News flash- the Toyota brand is not exciting. Prius, Yaris, Camry, Avalon and Corolla? Not a performance dynasty. The last time they had real fun for sale was in 2007 with the mid-engine MR2. Even the Scion brand is fairly performance tame until aftermarket pieces get bolted on. They do “sporty” cars.
Now Scion has done a real sports car, the FR-S. Let’s cut to the chase, if you haven’t already heard, it’s a blast to drive and, here’s the important part, mere mortals can make the payments. It lands in Scion showrooms in June.
In trade for $24,930 (and any applicable taxes and fees), Scion will hand you the keys to a 2,758 pound, 200 horsepower 2+2 with a center of gravity lower than a Porsche Cayman. Remember, this is a Toyota.
Where It Comes From
The inspiration for the FR-S comes from three cars in Toyota’s past- the 2000 GT, Sports 800 and the Corolla GT-S, AKA the AE86, or hachi roku (eight and six in Japanese).
Akio Toyoda, the company’s CEO realized there was a serious lack of fun happening in his company and, as an enthusiast, decided to do something about it. Toyota had acquired a stake in Subaru, a company that has turned out a few fun cars over the years and the two companies created Team 86 to engineer one product- a very dynamic rear-wheel drive sports car.
Team 86 took the three core elements of those past performance Toyotas, mixed them up in an engineering blender and came up with the FR-S and BRZ which is Subaru’s version. In other countries it’s the Toyota GT 86.
The two different companies took slightly different approaches to suspension tuning and equipment levels but the two cars look nearly identical inside and out. Scion’s fender badge depicts two horizontal pistons with a stylized “86” in the middle, meant to look like a drift car in motion.
Passion to the Everyday Driver
FR-S is about the size of a Nissan 370-Z but it seats four. Kinda. Sorta. Rear accommodations are for small people and emergencies only.
Under the aluminum hood there’s a direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a bit of a surprise to those who haven’t followed this car’s development. The engine is a Subaru Boxer. The advantage? Traditionally, engine pistons move vertically, Boxers pump horizontally, laying deep and flat in the bay for a low center of gravity. Porsche uses this design for the very same reason.
This is the first Boxer to use Toyota’s D-4S injection system which uses both direct and conventional port injection for each cylinder. Demonstrating the trickle down effect, it’s also used in the Lexus IS F and GS. The result is 200 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 151 lb-ft of torque at 6,400-6,600 rpm.
FR-S runs on premium fuel. The EPA says it drinks at a rate of 22 mpg city, 30 highway for the manual, 25/34 for the automatic.
The six-speed manual has short crisp throws and a light clutch action. It’s a very nice gear box reminiscent of the one in Mazda’s MX-5 Miata. Add $1,100 more for a six-speed automatic transmission. Don’t be a clutch snob, I like manuals too but the autobox is very well done. Having driven both it would be hard to choose between the two.
Why I Like My Job
The press event is being held at Spring Mountain Raceway outside of Las Vegas. How I suffer for my craft...
First things first- most FR-Ss will never hit the track and in the real world on real roads it’s fairly comfortable and quiet for a sports car. As a daily driver it’s as good as the genre gets.
FR-S is quick, not fast. 0-60 happens in an estimated 7 seconds. The power delivery is very linear right up to the 7,400 rpm redline. Keep the speed and revs up for maximum fun, FR-S is not overly torquey at the low end of the power band. A “sound creator” routes different amounts of engine note into the cabin depending on how hard drivers mash the pedal. This keeps it quiet for everyday tooling around and melodic when you’re having fun.
FR-S is a very modern sports car but it’s the old school attributes that make it appealing. The first corner informs the seat of your pants and the hairs on your neck that they will be in direct communication with the rear wheels. It’s very easy to know what this car is doing. Within minutes, I’m comfortable pushing it hard on the track with the ESC set at mid-level. Very few vehicles talk to a driver the way this one does, and most that do cost twice as much. Or more.
The closest competitor, pricewise anyways, is Mazda’s MX-5 Miata. Yes, I’m quite aware it’s a 2-seat convertible and the Scion is a 2+2. They are both lightweight four-cylinder cars and seem to be soul mates on the tarmac.
In addition to the big track the Scion folks have us competing in a short autocross course. Turning ESC off completely is loads of fun here, FR-S easily and predictably rotates in tight corners. Disc brakes all around (11.65 inches up front 11.46 in the rear) have great modulation and strong stopping power.
Flying Business Class
As expected the cockpit is straightforward and businesslike with little to distract the driver. Color choices include black, and black only. Good quality materials and just the right amount of trim keep the cabin interesting. Suede-like cloth chairs hug like a long lost auntie, big drivers might find them too snug. When I first laid eyes on them I wrongly assumed they were part of Scion’s personalization process. They are that good.
The interior is not spartan but you won’t find dual zone climate control, push button start or heated seats in here. Bluetooth and a USB port are standard. The base audio system sounds good, and the optional Pioneer unit adds more power and the new BeSpoke apps system powered by Zypr. While Pandora is something you might want in this car Facebook integration seems to go against the FR-S mission.
Toyota says the door handles are placed so they won’t get in the way of a roll cage. Want a sunroof? Sorry. I’m a bit surprised this driver’s car doesn’t have “tap for three blinks” signaling. Nit picking this pre-production car further, the sun visor is very basic, knobs are a little coarse, and the headliner a bit flimsy. But then again, this is a pre-production vehicle.
There are two “seats” in the rear. Convince the front passenger to slide all the way forward and a small adult has half a chance to fit. Behind the driver? A small child. At best. At least it’s available for emergencies.
Moving on to the trunk it’s not half bad in size (an estimated three packer if I had the chance to do the TP trunk test) and all of it can be used because of space saving hinges. Considering that back seat won’t be used much, a one-piece foldable seatback is a great touch. With it down, Toyota claims there’s enough room for a full set of racing tires and a helmet. Speaking of tires there’s a real spare, surprising in a car that’s all about shedding weight.
2000 GT Design
If you’ve seen photos of this car and thought it sleek but simple, there’s a lot more detail to the sheetmetal when you get up close and personal. The roof is sculpted, subtle lines are found in changing light, and the rear diffuser in the video is not a Scion aftermarket body kit. The coefficient of drag is a slippery 0.27
If the standard body style is too mild for your taste, Scion dealers would be more than happy to set you up with the optional body kit and loads of other accessories. At a nominal cost of course.
There Are Always Rumors
It’s not even in showrooms yet and there is already speculation about different models. One is that there will be a convertible. Second, is that a four sedan is being considered for the platform. A modern day BMW 2002 is something I can get behind. As you might guess, any inquiries are met with “we don’t comment on future product”. Scion will not have a factory turbo kit though the aftermarket should take care of that right quick.
To me, FR-S (and by default BRZ) looks to be an instant classic. This conclusion is not like doing advanced trigonometry without a calculator. An affordable car with good power, excellent chassis dynamics, appealing design, and limited production numbers will get buyers to Scion stores in droves (10,000 copies are slated for 20120). It reminds me of the Miata launch in 1989. If history is repeating itself with FR-S, I suggest you head down with a deposit right quick.
Will Others Follow?
It doesn’t matter who makes them, cars like the FR-S are a gift to us, the 99 percent. The fact that a car this intuitive is made by Toyota is an eye-opener. It’s more than a welcome shot of adrenalin for the conservative brand, it sets a benchmark for the industry. I’d love to see Ford, Chevy, Nissan, Kia, VW- anyone really- step up to the plate and do a competing car. In a world full of appliance-grade automobiles, it’s good to see fun is back in style.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Jack Hollis, Vice President and general Manager of Scion- “I think the industry has done a great job of advancing itself, adding technology and electronics and pieces that some people really want. But there are a lot of people who want just that core driving experience. They want to bring that back, they want to spend more time in their car, and I haven’t really seen that in the industry in a while”.
Nice to know someone cares about fun. Now, about the Camry and Corolla.