The 2013 Scion FR-S has made a big splash for such a small car. That’s understandable when you remember that the FR-S and its twin, the Subaru BRZ, are brand new, hot-off-the-press, affordable sports cars, with an emphasis on “affordable.”
Jointly developed by Toyota (parent of Scion) and Subaru, these cars offer the quick reflexes, eager engines and nimble responses that make driving a sports car so much fun.
Buyers will have an easy time when it comes to decisions with the FR-S. There’s only one model and an automatic transmission is the only factory option. Standard equipment includes a 200-horsepower, horizontally-opposed 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine designed by Subaru. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, as is rear-wheel drive. All the comfort and convenience features are standard, too, including power windows, locks and mirrors. Air conditioning is also part of the package, along with a 300-watt Pioneer audio system.
Unlike most sports cars, the FR-S has a back seat. It’s not big, but there is enough space to bring the passenger count to four.
The four-cylinder engine’s performance is quite good. There are faster sports cars, but the simple truth is that you don’t need to have the fastest car to have lots of fun. The FR-S scampers from zero-to-60 in 6.6 seconds. Readers with total recall might remember that the Subaru BRZ we tried last summer, equipped with the manual gearbox, required three-tenths of a second more. If it’s any comfort to the shift-for-yourself crowd, the manual was more fun.
Nonetheless, driving the Scion was still a great way to spend an afternoon. The automatic transmission comes with paddle shifters and it will even blip the throttle for the driver on downshifts, ensuring a perfect engine-to-vehicle speed match.
The handling is highlighted by very good steering feel, quick turn-in and a high level of communication between vehicle and driver. These are essential traits in a sports car.
In a quick corner, the Scion will understeer at first, which means that the front end will push toward the outside of the turn. However, keep on the power and the cornering turns neutral before going to mild oversteer, which means that the rear end tries to step out of line.
The ride is very firm, even stiff. But that’s the price for sports car handling.
The front seats are low, but comfortable. The back seat is unfit for full-size adults. Cargo space is modest, but the rear seat folds to provide easy access.
Just over 11,000 of these Scion and Subaru sports cars have been sold in 2012, compared to about two million Toyota and Subaru vehicles. Granted, these sports cars have only been available for about half of this year, but even if you double their volume, they’re still a drop in the bucket for the two automakers. Developing cars like these isn’t about volume; it’s about passion.
There are some cars that give the driver instant “rock star” status. Usually, these cars are very expensive, but that’s not the case with the 2013 Scion FR-S. It’s not only affordable, but a lot of fun to drive and would be a joy even if the “rock star” treatment from other motorists wasn’t a constant factor.
We had the chance to try a similar car when we had the Subaru BRZ with a manual transmission for review. The two cars are very much alike, having been jointly developed by Toyota and Subaru.
The only letdown with the Scion version was the automatic transmission. It didn’t do anything wrong, but I felt I should be manually shifting while driving this fun little sports car.
Granted, there are paddle shifters that allow the driver to manually select gears and hold them longer for better acceleration, but it’s not the same.
The low price – for a sports car – has forced some compromises. Many interior surfaces are padded, but the overall look and feel suggests that cost cutting was important. Rear visibility would be helped by a backup camera and the outside mirrors block the view of a shorter driver at intersections. There is a back seat but it has limited space.
The windshield is close to the driver, something to note for people who use a navigation system. A factory installed unit is not available.
The FR-S is a lively performer and the steering feel is great as well. The digital speedometer is easy to read quickly, too.
All in all, the Scion FR-S is great fun. I would go for the manual transmission, but even with the automatic we did quite well when it came to fuel consumption: 28.9 miles per gallon on premium. This is actually a little better than the 27.1 mpg we managed with the manual Subaru version.
Jim MacPherson is the host of "The Car Doctor" show airing Sundays at noon on WTIC-AM. Paula MacPherson is his wife and new-car review partner. Send comments, questions, suggestions in care of Special Publications, Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115, or email email@example.com