Every now and then a new car comes along which, the moment you see it, you know it’s destined to achieve icon status. It’s obvious a cult following of fanboys is just waiting to coalesce. Web savvy individuals are applying for URLs incorporating the model’s name in clever ways. A nascent owner’s club is busy working up bylaws; while in graphics studios everywhere, posters are being designed to reside on prepubescent’s walls.
Upon closer examination, you’ll find these cars all have pretty similar traits, fluid styling, a thrilling driving experience, and near universal agreement among all automotive-oriented individuals regarding their desirability.
World, meet the very next model to be so lionized—the 2013 Scion FR-S. (Which BTW is called the Toyota 86 everywhere on Earth other than North America). Pretty to look at, fun to drive, and amazingly affordable, it’s blatantly obvious this new kind of Scion will be regarded as a landmark car in years to come.
Looking every bit like something Pininfarina would have drawn—had Ferrari ever asked for a front engined car this small—the Scion’s long, low and purposeful shape belies a comfortable cockpit with more than adequate room for two people.
Yes, technically it’s a 2+2, but you’re better off folding those rear seats and using them to cart your autocross/track day stuff.
Yes, we went there right off the top.
The Scion FR-S is nothing les than an affordable club racer you can comfortably drive back and forth to work every day. On the weekends, you can drive it to the track, pull off the street tires and wheels, bolt on the lighter wheels and sticky rubber and you’ll be immediately competitive. Further, Toyota’s engineering team actually designed the interior to accept a roll cage; going so far as to configure the door latches to be readily accessible when said cage is installed. Additionally, seated behind the wheel, if you look up at the roof, you’ll note it is scalloped in such a way as to provide additional clearance for a pair of helmeted crania.
The FR-S (FR-S = Front-engine Rear drive - Sport) is no fluke; it’s a genuine sports car in the purest sense of the phrase. Small displacement (2.0-liters), high output (200 horsepower), light weight (2758 pounds manual/2806/automatic), and outstanding agility are its hallmarks and the Scion puts them to good use. Genuine proof the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts; the Scion FR-S drives like a car costing considerably more than its $24,200 base price.
Nestled comfortably in its well-bolstered sport seats, the driver is seated face to face with a perfectly sized-beautifully executed steering wheel. Through the top half of the wheel, is visible a handsome, readily legible center-mounted analog tachometer housing a digital speedometer. To the right of the tach are gauges for fuel level and coolant temperature. To the left of the tachometer is an analog speedometer. (Which, in our opinion is wasted space, as one’s eye is more readily drawn to the red numerals of the digital speedo for a more instantaneous verification of velocity.) That space would have been better employed for oil temperature, oil pressure, voltage and transmission temperature gauges.
However, that is the only fault we have with the interior.
OK, wait, that’s not true.
The radio sucks aardvark anus—big time. Looking more like an aftermarket afterthought than the genuinely integrated piece a car with this much capability deserves, the head unit relies upon tiny indecipherable buttons, which are everything except intuitive in operation.
Other than that though, the interior is exceptionally well executed. Gently padded, soft touch material with red stitching is placed everywhere your body would come into contact with the car, including on the lower console for your knees. The seats, upholstered in a grippy fabric, hold you in place during acrobatic maneuvers with ease and comfort. They are comfortable over long distances as well. The overall driving position is outstanding and the view outward is practically unimpeded.
The 2.0-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine winds well, if not exactly freely and its sound is delicious as it approaches the redline. Generating more than enough punch to light the tires from a standing start, its power band feels a bit soft in the midrange and the visceral response, that feeling of strong determined thrust, is a bit lacking. The engine propels the Scion FR-S to 60 from rest in about six seconds, so it isn’t blindingly fast. Challenge a Nissan 370Z in a straight line and…well…that’s just a bad idea—you’ll get scalded. However, on a twisty road, where you can use the exceptional handling dynamics of the FR-S to your advantage, you’ll give that 370Z driver considerable cause to second-guess their purchase decision.
The six-speed manual transmission in our test car delivered positive gear changes with short and quick throws. Clutch take-up was nice, pulling away from rest smoothly, despite the rather low torque figure of 151 ft-lbs, was readily accomplished—with a bit of practice. The brakes, while lacking immediate bite, retarded the car’s progress with determination and repeatability. On our favorite canyon runs we applied them frequently and liberally to no adverse affect.
Turn-in is nice and progressive, you can dial in as much oversteer as you’d like and readily drift the FR-S, or you can slice graceful arcs and neatly clip apexes if your style leans farther in that direction. With a front to rear weight ratio of 53/47, the Scion is well-balanced and a brilliant driving partner, one willing to do anything you ask of it with considerable competence.
So there you have it, the 2013 Scion FR-S is the genuine article. A real sports car that is good-looking, affordable, fun to drive, and in all probability exceptionally reliable; after all, it is a Toyota.
It’s time to make room on the wall for a new poster kids.