A review of the 2013 Scion FR-S: daily driving Japan's award winning sports car
I am a lover of American performance cars and I currently own a few thousand horsepower spread across a variety of V8-powered vehicles so when I heard that the 2013 Scion FR-S would only have 200 horsepower and 151lb-ft of torque, I was skeptical whether the compact sports coupe could really offer an engaging driving experience. Spending a few hours roaring around Southern Florida in an FR-S last summer put those concerns to rest as I was blown away by just how much fun the Scion sports coupe is to drive. Add to that high level of “fun to drive factor” a sleek, sporty exterior with a cockpit-like interior and you have a great sports car for someone who loves to drive.
The 2013 Scion FR-S is a great sports car to drive for a couple hours but while performance driving characteristics are important, most people also need their sports car to serve as a comfortable daily driver. To find this out, I spent 8 glorious days performing my normal tasks in the Scion FR-S and I can say that I loved every minute of it. Toyota and Subaru worked together to make a lightweight, well proportioned sports car that can serve as a competent track toy but more importantly – this is a car that is civilized enough to comfortably get you through the rigors of daily driving.
My 2013 Scion FR-S test car was 100% identical to the FR-S that I reviewed in June 2012 right down to the exterior color and I have to say that in all of the colors that I have seen on the FR-S – my favorite is the “Firestorm” red hue shown above on the right. This red works nicely with the contrasting black trim in the grille, in the wheels, around the windows and along the bottom of the rear fascia to bolster that sports car look with the only chrome or silver trim on the exterior being found in the badges, in the headlights, in the taillights and on the face of the standard thin-spoke 17 inch wheels. Realistically, most Scion FR-S coupes that you see on the roads in America will look just like my test vehicle with the exception of the exterior color as there are very few options during the configuration process but that isnt really a bad thing as the standard wheels (shown in the gallery on the right) look great on the FR-S and if people don’t like them – they can fix that problem with the massively abundant aftermarket for this popular sports car. Also, considering that the Scion FR-S has as many available components in the aftermarket industry as any car sold in the US, buyers can expect to be able to customize their FR-S as far as their imagination can take them but when it comes to the way that the FR-S looks from the factory…color is really the only difference from one car to the next.
That being said, I love the look of the 2013 Scion FR-S in every way. Mind you, this is a Japanese sports car so it has a design language that differs greatly from the popular American sports cars but the overall design is one that just screams high performance. The long hood and fender area ahead of the windshield is punctuated by a greenhouse that slopes down to the trunk almost immediately once clearing the windshield. The nose, hood line, front fenders and roofline are all very low for a super sporty stance while the short back end sits a bit higher to provide a more aggressive stance over the rear wheels. Provding plenty of room for the wheels to travel under hard cornering is a set of high fender arches over each front and rear wheel – a feature that accentuates just how low the FR-S sits.
Along both the front and rear end, the Scion FR-S has a design that is very clearly modern Japanese with an angry, angular look along the front end with standard projection headlights providing a menacing scowl while the LED taillights provide a sporty, high tech look out back. Along the bottom of the rear fascia is a contrasting black area that houses the backup lights, an integrated diffuser to a set of exhaust ports for the standard dual exhaust system. The outside isnt overly elaborate but the exterior of the FR-S is as close to perfect as Subaru and Toyota could have gotten with a lightweight body that looks fast while the aerodynamic properties of this sleek Japanese sports car help to make the car that much quicker and more efficient.
The 2013 Scion FR-S has an aggressive design that amplifies the sporty characteristics of this lightweight coupe and the market has responded well – with the FR-S and the Subaru BRZ winning tons of awards around the world. Toyota and Subaru wanted to design a sports car and the exterior shape of the FR-S has proven to be a complete home run.
The 2013 Scion FR-S was designed to be a sports car and part of the planning process went into making the car as light as possible. This means that you won’t find a bunch of gadgetry inside of the FR-S that adds weight without improving performance but this no nonsense interior setting is comfortable and surprisingly roomy for the driver and front passenger. The stars of the FR-S interior are the race inspired front seats which are covered in black cloth with red stitching and red accents behind your shoulders in a design that looks very much like something from the high performance aftermarket. These seats are very deep both in the base and in the back support which is ideal for keeping the driver and front passenger firmly in place during stints of hard cornering but these lightweight seats are also very comfortable under normal driving circumstances. These seats are snug and inviting while being wide enough to accommodate most drivers and passengers – as opposed to some sport seats that will squeeze in on those with broader shoulders or hips. Also, these seats look great.
The black with red stitching theme from the seats of the Scion FR-S are echoed throughout the interior with more of this pattern on the door panels, on the steering wheel, in the floormats and in the shift level boot. There is a back seat with two bucket style areas in the bench layout but for someone to sit comfortably in the back seats, they are going to need to be very short while also having a very short driver and passenger up front. Shy of maybe a car seat with a very small child, the back seat isnt going to be very comfortable for anyone riding in the back seat but that is an unfortunate trait of the entire segment so it isnt so much of a negative aspect of the FR-S as it is an issue that most buyers in the sports coupe segment have come to expect. However, with no concern for rear seating, the front seats of the FR-S allow plenty of room to comfortably seat a driver and passenger well over 6 feet tall.
When it comes to gadgetry, the 2013 Scion FR-S has very little but at the same time, the car doesn’t feel empty. I have been in sports models that do away with things like the sound system and while the FR-S doesn’t come with a large infotainment screen like many new cars, it comes with a very simple sound system that offers auxiliary input and really offers a good quality musical experience. The stereo is controlled by some basic knobs and buttons that are very easily to use without any learning curve while the HVAC system uses three large, basic knobs to control the interior temperature. Finishing off the interior of the FR-S is the three gauge cluster that has a massive central tachometer with a small digital speedometer readout with an analog speedometer on one side and the fuel/temperature gauges on the other side. It is a simple interior but there is nothing needed in the sports car experience that the Scion FR-S doesn’t include while things like the gauges are designed to bolster the high performance driving experience.
Some sports cars put too much emphasis on performance and too little emphasis on comfort but the 2013 Scion FR-S balances the two approaches in a very nice way with a bare bones interior that offers everything that you really need and absolutely nothing that you do not.
The 2013 Scion FR-S is designed to be an incredible car when it comes to handling characteristics with a low center of gravity, a rigid chassis, and a suspension system designed to handle track time as well as it does daily driving. While the suspension is stiff – enough that your grandma might complain that your car rides too rough – the FR-S still provides a comfortable ride for the sports car segment. I mean, it isn’t going to ride like the Lexus GS350 F Sport but compared to the likes of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe which is the closest competition in the segment, the ride quality of the FR-S isn’t compromised in exchange for enhanced handling. When on the open road, the steering and suspension systems of the FR-S give the driver a great feel for the road so you will feel more of the imperfections on the road than with a car with a less aggressive suspension setup but the “road noise” isn’t excessive by any means. Again, if you are someone who loves to drive and you know that you need to be able to feel the road in order to properly conquer it – you will almost surely find the FR-S to be comfortable enough to serve as a daily driver in exchange for the incredible handling capabilities.
As I mentioned at the top of this piece, the 2013 Scion FR-S is powered by a 2.0L Subaru Boxer engine with 200 horsepower and 151lb-ft of torque sent to the rear wheels via a standard 6-speed manual transmission. This transmission has a close ratio design and a short shifter that makes for easy slamming from gear to gear under hard acceleration while the clutch pedal is as stiff and grabby as you would expect from a sports car. This is a manual transmission that will take a novice driver some time to get a feel for but once you have gotten the hang of the shifting characteristics of the FR-S – this is a car that makes it easy to operate when slamming through the gears at high speed. Experienced drivers will almost immediately find that the FR-S has a drivetrain that is designed to cater to the experienced driver in a way that few cars on the road today can. The FR-S isn’t going to be much of a drag strip assassin with stock quarter mile times reported as being in the mid to high 15 second range but the FR-S accelerates hard enough to make for simple merging into the thickest of fast moving traffic while high speed acceleration (such as when speeding up quickly to pass someone on the highway) is smooth and effortless for the high revving Boxer engine.
After having spent a week driving the 2013 Scion FR-S around the Detroit area and driving basically the same FR-S around a desolate area in Southern Florida, I can safely say that this is a sports car that has all of the characteristics to make this both an incredible track toy as well as a great daily driver. The car rides like a sports car, stops on a dime and will handle the sharpest of corners at any reasonable speed but it does all of this while also providing a surprising ride quality that keeps you reminded that this IS a sports car but it does so without rattling your teeth loose on rough roads.
The Final Word
There is almost nothing that I can find to criticize about the 2013 Scion FR-S. The FR-S looks like a sports car, it handles like a sports car, it has an interior like a sports car and in every way – it provides Scion with a true sports car to go head to head with the likes of the Ford Mustang, the Chevrolet Camaro, the Dodge Challenger and the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Best of all, with a price starting under $25k, the FR-S is an awesome buy for those looking for a fun car on a budget. It will not be a drag strip monster without some significant help from the aftermarket but for someone who is looking to do some autocross or weekend road racing – the Scion FR-S is a great alternative to the higher powered and more expensive sports cars available in the US market.
In the end, the 2013 Scion FR-S is very clearly a car designed for people who love to drive and who love to hammer turns at high speed so if you want a car that handles like it is on a rail while also offering a comfortable ride during normal daily driving situations – the FR-S is absolutely a car that you need to drive before making your next new car purchase.