Let me spin you a yarn. A few years ago, in a land far far away in Japan, Toyota and Subaru got together in what I can only imagine is a tall, glass covered building in Tokyo and had a brief conversation. If I were to speculate, I think it would have sounded something like this. *ahem*
Toyota: What we should do is make a naturally aspirated, small, 2-door, RWD, sports car so that people can really enjoy themselves on the road. Let’s make it together and market it everywhere. Cool?
Subaru: Cool. We were thinking the same thing!
“But wait,” the automotive public said, “we already have cars like that.”
“Don’t worry everyone, it’s going to be epic!” Quipped the manufacturing monoliths. The Scion FR-S (and Subaru BRZ) is what came out of that totally factual and not in any way made up in my head conversation. This car has been reviewed up and down, back and fourth, side to side by nearly every automotive publication out there. So what could I possibly say that is different or interesting or new? Nothing really for the exact reason I just stated. What I can do is give you a reason to continue remembering this car in conversations about great sports coupes.
Let’s get right to the elephant in the room that this car carries wherever it goes: the engine. Yes, it is underpowered, but you have to view it from a standpoint of “I’m not a Top Gear presenter.” To the enthusiast who has driven faster cars, the FR-S might seem short on cajones, but we have to remember that this car wasn’t built to be fast in a straight line. The engine produces 200hp/151lb-ft and the best word that I can come up with for it is adequate. It’ll get you going and it’ll keep you moving. It won’t win any drag races, but there are several silver linings in this much maligned area. For starters, there is ample room in the engine bay for modifications; specifically turbos or a supercharger. Scion has also organized the engine in a very DIY friendly manner. A great example of this is placement of the oil filter; being easily spotted, removed, and replaced in a few minutes. Every necessary nook and cranny is reachable.
The bad we already know: it’s slow. At 2758 pounds, 200hp is plenty, but the 151lb-ft of torque needs a boost. When you want to get around a car at 70 in 6th (and final) gear, a change down to 5th might be necessary in a hurry-up situation. Not ideal. However, if you plan accordingly, much like any car, you’ll find the FR-S has more than enough grunt to be playful. The engine is rev happy to the max and feels most comfortable above 4000rpms. It also sounds the best there. Our car also came equipped with the factory upgraded TRD exhaust; an $1100 option. It makes the car sound more aggressive and is a cool addition, but I’d pass up this option and go aftermarket for something that will sound just as good, if not better, for less money.
All told, the car needs a performance variant producing 230hp with around 190-200lb-ft of torque. If this ever comes to fruition from the factory, the FR-S would be a world beater. In the mean time, rest easy knowing there is a thriving aftermarket community.
The 6 speed manual gear box is sublime and silky smooth. It should be in every car Toyota or Subaru make.
Now that we’ve blitzed past the power issue, we can focus on what this car does best; go through turns as if it were on rails. With the lighter-than-most-cars weight and sport tuned suspension, the FR-S is near automotive nirvana in the twisties. To fully appreciate this you do need to turn the electronic nannies off. With the nannies on, there is some unwanted understeer. But when turned off, this car comes alive and begs you to chuck it in at full tilt doing 60 in a turn marked 30. I’ve never driven a car that has literally asked to be slapped around so much. High in the rev range, corner carving gloriousness; this is what the FR-S does best. It’s wide track makes you feel planted and confident taking any turn imaginable. If there was ever a car to make you feel like a hero at 45 mph, this is it.
Look. Here’s the thing. This is a sports car. If you’re buying a sports car for ride quality, you’ve made a grave error. Please go look at a Lexus and enjoy your pillowy soft ride. The FR-S has a very composed ride when cruising and doesn’t jar you from your seat on smooth or slightly worn pavement. Body roll is negligible if even present at all. When you hit bumps, pot holes, or sunken in drainage, you’re going to feel it. But again, this is a sports car. It’s not made to be a floating-land-barge-grand-tourer. It’s made to be a very focused and fun way to get from here to there and it does that perfectly. Just don’t expect your passenger to get much sleep.
Very, very admirable in this column. The FR-S was thoroughly wound out and rarely saw a driving stint that didn’t see it revved to redline at least once. I did take it on a few longer cruises so the following numbers will come with some explaining.
Total distance driven: 543.1 miles.
Average MPGs: 27.3.
That’s not bad for a car that was constantly played with. The FR-S does show real time MPGs when cycling through some of the dash readouts so viewing that I surmise that, if babied, someone could hyper mile this car above 40 MPGs. If doing long highway stints at 65-75 MPH, one could easily see 32-35 MPGs if not in the rolling hills. All said and done the economy is awesome from the 2.0 liter, FA20 engine. The only drawback is the small 12.9 gallon fuel tank. My range topped out at 279 miles before I needed a fuel up, but extended range would come with longer highway driving. Not a horrible thing, just something to keep in mind if you’re taking this car on a weekend jaunt into the mountains.
Nothing really new here in the way of technology. Plenty of dash readouts for economy and total miles along with a standard infotainment screen and display utilizing bluetooth and factory GPS systems. It works and it works well. Bluetooth connected to my Apple iPhone 5s each and every time I turned the car on. Traction control has the ability to be turned off, but kicks back in around 15 mph. VSC sport mode can be engaged by pressing a button and makes the car more fun on the back roads. Again, nothing new, but all tech is functional and will work like a charm.
Off the charts fun. For the money, there isn’t another car out there as fun; I’d also put the Mazda Miata in the same category, but this one gives you an honest to goodness roof! The tires are not good. Flat out. They are the same tires as you get in the Prius V. We’ve all known this for a while. If I were to own this car it’d be the first thing I’d replace; most likely with Michelin Pilot Super Sports. However, being in the fun factor category I must say that tires performed incredibly well when on the back roads AND these tires are perfect for burnouts. Or so I’ve been told. Because of the lower grip, the tires are great for hooning the car at very low speeds; the Miata mantra. Yet this car almost does it better because there’s more to it than just two seats and a rag top.
Fit & Finish
Which brings me to my next point. The interior of this car is really quite nice. All plastics do not feel cheap nor are they ugly in the slightest. All of them. Which is a tremendous feat as most cars have some good and some bad or all bad plastics. Nothing feels cheap even though this is a budget sports car. Everything fits together perfectly from the carbon fiber-ish dash to the shifter boot to the incredibly awesome sliding center arm rest. It’s a place that’s welcoming and a place you don’t mind being. Hell, it’s a place you want to be. The cabin cools down ridiculously fast on a hot day. A feature that comes in handy when you live anywhere south of Nova Scotia. The seats are exceptionally comfortable as far as sports car seats go, but if you’re a bit wider in the middle region you may have some trouble squeezing into them laterally. Vertically, as Freddy noted in Pace Notes, there is a ton of head room, even if you’re tall. Being 5’6″ it was important to get someone taller in there to prove once and for all that tall people could drive this car; a common foible most internet heroes will trumpet. Freddy is 6′ tall and commented on how much head room there was. That should give you an idea. Someone 6’3″ or 6’4″ would start to have issue with space in the front seats.
The back however is an entirely different story. No one should be allowed back there for more than 30 minute intervals. Anyone taller than me is going to be uncomfortable, but you could easily fit baby seats back there. I was even squished for my brief moment in the rear seats. Honestly, they’re not a viable option for 4 person transport. They are there for the sole purpose of baby seats, groceries, and insurance discounts. Nothing more. That being said, the back seat bolstering is very good and small children could fit there for a slightly longer time without any problem, comfortably.
Our FR-S came with an as tested price just shy of $30,000 and with everything included, it’s an exceptional value. Rarely, if ever, will you find a car that’s this fun, for this cheap. The best part of this is that is a brand new, off the lot price. Why is that good? Because with such a relatively low starting price for a 2-door sports car, you can find them for half the price, 2 years old, and unmodded. Which is an absolute steal. These words still hold true: this might be the most fun you can have at the cheapest price. A few other contenders will challenge that, but the FR-S is in the top 3 in that category, no questions asked.
Well just look at it. It’s fantastic looking. It’s the type of car that makes you looks twice. I noted in Pace Notes that I have never received more looks in a car than when I drove the FR-S and that’s still true. The lines of this car were painstakingly thought out in the design process and it shows. It’s not too bulbous anywhere yet muscular enough to warrant a few bedroom poster pinups. The wheel size is perfect and wheel gap is minimal. There is even a wide indentation in the roof for added aerodynamics and aesthetics giving you more great lines. The FR-S is a looker for sure, and that is in no place more apparent than it’s eye catching sheet metal.
This is another category where I could just say “it’s not” and be done. Yet, for what it is, there is some practicality to the FR-S. For starters as I noted in Will It Reddit, you can fit many cases of beer or wine in the trunk. Or you can fit many groceries. The trunk has enough space for this car to be used daily. The back seats, as I’ve noted, are okay for a short trip, small children, or more groceries/a duffel bag. But practicality is not why you want an FR-S. You’re not going to buy this car for Home Depot trips on the weekend, nor are you going to take it camping while loading up with family and gear. If you do, more power to you, but there are other options for that such as the Ford Focus ST or Volkswagen GTI. The FR-S is a sports car and should be used in that context as much as possible since that’s where it excels.
The conversation continues as to where the FR-S stands in today’s market and whether it truly belongs; since sales have slid in the past year. Despite this, here’s a fun fact to toss around the next time you hear about an FR-S in conversations: the FR-S is the most widely marketed vehicle Toyota makes. It’s true. It’s in more markets than the Camry, the Corolla, or the multifaceted Hilux. Toyota (and Subaru) went all in on this car and they made something spectacular. It’s something worth while to drive. It’s something you want to drive. When more cars are getting heavier and fatter while sacrificing road feel, the FR-S is safe while being light, quick while not being to big for its own britches, and beautiful without costing a kidney. It’s like a movie you really love. One that you can watch over and over again and you’ll never tire of it. It’s the Fight Club of cars. It’s great in so many ways, but it’ll never win an Oscar; which is a true shame. In my honest opinion, the FR-S has all the makings of a future classic and damn it, I want one.
Photo credits: Apida Online