2013 Scion FR-S

Scion + Subaru = Passion. No Kidding.

Subaru has forged a reputation for building solid, reliable sedans and crossovers with all-wheel drive and an adventurous spirit. Scion, Toyota's youth-oriented low-price brand launched in 2003, has been more about style and attitude than automotive excellence. The cars thus far have been front-drive low-priced econoboxes with plenty of available accessories to bling them out. Put these two brands together and what do you get? A pair of rear-drive coupes-2013 Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ-that hit the nail on the head for sporty passion.

The 2013 Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ are essentially the same car with slightly different sheetmetal and levels of equipment. We drove the FR-S in Las Vegas and on the 1.5-mile road course at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada, and found it to be one of the best performing, most engaging sports cars developed in the last decade.

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2013 Scion FR-S Models, Features, and Pricing

The 2013 Scion FR-S comes in only two flavors. It costs $24,200 with a manual transmission and $25,300 with an automatic. Standard features include cloth upholstery, six-way adjustable driver's seat, four-way adjustable front passenger seat, air conditioning, leather-wrapped tilt/telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, leather-wrapped shift knob, power windows and locks, power heated mirrors, remote keyless entry, eight-speaker Pioneer 300-watt AM/FM/HD/CD stereo with auxiliary input jack and USB port, Bluetooth connectivity, fold-down rear seat, and P215/45R17 summer tires on alloy wheels.

Scion offers no options, but buyers can choose from several dealer-installed FR-S accessories, including a new 340-watt Bespoke audio system and fog lights. Performance accessories are available, too, including a cold air intake, a strut tie brace, lowering springs, performance brake pads, stiffer sway bars, and 18-inch alloy wheels.

Scion FR-S standard safety features consist of dual front airbags, front side airbags, curtain side airbags, tire-pressure monitor, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, traction control, and electronic stability control. The traction control and stability control can be turned off completely, and the FR-S also has a VSC Sport mode that allows more room to slide the car through corners.

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Pure Joy on the Road

The brainchild of sports car crazy Toyota Motor Corporation CEO Akido Toyoda, the FR-S was developed by a team of Toyota and Subaru engineers. Pure sports car ideals were pursued along the way, including minimal weight and a low center of gravity. The resulting car weighs only 2,758 pounds with the manual transmission and 2,806 with the automatic. That's more than 700 pounds less than a Ford Mustang and within about 300 pounds of the two-seat Mazda Miata. The center of gravity is 18 inches off the ground, which is lower than a Porsche Boxster or Nissan GT-R.

Hop in the driver's seat, fire up the car, and it takes only one turn of the steering wheel to begin to fall in love. In the interest of saving two to four percent fuel economy, most automakers have gone from hydraulic to electric assist power steering in recent years. Tuning that steering has been a problem, as most electric assist systems lack road feel. The Scion FR-S proves it can be done right. The steering is racecar quick, substantially weighted, and offers lots of road feel. The steering feel alone is enough for a sports car fan to want this car.

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Superb Handling, Born to Compete

The low center of gravity also gives it amazing handling. Our time on the track at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch revealed that the Scion FR-S is communicative, easy to drive hard, and, quite simply, one of the best handling cars on the road. Toss the FR-S into a turn and it feels very neutral, goes where you put it, leans very little, and quickly composes itself to head back in the opposite direction. This is a car born to compete in autocross events. The tires provide good grip, though they could be even wider, and the brakes are substantial enough to withstand a full day at the track without fading or overheating.

Unlike most sports cars, the ride doesn't beat you up, either. To achieve the car's low ride height, Toyota/Subaru engineers made the front strut assembly smaller and moved it inboard, out of the way of the tire. This allowed the suspension to have a full range of travel and therefore a softer ride. As a result, the FR-S doesn't crash over bumps and the tires keep contact with the road when they hit a bump in the middle of a turn. Excellent.

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Delightful and Frustrating Engine Performance

There is a school of thought that cars like the Mazda Miata, which have limited engine power, are more fun to drive on the street because you can wring out most of the car's potential every day. Another line of thinking holds that more is better. The 2013 Scion FR-S subscribes to the former ideal. It is powered by a new 2.0-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine developed by Subaru while featuring Toyota's D-4S direct and port injection system. This boxer engine makes 200 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque, which is a lot for its size, but quite limited in the sports car realm. The boxer design allows it to sit low in the chassis and thus achieve that low center of gravity.

The Scion FR-S engine is delightful and frustrating at the same time. It revs willingly up to its high redline of 7,400 rpm redline, but it doesn't feel very strong until about 4,000 rpm, so you have to drive it like you hate it to tap into the useful power. The low torque figure means there isn't much oomph coming off the line or when you want to pass on the highway. Outlets like Edmunds.com have posted 0 to 60 mph times as low as 6.6 seconds, which is fairly quick, but that involved launching from clutch-killing rpms. Most drivers are likely to see 0 to 60 times in the 7.5- to 8.0-second range, which isn't that quick.

Transmission choices consist of a six-speed manual transmission and a six-speed automatic with manual shift capability and downshift rev matching. Both transmissions do their best to tap into the FR-S's limited power. The manual offers short, positive shifts and a natural clutch action, while the automatic is quick to shift and the rev-matching feature is useful during aggressive driving. Scion also pipes more engine noise into the cabin over 4,000 rpm, so you really feel like you're flogging the car. Fuel economy is decent at 22 mpg city/30 highway with the manual transmission, and 24/35 with the automatic. All things considered, this engine is fun to drive on the street, but to get the most out of the FR-S, the engine really needs a turbocharger and about 250 horsepower.

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Sporty and Simple Cockpit

The FR-S's cockpit was designed for sporty simplicity. Sporty touches start with the gauge cluster, which takes a page out of the Porsche book by putting the tachometer front and center and offering a digital speed readout. This allows drivers to see the speed and revs at a glance during performance maneuvers. Other sporty touches inside the Scion FR-S include the aluminum pedals and scuff plates, the grippy suede-like cloth on the seats (which keeps occupants in place in fast turns), and faux carbon fiber trim. The materials are also impressive for the price, as the dash, door tops and armrests are soft to the touch.

The dashboard is quite straightforward, with three simple climate control dials and a self-contained radio that looks like it could be easily swapped out for an aftermarket unit. Scion offers what amounts to its own aftermarket stereo. It's the Bespoke premium audio system, and it's a dealer installed accessory. The system pairs with your iPhone to stream Pandora Internet radio, provide point-of-interest navigation routing (but not destination address entry), and offer access to Facebook and Twitter.

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Seating and Cargo

Scion FR-S drivers step down into the car and sit only 15 inches off the ground, which makes getting out a chore. The seats are thickly bolstered, so much so that wider backsides will be pinched. The steering wheel is 14.4 inches in diameter, which is small and pleasingly sporty.

The FR-S is a four-seater only in name. The rear seat is there more to lower insurance premiums or carry packages than to accommodate people. Only very small kids will fit back there as legroom is virtually nonexistent and headroom is tight. Similarly, the trunk is very limited. The FR-S has only 6.9 cubic feet of cargo space, which is what you'd expect for a convertible, not a coupe. The good news is that space is easy to access and the rear seat folds flat in one piece to allow room for longer items.

The Verdict

The 2013 Scion FR-S isn't for everyone. It offers limited interior space for passengers and cargo, and if you don't enjoy driving, don't bother. But for those who love sports cars, it's an uncharacteristically rambunctious offspring from a pair of conservative parents. The racecar steering, flat cornering, and agile handling will make sports car fans fall in love with this coupe much the same way they have with the Mazda Miata roadster. The price is right, too. Now, if Scion would just offer a turbocharged engine, I would be tempted to order one myself. www.scion.com

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