Driving the new Scion FR-S down some twisty tarmac borders on the surreal. Every bend, every sweet gear change, every straight line blast just adds to my suspicion that this is one of the greatest enthusiast cars on sale today.
The FR-S is that now-rare combination of a simple, affordable, rear-wheel drive sports car designed for the sole purpose of driving fun. It’s blissfully free of complex electronics and technology that detracts from the driving experience. Instead, the FR-S relies on mechanical purity for its thrills; that is, a light weight, balanced, rear-drive platform, complete with finely-tuned, passive Macpherson strut / multi-link suspension.
Here is some sports car bliss for you. At 1258kg, the FR-S is lighter than the Nissan 370Z, Hyundai Genesis Coupe, Porsche Cayman, lighter than pretty much any rear-drive sports coupe for that matter. It also has a center of gravity (460mm high) lower than that of a Nissan GT-R, Ferrari 458 Italia, and, as far as I know, bested only by the low-riding Porsche 911 GT3 and Lexus LFA supercars. It feels so wonderfully low in fact that you can practically light a match on the road as you hang your arm out the window.
Every part of the FR-S feels as though it has been tuned with the utmost care. The brakes feel strong and well suited for rubbing off high speeds. The responsive, feelsome steering is perfectly tuned for negotiating twisty roads. And the cornering poise of the chassis is truly something to experience. You can really feel how it’s making the most of that low weight and center of gravity to carry out every driver input with little to no fuss. It’s these dynamic subtleties which truly make up the FR-S’s engineering genius. You simply can’t help but exhaust every bit of its dynamic talents.
A proper sports car wouldn’t be complete without a proper drivetrain. The FR-S delivers with a naturally aspirated 2.0L, direct and port injected, flat-4 boxer engine. This Subaru-designed engine is mounted front-midship, right in front of a slick 6-speed close-ratio manual gearbox and a Torsen limited-slip differential. A paddle shiftable 6-speed automatic is available as an option. The new boxer is by no means the most powerful engine – it makes 151lb-ft of torque at 6600rpm, and the 200hp power peak arrives at 7000rpm, 400rpm before redline – but if you have ask the question: where is the power? Then this car simply isn’t for you. It’s an athletic and potent engine that delivers its best at the upper end of the power band; as such, it requires work on the part of the driver to give its best, much like the handling. If I could ask for anything, it’d be for a more exciting exhaust note as its being worked.
If you get a moment to ease off on the excitement, you'll find that the FR-S does an excellent job at serving double duty as a track day toy, as well as a daily commuter. The suspension is adequately compliant over most road surfaces. The car’s small size makes it a breeze to manoeuvre and park just about anywhere. And the interior execution, though a tad cheap looking in some areas, feels as though it would be comfortable and user-friendly enough to provide years of relaxed driving enjoyment.
In fact, there is much to be said about the FR-S’s interior. In the interest of simplicity and weight savings, the FR-S does not offer superfluous gadgets like a sunroof, power seats, or even controls on the small, grippy steering wheel. All you get are comfortable and supportive Recaro-like seats, straightforward crisp gauges with a centre-mounted tachometer, an 8-speaker Pioneer sound system, and rotary-dial climate controls. That’s about it. The BRZ gets navigation and HID headlights as standard on top of the FR-S’s equipment. Like the rest of the car, the sense of minimalism you get is all quite refreshing to the enthusiast’s eye. That being said, there is a limitation, and it comes in the form of nearly useless, Porsche 911-like, backseats. Toyota says that, with the seatbacks folded, they can accommodate four wheels for track days. No question, tires would feel more at home back there than two passengers ever would.
The FR-S probably won’t have the easiest time overtaking those big-boy exotics at track day events, but at least you’ll be able to wave your saved dollar bills at those who pass by. The starting MSRP is only $26,670. And since this is a Toyota/Subaru concoction, predicted reliability and running costs are about as reasonable as they come. As a bonus, the FR-S is capable of consuming as little as 7.0L/100km on the highway in fuel.
It is difficult to describe how special this car really is. It takes little more than a drive, or even a glance at the spec sheet, to tell that the FR-S is cars built by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts; people who truly care about driving. It offers a level of pure, usable, and affordable fun that’s becoming increasing rare in today’s market. So if your heart was set on that wildly entertaining six figure-priced sports car before your wallet hit you with a reality check, not to worry, because now you can have just as much fun for a whole, whole lot less.
Shari Prymak is an auto expert with Car Help Canada.