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2013 Scion FR-S first drive car review: Starting a cult

The 2013 Scion FR-S has its tachometer front center, where every true sports car should have it.
The 2013 Scion FR-S has its tachometer front center, where every true sports car should have it.
John Matras photos; copyright John Matras Media LLC

The Scion FR-S is already a kind of cult, with the same basic elements as the original Mazda RX-7 and Miata, the Datsun 240Z, and Toyota’s own MR2 and particularly, the little-known Toyota AE86. With low buy-in prices, they were accessible as they were entertaining, but not everyone understood what all the fuss was about. But those who loved them were hooked.

2013 Scion FR-S
John Matras photo, copyright John Matras Media LLC

The same will happen with the Scion FR-S. The 2013 Scion FR-S is a sports coupe in the truest sense of the word. It’s designed for performance first, and although the FR-S is not uncomfortable, it’s at the far end of the scale from “luxury.” Driver and front passenger are accommodated, but only as elements of the sports coupe whole. The back seats, on the other hand, lack leg and headroom, and could be considered vestigial if only the FR-S had been derived from a sedan in the first place.

It wasn’t. The 2013 Scion FR-S is all new from the ground up, though except for relatively minor bits, the identical twin of the 2013 Subaru BRZ. Indeed, the two were developed together, a joint project between Toyota and Subaru (note: the Scion FR-S is sold as a Toyota in the rest of the world), begun after Toyota bought a major share in Subaru.

The project to share a sports coupe between the companies was the brainchild of Akio Toyoda, descendent of the founder, genuine car guy and authentic sports car racer, having competed at Nurburgring, taking turns with Aston Martin CEO Dr. Ulrich Bez behind the wheels of the Lexus LFA and Aston Martin V12 Zagato. And where some car company execs might be content to watch race cars go by, Toyoda used his clout to try out a NASCAR-ready Camry It’s good to be the boss.

The project began in 2007. A team of engineers from Toyota and Subaru was put together to build the car to take the best from each and make it one. The team was named Team 86, drawing from the heritage of the Toyota AE86, a cult car in its own right and, front engined and rear drive, light weight and sporty, a true inspiration for the car that would be, as a Toyota/Scion, the FR-S, which appropriately enough comes from front-engine, rear drive, sport.

Team 86’s motto would be Built by Passion, Not by Committee.

The engine layout selected for the Toyota/Scion FR-S was a horizontally-opposed four cylinder, a Subaru tradition, which would become the world’s only horizontally-opposed (or “boxer”) engine combined with rear-wheel drive. Subaru’s new engine was equipped with Toyota’s D-4S injection system that uses both direct and port injection.

Developed originally for the Lexus IS-F, the D-4S system uses the direct injectors at all times, adding the port injectors “at certain engine speeds and under certain engine loads.” It’s said to fill out mid-range torque as help vehicle emissions. Intake and exhaust valve timing vary using Dual VVT-i. Compression is a remarkable 12.5:1—premium fuel is required—with output from the 2.0-liter engine rated at 200 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque.

The boxer engine has several benefits of the Scion FR-S. It’s shorter than a conventional inline four-cylinder engine and it’s much lower overall, reducing the center of gravity significantly--lower than the current Porsche Cayman and allowing a lower hoodline.

The FR-S offers the choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, the automatic with standard paddle-shifting with rev-matching downshifts that don’t upset the car when shifting to lower gears. The transmission also has a sport mode with speeds up shift timing and also throttle response for the electronic throttle control. In full automatic mode, sport mode also holds gears longer at higher revs, and even in manual mode, the transmission won’t shift on its own at redline but rather bounces of the rev limiter. A Torsen limited-slip differential is standard equipment.

Suspension for the 2013 Scion FR-S is by MacPherson struts up front and double wishbones at the rear, and steering, is a remarkably quick 13:1 steering ratio. The stability and traction control can also be set to three levels, full, partial and completely off, though in all modes, anti-lock braking remains active.

The pieces are all tied together with a light weight chassis. The FR-S with the manual transmission tips the scales at a 2,758 lbs curb weight with the manual transmission about fifty pounds more, at 2,806 lbs with the automatic, with a well-balanced 53/47 weight distribution front to rear.

The exterior is what it is, styled around aerodynamics with a 0.27 coefficient of drag, due in part from its “neo-functional design” and also elements including underfloor shielding. The overall shape has a low front end with a “pagoda” roof and a fastback rear hatch. For a tighter seal, windows retract .8 inches and rise when the door is closed.

Scion figured where the FR-S owner’s head might be and designed a rear seat that, for as limited as it might be for humans, folds flat and will accommodate four wheels and tires and a toolbox, making it possible to attend track days or autocrosses with a change of tires. Summer performance tires are standard. Team 86 also made sure that the inside door handles were positioned where they wouldn’t be blocked when a rollcage is installed.

Figuring where the Scion FR-S driver’s eyes might want to be, Scion put the tachometer large and centered on the instrument panel with a digital speedometer on its face along with the analog speedo to the left. The steering wheel has a small diameter though without the currently faddish flat bottom. The cupholders are placed well rearward on the center console, out of the way for shifting.

Once upon a time, the music of the exhaust was sufficient, but for today’s owner, the FR-S comes standard with a 300-watt Pioneer audio system with a USB port, plus HD Radio and Bluetooth standard. Not surprisingly, however, Team 86 did forget the aural element. The Scion FR-S has an extension off the side of the intake tract that points directly at firewall, importing intake sounds from the engine. The exhaust is well tuned also to sound just right when driving by at max throttle.

Scion provided the opportunity to experience sounds both inside and out at Spring Mountain Motorsports’ track. The track configuration used included a sweeping turn and straight that allowed speed up to 90 mph followed by a 90 degree turn that required full-on anchors-out braking. The 2013 Scion FR-S proved to be a charger. While independent testing resulted in a 0-60 mph time of 6.1 seconds—Scion has made no claims—the Scion was more impressive approaching triple digits, its low drag bodywork allowing the speedometer numbers to keep rolling up like at lower speeds.

The 2.0-liter boxer engine, however, has to be revved to get the most out of it, with a torque peak way up at 6400 to 6600 rpm, a high and narrow plateau. The good news is that the rough and ready sound of previous Subaru horizontally-opposed engines has been tamed, though it’s still not one of the most mellifluous engines ever made.

At full braking, up against the anti-lock brakes, the FR-S remained straight, and the ventilated disc braking never showed a sign of fading, at least for the four laps allowed before the drivers were called back to the pits to cool off their own red mist.

With the stability control set at the middle, the FR-S never bobbled in the corners and the car was well enough balanced that there was no need to keep it on full or turn it off completely. In an autocross provided by Scion, fully off was the way to go, allowing a rally driver’s pendulum turns to get through the cones quicker.

On the highway, the quick ratio steering felt twitchy at first, though after a few miles the fast ratio wasn’t noticeable. Road noise was acceptable and wind noise non-existent. High-bolstered seats with grippy suede-like inserts were comfortable on the road as they were retentive on the track.

The 2013 Scion FR-S is aimed at younger buyers and is equipped so it can be priced according. In “monospec”—just one trim level with no options other than a choice of transmissions (though accessories aplenty will be available)—the 2013 Scion FR-S with the manual transmission is priced at $24,200 with the manual transmission and $25,300 when equipped with the automatic. Not, of course, that older drivers looking for a true sports car/coupe wouldn’t be interested as well. There’s no reason for a cult to be limited to the young.

Click here for full 2013 Scion FR-S specifications.


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