If looks were all that mattered, Scion's FR-S concept would be a runaway for our nonexistent Badass of the Century Award. But looks aren't all that matter. There are other factors. Factors like power, weight, grip, agility, comfort, stability, response...you get the idea.
We don't know diddly about any of those things as they might apply to the Scion FR-S, the production name for the concept formerly known as Toyota FT-86 — Toyota's half of the so-called Toyobaru sports-car collaboration with Subaru. But here's what we do know: This Scion coupe is the right size, and arguably the right weight, and the engine drives the rear wheels.
The FR-S, then, despite ample hand-wringing delays on the part of its creators, might yet turn out to be a car that matters to people who like to drive. It certainly matters to those who only like to look.
The Mass Factor
Keep in mind, the dimensions given are for the concept car which is, like most concept cars, very low.
Still, with a wheelbase of 101.2 inches and an overall length of only 168.2 inches the Scion FR-S is quite similar in size to a Nissan 370Z (100.4-inch wheelbase, 167.1-inch overall length). However, the Scion concept coupe is only 47.4 inches tall — almost 4.5 inches shorter than the 370Z (51.8 inches). It's also 1.1 inches narrower than the Z at 71.5 inches.
For perspective, a Mazda MX-5 Miata rides on a 91.7-inch wheelbase, is 10.9 inches shorter, 3.8 inches narrower and 1.6 inches taller.
The Weight Factor
Weight will be a key ingredient in the Scion FR-S's success (or lack thereof). Much has been said about this car being a lightweight model, and given its powertrain, weight and balance will likely be the deciding factors in its success with enthusiasts.
Fortunately, the balance part looks pretty darned good on paper. Boxer engines are inherently short and provide the opportunity to keep weight low in the chassis. It shouldn't be too hard for Toyota engineers to stuff this engine well aft of the FR-S's shock towers and make it a real front/midengine sport coupe.
And if Toyota wants this car to handle well and accelerate and brake properly, it will kiss those 20-inch concept wheels good-bye faster than you can say "glorified Corolla." Twenty-inch wheels will destroy the character of a car this size and eliminate any possible sporting intentions. Think 18-inch wheels. At the biggest.
Same with the carbon-ceramic brakes. At this car's target cost (about $25,000), there's no budget for exotic materials.
Bottom line? We're thinking the Scion FR-S can't weigh more than 2,800 pounds if it is in any way going to live up to the promise made by its styling.
The Power Factor
Here's where most of the marbles lie. And a normally aspirated 2.0-liter flat four-cylinder engine is a curious place to start if making power is a priority. Traditionally, non-boosted flat-4 engines top out at a specific output of about 85 horsepower per liter, which would only yield about 170 hp.
However, Toyota today promised that the FR-S's Subaru FB engine (shared with the 2012 Impreza) will utilize the company's D4-S injection system. Direct-injection systems typically produce about a 10 percent increase in power versus traditional port injection. The D4-S system also provides improved torque production and cleaner emissions during part-throttle/low-load conditions relative to either traditional port or direct injection. Additionally, the D4-S system will likely supplant the restrictive tumble-generator valves currently used in the FB20 (as found in the Impreza).
We already know that the FB engine produces 148 hp in the Impreza. Figure it will get a bump in compression in this application. Still, unless Toyota pulls off a ground-breaking powertrain move, don't expect the Scion FR-S to make more than 200 hp.
Do the math on those data and the FR-S's potential power-to-weight ratio is somewhere in the neighborhood of 14.0:1. Nissan's 370Z, which hits 60 in 5.1 seconds and runs the quarter-mile in 13.4 seconds, has a 10.1:1 power-to-weight ratio. Scion's own 2011 tC offers a 17.4:1 power-to-weight ratio, hits 60 in 8.0 seconds and completes the 1320 in 16.0 seconds. Count on the FR-S to land almost directly between those two (admittedly very different) cars when it comes to acceleration.
The FR-S will be available with either a six-speed manual or a paddle-shifted six-speed automatic transmission, and in either case will come with a limited-slip differential. Let's hope it's a mechanical unit rather than some kind of brake-based device sure to crush the soul out of a sports car with questionable power.
That there is potential in the Scion FR-S concept's styling, hardware and fundamental design is clear. Whether that potential will be realized beyond just awing people who come to the 2011 New York Auto Show remains to be seen.
We hope it will.