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Video Review: 2013 Scion FR-S

What should be the second coming of automotive enthusiast Jesus has quickly turned into a road-going polarizer. I’m referring, of course, to the 2013 Scion FR-S. This is a light-weight, rear-wheel-drive, front-engine coupe that sells for around $25,000. Those stats sound great on paper, and pretty much everyone who considers themselves an enthusiast is or was excited for this car to arrive.

Now that it’s here? Well, the praise for the FR-S (and it’s nearly identical twin sibling, the Subaru BR-Z) has been fairly consistent. However, there have been a few dissenting voices citing the cars power figure (200 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 151 pound-feet of torque from 6,400 to 6,600 rpm),  interior quality, and choice in tire. That last bit is interesting because a lot of folks keep referring to the rubber as “Prius tires”, which is true but you have to dig just one step deeper to realize we’re talking about the Performance Package-equipped JDM Prius. There is actually a decent amount of grip to be had here, but the car can run faster lap times with upgraded tires (as we all keep hearing the reports filter in from the buff books).

So is the 2013 Scion FR-S a step in the right direction for Toyota, or has everyone had their ticket punched by the conductors of the hype train? Click past the break to find out.

The 2013 Scion FR-S is an affordable sports car that’s fun to drive. Sure, there’s a lot of competition out there in the form of more powerful and slightly more expensive offerings, but that just means one of our favorite segments of the industry is getting crowded. That’s a good thing. If you throw used cars into the equation, the waters certainly begin to get muddied, but that’s true of all segments of the industry.

What we have here is a car that handles wonderfully, allows you to row your own gears, and wants to be pushed hard to boot. The steering is tight and communicative, and the brakes and suspension work together to keep the car moving in the direction you’ve intended. The drift crowd might actually be a bit surprised by just how much grip the FR-S offers up. Yes, you can get it sideways, but it takes more effort than I would’ve guessed judging by all the other reviews that talk about the rear-end dancing around. I felt none of that unless I came into a corner way too hot. Even then, I had enough brakes to reel the car back in.

Could it use more power? Yes, of course it could, and don’t be surprised to see turbos popping up under the hood at future auto shows. Still, it’s enough power to entertain most drivers on most roads. During my little look-at-me demonstration in the video, I realize that the first donut was assisted by hitting the dirt. That was not intended, so we had to do a few more takes… you know, for science. Then we got asked to leave that parking lot before the police were called to beat our heads in… for more science. Simply put, there’s power there, you just have to thrash the car to find it. Not a problem for me since my daily driver is a 2000 Honda Civic Si, in fact it felt normal.

To sum up, the 2013 Scion FR-S is a good entry-level sports car. Anyone who buys one will have a great time. Eventually though, the will want to step up the car’s performance game. Luckily for them, this car is ripe for a good tuning. Start with power and tires then move on to brakes and suspension, and you’ll wind up with a great sports car.

[Disclosure: Scion let us borrow the FR-S for a week, and included half a tank of gas. There was supposed to be a full tank of gas, but maybe the lot porter had some fun before handing it over to us. Oh well, if we were a Buff Book we would’ve keyed the car, and stolen an IS-F, but we just punched it out of the lot and hit the highway home to Huntington Beach.]

  • I drove an automatic-tranny example just this weekend. It was boring as the Bridges of Madison County. The paddle shifters did very little to entertain me, and the transmission shifted in ways that I didn't really agree with…but then that happens with all autos.

    I agree with most of your review, it's fun in the curves, but you have to really flog it to induce giggles. I assume the manual would be more fun, but even with a manual, it just needs more power.

    • The manual is more fun

    • e24tony

      The automatic is geared for MPG. That's why it the MPG numbers are so drastic between the two.

  • Number_Six

    Of course this is really just our cue for some p-shop fun. Please turn in your reports by the time I get back with a sammich…

    • hwyengr

      Or caption contest.

      "Next on the FR-S Shadow Puppet Theatre, here's a team of 30 more horsies"

      • RegalRegalia

        "This is a car. Why can't you people understand that?"

    • Scandinavian Flick

      <img src="http://i.imgur.com/tFvjR.jpg&quot; width="500">

      • L
        O
        L

      • dukeisduke

        I was gonna say, that photo is just begging to be Photoshopped. Hilarious!

      • Jeff Glucker

        Love it

    • failboat
      • dukeisduke

        It's Jeff the Exterminator!

      • RegalRegalia

        Full name: Jepherahrae Gnoremon Glooker.

  • Kevin Kiley

    "it needs more power" is just garbage. in this day of 250+ horsepower hothatches everyone complains that there is another useless horsepower war upon us, and talks longingly of the days of the affordable japanese sports car. Light on power, but big on real world fun and handling, the AE86, 240z, even your awesome little EM1, Glucker, were very enjoyable. Here is the resurgence. If you want more power there are tons of bloated economy cars stuffed with turbos to appease you. Move along. The FR-S is for those who know the joy of being able to go 99% throttle 99% of the time.

    • CABEZAGRANDE

      Those kinds of cars seem enjoyable, until you drive one with more power. I loved my S13 coupe and it's 155 hp to death. Until I drove one with a mildly tuned SR20DET that made 280 whp and yet still got better fuel economy and had better weight balance than my stock KA car. I loved stock Miatas. Until I rode in a 220 whp turbocharged one. It did nothing but make the experience better. Everything that made the car enjoyable is still there, it's just with boost you don't have the downside. When I test drove an FR-S (manual), I loved every minute of the bends, but every corner exit left me longing for more power. And the people (like me) clamoring for more power aren't asking for monstrous power levels that would ruin the car's dynamics. 250 hp and (more importantly) torque would be plenty. Just enough to take it from "mildly underpowered" like it is now to being "good and quick".

    • Having driven one, I have to say that the (automatic) FR-S is plain slow. A Mini Cooper is faster. It does have great handling, but for the money, if you are looking for a fun car that handles, a Cooper seems like a much better idea.

      Also, the FR-S feels cheap (Scion-y) on the interior. That said, it's a Toyota/Subaru combination, so maintenance will likely be much less expensive than it would in a Mini.

    • Vairship

      If "it needs more power", that means the handling is too good. My corvair has 110 gross horsepower, and it doesn't need any more. Maybe the FR-S needs swing-arm suspension? That should be a popular after-market item!

  • CABEZAGRANDE

    All in all I enjoyed the review. But I for one do think the FR-Z needs more power. The stock power is fine for the base model, but it really does need a forced induction model to get my money. I test drove an FR-S manual with high hopes, but the lack of power just killed the enjoyment of it. It's not slow, but even wringing it's neck it not by any stretch of the imagination a quick car, at least IMO. Take that with a grain of salt, as the last 4 cars have had a power to weight ratio and torque to weight ratio of 11 or better (as compared to the 86s 14/1 weight to power and 18/1 weight to tq), so I've been spoiled for power and torque. But you have to beat it to death and it still isn't very quick, seeing as a modern Camry V6 will handily destroy it in a straight line contest. If it had 250 hp and torque, it would be sitting in my driveway. But until it gets some more power (with a warranty, don't tell me to fix it with the aftermarket), I'll be waiting for them to get good and cheap used.

    • CABEZAGRANDE

      And lol at the "watch this" part. You can do that with ANY manual RWD vehicle and a clutch drop, and it doesn't prove anything. I could've done (and did do) that in the old 89 240SX I had in high school, and that car only had 140 hp and an open diff.

      • Xedicon

        I thought the same exact thing. Hell a 3 popper Geo can do a burnout with a clutch dump… not saying it'll go anywhere after that but you get the idea. 🙂

    • e24tony

      I think it being an NA car, Toyota could have put more power in the engine, either with tuning or some other way, but it would kill the MPG, which is important in this CAFE car world.

      I don't doubt for a second that there's going to be a factory blown version. Hell tuners are already getting 350+WHP with a turbo on this thing.

  • Feds_II

    I find this review severely lacking in Delica content.

    • Dean Bigglesworth

      Also lacking Golden Disco Hoodie and Jorts. Though that might actually be a good thing.

  • I saw a BRZ in torrential rain on Saturday. I was hoping it would take out a curb whilst drifting.

  • I love how the online car world at large just can't accept that this car is "pretty good".

    Discussions devolve into all kinds of pseudo-engineering discussions about tires and torque and horsepower and mods and Spirit and all kinds of stuff to justify why this is the best/worst/so-close-yet-so-far-est car ever.

    IMO, the key to this car's success or failure is whether they can move enough of them to get critical mass with the aftermarket and used community. The "pretty fast and pretty cheap" market is pretty crowded these days; I wonder how big a slice of the pie it can grab.

    • "Pretty good" is about right.

      It has potential but, as Urban Meyer said, "Potential is not a word you want associated with your name."

    • scroggzilla

      I would happily welcome this 'pretty good' car into my garage.

    • pj134

      I guess this is where my comparison between this and an RX-8 comes to its head. They're pretty good. They handle well, not quite enough power but they are overall enjoyable vehicles.

      I think pretty good sums it up quite nicely. Too bad fanboyism is incredibly black and white.

      • Number_Six

        RX8RULESOK!!!!!!!!!!!!

        Actually, it is a bit faster than the FR-S due to being 230+HP. I can get into plenty of trouble with the law in it (it's not "slow"), but I do dream of a Coyote engine swap. You know, for the Torques.

        • pj134

          But Hinson has a kit for an LS swap… I really like driving them and overall they're pretty good. I can get myself in trouble with <100 horse so that argument never made sense to me.God I love torques.

          • Number_Six

            In a world where one can get a ticket for 105mph in a 65 zone in a rental Malibu, anything is possible, and many hundreds of powers are not necessary.

            • Dean Bigglesworth

              A ticket? 30-40kph(~20-25mph) over is enough to almost certainly lose your license over here.

              • Ahem: http://hooniverse.com/2009/11/13/the-pen-cost-not

                We benefit from California treating speeding as a revenue generation tool, not a major moral criminal offense.

                • Dean Bigglesworth

                  Well, that has its upsides. I get it that you lose your license if you actually endager someone else by driving 100kph thru a school zone or something just as stupid, but driving silly fast on an empty motorway in the middle of the night you only endager yourself. I would never take a passenger if drove ludicrous speed<i/>.

                  [youtube ygE01sOhzz0 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygE01sOhzz0 youtube]

                  I can't find it now but i recently read about a local case where the driver had driven over double the posted limit, lost his license, took it to court and won. The court decided that he had not endangered others so he should keep his licence. Several thousand euro fine, though.

    • I got into an argument with some kid on a Honda forum who insisted that the MacPherson struts on the FR-S somehow made it automatically terrible, but they would have been OK if they'd used torsion rods instead of coil springs, "like Porsche did." He then dropped the names of some drag-racing engine builders he knows to try and bolster his cred.

      It was about that point where I realized that the argument was an exercise in futility. (I suppose that, in the kid's defense, I should mention that the switch to MacStruts is widely regarded in the Honda world as having ruined the Civic.)

      • Any time a sentence starts with "I got into an argument with some kid on a Honda forum…" it's head shaking time

        Oddly enough, Porsches and every M BMW (that I can remember) have struts.

        As an engineer, I hate arguments based around a specific tech solution. Struts, solid axles, pushrods, diesel, V4,6,8,10,12…can all be made to work just fine. It's the implementation and the end performance result that matters, not how you got there.

        As a post-enthusiasm car enthusiast, I'll also point out that the engineering in your car isn't holding you back or preventing you from having more fun. Tighten the nut behind the wheel.

        • 1) Granted. 🙂 I like a good argument, what can I say?

          2) I was defending the strut design.

          3) As a general geek, it's in my genetics to want the best technical solution to a given problem, and to recognize that one size does not fit all. Can well designed solid axle perform on par with a SLA deisgn in the real world? Sure. All other things being equal, will it keep up on the track? Probably not. Do I want a pickup truck with struts in the back? Hell no! Am I any fun at parties? Nope.

          4) As a would-be serious autocrosser, I realize that my focus on the nuts and bolts is a little bit of inside baseball. People in this sport get all weird over a few tenths of camber, or a couple inches of front track. When folks start comparing cars, it reminds me a lot of min-maxers from my MMORPG days. That said, even the hairiest of us recognizes that the driver is the most important part of the equation — or as one guy said (after building a spreadsheet to calculate it), "75% driver, 20% tire, 5% setup."

          • Engineering is finding the least-cost* solution to a given problem. Over-engineered is a bad thing (but over-spec'ed is a good thing). Anything else is craftsmanship, art or wasteful (which all have their merits).

            To that end, I'll run with the solid axle example.

            It's actually the real world where they lag IRS, as on-track there's very little suspension movement where unsprung weight works against you. That said, Ford's managed to continue to deliver Mustangs that outperform their direct competition (Camaro & Challenger) while putting the hurt on significantly more costly* cars. Meanwhile a solid axle keeps total weight down.

            It's an "inferior" design that continues to meet performance goals, so until there's some specific reason to get rid of it, I say keep it.

            I should be very into autocross as it's the cheapest way to get to drive your car hard, but in general high precision requirements (both in driving and setup) are not my thing. I'd rather worry about getting an extra 20-50 laps out of a weekend than 20-30 hundredths out of an auto-x pass.

            I, too am no fun at parties.

            *cost = combination of time, dollars to build, dollars to maintain, weight, etc etc

            • The trouble with the solid axle, at least in autocross, is camber. (You may have noticed a theme re: camber). Under high lateral loads, the tire will actually roll up onto the sidewall even though it's being held flat to the ground by the suspension. It's not as important on the big track, but since in autocross you're *always* applying high lateral loads, you end up losing grip and cording the outside edges of the tire. Unless you go crazy and start cambering your rear axle NASCAR-style or shaving your tires into cone shapes, there's not a lot you can do about it.

            • skitter

              My dream project? Whatever it is, it would make someone bankrupt. It would make no money. It would appeal to me and maybe 100 people. – Erik Wolpaw

              We should definitely party together.

    • e24tony

      They've been doing well so far, with the average amount of time on dealer's lots being 4 days.

      I wonder how they'll do in a year.

  • Dean Bigglesworth

    Should have one to drive in the next few weeks, I'll wait until i drive one to decide if the power is enough or not. It'll be an automatic though but I suspect it will be just fine, it should be just enough power so i can flog the living crap out of it without losing my license or killing myself.

    If this was a hatchback this would be exactly what i've wanted for a long time. Not being a hatchback wouldn't stop me from buying one, but the 46k€+ price does. I wish we would get the stripper with steel wheels and unpainted bumpers if that dropped the price to just under 30k€ or so. Unless you count GTIs and whatnot, there's nothing comparable for sale over here.

    • pj134

      I'm not saying it is or isn't anything, but if you can't lose your license on 200 horse you're doing something wrong from a hoon standpoint and I guess right from the whole don't kill yourself or anyone else standpoint.

      • Dean Bigglesworth

        Oh I could lose my license with it, I'm sure. But it's not like in some more powerful cars when I'll be doing nearly 200kph a few few seconds after I finally get past an idiot camping in the left lane and floor it.

        And if I lose my license i can't (legally) get to work. Using a bicycle, walking, public transport, a moped or taxi is simply not possible. Well, the taxi would technically be possible, but would cost more than what i earn.

  • Plecostomus

    I think the better question is whether it's better than a Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T 6MT.

    • Jeff Glucker

      Less power but, in my opinion, more fun. Better shifter and handling.

      • Zadkiel

        Weighs less too so the drop in power is relative.

    • CABEZAGRANDE

      Having test driven both now (FR-S manual and new GenCoupe 2.0T manual R-spec), I can with some confidence say it really does come down to preference. The FR-S is much more controlled and precise. The Hyundai is MUCH faster, and significantly bigger and more practical, although it's not like the FR-S is Miata levels of useless for carrying stuff. Both have deficiencies that can be easily fixed by the aftermarket, and both have issues not so easily fixed. The FR-S needs more tire: easily fixed. It needs more power too: not so easily fixed. The Hyundai needs better shocks, better brake pads, and a better shifter: easily fixed. It could also do with a better steering rack for more feel and a lot less weight: not so easily fixed. So there are definitely pros and cons to each.

  • Lex

    I dig the calls for slightly more power, simply because those numbers are low in comparison to its relative competition. But what i seem to read a lot of is not calls for slightly more horsepower (which Toyota should offer, or like Subaru not void warranties with approved aftermarket parts) but disparagement because it's not the car that the boy racers dreamed it would be. And they'd be complaining about the price if it was priced commensurate with more power off the lot.

    I'd probably have a blast with one given that i can get into plenty of trouble in a 1991 318is and whatever hp it has left after 21 years. I'm in the drive a slow car fast and wring its neck crowd myself. At least what i see up here in Subaru WRX country is that the kids want it to look fast and go fast without necessarily learning how to drive fast, hence the number of WRXs for sale that are totally fine, never mind the salvage title.

    There's a BRZ on the local Subaru lot, and i'm going to try and take it for a spin this week. If i hadn't plunked down the cash for the BMW this spring, i'd think about buying one as it suits what i want out of a car minus some practicality and being brand new.

    • Feds_II

      I can't imagine you'd see much depreciation between year 21 and year 21.5. Clean up the 318, sell it during tax return season, and move into the BRZ.

      If you're in a place in your life where you can hack a 2-door 2+2, get the one you really want, because those years are precious and few.

      • Lex

        Yeah, i'd get my money back easily, and i've put money into the 318 that i could get back. But unless i drive one and really fall in love, i don't see it happening. More of "if i still had the money saved for a summer car i might go with this" than a burning desire to own one. Plus the 318 is owned outright and i'm not a fan of debt.

        …and now deeply in love with e30s to the point where i'll probably replace my truck with a more beater 325 and snow tires along with going full Euro and putting a hitch on it for a utility trailer.

  • MrHowser

    I think that the 200-hp level is perfect – it leaves room above for a TRD/STI version with 300 turbocharged ponies and grippy tires. From what I've read, this is a driver's car in the spirit of the Miata. It's not really fast, but it's fun to drive, and you can make it into anything you want, as long as you can write the check.

  • Kogashiwa

    Let's not forget that the original AE86 had 120hp. And didn't weigh much less.

    • joshwebster84

      Yeah but everything was slow in the 80s

    • CABEZAGRANDE

      Ever driven a stock AE86? Even as light as they are and with the 4AG they are PAINFULLY slow. They don't get really fun until you breathe on the 4AG a little and get up around the 150-170 hp mark.

      And they weighed a LOT less than the FR-Z. A loaded to the gills late GT-S (the heaviest example) was only 2200 lbs or so.

  • B72

    I find that with an underpowered car, I'm always wanting more and end up driving more aggressively to try to get that adrenaline level back. With a car that's fun to accelerate, I can just move my foot a little and get a big smile on my face. And fewer tickets, because I'm not driving like a jerk, tailgating and weaving through the lanes to try to maintain that hard earned speed.

    I'll hold out for something more powerful, thanks.

  • failboat

    Aww man. I was hoping to come back to this and have at least 10 ridiculous photoshops to laugh at.

    • dukeisduke

      Well, get on it!

      • failboat

        (see above). I was going to do a 2nd one but was out of ideas.

  • joshwebster84

    Bottom line here: for the discerning Hoon, this is a car to buy used in 5 years with no warranty for $12k. THAT car will be fucking awesome, you could just go nuts.

    • JayP2112

      There are a lot of cars that are going to hit the used market and I can't wait.

    • BAMacPherson

      I don't know about that. These are going to be some awfully tired cars by the time their lease is up.

  • Xedicon

    My problem with this car is the price. You can buy WAY more performance for the same price (sometimes less if we're talking the Subie version). I own a car that costs 2k more than this and would destroy it in any comparo, even in practicality.

    Plus… a WRX starts @ $25,595… You'd have to be insane to buy this car over a WRX.

    • Number_Six

      I don't consider the WRX a competitor to this – it's a whole different driving experience. Plus here in Canada a decently-equipped new WRX is nearly $10k more than the Subarota.

      • Xedicon

        Damn really?! Here in the states the two machines are very close in price. While I understand they're different driving experiences I still think an American at least would be nuts to pass on the WRX. Way more practical, quicker, faster, etc.

      • Dean Bigglesworth

        No WRX available on this side of the pond, but the STI is 11k euros more expensive than the BRZ, before taxes. After taxes it's 26k more. And the BRZ isn't exactly cheap either, 34.4k before taxes, 49.5k after.

    • Dean Bigglesworth

      Some value light weight, nimbleness and feel over acceleration. Those arguments could be used to "prove" that you have to be insane to buy the WRX over this.

      The Chrysler Sebring 200 V6 easily beats the Toyobaru in a spec-sheet race.

      • Xedicon

        That is a terrible counter argument…

        The 200 isn't meant to be a performance vehicle. Both the WRX and the Toyobaru are and they're even step children! Also the WRX receives near universal praise for it's handling so "being nimble" doesn't cut it. So again (barring you live in Canada and there's a huge price gap) why on earth would you buy a Toyobaru? It doesn't handle any better and is slower, not as quick, way less practical and I have NO doubt in my mind a WRX would crush a Toyobaru on the track. Seriously why? RWD? That one thing isn't a good enough reason.

        • e24tony

          I bought one over a WRX. I have no use for a sedan, liked the styling more, and I like RWD more.

          It's all personal preference man.

          • Xedicon

            Ye be crazy mon! But at the end of the day what counts is that you genuinely love it. Yer still nuts! 😉

        • Dean Bigglesworth

          It's just a matter of preference. People value different things in a car.

          I really like the WRX and it might well be nimble, but the Toyobaru is more nimble. It's also smaller, lighter, lower, less complicated and yes, RWD. It's a proper sportscar, the WRX is a fast econobox. An excellent, fast econobox, but not a sportscar. The only advantage the WRX has is more power. Whether two extra doors and 4WD are good or bad things are a matter of preference.

        • Kevin Kiley

          there is a big difference between a car 'handling well' and being nimble. The WRX may handle well in the sense that it will get you through a corner faster…but because of its weight it will be a understeering, tire-squealing mess. Not nimble. Power makes up for bad driving. The WRX's chassis doesnt beat the FRS around the track, its power does. meh.

    • I think the BRZ is priced about right if a little high, given the extra creature comforts is has standard. Given the relative decontenting, I seriously expected the FR-S to come in a couple grand under that. At 21k-23k, the FR-S would have been a great buy. At 24.5, it's awful hard to justify when you can go across the street to the Subie dealer and get the EXACT SAME THING with navigation, a nicer head unit and A/C system, and DRLs for a few extra Benjamins.

      • e24tony

        That was my reasoning as well.

        The FRS is basically 25k out the door, but if you look at the options the BRZ has it's a lot of stuff for not that much coin.

        Also helps that I got it at invoice pricing instead of MSRP.

  • e24tony

    Great review, I love the BRZ and just driving it daily puts a smile.

    It's a car I can drive at 8/10s throughout the day and not worry about my license being in jeopardy.

    There's FWD, RWD, and AWD cars with more power but this car just handles.

    Jeff, you take it to Mulholland Hwy yet, it was a religious experience when I first went.

    • Not Mullholland, but I did take it to Ortega … which is where my GoPro decided to go flying off the back of the car and into the brush on the side of the road.