A few years ago, Akio Toyoda, the, ah-hem, scion
to his family's Toyota Motor Corporation, questioned the lackluster product lineup the company was putting forth.
"I want to build a sports car," he is said to have exclaimed. "Where is the passion in our lineup?"
Fast forward to today and the 2013 Scion FR-S
is the answer.
Standing for Front-engine, Rear-drive, Sport,
the FR-S is a result of a convenient mind-meld with Subaru, the still rather quirky brand in which Toyota has a small share. The FR-S takes the best of both worlds using Toyota engineering and Subaru's boxer engine and Åta, Japan, factory. Jointly, according to Toyota, they built a car not by committee but by passion, which is something that has been seriously lacking in recent years.
We traveled to Las Vegas to see Toyot's latest roll of the dice, which is rather unlike any Camry or Corolla before it.
An "authentic" sports car, according to company officials, the FR-S was developed under what the two companies called Team 86. The spiritual successor to the 1983-1987 Corolla AE86 Hachi-roku (depending on your enthusiasm level, that's either Greek to you or it signifies something great), this 2+2 will be sold in the rest of the world as a Toyota. Following along with Toyot's idea of cradle to grave loyalty, it is branded in North America as a Scion with the idea that it introduces new buyers to the brand and hopefully keeps them there all the way up to their Lexus buying age.
The FR-S is a seeming diversion from the FWD vehicles Toyota has been known for during the past 25 years. It features a longitudinally mounted engine with a choice of six-speed manual transmission or an available six-speed automatic transmission. Affordability is key, with the manual tranny model checking in at $24,200, while the paddle-shifting automatic will cost $25,300.
It is, as Scion group VP Jack Hollis proclaims, the "most anticipated car of the year."
Of course, we've heard similar things from Subaru, which gets its own more limited production version badged as the BRZ. Differences are primarily cosmetic, although the $25,495 Subaru BRZ
comes standard with navigation and offers optional leather trim.
Powered by a new, and jointly developed 2.0-liter flat boxer engine, it is a naturally aspirated kit that features a bore and stroke of 86 mm x 86 mm, respectively. Just for added emphasis, the brand wants you to know that the inside diameter of the tailpipe is also 86 mm. It must be kismet.
This is not the first time that a Toyota brand vehicle has used a boxer-style engine. Toyota's first sports car, the late 1967s Sport 800, had a flat two cylinder that produced, wait for it, 45 horsepower.
The Boxer is a high-revver that makes 200 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 151 lb-ft of torque around 6,400-6,600 rpm. While the block development was handled mostly by the Subie guys, Toyota brought to the table Scion's first utilization of the D4S direct and port fuel injection injection system, obtained via the five-finger-discount method from big brother Lexus IS
-F. D4S uses direct injection at all vehicle speeds but adds port injection under lower rev points for more efficient operation. Incidentally, the engine forgoes the use of balance shafts due to the symmetry and balance of the flat boxer design. But just to keep things a bit on the edgy side, a "sound creator" is used to send slightly higher pitched intake noises into the cabin.
The buyer can select the transmission of their choice from an excellent Aisin six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters that is arguably more perfect for this car and includes Sport and Snow modes. Regardless of which gearbox is chosen, the FR-S is also equipped with a Torsen limited slip differential. It's sprung on MacPherson struts in front and a double-wishbone setup with inboard mounted shocks in the rear. Extras include shock tower bracing and beefy sway bars.
By the numbers, this fastback weighs in at 2,758 lbs. with the manual, and 2,806 with the automatic. Mileage numbers for the automatic are 25 city/34 highway, with a 28-mpg average using premium fuel. Naught to 60 mph times have been clocked at 6.2 seconds.
The FR-S' interior is a combination of the good, the bad and the not so attractive. Good are the soft, scalloped shape of the dashboard and the gauge binnacle for driver information. Ditto the driver's position and suede-like seating material. The seats featured spectacular bolsters that kept us in place at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch, while the 14.4 inch leather-wrapped steering wheel gave good feel both and offered paddles on the automatic model. Also in the thumbs up side: Soft touch materials on the side panels. The bad: Just under the soft touch door material was hard plastic that belongs in cars from emerging market manufacturers.
Ergonomic quirks, unfortunately, also abound. The emergency brake had a tendency to jab us in the right thigh, perhaps because it is placed there in the Japanese Domestic Market versions of the car. From there, the terribly designed standard audio system head unit with its deep, complex menus had us listening instead to the intake noises. An optional 340-watt Pioneer Zypr Cloud based system is available, as is the BeSpoke iPhone app (Android available later) that enables Facebook and Twitter communications between two vehicles that are both using the app. Because, you know, you can never be too connected.
And connected you'll be should you choose to bring some friends along. The FR-S is a 2+2 that really adds up to 3.5 if you want to get technical. The rear seat behind the driver is of little use to an occupant, while a rear seater can get behind the passenger seat as long as that seat is as forward as possible. Truth is, that you really couldn't spend more than 10 minutes in that position. The rear seats fold flat for extra storage space, which can accommodate four standard tires, a helmet, and a toolbox. Frankly, it's just what the doctor ordered for a perfect day at the track.
Speaking of track days, the interior has been designed to accept roll cages and even has modified door latches that will be out of the way of any of the rigging that may be in place if a cage is installed.
Getting behind the wheel of the FR-S quickly revealed one of the most fun rides we've seen in a long time. Understeer is mild on sweeping turns, while the power-assisted steering offered good road feel that was surprising considering it was electrically boosted. The manual shifter is one of the better models out there, doing its job without the rubbery feel of some of the other cars in this segment. With a claimed 53:47 weight bias, we think it's well balanced, too.
Despite a 43-year spread since the last time Toyota used a boxer, we find a flat-laying engine that helps to provide a lower center of gravity than that found in a Porsche Cayman
or Nissan GT-R
. We discovered that the manual transmission-equipped car, while possibly more engaging to drive, took a back seat to performance when pitted against the remarkably lively six-speed automatic transmission with its dynamic rev management system. As we saw at Spring Mountain, it allows drivers to come into a turn hard, hit the brakes, and hear the engine huff as it shifts downward one or two gears. Next thing you know, the slusher has already selected the gear for you to make your exit from a turn. Clicking on the sport mode allowed for even faster shifts.
On the other hand, we had to put every bit of pressure our size 12s could muster to the floorboard just to get the engine revving higher than 4,500 rpm where the magic starts to happen. It's just one of those unfortunate choices a company has to make when trying to achieve acceptable fuel economy numbers, but it does generally suit this sporty two-door well.
Leftlane's bottom line
Scion has never been a sales leader for the Toyota brand, but that wasn't really its raison d'Ãªtre in the first place.
With the quirky, boxy designs nearly excised and hot fastbacks like this FR-S in place, Akio Toyod's dream of a car that buyers will become passionate about should easily come to pass. That they will become fanatical about it is a big likelihood, as well.
2013 Scion FR-S
base price, $24,200.
Words and photos by Mark Elias.