Christopher Little

Square One: 2013 Scion FRS

Much has already been written about the inception of the Scion FRS and there’s no need to beat a dead horse. Yes, it is part Toyota and part Subaru. Yes, Toyota’s marketing department got involved, meaning that it’s sold under the Scion brand in the United States. Yes, that means the same car is sold under three brands and three different names. No, I won’t use any pet names to refer to the car or the brand combination. Let’s just be thankful that, in this day in age, such a complex corporate venture can still work. And after driving it for a week, what a successful venture it was.

Scion FRS 3
The fact that this is a successful venture flies in the face of current car-making. The Scion FRS doesn’t fit in any conventional category. It’s not a car that will be passed to you by your grandfather or bought by your mother. It’s not a car for eco-minded city dwellers or eco-minded country dwellers either. Nor is it a car someone would buy just to commute to work or bring their children to school. The Scion FRS is solely an enthusiast car; a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, sport coupe with a manual transmission for $25,000.  This simplicity, almost to the point of feeling vintage, is precisely why the Scion FRS is so great.

Its shape is unlike most other cars on the road.  The flat four allows for a low and uninterrupted hood that swoops down to an aggressive front clip.  From inside, only the wheel arches are visible.  From the rear, the short deck and subtle hips are reminiscent of an immature Aston Martin.  In Hot Lava, the FRS stands out enough to turns heads that would otherwise be focused on a new Porsche.

Scion FRS 1

Up front, the 2.0L Boxer engine puts out 200hp and 151 lb-ft torque.  That may not seem like enough, but it runs a near-perfect balance between power and handling.  The layout of a Boxer engine means it can be mounted low, allowing for a lower center of gravity.  The six-speed manual gearbox in the middle feels almost gated at times.  The shifter ‘snicks’ from one gear to the next with a bit of direction from the driver.  Out back, a Torsen limited slip differential keeps the power on the road.  The only letdown in the entire lineup is the spongy clutch pedal.  The combination makes for a feel that is definitively sports car, distinctly different from the roadster feel of the Mazda Miata.

On a good stretch of road this car becomes an extension of the driver.  The steering is almost telepathic and relays 100% of the information it receives back to the driver.  The suspension, aided by the drivetrain’s low center of gravity and light weight, keeps roll in check without being too firm.  The ride over choppy backroads felt smoother than the in the Porsche Cayman S we brought along on the same trip.  It also feel nimbler and more agile than the Hyundai Genesis Coupe that we drove on similar roads.  Winding around the lakes and boulders of inland New Hampshire, it was as if the car dared you to dive faster into corners, brake later, and throw a bit of opposite lock on when the rear end slides out.  And the rear end will slide out.  With the traction control turned off, 200hp and a superb chassis are more than enough to break the grip of the rear tires.  This, of course, is because the FRS infamously share the same shoes as the Prius.  This isn’t nearly as detrimental as it sounds.  The fact that the car’s limits are so safely attainable make it immensely enjoyable.  There’s no dissapointing understeer and no unpredictable oversteer, just a liner and measurable loss of grip.

Scion FRS 5

As long as you’re focused on the driving and keep your hands on the controls, the FRS is almost without fault.  Should you decide to explore the cabin, however, you will be left disappointed.  Most interior components are hard plastic that feels cheap and hollow.  The clock seems pulled right from a 1980s microwave and the head unit is circa 2001 as far as the interface is concerned.  The center console isn’t really a console, either.  There’s no armrest and the cupholders are part of a free-floating bin that is meant to be adjustable forward and backwards.  This system fails utterly, leaving the drink tray to pull out and fall into the passenger seat every time you try to use it.  I also wouldn’t consider the rear “seats” as actual seats.  Legroom is nonexistent, and the rear “seats” are just indents better suited to secure a backpack rather than a passenger.  The saving grace to all of this are the front seats.  The cloth covered and heavily bolstered sport seats are surprisingly ergonomic.  They were equally good at keeping me secure as they were keeping me comfortable on the 5 hour non-stop ride home.

Scion FRS 8

The Scion FRS is one of the most important new vehicles of this decade for multiple reasons.  First, its a collaborative effort between two companies that nobody expected to work together.  Second, it is a platform built exclusively for enthusiasts.  Third, all of this is packaged together at an entry level price.  Admittedly, the quality suffers in some places, but this car has it where it matters.  The FRS is as easily an enthusiast’s first car as it is a weekend track car.  It’s not the sports car that you hang on your wall and dream about.  This is a realistically attainable car that starts you down the path of the enthusiast.  And as a starter car with that intent, it can’t be beat.

-Christopher Little

2013 Scion FRS (M/T)
Rear bumper applique $69
Wheel locks $67
Destination Charges $730
As Tested MSRP $25,066

Related: Beginning to End: A Driver’s Progression

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