By now you know plenty about the 2013 Scion FR-S. You know it uses a 2.0-liter normally aspirated flat-4 cranking out 200 horsepower. You know it's got a six-speed manual transmission and you know it weighs about 2,800 pounds.
What you don't know is that we spent a day last week driving the car on a track in Japan and talking shop with its chief engineer, Tetsuya Tada. Below are the 10 most important facts we learned about this most engaging sports car.
1. It Feels Incredible
We drove the FR-S more than 50 miles on the 1.5-mile, 14-turn Sodegaura Forest Raceway outside Tokyo. The track was wet for about half those miles. As a result, we got a good feel for driving up to and beyond this car's limits. And the control that's available in that scenario is this car's most important property.
Its chassis will allow you to approach the limits as slowly or as quickly as you choose, informing you the entire time about when it's going to let go. Recovering from a slide is similarly easy and drama-free. And don't let anyone tell you there's not enough power available to do so. Power oversteer is readily available in 2nd-gear corners.
The FR-S's steering — although quite light — offers a granular precision not available since Mitsubishi's Evo IX disappeared. There's more information coming through this single Toyota steering wheel than is available in the rest of the Toyota lineup combined.
There are no problems to drive around either. The brakes were adequate on a small circuit like this, there's enough power from the flat-4 and the chassis is among the most effective ever labeled as a sports car. The whole package comes together to fill a gaping hole in the American market.
It's a cheap sports car that doesn't feel cheap. And that's something we've needed for a long time.
2. It Has a Torsen Limited-Slip Differential
Tada-san prefers the quicker reactions of a clutch-type limited-slip differential but settled on a Torsen gear-type differential because of its progressive engagement. There's also a brake differential built into the stability control system's operation which Tada-san says reacts faster than the Torsen anyway. But when stability control is fully disabled (by pressing and holding the traction control button for 3 seconds) the brake differential is gone as well.
And that's when the magic happens anyway, right?
3. There's Solid Evidence a Turbo Is Coming
Tada-san tells us the FR-S's Aisin-built six-speed manual has headroom to handle more torque, but he won't reveal how much. Still, his conspicuous laugh tells us there's enough to accommodate turbocharging.
Also, for a car with a flat engine the FR-S's hood line is awfully high. Forward visibility isn't as good as we imagined it would be in a car with this layout. But this might be a worthwhile compromise.
A quick look under the hood reveals several inches between the top of the intake manifold and the underside of the hood — probably enough to package an intercooler. It looks to us like there's enough real estate for a WRX-style intercooler mount with the intake manifold feeding from the rear instead of from the front as it does in normally aspirated trim.
4. It Has an Ultra-Low Center of Gravity
Toyota's internal testing shows the FR-S to have a considerably lower center of gravity than Porsche's Cayman, Nissan's GT-R, Mitsubishi's Lancer Evolution and Subaru's STI. In fact, the FR-S's center of gravity is only about 0.6 inch higher than the Lexus LFA — impressive considering the FR-S is a mass-produced car bound by Toyota's design standards regulating ride height, tire/fender clearance and other factors. The LFA is not.
Little-known fact? The Porsche 911 GT3's center of gravity is between the LFA and FR-S.
5. It Uses Prius Tires
Yes, we didn't believe it either, but the FR-S uses the same 215/45-R17 Michelin Primacy rubber that's optional on the Prius. In our first drive of the Toyota 86 we reported that the tires were the same size as those from the Prius option package, but we didn't think it possible that the much-hyped Toyota sports car would use the exact rubber as found on the efficiency-focused Prius.
Well, it does.
Tada-san insists that the FR-S's rubber doesn't share just a name with the tires on the FR-S. Rather, it's actually the exact same tire utilizing the same construction and compound as the optional Prius rubber. The reason, he says, is that the car's light weight and low center of gravity don't demand a high-grip tire.
Modest grip, stunning balance. It's a formula that works better than expected. The FR-S's fun quotient exceeds the sum of its parts.
6. It Has a Low Drag Coefficient and Minimal Weight
With a 0.27 Cd the FR-S is not only slick, it's bound to be fairly efficient. We had our doubts until we drove it, but the cars we drove — prototypes, all of them — couldn't have weighed more than 2,800 pounds. Factor those figures in with a modern normally aspirated engine sporting a unique fuel system and there's bound to be a good EPA mileage rating in the FR-S's future.
Also, that engine will be rated at 200 hp in the U.S., Tada says. U.S. models will get a unique, less restrictive exhaust to bump them from 200 PS (197 SAE hp) to a full 200 SAE hp. It also adds a better exhaust note, says Tada.
7. A Convertible Isn't Likely
Tada-san didn't say it specifically, but it's clearly how he feels. He admits that a convertible version is possible, though. But because the car was designed as a hardtop from the beginning and it relies on its roof for both structure and handling ability, the idea of a convertible FR-S is a bad one.
"It would require plenty of additional engineering, more bracing and more weight," says Tada-san. Scion isn't asking for it, but here's our advice: Don't bother.
8. A Stripped-Down Model Is Likely
A bare-bones stripper model — one with steel wheels and no amenities — will be sold in Japan. For now, the U.S. FR-S won't be offered in this trim. But it's easy to imagine this happening down the road should the platform become as popular as it deserves to be.
We can't imagine a better spec-series racecar than the FR-S. It's relatively cheap, its power is supplied by an engine that's not overstressed or turbocharged and it's got a roof endowing it with real structure. Miata, eat your heart out.
9. It Had Serious Benchmarks
The primary benchmark for the FR-S was the Porsche Cayman. Other cars — including Honda's S2000 and the Peugeot RCZ — were used earlier in the process. But according to Tada-san it's the Cayman's combination of centralized mass, low center of gravity and linear control feel that he found most compelling and most wanted to emulate. And we see nothing wrong with a car that feels like a Cayman and costs half as much.
10. Its Suspension Setup Is Different From the Subaru BRZ
The FR-S has lower spring rates than Subaru's BRZ, but its dampers are stiffer. The change primarily represents the tuning strategies of each company and personal preferences of the development engineers. This and the styling differences are the only substantial changes between the cars.
Scion will, at a minimum, offer aftermarket lowering springs and stabilizer bars for the FR-S as well as several alloy wheel options.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.