This car is the real deal. Really.
Shod in crappy European Prius tires (seriously--that's the standard tire), loosed in the hands of a dozen journalists, and ham-fisted silly for hours on track, the FR-S never once failed to impress the assembled host. In fact, it took its licks and asked for more, even on the wet skid pad and too-tight autocross course. Brake fade/overheating? None. Even after hours of back-to-back sessions on a 1.5-mile loop of Spring Mountain's road course. The FR-S is a sports car.
Disclaimer: Scion flew me out to Vegas, put me up in a hotel/casino chock full of bad video poker and worse video keno, apparently designed to draw the 70-and-up crowd, and fed me surprisingly good food and alcohol during my stay. I still don't like the casino.
It's also a very nice little street car. Comfortable, quiet, seemingly well-made and attractive inside, the Scion version of the Subaru-Toyota joint sports coupe project is a winner even when you're not sliding the Torsen-equipped rear-end around. But it's way more fun when you are.
Despite the 200-horsepower rating of the D-4S port/direct-injected Boxer 2.0-liter four, the engine feels a bit anemic, particularly below about 4,500 rpm. It also feels a bit anemic at the top end, too, but that may have had something to do with the 5,400-foot elevation of the test ground. Back at a more reasonable 3,000-foot elevation, the car felt a bit peppier, though it still wasn't quite what we'd call a strong 200 horsepower. Nevertheless, gas mileage on the highway was impressive, easily topping 34 mpg for extended stretches above 70 mph.
But what's it like when you push it?
Surprisingly good. Neutral. A willing trail-braker, ready to hold an easy constant slip angle through a fast turn, compliant and predictable at the limits of adhesion. It's a car a skilled and experienced driver can relish for its flexibility and willingness to do as asked, and a car that can train a new driver to ask it--rather than tell it--to do those things. It's almost like it's not a Toyota at all.
Of course, that's because it's a Scion, designed by Subaru. But we won't begrudge Toyota the credit for backing the project in the first place; it's very much deserved. This is a fun little car.
It's not perfect, of course. The noted lack of torque is definitely an issue. It's not as light as we might like, either, though it's a featherweight by modern standards at about 2,700-2,800 pounds depending on trim. The six-speed manual gearbox is excellent, with very short, crisp shifts and almost zero play, in or out of gear. The six-speed automatic is less so, often hunting between gears at highway speeds. It's a bit slow to upshift in manual mode, and delays longer than necessary if a downshift is requested too high in the rev range, issuing a peeved little beep to let you know it's not going to obey right away. It's also a bit spartan for some inside; a fancy head unit with some limited apps functionality is coming, but it's basically just instruments, stereo, and climate control, ensconced in darkish plastic and soft-touch rubber stuff.
We find the last weakness to be a strong suit, however. It's a pure little sports car, free of the techno-affection that spurns our desire for simplicity, doing what it does and refusing to apologize for what it doesn't.
In fact, the FR-S is special largely because it's not special at all.
Instead of trick dampers with secondary pistons and magic internal springs, magneto-rheological-horological-magical fluids, virtual e-differentials, and five-stage launch controls, the FR-S goes back to basics: a stiff chassis, reasonable use of lightweight materials and steel everywhere else, attention to suspension geometry, and balance--of weight, of centers of gravity, and of dynamics.
There is a two-mode traction control system, however; the default full-on status is about what you'd expect: no fun at all. The VDC Sport mode allows some yaw angle, and even a touch of wheelspin, but quickly steps back in to return things to safe and boring when it thinks you're over your head. But turn it all off, and the FR-S reveals its true ability--a level of ability that may even surpass its Subaru twin.
The FR-S isn't identical to the BRZ. It has stiffer rear springs and rear bushings. That makes it a bit more willing to rotate, both on power and off, and yields a balance that feels both natural and easily controlled. It's a conscious decision taken by the Scion crew to make their version just a bit more fun, a bit better-suited to those with as much taste for a well-carved apex and corner-entry tossability as for outright speed. And that, in a nutshell, is the Scion FR-S.
Sure, there are faster, better-handling, and prettier cars out there. But there are none for the price--or even double the price, when it comes to handling. If you've been looking for a real, inexpensive, incredibly good sports coupe you can live with every day and at the track on weekends, you've found it.
And it's a Scion.
For a more in-depth look at the 2013 Scion FR-S, visit the full review at The Car Connection.