Posted Nov 10th 2012 11:58AM
Hype is an interesting phenomenon. On one side, it can boost up a sub-standard product only for a monumental let down or often it can even convince the public of fallacies by power of suggestion. But then there is always the chance of a product actually living up to the marketing and media hype. The Scion FR-S is easily the most hyped mid-$20K car we've seen in many years and the conjures up the nostalgia of the great bang-for-buck offerings in the 80's and 90's.
Many an automotive journalist have asked where did those former low-buck greats go? And why have so many of them gained weight, lost magical powertrains and have become sterile, soul-less appliances? Why do such a small percentage of the public still long for the: BMW E30s, Integra GS-Rs or Sentra SE-Rs? Well, there is another legend that Scion decided to bank on; the Corolla GT-S or AE86 "Hachi Roku" chassis as enthusiasts would call it. A feisty front engine, rear wheel drive 4-banger design, that was dusted off and remade to suit young buyers of today.
We asked that of OEMs ever since affordable rear wheel drive cars disappeared. With advanced traction control and better tire technology, would FR platforms mount a comeback? Well, yes they have because we are in a renaissance of sorts which we believe was marked by the return of the Nissan Z-car. The 350Z opened up the market to more RWD cars but it wasn't until this Toyota-Subaru joint venture that the market perked up for a light, exciting offering that was totally attainable.
Related Gallery2013 Scion FR-S
Full disclosure: we have always been fans of the exterior of the Scion FR-S and it's twin the Subaru BRZ. For under $30-grand this is a slick shell with hints of more upscale design elements like the Lexus LF-A front fascia and a Maserati Grand Turismo belt-line. With pronounced wheel arches, flared rear fenders and a swept roof, this is a classic silhouette right out of the factory. Although the tuner crowd will carve into it, we can't fault the aesthetics of the Scion FR-S and in any one of the seven (mostly conservative) colour options. However, we think this fiery little coupe needs a loud colour and we gravitated to the Hot Lava orange 6MT model out front of our hotel.
Much has been said about the naturally aspirated flat-4 boxer engine powering this vehicle. Firstly, it's almost all Subaru-sourced and only the D-4S direct injection is Toyota's contribution, oh and the air filter too. Regardless of who is responsible for what, it is a decent mill that gets the heavy work out of the way. Is it underpowered? At 200hp it's no slacker but it's also in some fast company today, such as the 274 horsepower 2.0T Genesis Coupe for example. The 4U-GSE engine certainly sounds the part evoking all kinds of juicy engine noises due in part to a low-tech intake bypass into the cabin.
The Scion FR-S is an example of how a car company can listen to niche markets and deliver on promises made along the way.
The engine notes throughout the rev range sound fantastic but the party seems to be over quickly approaching the 7,400 rpm redline. Why, because its peak power is made just before that at 7,000 RPM and it just seems to want to go harder (or we did), so an NA motor of its billing should be cranking out a few more RPMs. You have to live in the upper RPM range to keep the momentum we needed around the track. We can see how a more novice driver might find it under-powered if they are not getting all 155 lb-ft at 6,600 and 200 horses at 7K... this motor has to be pushed. Overall we like the flat-4, would we like 50 or more ponies? Yes, and a turbo but this is already on the radar.
Naturally, in a stripped down performer like this you'll want the 6-speed manual in there. The manual is pure joy with tight, direct shifts and well calculated ratios we carved up twisty back roads residing comfortably in the power-band. We found it instinctive to find all gears and that can't always be said once you hop in a foreign car and go to 11 tenths on race track in mere minutes. We did spend some time in the auto-box equipped FR-S but have to admit we're unsure who would buy the 6-speed auto, which adds $1,180 to the modest base price. We'll have to see how the sales figures break down to see if Scion has appeased that casual buyer with the automatic but the whole concept points to manual purchases. On the plus side, the automatic shifts fairly well using the paddles and this inexpensive car even blips the throttle for you.
Overall we like the flat-4, would we like 50 or more ponies? Yes, and a turbo but this is already on the radar.
From the early beginnings, we were promised an exciting drive for next to nothing. At only 1,251kg (2,758-pounds) it is light by today's standards and that lack of ballast will allow a sports car to do incredible things. We live in a time when cars of all classes are fighting weight gain and trying to battle physics to maintain driving dynamics. The Scion FR-S has inherent lean DNA meaning that coupled with a capable suspension and braking setup will bring all kinds of smiles.
The Scion FR-S lives for the curves. What might leave you listless in a straight line becomes a distant memory on the track or when straight roads turn to ribbons. The MacPherson front strut and double wishbone suspension design along with a standard Torsen LSD in the rear makes this car want to carve it up. The FR-S highly tossable, the turn-in is crisp and refreshing without plowing.
Switch off the TRAC stability control and well, more shenanigans ensue. For the first time in a long time, we were in a brand new car actually feeling a connection to the road without all the electric forces fighting back. And even though there is an electric power steering system here, the inputs via that comfy leather wrapped 365mm steering wheel just feel right.The Scion FR-S lives for the curves. What might leave you listless in a straight line becomes a distant memory on the track or when straight roads turn to ribbons.
Around the track, the Scion FR-S was eating up all the curves just like the hype had forecasted. But there is one issue in this equation. No, it wasn't the brakes because although they can show some degree of fade, the FR-S really doesn't need to utilize them much. We took issue with the tires. The Michelin Primacy 215/50R17 might be right at home on a Prius but they certainly rattled our nerves behind the wheel. After several back-to-back hot laps without the pit-in to cool down, the rubber was not happy and it became challenging to keep the car in-check.
However, that is asking a lot of such a tire and we like that Scion offered the car with running gear that was inexpensive and basic because that allows for buyers to opt for set of track tires and wheels. And well, the FR-S was designed to hold a set of track tires and a jack just for that purpose.
One might ask: "yeah, but does it drift " Yes, it does, quite well thank you very much. Although drifting might not be on the top of everyday drivers priority lists, the Scion FR-S is incredibly eager to flick and get sideways. On hand was Scion Canada-sponsored drifter Pat Cyr to show us how it's done. His personal Firestorm red FR-S was getting a severe beating on the drift course and this totally unmodified car was able link the entire drift circuit! While onboard, we were in a state of disbelief gazing out the side windows at triple digit speeds. As an owner of dozens of old AE86 cars, Cyr had a memorable quote about the FR-S when he said "Somehow they captured the soul of the AE86 Corolla. Not sure how they did it but it's totally there."Although drifting might not be on the top of everyday drivers priority lists, the Scion FR-S is incredibly eager to flick and get sideways.
Back the practical side of the Scion FR-S, the cabin was not as predicted. Inexpensive Toyota and Scion products have understandably spartan interiors. We expected, to be surrounded by much of the same but not the case with the FR-S. We are treated to well-bolstered seats at the: hips, shoulders and thighs to keep occupants grounded during cornering. The high contrast red stitching and shoulder pads look the part and the low positioning of them sucks the driver close to the ground, only 400mm to be more precise. The dash is of a high quality material and the insert panel has an appealing woven fibre look. The back seats? Well, they fold down, which is a good thing right? We view it as a simple, classic interior that will age well, especially since we thought the digital clock in there was the same one from the old Corolla GT-S.
The centre stack vents may appear slightly awkward but they are well positioned. The entertainment system in out tester came courtesy of Pioneer which features a 5.8-inch TFT touch-screen display. Well laid out and functional, this unit features voice and audio Bluetooth connectivity as well as HD Audio and iPod connectivity, all of which are pretty much mandatory for the Scion buyer. The sound is decent for the price and the convenient soft-touch buttons and large volume indicator worked for us.
At $25,990 it is affordable to all as well. Since this car has very few options, Scion wanted the mono-spec approach to put many of these in the hands of sports car enthusiasts already well-equipped. The cost of ownership will be attainable too since when you are not mashing the throttle, the fuel economy is decent. The manual car achieves 9.6 L/100km (29 MPG) city, a miserly 6.6 L (43 MPG) highway with / 8.2 L/100km (34 MPG) combined. The automatic performs better at 8.3 L/100km (34 MPG) / 5.8 L/100km (49 MPG) and 7.2 L/100km (39 MPG) combined, which should sell a few more units alone. But keep in mind folks, this car does sip premium fuel and the 12.5:1 compress motor really tips it back at track because the onboard computer measured a staggering 34 L/100km!
At $25,990 it is affordable to all as well. Since this car has very few options, Scion wanted the mono-spec approach to put many of these in the hands of sports car enthusiasts already well-equipped.
As sports car aficionados of decades past, we applaud what Toyota has done here with the Scion FR-S. A true driver's car, the FR-S still has modern safety nannies that can be overridden to bring the sport back to the car, wait where have we heard that? We appreciate the minor touches added to the design: the in-cabin sound engine noise by-pass, the plastic inner fender wells for less weight (and possibly more steering angle) and the cargo capacity centered around hauling track tires. Toyota President, Akio Toyoda is a car guy and a motorsports fan and this humble, compact performer will be a major component to his legacy.
Image Credit: Copyright 2012 Dave Pankew / AOL