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FWD Vs RWD Tuning Challenge

We pit the hottest new RWD platform against a popular FWD rival to see which responds best to some key upgrades

David Pratte
Jan 7, 2013
Photographer: Peter Tarach
Frs vs civic si Photo 1/19   |   FWD Vs RWD Tuning Challenge

The Challenge

Don't get it twisted, because this is not a Honda Civic Si versus Scion FR-S shootout. Sure, on paper the Si and the FR-S might look like they're ripe for a head-to-head showdown, since they both make around 200 hp and weigh about 2,800 pounds. And despite their opposing drivetrain configurations, both roll on the same size wheels and tires and have surprisingly similar suspension designs, so you might think they should turn similar lap times around a racetrack, but you'd be wrong.

1303 modp 02 o+fwd vs rwd tuning challenge+2013 scion Photo 2/19   |   FWD Vs RWD Tuning Challenge

The truth is, the FR-S has been designed from the ground up as a totally uncompromising sports car, while the Si is based on a commuter-car chassis that was never really envisioned as a corner-carving machine. The devil is in the details when it comes to chassis balance and handling dynamics, so we always knew the Scion would turn a faster lap time than the Honda, stock versus stock. That's not under debate here.

Instead, what we've set out to determine is which of these two popular sport-compact platforms responds best to some high-quality, grip-adding upgrades. More specifically, with wider and stiffer wheels and rubber and a lower suspension, which of these two machines will improve the most compared with their baseline data around a racetrack? Time to find out.

The Machines

The Scion FR-S is a small car, which is part of the reason it tips the scales at just 2,758 pounds in a safety-obsessed age where most cars weigh well over the 3,000-pound mark. Its smallness also means there isn't much trunk space, and the back seats are really only useful for small children or a set of track wheels/tires, but up front there's plenty of head room (even when wearing a helmet), thanks to the low seating position.

1303 modp 03 o+fwd vs rwd tuning challenge+2012 honda civic Photo 3/19   |   FWD Vs RWD Tuning Challenge

We (and every other car magazine and website in the world) have done a very thorough review of the FR-S before, so we're not going to beat you over the head with how cleverly this car has been engineered, but we will say that having lived with this FR-S for a few weeks, both in stock trim and then with the upgrades you'll be reading more about soon, it's just as much fun driving it to the grocery store as it is around a racetrack, because in either scenario it has a Terrier-like personality, willing you to give it a little extra gas or throw it into a corner a little harder.

It actually reminds us of the DC2 Integra Type R, another lightweight sport-compact machine with a hyperactive personality. But the question is: Does the FR-S also resemble the DC2 Type R in the sense that it's so highly optimized from the factory that it's really difficult to extract more performance from with aftermarket upgrades? And will we disrupt the FR-S' amazing handling balance in the process?

The '12 Civic Si has taken a lot of flak from the automotive media since its release, but to Honda's credit, the company has responded in record time with a revised '13 model that should be available by the time you're reading this. We suspect the lack of enthusiasm within the tuner world for the '12 Si stems from the fact that the 9th-gen machine is unique to the American market, meaning little to no JDM parts support or build inspiration from Honda tuning specialists like Mugen, Spoon, and J's Racing.

That said, Grand Am and World Challenge powerhouse Compass360 Racing has quickly turned its '12 Civic Si coupes into front runners and has helped developed some pretty trick parts that will be available through Honda's motorsports program. Plus there's a growing list of American companies supporting this platform, including Honda's own HPD division. We have to admit we're not huge fans of the 9th-gen's double-decker dashboard, but what's not to like about a torquey K24 under the hood combined with one of the slickest-shifting six-speed transmissions on the planet?

We were particularly impressed by the Si sedan's daily practicality, having used it to shuttle a toddler to and from daycare for a few weeks and having piled two sets of coilovers and a ton of tools and photography gear in its trunk for our track-testing extravaganza. Add to that the all-weather friendliness of a FWD design, and we found our Si test mule a very appealing all-arounder. Sure, it understeers a lot in stock trim, and its suspension tuning is too soft for our taste, but we think we may have found a cure for that.

The Upgrades

TSW Interlagos RF rotary forged wheels

For some reason, we've only recently discovered what an amazing value TSW's rotary forged wheels are. If you read our Nov. '12 issue, then you already know we tested a set of these wheels on Project RX-8 and were thoroughly impressed by the clean styling, top-notch build quality, and lightweight construction of the Interlagos RF. And at right around $1,000 for a set, we simply don't know of another lightweight forged wheel on the market that offers so many sizes, offsets, bolt patterns, and finishes anywhere near this price point.

1303 modp 04 o+fwd vs rwd tuning challenge+scion wheel Photo 4/19   |   Silver on the FR-S and Matte Black on the Civic, TSW’s cleanly styled Interlagos RF wheels were a perfect fit on both.

Case in point: We needed a 17x8-inch wheel that had the right offset for both the 5x100 RWD Scion and the 5x114.3 FWD Honda. No problem. TSW had exactly what we needed in stock and ready to ship in whatever color we wanted. We opted for the Silver with mirror-cut face on the FR-S, which really pops with the Scion's Hot Lava paint, and the subtler matte black finish to go along with the Si's street-sleeper dark gray paint and four doors.

With an offset of +35 in both cases, the TSW Interlagos RF also filled out the wheelwells on both cars really nicely, not to mention they allowed us to ditch the weakly offset OE wheels and equip both cars with much wider rubber. We did our homework and knew this offset should work well with no clearance issues to speak of, but apparently we pushed the limit a bit too much with our tire choice on the Civic.

1303 modp 05 o+fwd vs rwd tuning challenge+honda civic wheel Photo 5/19   |   Silver on the FR-S and Matte Black on the Civic, TSW’s cleanly styled Interlagos RF wheels were a perfect fit on both.

Hankook Ventus RS-3 extreme summer performance tires

Our research told us 235/40R17s would fit both cars without rubbing on a 17x8-inch +35 offset rim, and since these were both press cars loaned to us with the expectation that we'd return them in the same condition we borrowed them, rolling the fenders simply wasn't an option. That said, we wanted to use the fastest extreme performance street tire money could buy, and for that, the choice was pretty clear.

Unfortunately, the RS-3 isn't available in a 235/40R17, so we decided to push our luck and run 245/40R17s instead. We had good reason to believe this would fit without issue on the FR-S, which has pretty generous wheelwells, but we were less sure of how well they'd fit on the Civic.

1303 modp 06 o+fwd vs rwd tuning challenge+hankook ventus rs 3 Photo 6/19   |   Hankook Ventus RS-3 in size 245/40R17 meant we had an extra 1.6 inches of contact patch width to go along with a much stickier compound.

As it turned out, this wheel and tire combo fit the Scion perfectly, but on the Civic we had a bit of rubbing on the fender lips once it was lowered to KW's recommended ride height, even with front camber maxed out. Read on to see how we tried to work around this.

KW Suspension Variant 3 coilovers

Continuing our theme of using the highest-quality/best-performing parts possible while keeping cost in mind, we opted for KW's value-packed Variant 3 coilovers. We've used KW V3s on a number of different project cars over the last few years, so we knew what we'd be getting: double-adjustable damping (independent rebound and low-speed compression) in rust- and corrosion-resistant stainless steel bodies threaded for individual ride height adjustment.

1303 modp 07 o+fwd vs rwd tuning challenge+coilovers Photo 7/19   |   KW Variant 3 coilovers offer a perfect blend of street ride quality and tunability for the track.

Following KW's detailed installation instructions, we set the ride height on both cars to their recommended starting points. This ended up being right in the middle of the adjustment range, which lowers the FR-S by 1.5 inches and the Civic Si by 1.75 inches. This ensures reasonable ground clearance and adequate suspension travel and prevents any of the suspension geometry wonkiness associated with excessive lowering.

Spring rates on the FR-S kit are 342 lb/in up front and 398 lb/in out back, so KW has reduced the front/rear spring rate stagger a bit by more than doubling the OE front rates and not quite doubling the rear rates. On the Civic Si KW uses progressive spring rates, but based on independent testing we found online (RedShiftMotorsports.com), they appear to be only mildly progressive and best described as 260 lb/in front and 350 lb/in rear. This is a less aggressive percent increase in spring rate compared with the FR-S kit, and the front/rear spring rate differential in this case is kept very close to the factory setup.

1303 modp 08 o+fwd vs rwd tuning challenge+installation_ Photo 8/19   |   Installation was a breeze, and KW’s recommended ride height and damper settings gave us a great starting point.

And now for a little confession: We used KW's 8th- generation Civic Si kit on our 9th-gen Si because the company's 9th-gen kit wasn't ready to go yet. There are some small differences between the 8th- and 9th-gen suspension designs, most notably the location of the front sway bar endlink mounting points. This meant running our test mule with the front bar disconnected, but less front roll stiffness should help dial out some understeer. What we didn't factor in was how the extra front body roll would contribute to the front tires rubbing on the fenders, so we raised the Civic's ride height by 1/2 inch to minimize the rubbage.

1303 modp 09 o+fwd vs rwd tuning challenge+coilover installation_ Photo 9/19   |   Installation was a breeze, and KW’s recommended ride height and damper settings gave us a great starting point.

The Results: Day 1

As planned, we started by baseline testing both cars on the stock wheels, tires, and suspension using our handy-dandy AiM Solo for data-acquisition purposes (10Hz GPS chipset and a tri-axial 6G accelerometer, giving us a smorgasbord of data to feast on). As you can see from the data overlay of each car's best lap in stock trim, the FR-S was the faster of the two, as we expected given its ability to use all four contact patches more effectively, but to be fair, its OE rubber is a bit stickier than the Civic's.

1303 modp 11 o+fwd vs rwd tuning challenge+honda civic frame Photo 10/19   |   FWD Vs RWD Tuning Challenge

Where things didn't quite go as planned was with the next step in the process, since we'd intended to swap on the TSW wheels and Hankook tires at this point to see how they worked with the stock suspensions. But a shipping snafu meant we didn't have the tires in time for Day 1 of track testing, so instead, we drafted wrenching masochists Andrew "Moose" DeLaCour and Ken "Ken-Spec" Wagan to help us with trackside installation of the KW V3 coilovers.

Both the Civic and FR-S are very easy to work on, and within an hour or so we'd bolted up the KW V3 coilovers to each. Before installing them, we set the compression and rebound damping to KW's recommended settings, which offer a good starting point for track testing. We also had to check wheel alignment to ensure that the lower ride height hadn't thrown things too far out of whack, plus we wanted to dial in a more track-oriented alignment (especially on the Civic) to improve cornering grip and handling balance.

1303 modp 12 o+fwd vs rwd tuning challenge+road course Photo 11/19   |   FWD Vs RWD Tuning Challenge

The FR-S' alignment turned out to be spot on based on a quick check using Long Acre toe plates and a digital camber gauge. We couldn't see any advantage to changing camber or toe at this point, so we left it alone. The Civic, on the other hand, required a bit more work. It had about 1/2 inch of toe-in on the front and rear of the car after the KWs were installed, which is the opposite of what we wanted. So with a little wrenching on the front tie rods and the rear eccentric bolts, we dialed in 1/4 inch of front toe-out to give it better turn-in response, along with a 1/2 inch of toe-out on the rear to encourage some rotation in the corners.

We also checked individual toe at each wheel by setting up a string box, and this proved worthwhile because one rear wheel had a lot more toe-in than the other, so had we simply adjusted total toe using the toe plates alone, we would still have had a side-to-side toe imbalance on the rear of the Honda.

1303 modp 13 o+fwd vs rwd tuning challenge+testing Photo 12/19   |   FWD Vs RWD Tuning Challenge

With both cars set up as best we could given the time constraints of installing and testing a coilover setup on the same day as baseline testing, we attacked time again with somewhat surprising results.

The Civic shaved two seconds a lap, which is a better-than-average improvement with just a coilover upgrade and a more aggressive alignment. And although the peak cornering g's and braking g's didn't change dramatically, average g's were up in every corner, especially in the first part of the turn. Clearly the Honda benefited greatly from the improved pitch and roll control the KW V3s provided, especially from turn-in to apex, where understeer was greatly reduced. We even had some controllable oversteer in the esses (Turns 3, 4, and 5), which was impossible to achieve on the stock suspension.

The FR-S also went considerably faster on the KW V3s, shaving 1.5 seconds off its baseline. This is a very similar improvement to what we've seen using KW V3s on other project cars, including a G35 coupe and a DC2 Integra Type R, so it was encouraging to see the FR-S respond so well to a coilover upgrade. Again, we didn't see dramatic changes in peak g-forces or speeds, and yet we did see a widening of the Scion's lateral g-force advantage when compared with the Honda.

Stock Baseline Best Lap Avg. MPH Max MPH Max LAT G Max Breaking G
Honda Civic Si 1:29.039 57.3 94.6 1.06 0.77
Scion FR-S 1:26.875 58.9 95.8 1.12 0.85

1303 modp 10 o+fwd vs rwd tuning challenge+stock baseline graph Photo 13/19   |   FR-S cornering G’s = blue line; speed = turquoise line. Civic Si cornering G’s = red line; speed = orange line.

Day 2

Now it was time to test the wider, stiffer, and lighter TSW Interlagos RF 17x8-inch wheels and the wider and much stickier 245/40R17 Hankook Ventus RS-3 tires. The OEM wheel and tire package on the Scion was identical in weight to our upgrade package at 42.5 pounds each, while the Civic's stock wheel/tire combo was 3.5 pounds heavier. So we saved a significant amount of rotating and unsprung mass on the Honda and didn't add any to the FR-S while increasing wheel width by 1 inch, improved wheel weight distribution (because TSW's rotary forging technique reduces weight in the barrel of the wheel where it has the most impact on rotating inertia) and wheel stiffness (which aids tire performance by keeping it in more consistent contact with the road), and added a much wider contact patch.

1303 modp 15 o+fwd vs rwd tuning challenge+honda civic rear Photo 14/19   |   Lowered and rolling on more aggressively offset wheels with wider rubber, both the Scion and the Honda took on a decidedly more purposeful appearance.

The Hankooks, with a measured tread width of 9.1 inches, are 1.6 inches wider than the OE rubber on both cars, which have a measured tread width of 7.5 inches. So we not only widened the contact patch significantly, which should pay big dividends in lateral grip and cornering speeds, but we also stepped up from pretty average 240-300 UTQG tires to one of the fastest street tires on the market with a UTQG of 140.

That said, the Ventus RS-3 works best when fully up to temperature (160 to 220 F), and given the cool track conditions, we had to work hard to ensure they were in the sweet spot. The problem we faced with both cars was not overheating the OE brakes (especially the pads, which tend to fade first) while trying to get the tires up to temp, so we used an old autocross trick of having one driver go out and warm the tires while using the brakes as little as possible, and then a fresh driver would jump in to do a three-lap time attack session. This was done after we had used a probe-type tire pyrometer to ensure the tires were fully up to temp.

1303 modp 16 o+fwd vs rwd tuning challenge+scion fender Photo 15/19   |   Lowered and rolling on more aggressively offset wheels with wider rubber, both the Scion and the Honda took on a decidedly more purposeful appearance.

Both cars went about 2.5 seconds faster on the wider wheels and stickier rubber, and we're fairly certain more time could have been cut had both cars not been suffering from severe brake fade. Average and peak lateral g-forces also increased dramatically, but because of the brake fade issue, braking g-forces didn't increase much (normally braking g-forces increase and the speed line in the data drops more sharply with a tire upgrade, but only if the brakes can take advantage of the extra grip).

KW V3 Test Best Lap Avg. MPH Max MPH Max LAT G Max Breaking G
Honda Civic Si 1:27.047 57.9 96.4 1.07 0.82
Scion FR-S 1:25.377 59.8 94.1 1.15 0.84

1303 modp 14 o+fwd vs rwd tuning challenge+kw v3 test Photo 16/19   |   FR-S cornering g’s = blue line; speed = turquoise line Civic Si cornering g’s = red line; speed = orange line

Conclusions

In the end, the Civic Si improved its lap time by almost 4.7 seconds, while the FR-S dropped almost 4.3 seconds off its baseline lap time. Both responded extremely well to the upgrade process, and not too surprisingly, the Honda benefited a bit more from them because of its softer OE setup and less grippy all-season OE tires. Highlights for us included the fact that the FR-S retained its superb handling balance, showing just as much willingness to rotate and drift on the KW suspension and wider/stickier wheel and tire combo. But the Civic also surprised us with its willingness to rotate once we cranked up the rear compression and rebound stiffness on the V3 dampers and dialed in a fair bit of rear toe-out, proving that this FWD chassis is indeed a very capable performance platform albeit with a good amount of tuning.

1303 modp 17 o+fwd vs rwd tuning challenge+testing temperature Photo 17/19   |   We checked tire temps to ensure we were hitting the Hankooks’ sweet spot.

A couple of things stood out for us once we spent some time evaluating the in-car data. For starters, it's interesting to see how the gap in speed and g-forces closed up between the Civic Si and the FR-S once they were both equipped with the same wheels and tires. Looking closely at the speed line for each car during the wheel and tire test sessions, the FR-S really pulls its lap time advantage in just a couple of key sections of the track, namely Turn 2 and Turn 9, which are the fastest corners on the track and thus allowed the Scion's superior weight distribution, lower center of gravity, and superior chassis balance to really shine through. The FR-S was also a lot faster in Turn 7, a deceptively quick left-hander that tends to induce a lot of understeer, so also favored the Scion's amazingly neutral handling.

1303 modp 18 fwd vs rwd tuning challenge+whellwell liners Photo 18/19   |   Sometimes testing and tuning requires some sacrifices, like wheelwell liners and a little shoulder rubber.

But props must be given to the Honda for overcoming several disadvantages, including that disconnected front sway bar and front tire rub, both of which were contributing to the odd behavior of the Torsen limited-slip differential. The diff seemed to be going from locked to open coming out of a few of the tighter turns, making it tricky to put the power down. With the front sway bar hooked up (by using KW's pending 9th-gen coilover kit), there probably wouldn't have been any tire rub, and the LSD wouldn't have been fighting us, so the fact that the Civic Si posted cornering g's and speeds remarkably close to the Scion's in all but a few places is a testament to what a solid overall package the Honda really is and how much performance potential it has.

But the question is: Does the FR-S also resemble the DC2 Type R in the sense that it's so highly optimized from the factory that it's really difficult to extract more performance from with aftermarket upgrades?

TSW/Hankook Best Lap Avg. MPH Max MPH Max LAT G Max Breaking G
Honda Civic Si 1:24.397 60.4 96.3 1.27 0.85
Scion FR-S 1:22.607 61.7 96.9 1.34 0.82

1303 modp 19 o+fwd vs rwd tuning challenge+tsw hankook Photo 19/19   |   FR-S cornering g’s = blue line; speed = turquoise line Civic Si cornering g’s = red line; speed = orange line

2013 Scion FR-S

Engine FA20 2.0L direct-injection flat-4

Engine Performance 200 bhp at 7,000 rpm and 151 lb-ft at 6,600 rpm

Drivetrain Rear-wheel drive, 6-speed manual transmission, Torsen limited-slip differential

Dimensions 51.2'' overall height, 166.7'' overall length, 101.2'' wheelbase, 59.8'' front track width, 60.6'' rear track width

Curb Weight 2,758 pounds

Weight Distribution, f/r (%) 53/47

Suspension MacPherson front, multilink rear, 131 lb/in front spring rates, 211 lb/in rear spring rates, 18mm diameter front stabilizer (sway) bar, 14mm diameter rear stabilizer (sway) bar

Steering ratio 13:1, 2.48 turns lock to lock

Wheels 17x7'' +48 offset front and rear, 20.4 pounds each

Tires 215/45R17 Michelin Primacy HP

Tire Tread Wear Rating 240 UTQG

Brakes 11.6'' front discs, 11.4'' rear discs

2012 Honda Civic Si

Engine K24A2 2.4L i-VTEC inline-4

Engine Performance 201 bhp at 7,000 rpm and 170 lb-ft at 4,400 rpm

Drivetrain Front-wheel drive, 6-speed manual transmission, Torsen limited-slip differential

Dimensions 56.5'' overall height, 177.3'' overall length, 105.1'' wheelbase, 59'' front track width, 59.9'' rear track width

Curb Weight 2,917 pounds (sedan), 2,877 pounds (coupe)

Weight Distribution, f/r (%) 62/38

Suspension MacPherson front, multilink rear, 165 lb/in front spring rates, 251 lb/in rear spring rates, 18mm diameter front stabilizer (sway) bar, 15mm diameter rear stabilizer (sway) bar

Steering ratio 16.1, 3.1 turns lock to lock

Wheels 17x7'' +45 offset front and rear, 23.5 pounds each

Tires 215/45R17 Michelin Pilot HX MXM4

Tire Tread Wear Rating 300 UTQG

Brakes 11.8'' front discs, 10.2'' rear discs

Sources

KW Suspension
Sanger, CA 93657
800-445-3767
www.kwsuspension.com
Hankook Tire
Wayne, NJ 07470
973-406-3500
http://www.hankooktireusa.com
TSW
Huntington Beach, CA 92651
800-479-9723
http://www.tsw.com
By David Pratte
216 Articles

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