Friday, August 17, 2012

Review: 2013 Scion FR-S: The return of the ultra-fun affordable RWD sports car

2013 Scion FR-S driving
The Scion FR-S is a return to rear-wheel drive, and it's been done right. Photo by Curtis Reesor.
Take one part Toyota, one part Subaru, mix, serve. It’s a Subaru boxer engine encased in a lightweight, nimble rear-drive chassis. And yes, this is a recipe for a hell of a good time, and one very good automobile. It also hearkens back to when Toyota made fun, light, rear-drive cars. There’s even some homage to the AE86 (the 1980s RWD Corolla coupes) on the fender.

The FR-S is arguably one of the best-looking Toyota/Scion products in quite some time. I could use all kinds of alliteration and adjectives with regards to its shape, its lines, and its stance, but really—just take a look. It’s right on; it’s a great looking car. I’d say it’s minimal simplicity from its clean front fascia to its dual exhaust outlets and diffuser. It also got more attention than nearly any car I've ever reviewed. This thing got ogled by every male, and many females, too. But honestly, I've never seen so many rubbernecking dudes than when I had this car. Strangers would stop me in parking lots. People would ask about it at work. If you drive one of these, plan on some extra attention.

2013 Scion FR-S interior
The interior of the FR-S is sporty minimal. The sport seats offer great support. 
Inside the FR-S, the sporting, simplistic nature continues. It’s everything you’d want and nothing you don’t. The seats are outstanding, although a number of people complained about the snaps that hold/guide the seatbelts over the race-like seats. These straps could sometimes unsnap (yes, they have a metal snap) and whip you in the face. The only other minor interior complaint from passengers was a lack of “oh shit!” grab handles above the window. It was also a bit difficult for some to get in and out of. Then again, so are most sports cars.

2013 Scion FR-S dashboard
The simple dash layout works very well.
One of my favorite things about the car is the way it fit me. Everything was where it should be, and it felt like it was tailor made for my size. The shifter was positioned perfectly. The fat, chunky steering wheel feels great in the hands. Even the steering wheel remains uncluttered with only the horn and cruise control on it (e.g. no Bluetooth or radio controls). Visibility is better than expected, too. Everything is easy to use, too—even the great sounding Pioneer stereo, but there is a bit of a learning curve. Simple climate controls, soft-touch dash bits, metal pedals, and great gauges are all icing on the cake. A note about the speedometer: It has both an analog dial on the far left, and a small digital readout by the tachometer. I ended up using the digital speedometer nearly 100% of the time. I also applaud Scion for placing the tach front and center.

The FR-S has a 2+2 seating layout, meaning there is a back seat, but it’s very small and is nearly unusable by adults and even taller kids. A couple small children might fit for a while, and you could stash a child’s seat back there if need be. However, as pointed out by Subcompact Culture contributors Mercedes and Ducati Scotty, it’s probably best left to a bag or other stashable items, since the difficulty of getting anyone or anything back there is pretty high, including car seats.

Driving the 2013 Scion FR-S
The FR-S drives as good as it looks. It's also very easy to control during spirited driving. Photo by Curtis Reesor.
One thing the FR-S doesn't have is mega thrust. It doesn’t have tire-roasting torque or crazy amounts of power. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder boxer engine makes 200 horsepower and 151 ft./lbs. of torque. This is plenty of motivation to make the car entertaining, but it isn't a straight line monster. The engine is mated to one of the best gearboxes I can remember shifting. The six-speed manual is a joy to operate; all shifters should feel this good. Short, well-defined throws and solid action are highlights. I never missed an up or downshift in the FR-S. All this goodness runs to the rear wheels via a limited-slip differential.

Scion FR-S boxer engine badge.
Boxer engine with a nod to the older AE86 Toyotas.
The boxer engine revs freely, quickly, and smoothly up to its 7,400 RPM readline; it also sounds great. It begs to be driven hard. It cries out for the corners, which is where it is most in its element. Cornering is flat, controlled, and predictable. There is traction stability control. However, the traction control can be defeated—at least up until about 30 MPH or so, when it automatically kicks back on. There is a sport driving mode which allows for a bit more sliding and spinning, but it can’t be 100% defeated (I have already seen online how-tos for defeating the traction control, so wannabe drifters take note).

Driving the FR-S always conjured up the classic, romantic idea of a traditional sports car. Not big on power, necessarily, but definitely possessing quick reflexes, a connection to the road, and a certain feeling of tossability. Think British sports cars. Think Miata. In fact, I often compared the FR-S to the Miata—another car I love. However, the FR-S has a back seat and a more usable trunk.

One of the coolest things about the FR-S is that it isn’t overpowered. It’s got enough thrust to be fun, but not so much that it gets out of sorts easily. You can push this car and it doesn’t get squirrely.

The last car I remember driving that I had this much fun in was the Miata, and the FR-S is very Miata like in many respects, and all in good ways.

2013 Scion FR-S shot from the back
The FR-S looks great form every angle. It's sporty, minimal, and modern without any offensive angles.
On top of all of this, the FR-S is a thrifty little number. Fuel economy is estimated at 22 city and 30 highway on premium fuel—not bad for a sports car. I got 25 in mixed driving. It is also not expensive to buy. At $24,997 delivered (and with $80 wheel locks), it’s a ton (technically 2,758 lbs.) of car for the cash.

I really enjoyed the FR-S and would own one in a heartbeat. Its combination of outstanding driving dynamics, a no-nonsense interior, and great overall value make this a standout. Oh yeah, and it looks amazing, too.


Anonymous said...

I really want this car, but I'm going to wait until the end of 2014 before buying one. They should have all the kinks worked out by then.

rubicon4wheeler said...

I'm a huge fan of this car. I'm dreaming of the day that Subaru adds one of its turbos to these cars. I know that part of these cars' charm is their mediocre power that rewards good driving, but a turbo still won't make this a tire-roasting musclecar; it'll simply be the missing cherry on top from the current iteration.