The honeymoon is over. The massive wave of hype for the Toyobaru twins Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ has washed up on the shore and receded. What better time to take another look at the Scion FR-S and find out what makes it such a captivating performance machine?
Forget all the hype, forget all the competition, forget all the non-essentials. Lower yourself (awkwardly) into the low, low seats, feel the bolsters clinching you tight and the Alcantara gripping your clothes like Velcro. Depress the clutch, turn the key in the ignition. Yes, a key! Yes, a clutch!
The joint Subaru-Toyota D4S Boxer flat-four cranks over like a grumpy Smurf tractor – rough, pitchy and agricultural. However, the higher you rev it, the better it sounds, screaming away with raptor-like ferocity at its 7,400-rpm redline. This engine makes its power the way small-displacement naturally aspirated four-cylinders were intended – at the limit. Its peak 151 lb-ft of torque arrives at 6,600 rpm, followed shortly thereafter by the max 200 hp at 7,000 rpm.
Because of those high peaks, the engine comes off as somewhat tepid, especially off the line, but that is selling this engine short, and it still manages 0-100 km/h in just over six seconds. It does feel as though it is just about to get good when the rev limiter bounces you back to reality, but there is decent power to play with, and it begs for you to raise your skills and commitment to keep the engine in its powerband. If you prefer the exercise of finding the power from a small, frantic engine rather than the easily overwhelming torque of a bigger engine or turbo, then this is a good match.
The manual transmission supports this cause, with firm, short throws, but a very light clutch (it was a shock switching from the ultra-heavy clutch in the WRX to this featherweight on the day of our big sport compacts comparison), making it easy to work the gears and find the engine’s sweet spot.
The Scion FR-S’s best trait, though, is its handling. It is absolutely spot on. It corners with incredibly flat attitude, the turn-in quick and precise, with superb feel and just the right weight to the helm. The balance is impeccable, the weight kept so low thanks to the flat layout of the engine and its compact size allowing them to keep it as centred midship as possible. Weight distribution is divided 53 percent front, 47 rear, that added bit of lightness at the back and some super stiff suspension tuning making it easy to break traction at the rear with deft control of the throttle in corners. Updates for 2015 include retuning the front suspension and the rear dampers for even less body roll and better chassis communication. As with the original setup, it is still a bit skittish and oversteery… Thank you very much.
The weaksauce Michelin Primacy tires help with their lack of traction, but can be disappointing if you actually like to maintain grip and cornering speed in turns.
Brakes are slow to bite, but provide adequate stopping power once you acclimatize to the deeper pedal travel required to get into the substantive braking zone.
2015 Scion FR-S, dashboard, gauges. Click image to enlarge
The Other Stuff
Of course, life isn’t just a series of onramps and track days, and at this price, $26,670, the Scion is affordable as a daily driver, and stability and traction control (not to mention the modest torque) make it a perfectly reasonable year-round car with winter tires for the snowy season. As such, it must be reasonable for the trials of everyday driving. This is where we get into the not-so-good stuff, and where the FR-S dropped like a rock down the rankings in our comparison test.