Having just gotten off a plane that has taken me to Tokyo, Japan, and back in less than 48 hours, I can say with great excitement that the prototype version (basically production ready) of the ’13 Scion FR-S is the car that we have all been waiting for.
Why am I so happy about this car? I’m not sure if you’ve looked around a car dealership lately, but last time I checked there aren’t many affordable, lightweight, RWD sports car on the market; even looking past that, there’s nothing on the market that’s been built with the enthusiast in mind. You know, guys like me and you who want to be able to tinker and modify cars, take them to the track and beat on them.
That’s what the Scion FR-S promises to be, and for the most part, is. Chief engineer Tetsuya Tada, who’s responsible for this creation, said that from the start this car was to be built on passion, not for the bean counters. His goal was to develop a car that enthusiasts will want to drive and that will be raw and pure, bringing back the essence of what a true sports car is.
Just look at all the great automotive machinery on the road today. With complex AWD systems and high-horsepower, turbocharged engines, these cars deliver mind-blowing performance, but they do so more with electronics rather than the person behind the wheel. And let’s face it, they aren’t cheap.
The Scion FR-S begs to be different. Built with this slogan in mind, “A fun car is a car that you control,” it doesn’t bring 300 hp to the table, nor does it have a turbo. What about big wide tires? Nope, none of that either. Instead, its characteristics are based on a lightweight platform that’s compact in size and focuses on driving experience above all.
Utilizing an extremely low center of gravity in a front, mid-engine, RWD setup that rivals the center-of-gravity height of such super cars as the Ferrari F360, Porsche Cayman and 911 GT3, you quickly realize that the FR-S is for real. You’ll probably also understand why Toyota chose a 4-cylinder horizontally opposed boxer engine for the FR-S instead of a much taller conventional piston engine. Using the boxer engine also allows it and other major components to be moved farther back toward the vehicle’s center point, resulting in an extremely neutral-handling chassis that laughs at the thought of understeer.
You’re still a bit unsure of a boxer engine in a Toyota, because doesn’t Subaru only produce those engines? Well, it just so happens that Toyota and Subaru are in cahoots on this project, and you’ll see a very similar version of the FR-S badged as a BRZ from Subaru. It’s hard to get definite answers as to what manufacturer built exactly what on this platform, but I say, “who cares?” It all works so well together that there’s no need to bicker about how much Subaru or Toyota this car really is.
Getting back to the subject at hand, the direct injection 2.0-liter 4U-GSE, flat-4 delivers 200 hp and 150 ft-lbs of torque with a healthy redline of 7450 rpm. Again, I bet I know what you’re thinking — “just 200 hp?” Trust me, for stock configuration the FR-S doesn’t need more. If you consider it weighs in roughly around 2,700 lbs, then 200 hp is plenty good. Surprisingly enough, with 150 ft-lbs or torque, you’d also think there’s little midrange available, but the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder provided plenty of grunt and never felt lacking, no matter what the rpm were at.
I also want to point out that the FR-S is targeted at a young demographic, and even though every young buck may think he’s a Michael Schumacher on the street, statistics prove otherwise. You kids will have your hands full with 200 prancing ponies. Seeing as you’re also a wonder at driving manual, you’ll have no problems with the smooth, precise, 6-speed manual gearbox. However, maybe that whole third pedal thing isn’t your cup of tea. No problem, there’s an optional 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters available.
Out of everything that surprised me on the FR-S, the automatic topped them all. This isn’t your average slushbox — it’s derived from the Lexus IS-F 8-speed auto trans and features a sport mode that, when engaged, locks the torque converter up, providing DSG-like shifts with crisp throttle-blipping precision. I first drove the auto in D-mode, where the computer did all the shifting for me, and was blown away by how well it knew when to hold a gear and downshift to be in the engine’s sweet spot at all times. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that my paddle-shifting skills weren’t able to match its ability. This is the first auto transmission I’ve driven that I’d recommend for track use — yes, I’m dead serious.
Speaking of, Tada-san knew the FR-S will be great track day car and realized that most of us want to haul sticky tires to the track while not having to drive on them to get there. A folding rear seat enables the FR-S to fit four large wheels and tires with room to spare for a helmet and other trackside necessities. The front of the cabin also exudes a track-oriented setup, with a 365mm, thick-rimmed steering wheel, center-mounted white face tachometer and heavily bolstered seats. The result is a near perfect sports car look and style with excellent driver position.
Combine the precise and agile electronic power steering, excellent pedal placement and low seating position to the above and there’s nothing more to be desired from within the cockpit.
My experience behind the wheel of both U.S. and JDM-spec (called the GT86 in Japan) FR-S in Sodegaura Forest Raceway, just outside of Tokyo, brought out emotions that have long been repressed when driving today’s modern-day automobiles. Just as advertised, this really is a driver’s sports car.
In the handling department, there’s virtually no understeer present; modulate the throttle mid-corner, and you’ll experience a ballet dance at the limit of adhesion. Get aggressive with the go-pedal, and the FR-S is eager to show you its sidestep, sliding the back end out. Even though it’s a short wheelbase, which has a tendency to snap oversteer, the right driver (with enough experience) can induce a controlled drift of epic proportions. This is a tail-happy car if you want it to be, but even if your skills may not be up to the task of sideways action, the excellent vehicle stability control system (engaged in sport mode) provides plenty of leniency before it begins to straighten the car out. Turn off VSC, and there’s nothing stopping you from full opposite lock drift action.
Even with the Michelin Primacy HP 215/45R17 tires (think a step above all-season tires, but no where near an ultra-high-performance tire) mounted on all four corners, the FR-S felt planted and stable with no signs of dive through corners. Thanks to the well sorted suspension, the FR-S is a momentum car requiring less brakes — instead, focusing on steering angle and throttle input to finesse its way around a racetrack will be key to quick lap times. When you do need to stop in a hurry, there’s a firm and confident brake pedal at your disposal. After repeated hard laps, the brakes showed little signs of fading, leading me to believe they’re adequate for track day abuse.
From the limited slip differential, to the throaty boxer engine, to the racer-esque cockpit, the FR-S combines all its traits into one seamless package that has little to no faults. It’s a shining example of what a company can do when passion takes precedent above all into developing a mass-market, affordable, RWD sports car. Pricing has yet to be announced, but we expect anywhere from $20,000–$24,000 to be the base price for this car.
But, wait, there’s more — for our segment, this car represents one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world recognizing our hobby and building a car that’s meant to be modified. When I heard that the dashboard has been designed in such a way that a rollcage can be installed without having to modify it (possibly a Japan only option), it felt like a small victory for all the enthusiasts who’ve been dreaming and waiting so long for a Japanese auto manufacturer to build us a car. The wait is finally over.
SPECS & DETAILS
’13 Scion FR-S
Engine 2.0-liter naturally aspirated DOHC direct-injection boxer 4-cylinder
Horsepower 200 at 7000 rpm
Torque 151 ft-lbs at 6600 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual; 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters