About three or four months ago scores of journalists (except me) were invited by Toyota to see the final production version of the Scion FR-S (Toyota FT86 in Japan). A short while later more journalists were invited (except me) to Las Vegas on an all expenses paid excursion to drive the Scion FR-S on the desert roads of Nevada and on a race track. Two awesome experiences that I had absolutely no part in, great is it not!? I will at admit I was a bit stung about being left out of the party…twice, but Craig Taguchi from Scion more than made up for it by handing me the keys to a Raven Black Scion FR-S six-speed complete with a full tank of gas and instructing me to “keep it for a week”. All is forgiven…
All last week I got to push around Scion’s newest sports coupe along the streets of Southern California. I drove around my hometown of Long Beach, drove up to Newport Beach, heck I even took it to Disneyland! There were also the obligatory trips to the store and grocery getting. After pretending the coupe was mine for a week I returned it to Scion HQ on Memorial Day.
By now you are probably wondering what I thought about the FR-S after spending so much time driving one, correct? Well let us get into that, shall we?
The first thing we as car-loving human beings notice before we get interested in any vehicle his how it looks, right? Well, I am going to go ahead and say right away that I think the exterior of the Scion FR-S is stunning. Everything from its aggressive front fascia to its fender arches to its low-sweeping rear end look to be in perfect harmony together and that harmony is an exotic one. The FR-S is definitely a unique looking vehicle and I can whole-heartedly say that I mean “unique” in a good way. I am sure there was a rise in neck injuries due to all the heads I turned with the FR-S during the week I had it. Even in Newport Beach where six-figure supercars are the norm; the Scion FR-S still garnered a significant amount of attention. People came up to me in parking lots asking to snap photos of the car with their phones, some people even shouted compliments to me at stop lights. The Scion FR-S proves that it is possible to get supercar-like attention from a $25k car. However, while I generally love the design and looks of the FR-S I do have one gripe about the exterior: I am not a fan of the taillights. I do like the way they are shaped but my complaint comes with the “color”. I wish Scion would have gone with solid red lights instead of doing the “Altezza/First-Gen Lexus IS” treatment. While it is true that Toyota started the trend, by now it has been done by everyone and done to death. Given the color options available for the FR-S, I think solid red taillights would have been a better choice.
The funny thing about Californians and cars is that we care so much about the way our rides look on the outside, despite the fact that we spend all of our time on the inside. While I agree that the inside of a car is very important I will admit that I am not one of those people who get really hung up on the “fit and finish” of the interior. Personally, I care more about ergonomics and functionality than the type of fabrics and materials used by OEM’s to adorn their interiors. The first thing you will notice about the FR-S interior are the bucket seats. The design of the soft cloth upholstered seats are definitely “Reccaro-esque” but the headrests have a unique shape and the black and red color scheme works nicely. The seats are very comfortable and the side bolsters hold both driver and passenger in securely but do not “squeeze”. The cloth feels pretty plush and after a few moments I was not missing leather at all. While the front seats are great the rear-seats are practically non-existent. If you are planning on having people sit in the back of your FR-S you better not be taller than 5 feet otherwise your rear passengers should not be no more than 5 years old! They could have easily sacrificed some of the very ample trunk space for a more roomy rear seat but I learned last year at the LA Auto Show that OEMs often go with pseudo rear seats to soften the insurance rate blow. Apparently, a pure two-seater car will fetch a higher premium than a car that has four seats, even if two of those four seats barely fit the legal and technical definition of “seats”. So in that regard bravo to Scion. Just do not plan on rolling around your FR-S with more than one other person unless they are kids or little people.
Ergonomically, the FR-S makes for a good cockpit. The steering wheel is a bit on the small side but is formed for perfect grip and has a good amount of “heft” to it. The shift knob has a good shape and shifts are short and for the most part precise. Although during the tail-end of my time with the car I did notice some occasional trouble getting the shifter to settle into sixth gear. I am not sure if that was an isolated issue (I was driving a press car that other writers probably beat to death) or if it has anything to do with the shifters design but either way it was slightly troubling at times. I am also not a fan of the “up and to the left” positioning of reverse but I got used to it after a day. All the accessories are easy to use and everything is within decent reach of the driver, which in part is a problem. There are no steering wheel mounted controls for the car audio system so I found myself constantly reaching to adjust volume or change radio stations. If you are use to having audio controls on your wheel then the absence of them in the FR-S may be a bit frustrating to you. Speaking of car audio the FR-S sound system is in my opinion up to par. There is plenty of bass-thump available for your average Joe and the sound remains clear even when cranked all the way up to max volume. The MotorworldHype Lexus IS-F SEMA car came with a high end Mark Levenson sound system and the FR-S system holds up pretty well to its more expensive cousin. The FR-S features a standard USB and auxiliary ports for plugging in MP3 players and phones to listen through the audio system as well as Bluetooth functionality so there are several ways to listen to your music the way you want to. I do wish that navigation would be available as an option for the FR-S but when you think about the amount it would add to the sticker, it is easier (and cheaper) to just use an external GPS system.
The styling of the interior is minimalist but classic. The door panels are shaped for comfort while not overly embellished and they even have built in cup holders which brings the total to four if you count the two cup holders in the center console. The floor mats add some style with brushed metal FR-S emblems and they are easy to remove, insert, and clean! The gauges look quite sporty and the massive tach (with built in shift light) lets the driver know that the FR-S is performance minded.
Scion has touted that the FR-S marks the return of the true “driver’s sports car” and is going full force informing consumers that every attempt has been made ensure the FR-S will provide a balanced and satisfying sports car driving experience. After spending so much time with the car I am inclined to agree with that. Winding up Subaru derived D4S flat-four in first gear up to redline is one of the most satisfying experiences I have had behind the wheel. While it is true that you will not necessarily rocket off the line, there is definitely enough torque to make the take-off experience the object of fun. While it is a bit disconcerting to hear the “WRX sound” while driving a Scion, it takes all of one second to fall in love with the throaty exhaust note. It should be noted that the exhaust sound turns heads just as much as the exterior of the FR-S does. Power delivery is clean and linear across the entire RPM band and even when the shift light is screaming at you to change gears the engine still gives the sensation that it has loads more to give you, which suggests that once tuners get their hands on the FR-S we will likely see staggering performance from the D4S engine in the near future. The steering is very sharp and responsive and makes the driver feel like they could take on any trail of twisty roads with full confidence.
The suspension is tight and, well for lack of a better word “stiff”. A suspension set up such as the one on the FR-S is great for track days but honestly for daily driving it is not the most comfortable thing in the world. Drivers will definitely feel every dip and bump in the road which can be a nightmare if you happen across some poorly maintained asphalt. Otherwise the ride quality is just one of those things that come with owning a sports car. You may hate it on the street sometimes but you will love it on the track. Although I wish Scion softened the ride just a bit.
Another area where the FR-S excels is fuel economy. The EPA officially rates the Scion FR-S at 22/30 mpg city/highway but it can easily be coaxed to extend the mileage more so than the EPA reckons. As I mentioned at the beginning of the review the FR-S was given to me for a week and when I got it the first day it had a full tank of gas. Despite all the driving I did, that tank lasted me nearly the entire week. I did not need to re-fuel until that Saturday. Take into account the FR-S small 13 gallon fuel tank and that results into some serious fuel value. Even though it will hurt to fill the tank with premium fuel at nearly $5 per gallon, the pain subside when you realize how much you can stretch the tank when necessary.
One of the most polarizing aspects about the Scion FR-S is the price. After the factory MSRP of $24,930 for the manual six-speed and $26,030 for the automatic was announced, it immediately set off an argument among enthusiasts of whether or not the FR-S is worth the price given the specs. For the same money one could have a base-model Hyundai Genesis coupe which has a turbocharger and 74 more horses than the FR-S or a 305HP V6 Ford Mustang. While it is true that on paper the Genesis Coupe and Mustang seem to be more car for the buck, there is more to a car than straight line speed and horsepower. One could easily argue that while some competitors in the price segment are definitely more powerful, few are as balanced and as fun to drive as the FR-S. Furthermore I do not personally see a lot of crossover between the FR-S and a car such as the Mustang. How many people do you know that would be just as comfortable with the idea of buying a Ford Mustang as a Scion sports coupe?
Do I personally think the Scion FR-S is overpriced? No. To me “overpriced” means a significant lack of value for money spent and the FR-S certainly does not fall into that definition in my opinion. I would say the FR-S is not “overpriced” but it could stand to be a few grand less but my reasoning is not solely because of what other cars in the same segment offer. My reasoning comes due to the lack of a few bits here and there. If it were up to me I would have probably set the MSRP down a few clicks to the $22k-$23k range to leave room for options like navigation, steering controls, or maybe a sunroof (I know I will get flamed for that last one on the Scion forums).
Truthfully I think that most of the people who are going to buy the Scion FR-S are people who have wanted the FR-S long before its days of being known as the “Toyobaru”. The Scion FR-S is for people who longed for an ideal. The ideal of an inexpensive, rear wheel drive, Japanese sports coupe that is balanced and tune-able. The beauty of the FR-S for Toyota/Scion is that it came with an installed customer base before they built it. The FR-S is not a “let’s try this and see if it catches on” type of car. It is a “Let’s build this car because thousands of people have been asking us to do it for two decades” type car. That is why despite its mid-twenty thousand dollar price tag Scion is still going to sell a lot of FR-S coupes. Any cars sold to the uninitiated will just be icing on the cake.
After all was said and done, returning the keys to the Scion FR-S was a sad experience. I had a ton of fun with the car even though I never got to put it through its paces on a race track. For what it is, I would say the FR-S is a success for Toyota’s venture into bringing back the Japanese rear-wheel drive sports coupe. Granted the FR-S is not the most responsible car to buy if you have a lot of responsibility (i.e. kids) but if you really enjoy driving, true driving and you’re young or have a more “responsible” daily driver then this car is a great buy. It is balanced, fun to drive, and delivers on what it promises. The Scion FR-S is definitely worth the hype.
|Fun to drive||No steering wheel mounted controls|
|Linear power delivery||Lack of options|
|Looks FRESH!||Backseats not suitable for adults|
|Sweet exhaust note||Stiff suspension sacrifices some ride comfort|
|Great fuel economy|