My hands are still shaking, a smile left stuck on my face for what must be at least the past three hours since leaving the Sodegaura Forest Raceway in the Chiba prefecture of Japan. On this shuttle ride to Haneda International Airport in Tokyo late in the night, my only thought is: “When do I get to buy this?” The talk whispering from (some of) my surrounding colleagues echoes my sentiments—“great car”, “fun to drive”, “that automatic transmission really surprised me”—should I go on? I will. It’s perhaps one of my greatest pleasures to have been invited to exclusively drive a car that isn’t some high-priced, stupid fast luxury item, but rather a car that continues on a legacy that started some 25 years ago with Toyota and its iconic AE86. Its successor, the collaborative effort between Toyota and Subaru, has been making big news in the auto world in all its various forms—some know it first and foremost as the Toyota 86 in Japan (or GT 86 in Europe), but here, in the US, it comes in two guises, one) as the Subaru BRZ, and two) is the next member to join the hipster ranks of Scion’s eclectic pack as its sportiest offering, the FR-S.
For the past couple of years, we’ve seen a few high-profile concepts shown at auto shows around the world, offering a nice taste of what to expect. The public eye caught a glimpse of the final product, much earlier than its originally slated debut at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show, when Akio Toyoda, president and CEO of Toyota, brought out the first of the multi-release—the Toyota 86—during the Gazoo Racing Motorsports Festival 2011, held at Fuji Speedway last month. A few days later, Subaru came forth with photos of its production model BRZ and had a Super GT version on display at the Tokyo Motor Show. To finalize the deal, I witnessed the FR-S reveal in Los Angeles with many others as Jack Hollis, senior VP of Scion, not only delivered a stock version, but the first modified from GReddy. No less than a week later, I was on a plane bound for Japan to get some much-anticipated seat time.
Once at the track, we’re given a quick 10-minute breakdown of track rules; no specs relating to the car before we start driving. Chief Engineer, Tetsuya Tada offers a simple phrase of advice: “It’s too easy to get caught up in the specs; just enjoy the car.” And like that, we’re off. A quick walk-around two JDM 86s (one of them equipped with an auto transmission), the original prototype car (with the camo disguise) and a silver manual FR-S are at our disposal. I’m put into a blue 86 first, first in line and in the first run group—no pressure. Once I’m let out, I take a few moments to adjust, then pick up speed—even though I’m not familiar with the track and right-handed driving configuration, I still find it easy to control, confidence boosting for sure. The power isn’t underwhelming in any sense; it revs up nicely and moves through its gears quite smoothly—a far cry over the tC for sure. The engine and exhaust notes are actually pleasant to hear, unlike dubstep, but I’d be interested to hear what it sounds like once you’ve opened it up with an aftermarket exhaust. With every lap around Sodegaura, I keep thinking about how much more I want a FR-S—and that was before I drove the automatic. Before you judge, know this: the automatic version is LOTS of fun to drive (especially in Sport mode), maybe more so if you just want to focus solely on driving instead of coordinating with your hands and feet at the same time. The 6-speed shifts quicker via paddle shifters than one might expect—but what you wouldn’t know is that this transmission was developed from the same technology used in the Lexus IS F’s 8-speed, hence the surprised looks and smiles from our group as we finished driving it. Keep this as a serious consideration if you’re remotely thinking of purchasing a FR-S.
During a brief technical breakdown—and by brief, we basically only come to find out the car’s design influences (exterior design cues from the 2000GT, flat engine design from the S800 Yotohachi, and sports car spirit of the AE86), engine code, engine power/torque and transmission options; more detailed info will be available soon, including pricing. We also find out the FR-S’ center of gravity is really low, like lower than a GT-R low at 18.11-inches, but still higher than its bigger brother, the LFA. It’s all part of Akio Toyoda’s vision, to add a car to their lineup that for once would represent “passion” in its true essence, a game plan which was put into effect back in 2007, right in the hands of the Sports Car Planning Division, the same group that also helped develop the 2000GT, S800, AE86, MR2 and Supra. Toyoda-san also admits that the FR-S “isn’t meant to be finished from the start”, that you’ll “grow and develop with it over the years”. To me that screams: “have fun modifying this”. Remember that. While everyone’s been complaining about how 200hp isn’t enough and why wasn’t a turbo bolted on when it comes from two powerhouses that probably very well could have done it, citing “disappointments” all around, think back again to the AE86. That car wasn’t very much at its humble beginnings (but then again, none of us had the Internet to deal with). Without its dedicated fan base, the AE86 would still be a lo-fi sports coupe with room for growth. Giving you all the fun parts from the get-go would’ve defeated the purpose here, and make the price point that much higher. The FR-S has plenty of potential and I’m already counting up all the parts that crossover from the 86 and BRZ. From what we’ve seen so far, in stock form, you can swap over the HID LED headlamps from the 86/BRZ, any of the bumpers (the bumpers themselves are interchangeable but have slight variances in regard to grille and fog light design), steering wheels, climate controls (the FR-S has rotary dials while the 86 has flip switches) and the 86 push-start button (really cool). GReddy is the only aftermarket company (as of press time) to have developed parts for the FR-S, which include suspension, exhaust, braking and wheel hub accessories.
I wound up giving my last driving session to Ken Gushi in exchange for a very special ride-along. Scion brought him out in what I call my hypothetical situation of the young drifter winding up in a FR-S for the 2012 drift season (this does not mean I’m confirming anything, by the way). With GoPro and Contour cams mounted every which way on the FR-S, we were sliding by turn 2 on the track. Ken was beyond elated, naturally bonded to the steering wheel, pedals and shift knob, piloting it effortlessly throughout the course. “It’s lightweight… smooth,” he yells, proclaiming, “It’s perfect for drifting!” We shared a few more laps of laughs and weird driving faces (all caught on video, so peep our YouTube channel) before pulling back into pit lane with a group of Toyota’s engineers finally breathing a sigh of relief, having witnessed their young one going through that amount of hard driving for the first time in its life. It was a trade-off worth experiencing.
To the would-be buyers, simply curious or haters who write off the car without having driven one, all I can say is “go drive one”, just like Tada-san recommended. And really, why wouldn’t you? Reviews only give you the proverbial “just the tip”; you need to go balls deep. I’m asked this a lot: “So, does it drive like a S2000 or a Miata?”—and I think to myself, “It drives like a FR-S.” Just like it should.
Will a back-to-basics car like the Toyota 86 be just what the sports car sector needs? Is this the potential savior of the aftermarket scene, that all-new fresh platform we have all been waiting for? Simply put, yes. I’m going to keep this little insight into what the JDM version of the Scion FR-S feels like to drive as objective as possible. First up, the car is a hell of a lot of fun. Not dumping tons of overly complicated technology into it has allowed Toyota to really stay true to the initial goal of the project. Subaru’s flat-four, now running Toyota’s direct injection technology, sits into the engine bay and as far back as possible to optimize weight balance, a perfect 53% front, 47% rear for this FR chassis. From the driver’s seat it was the communicative steering that stood out the most, it felt very-Subaru like as did the shifter with its notchy engagement and short and precise throw.
Around Fuji Speedway’s short course the 86 felt well suited to the tight layout; this is a car that was made to tackle second and third gear corners with poise. The front end responds to delicate and precise inputs, forcing the driver to throw the car into corners progressively and with finesse, rewarding with adequate bite and adjustability. An upgrade from the 215-wide rubber will no doubt make the 86 a gripping machine, but I think this is one car what will be hard to set up once you start introducing harder suspension, bigger and wider wheels and stickier tires. I say this because, even if not the most impressive car around a skidpan, it’s the lively nature of the rear end that makes the 86. It begs to be flicked sideways into corners and held at an angle throughout the exit. Progression is the name of the game here, you can really feel the car come alive and respond to inputs so you simply adjust to the conditions and whatever you are trying to do. There are no nasty surprises waiting at the limit, and this is exactly what makes it enjoyable as it allows you to push to its very limits and beyond, all without fear.
It’s hard to fault the 86, so guess what that means, America—Scion’s got a winner with your FR-S. – Dino Dalle Carbonare
That New Car Smell
2013 Scion FR-S
The Sticker Pricing est. $25,000
Engine 4U-GSE 2.0L D-4S, flat DOHC 4-valve Boxer engine
The Power 200hp at 7,000rpm; 151lb-ft at 6,600rpm
Scale Tipping est. 2,700lbs
Layout Front engine, rear-wheel-drive
Transmission 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters
Wheels & Tires 17x7" +48mm with 215/45R17 Michelin Primacy HP tires