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Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

A New Era of Performance

Scott Tsuneishi
May 29, 2012
Photographer: Manufacturers
Impp 1205 01 o+scion fr s+front Photo 1/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

Scion held a “First Drive Program” for their new “halo” car, the Scion FR-S in Japan for a handful of journalists including Import Tuner. The Scion FR-S (which stands for Front-engine, Rear-drive, Sport) will be the first real sports car since the Scion brand first established in 2002.

To recap, this was the shortest press trip to Japan in all my years as an automotive journalist. How short? Forty-eight hours short. That’s exactly how long it took us to fly halfway across the continent, land in Tokyo, wake up at 6 a.m. the following morning to testdrive the new Scion/Toyota FR-S/86 on Chiba’s newest circuit, then grab some dinner before jumping back on a midnight return flight the same day. As crazy and chaotic as it seemed, the experience was well worth the trip. And what were our thoughts on the Scion FR-S? Let's just say, it’s all that it’s been hyped up to be . . . and more.

Impp 1205 02 o+scion fr s+media event Photo 2/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

The media event was held at Sodegaura Forest Raceway to experience driving the soon-to-be-released FR-S. Sodegaura Forest Raceway is a brand-new racecourse in Chiba, Japan, approximately one hour from Tokyo. The course is small and technically challenging, measuring 1.5 miles long and made up of 14 turns. Each journalist was given three five-lap sessions, to put both U.S.- and JDM-spec (called the FT-86 in Japan) FR-Ss through a battery of driving tests around the circuit while pushing them beyond their limits. We experienced periodic on-and-off rain, which made driving the car more challenging.

We asked Toyota Chief Engineer Tetsuya Tada, the man responsible for bringing the FR-S/86 project—Toyota’s most anticipated sport compact car in years to life—about the FR-S. “We wanted to give the world a fun sports car,” he says. “We started work on the development of a new vehicle platform that not only handled well, but also catered to performance enthusiasts. The FR-S/86 gets its core inspiration from three Toyota models: the Sports 800, 2000GT, and the AE86 Hachiroku. In building a unique car, we brought back the return of a horizontally opposed engine combined with a RWD layout. Numerous prototype models were designed and tested at the Nürburgring as well as other circuits. We subjected these prototypes under grueling test conditions, and over the course of three years, made numerous refinements to bringing the FR-S/86 to its current state. The whole concept behind the design was to bring the spirit and essence of fun back into driving. The FR-S/86 will undoubtedly become as iconic as the AE86 Hachiroku, Supra, MR2, and GT2000 of the past.”

Impp 1205 04 o+scion fr s+tada san Photo 3/35   |   Tada-san posing with the FR-S.
Impp 1205 03 o+scion fr s+track event Photo 4/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

In data provided by Toyota, only the Porsche GT3, Ferrari 360, and Lexus LFA have a lower weight balance over the FR-S/86. It was revealed that these supercars had an advantage with a ground clearance of 110 mm. The FR-S, on the other hand, stands 130 mm off the ground (almost an inch higher), but with good reason. Both Toyota and Scion need this vehicle to cater to both weekend track warriors and daily commuters.

Impp 1205 05 o+scion fr s+performance chart Photo 5/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

The 4U-GSE’s flat-four boxer design and compact size allows it to be mounted further toward the firewall and extremely low in the FR-S/86, giving the car a dynamically favorable front-to-rear weight ratio of 53:47 and a low center of gravity comparable to a formidable group of supercars. Impressive indeed!

Impp 1205 07 o+scion fr s+center of gravity Photo 6/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

Choice of Six-Speed Transmissions

The driving enthusiast can choose between a new six-speed manual and an optional six-speed automatic transmission. Toyota engineers spent significant time in designing both transmissions to maximize performance, and it’s apparent both on and off the track. The six-speed manual uses triple-cone synchronizers on First through Third gears for precise shifting and strength while the factory short shifter delivers a firm gearshift with every selection.

Impp 1205 06 o+scion fr s+six speed transmission Photo 7/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

The optional paddle-shift six-speed automatic transmission is made by Aisin and based upon the IS-F transmission, which offers gear selection both smoothly and quickly. On the track, the large center-mount tach and integrated shift light/warning meter allowed the driver to maintain concentration on the track ahead. A quick flick of the paddle shifter enabled the boxer to quickly climb though the rpm as well as performing downshifts before entering every corner. The automatic platform also has a Sport mode that can be switched on the center console for quicker, firmer automatic shifts. We initially chuckled at the thought of running laps around the track in an automatic 86 but as the day progressed, we found ourselves clamoring for more seat time in the automatic.

First: Driving Impressions

The FR-S’s 2.0L flat-four pulls smoothly while offering impressive throttle response with a torque curve that maintained throughout the powerband until its 7,400-rpm redline, despite it being just 151 lb-ft. The electric steering assist with a ratio of 13.1:1 through a 14.4-inch steering wheel offered agile handling with minimal understeer. Even in the heavy rain that fell in the later half of the day, the electronic stability control (ESP) helped keep the car under control. The FR-S/86 currently owns one of the lowest COGs of any production car in the world at just 18.1 inches.

Impp 1205 17 o+scion fr s+streamline window Photo 8/35   |   The streamline windows are a telling tale that this car is heavily influenced by the classic 2000GT.

Similar to the AE86 of yesteryear, the FR-S/86 doesn’t rely on brute horsepower. Instead, a remarkable combination of lightweight design and manageable power offer a perfect balance, making this car a thrill to drive. The factory-rated 200 hp was more than sufficient for the FR-S/86’s lightweight chassis but for some reason we found ourselves craving more horsepower, especially when flogging down the straights. Toyota is betting that the FR-S/86 will invoke the same emotions and loyalty that made the AE86 so popular over the past 26 years across the world, campaigning in almost every genre of racing from road racing to drift.

Subaru Boxer Engine?

Why a boxer engine? Before you get your panties in a twist, understand that this isn’t the first dance for Toyota using this type of engine. Boxer engines, also known as horizontally opposed engines, are designed with the pistons arranged symmetrically to the left and right along the crankshaft. In 1965, Toyota designed the legendary Sports 800, affectionately called the “Yota-Hachi”. This rear-wheel-drive Targa-top roadster was engineered with the 2U engine, an air-cooled 790cc horizontally opposed flat-two (boxer) style engine with dual Mikuni carburetors. The flat-two played a key part in the S800 to enable the bonnet line to be kept as low as possible, which offered a low center of gravity. The 0.8L 2U (45 bhp at 5,400) Yota-Hachi was produced from 1965 through 1969 and was known as Toyota’s first production sports car.

Impp 1205 11 o+scion fr s+diagram Photo 12/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

Toyota’s Triumphant Return

After stepping away from the boxer engine for more than 43 years, Toyota returned to its roots as they jointly developed with Subaru to deliver a new-generation boxer engine.

Impp 1205 14 o+scion fr s+engine Photo 13/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

Ajar the hood and you’re immediately greeted with both Toyota and Subaru engraved onto the engine cover, along with the etchings “D-4S” and “BOXER”. The technology—even the engine block—is completely new. Everything is new. The only thing that remains the same as previous model Subarus is the engine mounting points. The 4U-GSE engine was built by Fuji Heavy Industries, parent company of Subaru, however taking its own Toyota Engine code; it is also the main catalyst as to why the FR-S/86 handles exceptionally well.

D-4S Injection System

The FR-S’s 2.0L, naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine combines Subaru’s newly developed horizontally opposed engine and Toyota’s cutting-edge D-4S injection system, which incorporates both direct injection and conventional port injection for each cylinder. D-4S technology donated from Toyota to Subaru boxer engines uses eight injectors, four injectors fire separately for direct injection and the remaining are for port injection. The D-4S system, partnered with a high 12.5:1 compression ratio, results in delivering 200 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. Tada-san says that D-4S technology is what allows the Subaru boxer engine to maintain such a high compression ratio and impressive torque-to-liter ratio figures for a normally aspirated engine, while maintaining low fuel consumption and reduced gas emissions. The bore and stroke on the 2.0-liter is 86x86 (perfectly square), similar to the Honda/Acura K20, Toyota 3S-G, and Nissan SR20DE engine. If history has taught us anything, we can attest to how popular both these engines have been in the tuner market with the 4U-GSE engines sure to follow suit.

Impp 1205 15 o+scion fr s+engine Photo 14/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

Engine Tunability

With the FR-S powered by a Subaru engine, many of us assume that the ECU and main wiring harness is similar to the later-model STI/WRX. William Knose, vice president/product management of Crawford Performance, says that’s not the case. Knose, a Subaru tuning expert, had a rare opportunity to analyze the FR-S ECU, allowing him to reveal some interesting information.

Impp 1205 12 o+scion fr s+engine tunability Photo 15/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

“This is not a simple case of plug-and-play with a Subaru WRX ECU. The FR-S/86 uses a completely different ECU and harness versus the WRX. The WRX harness/ECU is the same as the STI for the most part, so you are out of luck. We have already attempted to connect the ECU to pull the ROM file using Ecutek (Subaru ECU reflash) but have not had luck as of yet. We have looked into this ECU and inspected it pretty heavily so far.” Knose follows up by saying, The real question is will anyone make a relish option for this vehicle?” The biggest challenge—knowing this vehicle is not factory turbocharged—becomes a big obstacle for ECU reflash engineers when developing a custom setup that is based on the naturally aspirated computer. With any luck, Knose hopes to get his hands on an ECU to analyze its interworkings a bit further so he can send that info off to Ecutek. “We need to see if we can access the ECU or if it is a completely locked down Toyota ECU, even though it’s stamped Subaru,” he says.

Greddy FR-S Tuner Concept

A modified version of the FR-S was recently debuted during late last year’s press event. Built by Greddy, this Raven Black (color code) FR-S offered a visual taste of what the soon-to-be-released model would look like when upgraded with aftermarket additions, which includes a prototype coilover package, exhaust system, and aftermarket wheel package.

Impp 1205 13 o+scion fr s+greddy concept Photo 16/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

LSD Equipped

Impp 1205 18 o+scion fr s+lsd Photo 17/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

We were delighted to find out that the Scion FR-S will be equipped with a T-2 Type B Torsen LSD rear differential. The diff is similar to the one offered in the older first-generation RS200 Altezza, which was the only model that came with a factory LSD option. The T-2 Torsen is a popular model that has been used on numerous vehicle applications, including the IS, LFA, Impreza WRX/STI, Genesis coupe, and Honda S2000 (AP2), and has been known by enthusiasts to be a more robust system that can take quite a beating. Torsen, which stands for torsion-sensing, uses gears that lock under load to provide more grip when exiting a corner, but acts like an open diff under trailing throttle so it does not induce understeer coming into the corner. Torsens are known to be quiet, feature smooth engagement, and are great OEM LSDs for vehicles that deliver less than 300 hp. Aftermarket-wise, a plethora of upgrades are available for both Torsen and clutch-type units by manufacturers like Cusco, Kaaz, OS Giken, and Quaife.

Impp 1205 19 o+scion fr s+lsd Photo 18/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

When asking Tada-san if he designed the FR-S/FT-86 more as a sports car or as a commuter vehicle, he quickly gleamed and replied, “Both”. He added: “We designed the FR-S/86 as a track day car/daily commuter and realized that most of us want the convenience of hauling tires both to and from the track while being able to carry larger items like golf bags. The 2+2 seating configuration with folding rear seats enables the FR-S to fit four large wheels and tires with room to spare for a helmet and other trackside necessities.” How much thought did Toyota put into designing the FR-S/86, you ask? Even the dashboard has been thoughtfully designed in such a way that a rollcage can be installed without having to modify it. How’s that for motorsports dedication?

Impp 1205 16 o+scion fr s+storage Photo 19/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan
Impp 1205 35 o+scion fr s+tuner market upgrades Photo 20/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

FR-S Tuner Market Upgrades?

It’s no secret that the Toyota Scion FR-S is probably one of the tuner scene’s most hotly anticipated cars in a long, long time. We’ve known for a while that Toyota Racing Development (TRD) along with aftermarket manufacturers, like HKS, Greddy, Top Secret, and Vertex to mention a few, have already begun developing aftermarket parts and body kits for the soon-to-be-released vehicle as witnessed at the most recent Tokyo Auto Salon. TRD Japan revealed plans to release an adjustable suspension kit (40-way adjustable dampers), full aero kit, forged (5x100-bolt pattern) 18-inch wheels package, and a big-brake kit with six pistons up front and four out back. We can’t wait!

Impp 1205 20 o+scion fr s+rays forged wheel Photo 21/35   |   The Rays Progressiv forged wheels on the Greddy FR-S measure 19x8.5 +45 (front) and 19x9.5 +45 (rear). The front brakes were fitted with prototype four-piston Greddy calipers.

Scion/Greddy Drift Program

Impp 1205 23 o+scion fr s+chassis Photo 22/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

Prior to the debut at this year’s Detroit Auto Show, the Scion was completely stripped, acid dipped, and prepped by Greddy engineers at their facility. Check out that beefy OEM fender brace.

Impp 1205 24 o+scion fr s+greddy kit Photo 23/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan


Impp 1205 21 o+scion fr s+supercharger Photo 24/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

HKS makes its triumphant return to D1 Grand Prix this year with an FT-86 they have dubbed the “HKS Racing Performer 86”. With Nobuteru Taniguchi behind the wheel, HKS engineers have been hard at work, building a competitive drift car by the first D1 race on April 14. HKS Japan’s motorsports specialist Ken Tanaka claims campaigning with the FT-86 will allow HKS to utilize the technology obtained from D1 for product development for their “Racing Performer 86” product line. HKS will be arming their FT-86 with an HKS supercharger kit designed specifically for the car. The “GT Supercharger” is a “torque reaction drive type” centrifugal supercharger. HKS’s initial plans are to design the kit using a GTS7040 HKS supercharger, but will switch over to the larger-sized GTS8550 HKS supercharger if additional horsepower is required. While additional supercharger information and horsepower numbers remain confidential, Ken claims the 4U-GSE engine should receive a significant boost of power with plans to sell the kit to the general public by the end of this summer.

Impp 1205 22 o+scion fr s+hks concept Photo 25/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan


Die-hard enthusiasts have been following much iteration of the FT-86 prototypes and concept cars. Among them was a turbocharged prototype that existed more than two years ago. Toyota shocked the tuner community with the unveiling of the Gazoo G Sports concept car at the ’10 Tokyo Auto Salon. Based upon the earlier-model FT-86 concept car, the G Sport offered visual sex appeal with its widebody aero kit, blistered fenders, vented carbon-fiber hood, and GT wing. Details of what was underhood were vague other than the most important being the turbocharged boxer 2.0L engine. Initial plans were to begin a gradual rollout in Japan in mid 2010, which never panned out as the project was put on hold to make room for the production version of the FT-86.

Impp 1205 25 o+scion fr s+turbocharged Photo 26/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

While the FR sports car has yet to debut, rumors have already began to swirl regarding a turbo version of the FR-S/86. According to Japanese sources, Toyota has plans to turbocharge the FR-S/86 with a 1.6L turbocharged engine one year after the initial introduction of the models. While a turbocharged version is the hot ticket we had all been patiently awaiting to hear, this information should be taken with a grain of salt. If the engine is indeed a 1.6L platform, we assume it’s being done more for fuel economy rather than increasing horsepower. The same source indicated that the same turbocharged engine rumored to be standard in the Subaru BRZ would also be used in the Toyota GT-86 and Scion FR-S. Regardless of what rumors were being spread, we know firsthand in talking with Tada-san that he wasn’t a fan of turbocharging the FT FR-S/86. But never say never.


Impp 1205 26 o+scion fr s+headlight frs Photo 27/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

OEM HID/LED Headlights
Here’s a comparison between the FR-S headlights to the left versus the FT-86 HID/LED set on the right. Swapping between the pair should be a simple plug-and-play affair.

Impp 1205 27 o+scion fr s+headlight ft86 Photo 28/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan
Impp 1205 28 o+scion fr s+exhaust frs Photo 29/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

OEM Exhaust System
Here’s another JDM swap that includes the FR-S factory exhaust on the left versus the FT-86 exhaust with the larger-sized tips shown to the right.

Impp 1205 29 o+scion fr s+exhaust ft86 Photo 30/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan
Impp 1205 30 o+scion fr s+interior frs Photo 31/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

OEM Interior Upgrades
Inside the cabin, the black interior with red accent stitching on the seats matched the stitching on various parts, including the door panels. With variations between the FR-S and FT-86, we were informed that the car would be offered with a selection of different trim packages on the Japanese/European market—red steering wheel included.

Impp 1205 31 o+scion fr s+interior ft86 Photo 32/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

FT-86 Push-Button Start/HVAC Control
The absence of a push-start button, electronic dual climate control, and HVAC system on the FR-S was alarming, but we knew it was a necessity to keep cost production down in the U.S. vehicle. Regardless of how cool it might look, the important thing was that both vehicles remain the same in terms of performance.

Impp 1205 32 o+scion fr s+ft86 push button Photo 33/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

Big-Brake Kit
Unfortunately, only the FT-86 will be getting a factory Brembo package, while the FR-S won’t. And even if it does it will be an additional option for additional money. Research revealed that the ’04-12 STI front brakes and ’08-and-up rear brakes are a direct bolt-on to the FR-S along with ’04 STI front rotors and modified ’08-and-up rear rotors. We bet your bottom dollar that there’s an abundance of OEM STI four-pot front calipers/rotors/pads that can be scored for under $1,000 for all four corners floating around on the Subaru forums. Just be sure to snatch up a set before greedy sellers decide to hike up the price.

Impp 1205 33 o+scion fr s+frs brakes Photo 34/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan

FT-86 Rearview Mirror
Last but not least is the world’s first (in a production car) frame-less rearview mirror offered only in the FT-86. Regulatory issues restrict such items from being used on production vehicles here in the States, but nothing is said about purchasing a set overseas and swapping out your original. Just don’t get caught! Scion has recently decided to move up the on-sale date in the United States to spring with a sticker price of approx $25 to $30K.

Impp 1205 34 o+scion fr s+ft86 mirror Photo 35/35   |   Scion FR–S: First Drive In Japan
By Scott Tsuneishi
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