If you’re a regular reader of Modified, then you’ve already read my review (Mar. ’12 issue) praising the ’13 Scion FR-S and what a significant car it is for the tuning community. I assume you also just finished the First Drive story on the Subaru BRZ two pages back. Having driven both cars on and off the track, I wanted to point out the subtle differences in handling characteristics between the two because aside from some minor interior and exterior differences, the two cars are seemingly identical.
If I had to choose between the FR-S and BRZ, I’d give the nod to the Scion as the car that exhibits my preferred handling characteristics. Where the BRZ falls short is what I tend to dislike in most Subarus. The initial vehicle’s turn-in exhibits understeer that is quickly followed by a correction to neutral or slight oversteer. The BRZ has the slightest tendency to do this whereas the Scion FR-S provides a more precise, crisp initial turn-in that is neutral the second it begins to change direction. This gives the perception that the FR-S is a more lively handling vehicle. Most people will have a hard time noticing these differences because they really are extremely subtle, but drive both cars hard enough and you’ll feel the difference, too. That’s because even though Toyota and Subaru worked together to build the platform, they were left to tune the specifics of the vehicle to themselves and thus brand them as their own.
From a glance, the FR-S looks to be no different from most RWD sports cars with its slick coupe design, but digging deeper into the technical data reveals a car designed and built from the ground up with zero compromise on driving fun and experience. Starting with the heart of the beast, a joint effort between Toyota and Subaru engineers has resulted in an all-new 2.0L horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine that has a bore and stroke of 86 mm. The square stroke ratio was chosen because of, among other things, its ability to rev. A longer stroke would have meant a lower rpm limit. An unnamed source told us the FA20 is able to rev higher than its 7,300-rpm redline with the addition of stiffer valvesprings, and I’m sure this theory will be tested by leaders in the aftermarket and racing industries very soon.
As you’ve probably read before, the engine also has one of the lowest centers of gravity among all production engines. It’s naturally balanced by the opposing sides, meaning there was no need for balance shafts or crank counterweight thus eliminating unnecessary weight, another sign that this engine should be able to support a lot of rpm.
Often overlooked is that the new FA20 uses Toyota’s unique D-4S direct injection technology that works independently or in combination with the four other regular port injectors (eight injectors total). The result is an extremely efficient motor with a 12.5:1 compression ratio that can produce 200 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque while achieving a very respectable 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway (25/34 for the automatic version).
The rear suspension is a double-wishbone design with reinforced subframe that’s been tuned to complement the front suspension and minimize body roll while increasing grip
Many of you are probably wondering why a forced-induction version was not offered, and one of the main reasons cited was the linear, instant response that only a naturally aspirated motor can offer. There’s also the reality that when you add more power through forced induction, bigger brakes, wider wheels and tires, and chassis reinforcement are all needed to ensure the car can handle the boosted output, all of which would compromise the FR-S’s ethos as a lightweight, nimble sports car.
That spirit of sports car purity means every part in this car has been designed with low center of gravity in mind. The radiator, for example, has been tilted 17 degrees to lower the hood line. The battery has been placed behind the front axle for better weight distribution, and the front-facing intake manifold positions the intake system low and up front.
To really emphasize the growl of the intake system, Scion has employed what it calls a Sound Creator. It’s essentially a tube with a frequency resonator in it that channels the intake sound inside the cabin to heighten the driving experience. It’s hard to say whether this gimmick will be adored or hated, but many other automobile manufacturers have used this trick with good success, some going so far as to piping the sound in via the audio system.
Tucked neatly behind the engine is a newly developed RA62 six-speed manual transmission with First Second, and Third gear triple-cone synchros that allow fast and smooth shifts at high rpm. The shifter itself provides short throws with precise gate movement, and the gear ratios are optimized for spirited driving.
The automatic transmission is also built with performance in mind, offering fast gear changes and rev-matched downshifts. The steering wheel–mounted shift paddles allow the driver to be in total control of gear selection, and the FR-S will hold gears much like that of a twin-clutch transmission. This makes it a legitimate option for enthusiasts who want the convenience of an automatic for the street but a responsive gearbox for the track.
Moving onto the suspension, the MacPherson strut front suspension utilizes a reverse-mounted L-shaped control arm (facing forward rather than back like most production cars). This was done so the engine could be mounted even lower. The shocks and springs have been mounted farther into the shock tower to allow for a low hood design and direct handling feel.
The rear suspension is a double-wishbone design with a reinforced subframe that’s been tuned to complement the front suspension and minimize body roll while increasing grip. A Torsen limited-slip differential makes certain that power is transferred to the tire with the most grip at all times. A saddle-shaped resin fuel tank is 12 percent lighter than a conventional steel unit, again promoting the lightweight theme throughout the entire vehicle.
A lot of effort was also put into the body shape of the FR-S to ensure it would be aerodynamically efficient as well as attractive. The Pagoda roof has a concave relief in the middle of it, lowering the roof line while enhancing stability. The side profile shows a slightly curved hood surface that reduces drag and lift, while an underbody and rear diffuser smooth out undercar airflow and increase downforce. Even the taillights have small fins designed into them that create air vortices for stabilizing airflow. As a result, the FR-S carries a low 0.027 coefficient of drag, bettering even the’13 Porsche 911 by 0.002.
Strip all the parts away and the shell of the FR-S focuses on lightness and rigidity. Thinner sheetmetal and fewer braces have been used thanks to key areas being reinforced with high-tensile-strength steel. This allows the front end to be lighter than normal, resulting in nearly ideal body weight distribution. The hood is made completely out of aluminum, meaning you won’t need to replace it with a carbon unit to shed weight since it’s already extremely light. Winter salt-belt owners will also be happy to know that the body uses rust-resistant sheetmetal, sealer, and undercoating to protect it from the harsh realities of winter driving.
Jump inside and the interior is meant to evoke a sports car experience and feel. The front seats have significant bolstering but employ a low profile and lightweight design that ensures that rear passengers still have some legroom. The front portion of the lower seat has been rounded out to promote easy leg movement for those working the three pedals with precision. The rear seats can accommodate two adults snugly, but more important, they fold down and two tires can be stored there while two more fit in the 6.9 cubic feet of space trunk.
Good visibility was a key factor in the interior design as well, the result of which is a class-leading view from the driver seat that’s superior to category leaders like the Porsche Cayman and Mazda Miata. To top it off, there’s the often-mentioned rollcage-friendly design of the dash, which means you can throw a ’cage into an FR-S without having to butcher the interior.
With all this performance-minded engineering in place, it’s also important to note that safety has not been compromised in any way.
With all this performance-minded engineering in place, it’s also important to note that safety has not been compromised in any way. In fact, the FR-S is equipped with six standard air bags and an impact-absorbing body structure that can handle impacts from all sides. You can rest assured you’ll be well protected, so unless you’re going racing there’s no need for the aforementioned rollcage.
As you’d expect, there’s also a traction and stability control system built into the FR-S that allows five different levels of control, so no matter what your driving ability, you can still have fun with the car. But unlike a lot of new cars these days, in the FR-S you can completely disable these systems, meaning you can enjoy some track-day fun without having to worry about the e-nannies spoiling any of the sideways action.
When you look at the FR-S as a whole, it’s clearly a car built from the ground up with enthusiasts like you and me in mind. It’s not built on a commuter-car chassis and its engine and suspension aren’t used in other vehicles. Its purpose is to deliver all the driving thrills that machines double or even triple the price can’t, all at a price that makes it affordable to hard-working regular Joes. And that’s really the magic of the FR-S; it delivers so much sports car purity and enjoyment for so few dollars.
And, of course, it’s also worth mentioning that the aftermarket support this platform is already receiving is staggering, and it’s only going to grow from here. It won’t be long before there are some seriously powerful FR-S’ running, including those equipped with TRD go-fast goodies, which we hope will include supercharged and turbocharged options.
Specs & Details
’13 Scion FR-S
Engine 2.0L naturally aspirated DOHC direct-injection flat-four
Torque 151 lb-ft
Transmission six-speed manual (six-speed automatic optional)
Price $24,200 MSRP