2013 Scion FR-S Review
By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
In 1989, Mazda delighted sports car enthusiasts everywhere by developing the Miata, a small, lightweight, lightly powered 2-seater that channeled the spirit of classic British roadsters from the 1960s. It was an instant success, and it is still popular today. Unfortunately for us, Mazda has never tried to build on that success by offering a coupe (hardtop) version; it seems like they left that chore up to Toyota and Subaru. And so it happened.
In 2007, Toyota and Subaru entered into an agreement to share engineering expertise and research and development costs. The first result of that alliance is the 2013 Scion FR-S and its sister sportster, the Subaru BRZ. Simply, these cars are what the Miata would be if it were a hardtop coupe.
No options are offered, but buyers can opt for any of several dealer-installed accessories, including the company's new Bespoke audio system, fog lights, cold-air intake, 18-inch alloy wheels, lowering springs, performance brake pads, a strut-tie brace and stiffer sway bars.
Standard safety equipment includes dual front airbags, front side airbags, curtain side airbags, tire-pressure monitor, anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, traction control and electronic stability control. Both the traction control and stability control can be turned off, and Scion provides a VSC Sport mode that allows drivers more room to slide the car around without the stability control kicking in.
Under the Hood
The instrument cluster features the tachometer and a digital speed readout front and center. This allows performance drivers to see the speed and revs at a glance. Other sporty touches include carbon-fiber-like trim, aluminum pedals and scuff plates, a small steering wheel, and thickly bolstered sport seats with suedelike upholstery. The bolstering might make the seats a little tight for larger drivers, but it does a good job of keeping occupants from sliding around during aggressive cornering.
The FR-S's rear seat is like that of the Porsche 911. It's there more to lower insurance premiums than to carry people. With even average-size adults up front, rear legroom is nonexistent, meaning the rear seats become package trays. Smaller front-seat occupants will leave enough legroom for kids in the back. Even if there were more legroom, headroom is too tight for adults.
Similarly, the trunk is quite limited. It has only 6.9 cubic feet of space, not more than is usually found in a small convertible. FR-S owners will typically not be carrying more than one passenger, so the total cargo space with the rear seat down may actually be pretty useful.
On the Road
With its low center of gravity, the FR-S is one of the best-handling cars on the market. We drove it on the 1.5-mile racetrack at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Nev., and found the car to be communicative and easy to drive hard. When pushed through turns, it does everything a sports car should. The sharp steering reacts quickly and the car stays very flat through corners. In the middle of a turn, the FR-S is comfortably neutral. Lift the throttle and the car rotates willingly. Charge into a corner too hard, and it will push forward rather than turn. Turn it the opposite direction and the FR-S reacts quicker than just about any car on the market, making it a natural for slaloms and autocrosses. The standard summer tires provide lots of grip, and the brakes are predictable and substantial. The FR-S binders remained strong after a day at the track, without overheating or fading.
The ride isn't bad, either. To lower the car as far as they did, Toyota/Subaru engineers reconfigured the front strut assembly, moving it inboard and making it smaller to provide a full range of suspension travel. The result is a low-slung sports car that handles bumps well, without crashing. It also keeps the tires in contact with the road over bumps midturn. That makes the FR-S one of the best cars to drive fast on cloverleaf onramps.
Engine performance is both a delight and a frustration. The 2.0-liter boxer engine makes a lot of power for its small size. Though it has 200 horsepower, it also has only 151 lb-ft of torque, and that's the force that gets the car moving. Therefore, it's pretty docile from a stop; i.e., it doesn't have the kick in the pants, for example, of a car such as the Nissan 370Z. Zero to 60 mph happens in the seven-second range, and you really have to wind it out to get there.
With the limited power and high rev range, drivers can flog the heck out of this engine on the street without necessarily attracting the attention of Johnny Law. It can be a lot of fun, but gosh, we wish the car had more power. Hopefully, a turbocharged or supercharged version will be offered.
Right for You?
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, andcurrently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.