The Scion FR-S is flat-out engineered for fun but comes well equipped, including standard Bluetooth and rearview camera. Navigation isn’t available on the Scion, though that feature is available on the pricier Subaru BRZ. The FR-S has standard equipment more along the lines of things like the limited-slip differential. Engineered for fun.
That’s what the FR-S is known for: being able to toss the car around and laugh yourself silly. Its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine comes from Subaru, with Toyota’s direct port injection system, and makes a relatively modest 200 horsepower, with the 0-60 time a relatively leisurely 6.8 seconds. So the blast has to from somewhere other than speed, and that is cornering.
First, it’s about good balance, with the horizontally opposed engine mounted rearward. The boxer engine design means a lower center of gravity, because the cylinders are parallel to the ground and keep the weight low. And the FR-S is rear-wheel drive, with front wheels free to do the turning, unburdened by the driving. It comes with either a six-speed manual gearbox or six-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
The FR-S engineering philosophy goes against the new-school sports car grain of big horsepower and sticky tires. The FR-S comes standard with harder (thus longer lasting) tires, so that the car will slip a bit. It’s forgiving and responsive, thanks to the excellent balance and horsepower that’s not out of this world. So it makes you feel like Fernando Alonso.
And there are serious performance upgrades available, including a cold-air intake; exhaust system; lower springs; strut braces; anti-roll bars; bigger wheels and brakes. But to prove it’s not hard-core about performance, there is an available infotainment system with seven-inch screen and voice control.
Changes for 2016 include some tweaks to the body and cabin trim, a new eight-speaker audio system, and rearview camera. With six airbags, FR-S gets five stars from NHTSA and top safety pick from IIHS. It gets an EPA-estimated 25 mpg Combined with the manual transmission, and 28 mpg with the efficient automatic.
The FR-S puts aerodynamic touches at the nose and tail to classic proportions of a long hood and short deck. It is low, curvy and sleek, with a wide grille and sharp vents in the front fascia flowing toward the bulging flared fenders. The roof rolls in a graceful arc toward the stubby tail.
The spartan cabin can’t be called beautiful, but it is handsome and well built, with upholstery that’s just one color, faux carbon-fiber trim, and durable plastics that flow cleanly. The gauges are driver-oriented, front and center.
The front seats are excellent, well-bolstered and comfortable, with good leg and hip room. There’s also good head room, so a six-foot driver is no problem. There’s a small rear seat that’s kid-sized, though it is possible for another six-footer to fit back there if the front-passenger seat were slid all the way forward.
The growl of the engine is piped in. Over 70 mph the wind and road noise is prominent.
The cargo space is not bad for a sports car, or rather a two-plus-two coupe. The trunk is decent and the rear seats fold flat. The FR-S was designed to hold four tires and a toolbox, for track days.
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 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. With only 151 foot-pounds of torque, you have to keep it revving toward its 7400 rpm redline.
The firm suspension delivers great handling. Equipping it with Toyota Racing Development (TRD) lower springs and sway bars makes for a rough ride over speed bumps and into driveways. 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. The TRD setup is great for performance, but some people might find it too firm for daily driving.
The electric power steering is precise and well-weighted, intuitive and quick, but you can’t feel much through the steering wheel.
The brakes are adequate and easy to modulate, and should easily be able to stand six laps at a time on track days.
The manual transmission feels tight, 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. The automatic lacks some refinement.
EPA fuel economy estimates for the Scion FR-S are 22/35/25 mpg for the manual and 25/34/28 for the automatic.
The FR-S is what a sports car should be. It is pure, fun and affordable. It belongs on a twisty road, while cabin comfort means it’s not a penalty box in daily driving.
Driving impressions by Nelson Ireson. Laura Burstein contributed driving impressions to this report. Sam Moses contributed to this report.