Matt Prior, Contributor
Like an impatient child told in February what he's getting for Christmas, our wait for the 2013 Scion FR-S Coupe has seemed an interminable one. First there were clues, then a Toyota concept, then a Scion concept. Then...nothing.
This time, however, we've finally driven it, or at least a prototype of the Scion FR-S. And we're glad to announce that it's very much the car we've been waiting for — figuratively, not just literally.
Clearly, this is a sports car that had its development driven by feel and intuition, not lap times and lateral grip levels. "Sports cars have gotten boring," Toyota officials told us. "They're only interested in going fast." So the FR-S aims to bring speeds down but push enjoyment up. Is that really possible?
Yeah, There's Plenty of Subaru in This Scion
By now you've heard that the 2013 Scion FR-S is built on a rear-wheel-drive platform co-developed with Subaru. It'll be called the Subaru BRZ. We still don't have all the technical details, but we can tell you that it's about as small as a sports car can get while still offering four seats.
For reference, the FT-86 II concept shown at the Geneva auto show earlier this year measured 166.7 inches long, 50 inches high and 70.7 inches wide. It also had a short wheelbase that measured a mere 101.2 inches, or 5 inches shorter than the wheelbase of the Scion tC coupe. The dimensions of this prototype are at least that tight, if not tighter.
Keeping the size down helped control the weight, too. At just 2,822 pounds, the FR-S undercuts the tC by around 300 pounds. Couple that with the 2.0-liter flat-4 engine that produces 200 horsepower and the FR-S looks pretty good on paper. Figure in the six-speed manual transmission and limited-slip differential and the FR-S starts to really look good.
Feels Good, Too
First impressions are that it feels light and compact, not unlike a Mazda MX-5 or the last Toyota MR2. The driving position is low, straight and snug. The front seats are grippy, the rear seats tiny. Think of it as a poor man's Porsche 911 and it feels just fine.
You'll have a harder time channeling those thoughts when it comes to the car's powertrain. The 2013 Scion FR-S is no stoplight hero. It's not slow either, though, so ripping through the precise six-speed gearbox feels satisfying. There's a broad power curve and the engine revs clear up to 7,500 rpm, but like a typical Subaru boxer engine, there's no desperate need to wind it that far.
You'll be glad to know that the stability control system can be switched completely off. That means the FR-S has burnout potential even if it's a little low on displacement. We were glad to get some seat time, so we didn't bother roasting the rubber this time out.
A Scion That Slides
It's hard to accurately gauge the ride on the concrete airfield where we drove the prototype, but the FR-S feels quite deftly set up and light on its feet. It steers easily, too. At 2.5 turns lock to lock, it has a quick but not hyperactive rack, and is light to average in terms of its assist. It all adds to the impression of a car that's easy to get along with right from the start.
Hit a corner and you'll find some roll, but the rate is well contained. The 2013 Scion FR-S's weight distribution is 53/47 percent front/rear, so it'll nudge into steady-state understeer if you're on a constant throttle, where it grips moderately well and is poised.
Push any harder and the FR-S starts to get really fun. Add any amount of power and it'll turn at least neutral. Trail the brakes into a bend, lift midcorner and it'll give you armfuls of oversteer. For that alone, the FR-S is better than any Scion coupe before it.
There's still a bit of tweaking to do on the damping, but it's 90 percent of the way there, at least according to our limited time behind the wheel. The gearing isn't always perfect either, at least if you want to pitch it into a long turn and hold a slide. Third gear just doesn't have the guts, so serious momentum is the only way to keep playing games with the chassis.
Of course more power would be nice. But more power means a turbo, stronger brakes and maybe even bigger wheels and tires to go with them. All that adds weight, and that's where the downward spiral starts, right?
That's Toyota's thinking, at least for now. We can't argue with that reasoning either. More stuff equals more cost, too, and the 2013 Scion FR-S is supposed to be an affordable rear-drive sports car for the masses.
As it is now, that's exactly what it is, and a good one at that. There's no doubt a hotter FR-S will arrive eventually, but until then this first attempt feels as it should. The handling is well sorted, the engine has usable power and you can even turn off the nannies to have some real fun. This might have been worth waiting for after all.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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