Just as it takes a village to raise a child, making a sports car like the 2013 Scion FR-S apparently requires an arduous collaboration between two automakers, a stubborn chief engineer and a whole lot of waiting.
This might be the sixteen-thousandth time you've seen the 2013 Scion FR-S show up on Inside Line. Endless spy photos and auto show teases have finally led to this, our first proper test of the Toyota's highly anticipated rear-wheel-drive coupe.
The birth of the 2013 Scion FR-S and 2013 Subaru BRZ twins may be overdue, but the end result is worth the wait.
A New Sports Car
Skip ahead to our test numbers if you must, but know this: the FR-S is more than the sum of its performance results. The tactility and control afforded by this chassis belies its modest sub-$25,000 price tag.
For the 12 readers unfamiliar, the FR-S is the product of a collaboration between Subaru and Toyota to produce an affordable, back-to-basics 2+2 sports car for each of them. The true division of responsibility is a bit fuzzy, but it went something like this — Toyota provided much of the direction, handled the styling and assisted with powertrain hardware, while Subaru performed the engineering and development work and manufactures the car in its own plant.
Its body shell is entirely new, the idea being to create a stiff, lightweight sports car that has a center of gravity somewhere below the earth's crust. A new six-speed manual gearbox was developed for the car, as was a heavily reworked version of Subaru's FB-series flat-4. About the only carryover parts are suspension components from Subaru's parts bin.
Approach the 2013 Scion FR-S in person and the first thing you notice is its size. Rather, the lack of it — at 166.7 inches long, it's a half-inch shorter than a two-seat Nissan 370Z and nearly 16 inches shorter than a Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Sitting 50.6 inches high, it's lower than either of them. The FR-S's compact form is the first clue that this car is unusual.
Get Busy With It
To access the car's personality, press and hold the "VSC Off" button for about 3 seconds. This removes all nannies. Forget the VSC Sport setting. It's simply unnecessary in a car as communicative and predictable as this one. Indeed, the car's limits are ultimately capped not by its chassis but by its relatively skinny, plucked-from-Toyota's-shelf 215/45 Michelin Primacy HP low rolling resistance summer tires. In our testing the FR-S generated 0.88g on the skid pad and turned out a 67.3-mph slalom performance; results that trail those produced by the BRZ we tested. The reason is balance — the FR-S's slightly more tail-happy character makes the numbers less big.
It's exactly this character combined with the control this chassis lavishes upon the driver that makes the FR-S so much fun to drive. In steady state cornering the FR-S is neutral tending to mild understeer, but by working the weight transfer — and getting rowdy with the steering and throttle — it can be provoked into easily catchable powerslides. Though its ultimate cornering ability won't yank the wax from your ear canals, the breakaway is so progressive that you can use every iota of grip. It's a rare car that won't bite neophyte drivers, yet encourages and rewards those drivers who are willing to manipulate its cornering attitude.
But you don't have to fling the FR-S to enjoy it. The chassis is pinprick-precise, every steering input from the quick rack is rewarded by immediate, slack-free response. You think it; it does it. You won't find this kind of immediacy in a Hyundai Genesis Coupe or Ford Mustang. Meanwhile, there's enough compliance in the suspension to suit daily use. It's appropriately sporting-firm without jiggling every appendage.
In our testing the 2013 Scion FR-S halted from 60 mph in 117 feet, again a tire-limited exercise. The pedal has minimal idle stroke and a solid feel that softens just a bit when you give the brakes a good thrashing.
Between The Turns
The modest grunt from the 2.0-liter boxer four power plant relegates the countersteering hooliganism to low-speed corners. It's an engine that needs to be revved to deliver the goods — its urge flags a bit in the midrange and then pulls with relative enthusiasm to the 7,400-rpm fuel cut. The factory rating is 200 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 151 lb-ft at 6,600 rpm.
This engine's 4-2-1 exhaust manifold eliminates the characteristic chuffling warble we've come to expect from Subaru boxer engines, so the engine note is something of an amalgam of a flat- and an inline-4. It's not particularly thrilling-sounding, despite the inclusion of a honkus that pipes induction noise to the cabin. But the FA20 is smoother than previous Subaru boxer engines and thrives on high revs, which is where it needs to be to get the most of the engine.
Sixty miles per hour is reached in 6.6 seconds (6.3 seconds with one foot of rollout like on a drag strip), and the quarter-mile in 14.8 seconds at 93.8 mph. Yes, this result is notably quicker and faster than the BRZ, which did those deeds in 7.3, 7.0, and 15.3 seconds at 92.1, respectively. What's going on?
The data reveals that the BRZ actually accelerated quicker initially, but at 19 mph the Subaru laid over a bit and the Scion powered ahead and never looked back. The explanation is equal parts launch technique and gearchange speed. The Scion's tire-spinning launch allowed it power through the 4000-rpm torque hole we observed in our dyno testing where the Subaru bogged down briefly. Plus, our BRZ tester was plagued with a finicky 1-2 gearchange which ate up precious time en route to 60 mph.
So is the 2013 Scion FR-S fast enough? Yes and no. It isn't slow, but it's so capable and communicative that it could easily exploit more power.
Function Over Form
When you drop into the driver seat it immediately feels well positioned deep into the chassis. There's enough room in the pedal box for easy heel-toe movements with size 11 shoes, the wheel is tidily sized and the gearchange lever moves through its gates fluidly. Crucially, there's enough headroom for your 6-foot, 1-inch all-torso author to don a helmet without it touching the headliner.
Few concessions to style adorn the simple and businesslike cabin. Manually adjusted grippy cloth seats provide ample support in full-attack maneuvers without compromising comfort for daily use. The steering wheel is devoid of buttons, the tachometer is granted a prominent central placement, and there's a basic three-knob climate control interface. While nothing about it screams "cheap," the interior is where the FR-S's price point is most apparent.
The backseat is perfect for people you don't like. It's cramped back there. Toyota says the car's 2+2 layout was the result not of a desire to increase its marketability but to provide just enough space to package a set of track tires and tools when you fold the backseat down.
According to the EPA, the FR-S delivers 22 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. We netted 22.6 mpg in a few days of mixed driving that included a photo shoot. Such jackassery isn't representative of normal driving, so don't put too much stock in our result.
Notes From the Chief Engineer
We also chatted with Chief Engineer Tetsuya Tada at an FR-S preview at Spring Mountain Raceway outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. In his personal stable is an AE86 rally car that he exercises in anger on a semi-regular basis. Yeah, he's the right guy to head this project.
Ease of modification played into the decision to adopt the rather expensive port- and direct-injection D-4S fuel system. Tada-san was insistent that the car produce 100 hp/liter from its 2.0-liter engine, and direct injection was required to achieve this goal. However, the chief engineer also wants the FR-S/BRZ to be a blank slate for the tuning community. Making a direct-injection system bend to tuners' will is difficult, but port injection is easy.
The suspension calibration of each car reflects the sensibilities of the two manufacturers: Subaru's customers are accustomed to AWD cars with a lot of stability, and so the BRZ is tuned accordingly. The FR-S's rear suspension is slightly stiffer for less understeer, while the front has a bit less spring rate and revised damper valving to improve steering feel. The remaining suspension components — stabilizer bars, bushing durometers, tires — are identical between the two cars.
Tetsuya defends the FR-S's front weight bias (55.4 percent of the FR-S's 2,745 pounds sits at the front axle according to our scales) as suiting the power level of the car better than a 50/50 weight distribution. If the car had 300 horsepower instead of 200, he says, then he'd prefer a less nose-heavy weight bias to facilitate traction.
Looking under the hood, the engine sits low but there's a curiously large gap between the rear plane of the engine and the firewall. This car doesn't need to package axles to the front wheels (there will never be an all-wheel-drive variant), so why not shove the engine to within a millimeter of the bulkhead, thereby reducing the car's polar moment of inertia to an absolute minimum?
Tada-san's explanation boils down to this: They had to make room for the steering rack. A front-mount rack location à la Mazda MX-5 was not an option since the boxer engine layout is inherently wide and blocks the way for a steering shaft. To accommodate a front-mounted rack the engine would have to be located where the pedal box currently resides. As such they instead employed a rear-mount rack location that places the rack between the engine and firewall, in the process pushing the engine forward somewhat.
Oh, and according to Tada-san, the twins will undergo continual updates on an annual basis, similar to the approach Nissan takes with the GT-R.
The Wait Is Almost Over
Pricing is very straightforward, as the 2013 Scion FR-S starts at $24,930 with destination when equipped with a six-speed manual. Heretics who insist on the six-speed autobox will have to cough up an additional $1,100.
Other accessories will be available à la carte in usual Scion fashion, the most substantial of which is the 340-watt Pioneer BeSpoke premium audio that features a novel app-based multimedia interface. This system will debut with iPhone capability only, with other device compatibility to follow in the coming months. Pricing for this isn't finalized yet, but it's expected to cost less than $900.
Scion says the FR-S will reach dealership floors on June 1st. That's not too long to wait for the most gratifying sports car to come along in years.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.