Cars

Attention-getting Scion FR-S a blast to drive

ZIPPY INTERIOR: The Scion FR-S has an attractive, straightforward look with a minimum of controls and a strong sound system. Front seats are comfortable and there’s plenty of legroom.
ZIPPY INTERIOR: The Scion FR-S has an attractive, straightforward look with a minimum of controls and a strong sound system. Front seats are comfortable and there’s plenty of legroom.Credit: BILL GRIFFITH/Boston Globe Correspondent

Mrs. G and I are sitting at a traffic light on Rte. 1 in Seabrook, New Hampshire, an area of strip malls and big-box stores. Next to us at the light is a circa 2000 canary yellow Mustang Cobra convertible. The top is down. The sound system is pounding.

The driver, with shaved head and earring, looks at us with a huge grin and calls over, “That is one bad...car. What kind of engine does it have?”

Before answering, “Just a four,” the thought crossed my mind that we should be switching seats.

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After all, the Scion FR-S that we’re driving is designed to be marketed to a young demographic and the Mustang convertible he’s driving is more of a midlife crisis car.

Interestingly, the current Mustang would be a competitor to this latest Scion. Toyota introduced the Scion brand in 2002 to appeal to young buyers with its combination of affordability and customization possibilities.

Before the FR-S arrived, giving Scion a wonderfully stylish, great-handling, and performance-oriented offering, the best the brand could offer in that direction was the tC coupe, certainly a nice and customizable car, but hardly likely to get such a reaction in traffic.

Styling-wise, the FR-S looks as though someone incorporated styling cues from the Datsun Z series, Jaguar’s XKE, Opel GTs, and BMW coupes and blended them into a most attractive package.

The FR-S was co-developed with Subaru, which markets a sibling as the Subaru BRZ. Toyota says the FR-S designation stands for Front engine-Rear drive-Sport.

Together, the FR-S and BRZ fill a niche in today’s market that cars like the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, Datsun 240Z, and BMW 2002 occupied a few generations ago.

After British-built sports coupes disappeared from the scene thanks to rust issues and more stringent United States safety and emissions requirements, the lower-priced rear-wheel-drive sports car became an endangered species here.

The FR-S comes in a single trim level and carries a base price of $26,330 with the six-speed automatic transmission (including destination charges). Our test car had two options, wheel locks ($69) and a rear bumper applique ($67), for a final price of $26,466. Opting for the six-speed manual version will save you $1,100 on the MSRP.

Standard features include keyless entry, LED taillights, dual chrome exhaust tips, air conditioning, sport pedals, both digital and analog speedometers, cruise control, an obligatory 300-watt sound system with Bluetooth, iPod connector, and USB input, and a folding rear seat.

The folding rear seat and speedometer-tachometer gauges merit comment. When the front seats are adjusted for any normal-size driver and passenger, there is zero rear-seat legroom.

The large tachometer is the centerpiece of the gauges with a smaller analog speedometer off to the left. Fortunately, a digital speed readout was more convenient for those who don’t make it a practice to dance the engine’s rpms on the redline. However, for those who do, there is a programmable chime and warning light system to signal shift points or an approaching redline situation. A Sport mode results in snappier shifts and quicker throttle response.

We put our grandson’s booster seat in back and went to pick him up from daycare. He loved the looks of the FR-S—certainly resembling some of his Hot Wheels collection—and couldn’t wait to get inside for a ride.

“Mimi (that’s Mrs. G),” he said once inside. “There’s no place for my feet.” So Mrs. G pulled her seat forward, her knees against the glove compartment, and we made the short drive to his parents’ house.

We’d run into a similar interior-space situation earlier in the day when our normal weekend-away luggage (two small suitcases, camera bag, computer bag, several grocery-type carryalls, booster seat) wouldn’t fit in the trunk.

The solution then was to fold the rear seat, easily accomplished by pulling on a strap in the trunk, and using the FR-S more as a two-seat hatchback.

Up front, the seats are well-bolstered for cornering and are comfortable for longer drives, offering plenty of legroom.

While the FR-S had a strong array of safety features, including traction control, ABS, stability control, and smart stop technology, it didn’t have navigation, rear view camera, or other contemporary electronic systems such as smart cruise control, blind-spot and cross traffic warnings.

It did, however, have that full-featured 300-watt sound system.

On the road, the FR-S is a joy to drive. The boxer four-cylinder engine combines a Subaru power plant with Toyota’s direct injection system to put out 200 horsepower and 151 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s enough to be fun, but doesn’t put you in the high-performance category.

The FR-S isn’t a vehicle to be driven to achieve maximum fuel economy. Its steering is quick and the chassis is well set up for having fun on twisty back roads such as the ones we regularly take across rural Connecticut.

Still, it’s also at home in commuter traffic, and fuel economy is impressive. The automatic is rated as 25 miles per gallon city, 34 highway, and 28 combined. One tank returned 31.4 mpg and the onboard readout claimed we were in the 34-plus range on another quiet 120-mile drive home.

That fellow in the convertible got it right.

2014 Scion FR-S Coupe

THE BASICS

Price, base/as tested (with destination): $26,330/$26,466. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 25 mpg city/34 mpg highway. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 31.4. Drivetrain: 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder engine, six-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel-drive. Body: Two-door coupe.

THE SPECIFICS

Horsepower: 200. Torque: 151 lb.-ft. Overall length: 166.7 in. Wheelbase: 101.2 in. Height: 50.6 in. Width: 69.9 in. Curb weight: 2,806 pounds.

THE GOOD

Styling, handling, economy.

THE BAD

Rear seat, cargo space.

THE BOTTOM LINE

A fun, affordable, dependable, stylish rear-wheel-drive sports car.

ALSO CONSIDER

Mazda Miata, Ford Mustang, Subaru BRZ.

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