The 2013 Scion FR-S is part sports car and part time machine.
On the sports car part, this 2+2 coupe looks aggressive, rides well and handles like it's ready for the track. It may not have tons of power, but most boy racers will enjoy the front-engine, rear-wheel drive, sport car. Get it? Front + Rear + Sport = FR-S
And they should. A joint development project between Toyota and Subaru (they get the BRZ) this Scion is the best driving Scion ever – which isn't necessarily saying much. In the past, Scion relied on the front-wheel drive tC to anemically hoist its sport banner. That was a sport car for poseurs who think a fart-sounding coffee can on the exhaust is thrilling.
No, the FR-S is no tC. The FR-S arrives with some real chops.
Drive like you're mad
First is the engine: Subaru's four-cylinder horizontally opposed 2-liter flat boxer engine combined with Toyota's direct and port injection system manages 200 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. While the torque is low, this engine seems to perform best above 3,000 rpm, which is easy to adjust to, especially with the clicky six-speed manual transmission.
Really, this car likes to be driven like you're mad at it. And when you do, it responds. The steering is well weighted and has a nice return to center, the brakes stick and the car's 2,800 body make it easily tossable. Holding corners at higher speeds, the FR-S provides that sticky torque feel that causes the car to lurch at every touch of the accelerator.
Perhaps that's why the manual FR-S gets worse gas mileage than the automatic. (22 mpg city / 30 mpg highway vrs. 25 mpg city / 34 mpg on the highway)
Far from perfect
Really, the only disappointment I found when driving the FR-S was on the highway, where I felt like I had to keep it in fourth gear to get much response from it. I understand tall gears to boost mileage, but making both fifth and sixth that tall seems a little much. Oh, and I also hated how loud the interior got.
Some noises are good noises, such as the purr of a powerful engine. Even the scream of this 2-liter engine provides some audible fun. But the accompanying wind noise and road noise were never welcome. There were more than a few times I checked the windows to make sure they were rolled up.
The fact that these 2+2 coupes are organizing a strong comeback warms my heart. And this is where the time machine elements come into play for the FR-S. The FR-S reminds me so much of the Datsun 240Z, which hit American shores in the early '70s. Every iteration of the Z only seemed to get better and from the moment I got my driver's license, I wanted one.
New but familiar design
The FR-S shares those sleek good looks with its long hood, curvy cab and cut off hatchback rear that those original Z's had. Of course, this is the modern interpretation of that car, with a chiseled hood, LED tail lamps and exaggerated bubble to the fenders.
Really, the design is loosely based on the Toyota 2000GT concept car and that's not a bad thing either. It says racy car and it's diminutive size (it's wheelbase is 101.2 inches) means it's a solid city car, because it's easy to maneuver, park and zip through traffic issues. Of course, it's very low slung body means all you're ever going to see around you are tail lights and door handles.
Performance focused interior
Don't hop into the FR-S with high expectations. It's nice, but not that nice. The dash material is a big hunk of plastic. Scion calls the interior "performance focused" which is automotive parlance for "interiors typically are the last thing we pay for when designing a car and that means interiors are slashed to save money."
Of course, Scion tries. The three-gauge instrument cluster is nice and the seats are well bolstered to hold you in place through all of your curve carving. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, which is essential for solid sports driving. But the feel is economy, not luxury.There's also plenty of space up front with nearly 42 inches of legroom. Two adults fit very comfortably. The second row, well, your computer bag will be very comfortable back there. The spec sheet says there's 29.9 inches of legroom in the second row, but if you make your seat comfortable up front, there is 0 inches of legroom in the back.
Scion also attempted to improve its radio,offering the optional BeSpoke audio system, that can connect your stereo to your phone and then to Facebook, Twitter and Internet radio pages. I'd recommend getting the base 300-watt eight speaker system that includes Bluetooth connectivity to operate your phone hands free. Don't tweet, drive.
And that's what this car does best. It gobbles up asphalt with a fury. It's not the fastest, the most powerful or even the best-looking car out there. But it's fun. And it continues the revival of the 2+2 compact sports car under $25,000, outperforming even my own nostolgia.
That's a very good thing.
At a glance
2013 Scion FR-S
Type: 2+2 Sports Coupe
Engine: 2-liter four-cylinder
Power: 200 horsepower; 151 pound-feet torque
Transmission: Six-speed manual or automatic
EPA gas mileage:
Manual: 22 mpg city / 30 mpg highway
Auto: 25 mpg city / 34 mpg on the highway)
Key competitors: Genesis coupe; Subaru BRZ; Ford Mustang; Chevrolet Camaro