Can the Scion FR-S compete in the American sports car segment?
The 2013 Scion FR-S is powered by a 2.0L Subaru motor that yields 200 horsepower and 151lb-ft of torque; numbers that make it the one of the least powerful sports cars in the American auto industry. The FR-S will enter the hotly contested rear wheel drive sports car segment, taking on the likes off the Ford Mustang, the Dodge Challenger, the Chevrolet Camaro, the Nissan 370Z and the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Out of that grouping, the least powerful vehicle is the 4-cylinder Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T which packs 274 horsepower and 275lb-ft of torque so the FR-S is clearly at a massive disadvantage upon entering the segment. However, the engineers at Subaru and Toyota put a tremendous amount of effort into the chassis and body design of the new joint venture sports car and the result is a car that might not offer the most acceleration in the class but it is among the lightest and most well-balanced car in the segment. It was this lightweight design that helped bring some of the most well known Japanese sports cars in history into the limelight, packing low(ish) power outputs from high revving engines and an ultra light chassis design that allows the driver to stop and turn on a dime. That is an equation that has proven to be successful in the Japanese market but will the handling capacities of the FR-S be enough for the new Scion rear drive sports coupe to compete in the US?
To answer that question, I headed to Jacksonville Florida with the folks from South Eastern Toyota (SET) to spend a few hours driving the 2013 Scion FR-S - both in manual and automatic trim - around the backwoods area in which SET makes their home.
When you look at the 2013 Scion FR-S, there is no question that the exterior design fits the bill of a modern sports car. The FR-S is long and low, with high wheel arches, a long hood and a roofline that flows smoothly from the cowl to the trunk lid. While diehard American muscle lovers might scoff at the design of the FR-S, Subaru and Toyota/Scion did a fantastic job in the design process and the result is a car that looks like its made to go fast. In a segment where “looking fast” can go a long way in attracting buyers - the FR-S does just that. Unfortunately, real sports car lovers aren’t going to be appeased by a car that offers sleek, sporty exterior design.
Inside, the 2013 Scion FR-S features a cockpit design that puts everything well within the reach of the driver. The interior is simplistic, with a three gauge cluster tucked behind the compact, sporty steering wheel. While there is a high end infotainment system with a large screen available, my 2013 FR-S test cars were both fitted with the standard sound system – one with actual knobs and buttons. The HVAC system also uses nice big, easy to understand knobs and buttons that are simple to adjust without taking your eyes off of the road. The leather wrapped steering wheel has a great feel to it and beyond that wheel is the three gauge cluster featuring a massive central tachometer; with the speedometer on the left side and the fuel gauge/temperature gauge cluster found on the right side.
The 2013 Scion FR-S has race inspired seats that are very deep, with massive bolsters working to keep the driver and passenger tucked safely in their seats under hard cornering. The seats in our test cars were black with red stitching and trim so they looked as good as they felt during the drive. I didn’t spent any time in the back seat but with the front seats adjusted to accommodate two near-6’ front riders; there was very little legroom for the rear passengers. Unfortunately, this is a common trait of the sports car world so, when combined with the cockpit design and the sporty front seats – the interior of the Scion FR-S definitely looks and feels like a true sports car.
My seat time in the 2013 Scion FR-S began with a model fitted with the 6-speed manual transmission and while the automatic transmission for the FR-S is a great unit (which we will discuss later) – the manual transmission allows more control and better use of the available power. At first, I drove the FR-S gently as I got a feel for the different aspects of the vehicle but with a tight clutch and short shift throw, the FR-S instantly feels like a sports car. The 2.0L Boxer engine is pretty quiet under gentle driving but when you climb into the RPMs (and it loves big RPMs), the motor offers a surprisingly throaty grumble for a naturally aspirated 4-cylinder engine. The FR-S is very mild mannered when puttering around town but after a few minutes of this grandmotherly driving, it was time to put the hammer down.