The nimble new Scion FR-S sports coupe combines style and grace in a budget-minded package.
Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, motorists looking for something “different” were often drawn to a fleet of small and nimble imported sports cars. Models like the Fiat 124, Triumph Spitfire, Opel GT and Datsun 240Z weren’t particularly fast, but they were seductively stylish and playfully nimble at a time when most cars were big, boxy and clumsy through the curves.
Though most sports cars have since grown considerably in size and cost, a pair of comely new budget-minded performance cars debuted for 2013 that embody the spirit of those classic coupes, the mechanically equivalent Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ (both were developed jointly by Toyota and Subaru). We recently got a chance to test-drive the Scion version in and around Chicago for a week and found it to be a truly entertaining ride.
The FR-S name stands for “Front engine, Rear drive, Sport,” and it’s Scion’s first-ever rear-drive car, which is a configuration that tends to favor quick handling. Its curvaceously cast exterior features a long hood and short rear deck, with a wide and low air dam up front with cat’s eye-shaped headlamps reaching up and into a pair of muscular front fenders. As with most low-slung cars, climbing into and out of the FR-S can be a chore for older and/or less flexible drivers, but for those who can appreciate enthusiastic driving it would be well worth the effort.
It’s efficiently cast inside, with combination analog/digital gauges and high quality materials throughout. The heavily bolstered sport seats can be stiff and unforgiving to more generously built drivers, however, and as with most compact coupes rear seat room is negligible.
The FR-S comes adequately powered by a Subaru-derived 200-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder “boxer” engine that configures the cylinder banks in horizontal opposition, as opposed to conventional inline or V-shaped arrangements. Subaru uses this design in all its models, and Porsche is the only other mainstream automaker to feature it, mainly because it helps a car maintain a lower center of gravity that, in turn, contributes to superior cornering characteristics. A six-speed manual transmission is standard with a six-speed automatic optional. Ours was fitted with the automatic, which worked well in most respects and came with a manual-shift mode via steering wheel-mounted paddles, but we still longed for the stick shift here. Fuel economy is EPA-estimated at a decently frugal 25/34-mpg city/highway.
Unfortunately, with “just” 200 horses under the hood, neither car can be considered particularly fast – at least not at a time when 500- and 600-horsepower engines rule the road. Still, weighing in at around a svelte 2,700 pounds the FR-S we tested got up to highway speeds nicely with plenty of passing power at hand, though the four-cylinder engine does begin to fade right about the point when larger powerplants are beginning to roar. The automatic transmission comes with a “Sport” mode that holds shifts longer and quickens the throttle response to help enliven the acceleration, but it does seem to make the car feel as if it’s working a bit too strenuously in the process.
On the other hand, the FR-S is about more than just going fast in a straight line. The car’s quick and nimble handling can be truly turntable-like when pushed hard through the curves, with just enough rear-end drift to make things interesting before the car’s stability control kicks in to straighten things out. On the down side, the FR-S rides fairly rough as a trade-off for its adept cornering abilities, and the cabin can get fairly loud at times, especially at higher speeds where tire noise is pronounced.
Still these are minor gripes, especially when one considers the Scion FR-S’ relatively affordable $24,500 sticker price.
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