber from the rear diffuser caries over onto the dash, framing the Pioneer radio that sounded ok and featured Bluetooth connectivity for both placing calls and streaming audio. Beneath the radio resides the 1979 LED clock and hazard switch. Below the clock and hazard are the HVAC controls. These are old tech, hard plastic turn dials that merely get the job done. Beneath those controls resides a cubby and the USB connection, which worked rather well with my iPod as did the cubby for storing my iPod.
The gauge cluster is laid out nicely with a 160MPH top speed on the left, a larger RPM gauge center stage with LED speedo and reconfigurable driver info windows with an enticing 7400 redline, and finally the temp and fuel gauges on the right. It’s a well thought out design that thrusts the FR-S’s sports car intentions in your face, daring you to make that big RPM needle swing high… and I did, repeatedly!
The heart of the FR-S is the result of the Toyota/Subaru joint collaboration which delivers a 2.0 liter, 4-cylinder, Boxer engine outputting 200 hp @ 7,000 rpm and 151 lb.-ft. @ 6,600 rpm. Other important specs include DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder, dual VVT, D-4S which is direct and sequential port injection, a 12.5:1 compression ratio and last but not least, the iconic 86 X 86 bore X stroke. The example I drove was mated to a short throw, 6 speed manual; a 6 speed auto with paddle shifters is available but you’d have to be insane to opt for it. Insane I say because this power/tranny combo is adequate in manual form and I can imagine that it must be annoyingly anemic in automatic form.
The traction control in the FR-S is very intrusive but totally defeatable. Hold the traction control button for 3 seconds to fully disengage it, otherwise it will automatically re-engage once you accelerate over 30 mph and the next time you stop and attempt another burnout, you will wonder why the wheels won’t spin. With the TC off, you can have a lot of fun with this car doing burnouts, donuts and drifts. Granted, you have to do a drop from redline to set the wheels free and you have to have a wet road or track to drift on, but both can be accomplished. There is also a VSC Sport mode that didn’t seem to have any effect on the car. TC is all you need to worry about, as soon as you start the car, do yourself a favor and disengage it.
We headed out to put the little FR-S through its paces, our destinations being Mullholland Drive and the hills of Malibu. First up was Mullholland. The initial ascent to the top of Mullholland made it apparent that the FR-S’s 151 lb.-ft. of torque makes this car better suited for flat, twisty roads rather than large elevation twisty roads. That being said, the FR-S was clearly designed with hard cornering in mind. Toss it into a 90 degree corner at speed and the car flatly slides, settles and allows you to make razor fine adjustments throughout the apex. You have to make sure to be in the right gear, above the dreaded torque dip which rears it’s ugly head between 3300 and 4200 rpm, in order to have a fulfilling corner exit, otherwise you will be met with a lot of engine noise and very little sense of moving forward. The boxer is most effective between 4200 and 7100 rpm, push it to the red and it’s out of breath.
The short throw shifter is a delight to row through the gears with and clutch take up is linear and predictable. Driveline lash is minimal, and never gets in the way of the driving experience, but there are a few clunks here and there when getting on and off the throttle. Overall, I felt very connected to the engine and the road, my only wish being that there was more power! There is a lot of raw engine noise and long winding gears with small levels of pull to show for it. The 0-60 times in the 7+ second range I’ve read about seem accurate. It is my opinion that the FR-S could benefit from at least another 70 hp. and tq.
After spending a week with the FR-S I can honestly say that it is a great beginners sports car or a car for tuners who want to turn it into a weekend track car and don’t mind dumping a lot of cash to get it up to the performance levels of other sports cars. The FR-S is all finesse and no brawn, but what it lacks in neck snapping grunt, it almost makes up for with its corner carving abilities and buttoned down demeanor. Toyota has delivered a small, light, $25,000 sports car, if they can infuse the FR-S with a lot more power, they might just have a car that is a force to be reckoned with. Has the FR-S changed my perception of Toyota as the purveyors of beige? Let’s just say, they are headed in the right direction.
Photo Credit: Copyright 2012 Jason Kinnard / Chris Busenlehner / Car Fanatics Blog