Sometimes, the hype of a new model can work against it. Take for example, the all-new 2013 Scion FR-S. A cooperative effort between Toyota and Subaru (who markets the car as the BRZ), it’s a sports car in the time-honored tradition of front-engine, rear-wheel drive, with agility and handling taking a higher priority over raw power.
The FR-S has been such a highly anticipated car, plus the initial reviews so glowing, that at first we were a little underwhelmed. Yet, over the time we had it for testing, the little coupe revealed more and more of its personality and capability, and we came to love it.
We liked its looks right away. If you’ve only seen pictures of the FR-S, you might be surprised how small the newest Scion is in person. Sitting under 51 inches tall, the FR-S is low-slung, and about the same overall length of a 370Z, which is a 2-seater, and the Scion FR-S is a 2+2.
The design is crisp and modern, and looks unique on the road—except for its Subaru BRZ sibling, which has a slightly different front fascia. Our tester wore a strikingly rich orange metallic color Scion calls Hot Lava. Normally when we talk sports cars, we end up describing huge wheels and ultra-wide tires, but the FR-S rides on tasteful and smallish 17-inch wheels and rubber. However—there’s method to this madness.
The Scion FR-S is all about lightness and agility—think Lotus rather than Corvette. Power is sourced from Subaru, whose horizontally-opposed four-cylinder allows it to sit low and back in the chassis for excellent balance. Funny thing, though, it doesn’t sound Subie-like, which has a unique warble to its exhaust. Instead, you get a nice little growl, and a 200-hp engine that loves to rev. Acceleration is quick, with a mid-6- second 0-60 mph time, aided by a delightfully precise and snicky 6-speed manual transmission. Despite our lead-footing it, we managed and impressive 25 mpg.
That power is more than enough to savor what is one of the most enjoyable chassis we’ve driven in a long time. The response to the steering is instant, and extremely precise. With the low center of gravity, there’s also no discernible body roll: You just think it, and the FR-S responds.
Instead of designing the suspension for neck-straining high-G turns, the FR-S is set up to be tossable, and it’s easy to get the tail to swing out in corners—perfect for practicing your drifting moves. This is driving for pure sensation rather than just impressive numbers, and it’s a recipe that works perfectly here (and reminds us of Mazda’s MX-5 Miata).
It’s also a capable and comfortable performer in the everyday stop and go. Although the driver sits low in the chassis, we found the sport seats to be exceptionally supportive and comfortable. The ride is supple, and the noise level relatively subdued when cruising.
The driver also gets a nice 3-spoke steering wheel to play with, clear gauges, including a center-mounted tachometer featuring a programmable shift light (very cool), and simple, basic climate controls. Not flashy, but that’s not what this car is about.
Which is not to say it’s bare bones, either. Our tester had the optional BeSpoke premium audio system, which features a large LCD touchscreen. And when you download the BeSpoke app, your smartphone gives you voice recognition control for Bluetooth, Pandora, and more. Honestly, we were having too much fun driving to play with the audio system.
Speaking of fun, the rear seat is no party for full-size adults, and should be reserved for kids only. Or better yet, fold down the rear seats, and use the cargo area as Scion intended: to carry four extra wheels and tires for a day at the track!
Because the 2013 Scion FR-S is really affordable, you should be able to swing for that extra grip for track days. Our tester started at $24,995 and, with only the BeSpoke audio system ($845) and a couple other goodies, came in at just over $26,000. The next closest thing to FR-S (other than the Subaru BRZ) would be a Porsche Cayman, which starts at $51,900—nearly twice as much. If that “bargain” light just went on in your head, you’re right.
So, yes, for a brief period, we had to get past the hype, but the 2013 Scion FR-S quickly won us over with its fresh looks, phenomenal fun-to-drive qualities, and livable day-to-day features. Affordable and economical, it’s an ideal sports car for today’s young or young-at-heart buyers. And that’s no hype.
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