The definition of a Driver’s Car: A vehicle that allows operators to test the bounds of their skills and improve upon said skills. The 2013 Scion FR-S is the conduit through which drivers learns what they are made of as they push the limits of each down shift, each apex, and each departure from every turn.
This Scion is so singular in focus, it would make the great Buddhist Hsuan Hua blush. It will not propel forward as quickly as its aggressive appearance may suggest, but its ability to take a corner with tenacity and carry speed through an apex is a rare and under-appreciated skill amid the horsepower war among current muscle cars.
The FR-S takes the road less traveled, but does not go it alone. Parent companyToyota partnered with Subaru to construct the FR-S, and sister car Subaru BRZ. Both are beautifully simple in their formula: 2+2 coupe, front engine, rear-drive, and riding on a well-sorted suspension.
For those “initiated” in the way of the S-curve, the FR-S is a muchanticipated breath of fresh air. Those previously unfamiliar with its ways all asked one of two questions: “What is that?” and “That’s a Scion?!” The latter inquiry is perhaps the result of its menacing front clip and proportions akin to a baby Ferrari California. At the base of the A-pillar is a circular“86,”homage to the AE86, which was a performance line of Corolla’s in the 80’s—and the last with rear wheel drive.
The “86” is flanked by the image of two cylinders, facing each other horizontally, representing the 4-cylinder flat-four engine, provided by Subaru. This type of engine features two banks of two cylinders that lay flat, facing, or “punching” at each other, hence the name, “boxer.” The Boxer engine is used in every Subaru model and is a design also used by Porsche. The boxer is lauded by many gearheads for its incredible balance and the fact that it can be mounted very low in the chassis.
The Boxer in the FR-S displaces 2.0-liters and makes 200-horsepower, but only 150 pound feet of torque. Those who don’t understand the importance of torque, try stepping on the accelerator and when nothing happens, you’ll get it. There is enough power to get the car up to speed to take on turns, but it won’t be winning any quartermiles any time soon.
The power is put to the wheels in one of two ways.The base 6-speed manual (MSRP $24,955) or a 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters (MSRP $26,055).When I first peered into the window of our automatic test model and did not see a manual, I cringed—the same way I would seeing an automatic in a Corvette, Miata, or any Porsche. These cars are too fun to dilute with a transmission that does not make you work and further connect you to the car.
But a strange thing happened when I got behind the wheel of the automatic FR-S: I actually liked it. Put it in sport mode and turn off the traction control and it doesn’t matter how you are putting power to the rear wheels, it’s just a damn fun car. Riding on a MacPherson front and double wishbone rear suspension, the car is so well planted that taking sharp turns at speed almost becomes too easy. Taken to an especially meandering road, each corner executed with more and more momentum, the FR-S would not let up. Upon nearing the apex of a turn, doubleclick the left paddle and a downshift from fourth to second will jolt the RPM’s and squirt you right through the zenith of the corner with ease. You don’t want to bleed off too much speed entering a turn, as it’s far easier to trail brake in the FR-S than it is to build up speed at the apex.
The cabin of this car is almost an afterthought when presented with the handling capabilities. If you must know, the bucket seats feel as if Scion pilfered them from an autocross car, while the back seats have plenty of room....if you are a Cirque De Soleil contortionist.You would be hard-pressed to fit a small child or an infant carrier in the rear seats.The car is meant for driver and the occasional passenger. The interior layout is splendidly Spartan, leaving the focus on the leather trimmed steering wheel, gauge cluster with center-mounted tachometer, and the road ahead.
In the $25K range, you could go into a Ford, Chevy, or Dodge dealership and plop down the bread for one of their modern muscle cars. If you were in the market for a boat, that same money could also get you a Sea Ray powerboat or a Catalina sailboat, but which shows a deeper understanding of the sea and a commitment to mastery of the ocean? You can’t teach speed, but you can certainly buy it. The FR-S is the vehicle that will take you there, with some coin left over to purchase the turbo that the engine surely needs.
George Kennedy is a freelance auto writer for Hemmings, Autoblog, etc. He can be reached at email@example.com and on twitter @gkenns101.