Not many 200hp vehicles make auto journalists gush like it’s their first time behind the wheel of a sports car. The 2013 Scion FR-S is doing that to nearly everyone that can get their hands on it. One week with the coupe convinced me to drink the Kool-Aid too; I’m sold. I want one.
The FR-S represents one of the most important wins for auto-enthusiasts in recent memory. Purest driver’s cars built from the ground up to deliver exactly what the driver is capable of drawing out of them are mostly a thing of the past. Affordable ones are nearly extinct all together.
Starting at under $25,000 the FR-S is a wet dream come true for every car guy that’s been waiting for an automaker to start producing a true sports car at a reasonable price point. Toyota conceived the FR-S to fill this void as well as the one in their lineup for a fun, passionate car the average Joe could get his hands on.
On paper the FR-S fits the mold: Rear wheel drive, lightweight and incredibly agile.
In reality it’s completely in tune with the driver when driven properly, embarrassingly sloppy when not. In other words, once again, it’s a real driver’s car.
The FR-S accomplishes its noble endeavor so well it almost doesn't matter its 0-60mph time is nearly identical to a V-6 Camry – power just isn’t the point.
Before gushing anymore it should be made clear the development of the FR-S was spurred by the glorious idea of Toyota President, Akio Toyoda, but the bulk of the car was built by Subaru in an unprecedented joint effort by the two companies.
In the United States FR-S and Subaru BRZ are brothers from different mothers. Their estranged sibling sold globally outside of the U.S. is the Toyota GT 86 – homage to the original car so many greasy shirted young men still lust after for drifting purposes.
Instead of digging in to the subtle details of how the Scion differs from the Subaru and Toyota variants, one defining characteristic of the FR-S does a better job of representing its essence than anything else:
It runs Prius tires. The FR-S’s Michelin Primacy HP tires are exactly the same to those in the Prius’ optional Plus Performance package. They aren’t all that grippy and are skinny by sports car standards.
The idea is to let the car drift at lower levels of g-force. That’s where real driving happens. Also it’s really, really fun.
The FR-S cabin keeps with the ethos. There are very few buttons or any semblance of Scion’s usual barrage of youthful interior styling cues. Yet predominately displayed just below the gear-shift is a button that turns the traction and stability control completely off.
Did I mention it runs on Prius tires?
If that weren’t fun enough, power, though clearly not the point as mentioned earlier, is still plenty adequate.
Beneath the hood lies a Subaru 2.0-liter flat four boxer engine to which Toyota added its impressive eight-injector direct and port fuel injection. For the nerds out there, that makes the FR-S the world’s only direct-injection flat-four rear-drive sports car.
At 7,000RPM power tops out at 200hp, at 6,600RPM torque hits its peak at 151 lb-feet. At 2,800lbs-2,900lbs the FR-S is good for 0-60mph times of about 6.6 seconds.
Those aren’t impressive straight line numbers. In fact they’re an embarrassment waiting to happen in a street race. Where the FR-S separates itself the most from the likes of a Hyundai Genesis or Ford Mustang V6 isn’t on a drag strip, but in balance.
I’m six feet tall. The top of the FR-S boxer engine sits at the middle of my kneecap, making for an incredibly low center of gravity. Weight distribution is also very impressive at 53% front, 47% rear.
With the traction and stability control defeated (as it most always should be), the FR-S lets the back end step out in precise conjunction with how much throttle it’s given. Ease off and she’ll hop right back in line.
This is a car that will do exactly what you want it to; it’s as good as you are, no more, no less.
For as much of a purist’s car as the FR-S was designed to be, it wouldn’t be blasphemous to opt for the automatic transmission. Besides the obvious choice of the six-speed manual a six speed automatic with paddle shifters is available. It uses rev-matched downshifts and is an impressive accomplishment unto itself.
The new automatic is based off the 8-speed auto in the Lexus IS-F. It doesn’t let the FR-S down in any of the ways an automatic easily could. When left alone it will downshift on its own before the car enters a corner.
For all the wonderful ways the FR-S lives up to the hype that’s been lumped on to it as this generation’s triumph of the everyman’s driver’s car it definitely looks the part as well.
One warm sunny evening I drove it down to a beachside 7-11 to return a movie. Two twenty-something girls wearing bikinis in a new Audi yelled across the parking lot:
“Is that your car?”
Several minutes later a pair of high school guys in a ’96 Mustang pulled up and prodded,
“How fast is your car?”
“It’s really more about handling…”
When they pulled out of their parking stall a middle-aged guy in a late nineties BMW pulled in and wanted to know what sort of car the Scion was.
I told him it was a driver’s car. And that it runs on Prius tires.