Scion FR-S is a fun, affordable rear-wheel drive coupe developed with Subaru that continues to be one of the best values among sports cars.
For 2015, Scion FR-S gets a firmer front suspension that equates to less body roll when pushing hard around twisty mountain roads or on the track. Other minor changes for the 2015 FR-S lineup include a new shark-fin antenna, bigger exhaust tips and new interior trim.
The Scion FR-S uses a four-cylinder, horizontally opposed, direct injection engine. The size and position of the lightweight powerplant allows it to sit low in the engine compartment, equating to a lower center of gravity for better balance and handling. Paired with a choice of a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission, the Scion FR-S makes a respectable 200 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque.
Like other Scions, the FR-S comes in a single trim level, but several a la carte options and accessories are available, including a host of performance-enhancing features from Toyota Racing Development (TRD) including a dual exhaust, performance air intake, lowering springs, sway bar kit and performance brake pads. Special TRD wheels are also optional.
The handsome, sporty look of the FR-S is like nothing else in Scion’s lineup. Not quite mean, but not quite cute, its bold design communicates it means business. On the inside, the interior is basic and simple, with the focus clearly on the driving. Sport seats are comfortable, but the FR-S lacks small, more luxurious touches like lighted buttons on the instrument cluster or steering wheel controls. The optional Pioneer navigation system with color touch screen isn’t as large and beautiful as some, and looks like an aftermarket addition.
Still, the Scion FR-S remains one of our top choices when it comes to an affordable sportscar that can handle the street or the track. Its small dimensions and stiff suspension keep it firmly planted in demanding driving. Brakes are more than capable, and the FR-S even has a satisfying, throaty exhaust note, especially with the upgraded TRD dual exhaust. However, the ride might be too firm for those looking for a daily driver, especially with the optional lowering springs and sway bar kit.
EPA fuel economy estimates for the FR-S are 22/30/25 mpg for the manual transmission and 25/34/28 for the automatic. Toyota recommends Premium gasoline. FR-S is built alongside the BRZ at Subaru’s Gunma assembly plant in central Japan.
Competitors to the 2015 Scion FR-S include the Subaru BR-Z, which shares the same platform, powertrain and most parts. According to Scion, the FR-S packs a firmer, more sporty suspension. Their competition include the Miata MX-5 Miata, Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Dodge Challenger.
The primary inspiration for the FR-S was the 1983 Toyota AE86, also known as the fifth-generation Corolla/Sprinter. Toyota gives a nod to the AE86 with a stylized 86 on the FR-S badge.
Scion says the exterior design of the FR-S was inspired by the Toyota 2000GT of the late 1960s. And while the FR-S lacks the long hood and relatively short passenger compartment of the old car, one can see that it echoes the 2000 GT’s long, sleek shape and its pagoda-style roof. The front fascia of the FR-S is much busier than its ancestor, with angular headlamps and upward- swooping fenders. The wide-mouthed front grille employs a unique mesh pattern (Stealth bombers? Bejeweled gems?) that’s cleverly repeated behind the driver’s instrument cluster.
From the side, the pointy, shark-nosed FR-S clearly has abandoned the proportions of the old cars in favor of a shorter hood and softer-flowing lines over the passenger compartment. The old pole-style antenna has been replaced by a more sophisticated shark fin antenna at the back of the roof.
In back, the FR-S has a low, wide rump. For 2015, tailpipes are wider and more flush with the rear bumper. A combination of round and sharp geometric lines on taillights and lower LED accents, which sit squarely between the twin tailpipes, evoke faces of strange Japanese anime characters.
It’s clear the cockpit of the Scion FR-S is designed for one thing: driving. Controls are simple and to-the-point. Fit and finish are admirable for price, with soft-touch dash materials, good fit and finish, and a new interior trim around the dash that mimics the look of carbon fiber. Some elements look cheap and plastic-y, though, like the removable cupholder unit that sits in the center console.
A small, easy-to-grip steering wheel feels substantial, but not overly thick like those found on luxury performance cars like the BMW M models. On cars equipped with the manual transmission, paddle shifters are attached to the wheel, rather than affixed to the steering column. We like that the wheel can telescope as well as tilt, a feature not often found on lower-priced vehicles. On the down side, there are no steering wheel-mounted controls, so audio, phone functions, and everything else must be accessed from the center stack.
The driver and passengers sit very low in the cockpit, which can take a while to get used to, but visibility is still good. The fabric sport seats are highly bolstered and comfortable, although there is no lumbar support and the range of adjustability isn’t as wide as we’d like. Cloth upholstery on seats soft and grippy, almost like the much-pricier Alcantara, although we wonder how durable it will be, especially on the bottom seat cushions.
While the FR-S is great for track days and Sunday drives, it’s not ideal for road trips. Not only is it small and low to the ground, but it lacks some of the convenience features found in more expensive cars, like lighted odometer and menu buttons on the instrument cluster. Also, we were surprised to discover the FR-S doesn’t display the number of miles till empty; only real-time and cumulative MPG. We also found the location of the USB port, which sits underneath the center stack, to the fore of the gear shift, rather inconvenient, as our USB cord was exposed and in the way. We’d prefer a connection in the center console.
Although the FR-S has a backseat, it’s too small to use comfortably. There’s enough hip and knee room for children or small adults, but the low seating position of the front seats leaves almost no toe room. On the plus side, trunk space is surprisingly good, considering size of the car, and accommodates even more with the rear seat folded flat (which folds back as a single unit, and is not split like on some cars). Designers say the trunk was designed to carry four full-sized tires for track days, but the FR-S isn’t bad at carrying luggage, either, with 6.9 cubic feet of space with the rear seats in place. By comparison, the Mazda Miata MX-5 offers only 5.3 cubic feet.
Audio controls vary depending on what system you choose. We found the controls on the base stereo to be nonsensical and aggravating; the upgraded Pioneer system with touchscreen and navigation is more intuitive and easy to use, though screen isn’t as big and beautiful as some, and looks like an aftermarket unit. We also wished the map was more detailed.
When it comes to performance, the FR-S will meet your expectations, as long as they are realistic. For a sub-$25,000 car powered by a four-cylinder engine, the 2012 Scion FR-S delivers tight handing, good feedback and plenty of fun.
Acceleration is smooth and linear, though, we sometimes found the FR-S didn’t have a ton of thrust right off the line, or when trying to pass on the freeway at high speeds. Still, there was plenty of power for most driving situations. On the track, the car was able and forgiving, and while the low end didn’t throw us back in our seats, we had ample power in the higher revs.
On our test car with the manual transmission, we found the shifter took some getting used to. Shifts were tight and staccato, with very short throws, slipping into the gates with what seemed like a single click. Though it might be too abrupt for some, we prefer it to the somewhat sloppy feel of the manual gearboxes on other cars. On a long road trip from Los Angeles to Northern California, we liked being able to slip it into sixth gear and cruise.
Cars with automatic transmissions are equipped with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters and have automatic rev matching, which means it will blip the throttle while downshifting to match engine speed for maximum performance. This is particularly helpful on the track. Shifts with the automatic are relatively quick but not lightning fast.
One interesting feature on the Scion FR-S is a rev indicator, which lets the driver set an alert at certain RPMs. Isn’t an actual rev limiter, however, but does give a visual and audible warning, so you can catch yourself before pushing too far.
The firm suspension, while great for performance, makes for rough ride over speed bumps and into driveways. This is especially true of our test car, equipped with Toyota Racing Development (TRD) lower springs and sway bars. We felt every single bump in the road, which grew tedious after five hours on the freeway. But on winding roads and on the track, the FR-S was at its best, with a chassis that felt balanced and hunkered down, with very little body roll around corners. This setup is great for performance, but some people might find it too firm for daily driving.
The exhaust note of the FR-S is satisfying, thanks to a sound creator that pipes engine sound into the cabin. It was especially sweet on our test car with the TRD performance exhaust. Wind noise was evident at freeway speeds, although we didn’t notice a lot of road noise coming from the 17-inch wheels and summer tires.
EPA fuel economy estimates for the 2015 FRS are 22/35/25 mpg for the manual and 25/34/28 for the automatic.
Still a strong contender in the compact sportscar category, the 2015 Scion FR-S offers sharp looks track-day fun at an attainable price.