2016 Scion FR-SPosted on April 14th, 2016
Sporty two-plus-two is track-ready
By Nina Russin
Readers unfamiliar with Toyota’s history might find the Scion FR-S car a bit of an anomaly: vastly different than any of the automaker’s other cars. In fact, the FR-S that becomes the Toyota 86 in 2017, may be the purest expression of what it means to be a Toyota. Based on the 1983-87 Corolla Levin, also known as the AE86, the FR-S celebrates its creators’ under-appreciated talent for crafting affordable performance cars.
The 2016 model is basically carry-over, with the biggest changes inside the car: a new audio system, seven-inch touchscreen and rear backup camera. The camera is a big deal, making it much easier and safer for drivers to back out of parking spots when surrounded by larger, high-profile vehicles.
Base price for the test car with six-speed automatic transmission is $26,405 excluding the $770 destination charge. TRD performance accessories including rear sway bar set, air filter and exhaust system bring the final MSRP to $28,900.
Geared towards driving enthusiasts
Because it’s essentially a street-legal racecar, the Scion FR-S is not for everyone. It’s low to the ground, small on the interior and loud, especially when equipped with the TRD exhaust package. Personally, I like small cars to be loud because it’s a way of getting the attention of drivers in larger vehicles who might not be paying attention.
The ride is firm: pretty noticeable on some of the older paved roads I tested the car on through the Gila River Indian Community. Remember, this is a race car: designed and engineered to give the driver maximum high-speed control on a track which is a smooth, dry surface.
Here’s what’s important: if you like to drive and appreciate nuances such as good front-to-rear weight balance, positive power-to-weight ratio and responsive steering, you owe it to yourself to give the Scion FR-S a serious look. Not only does the FR-S fill all those squares, but it does so at a much lower price than its German competitors.
Test drive in Southern Arizona
Over the past week I drove the Scion FR-S through Phoenix, Arizona’s east valley as well as on some rural roads southeast of town. I wanted to get an idea of how it would feel to live with the FR-S as a daily driver, but also enjoy it on the weekends.
Like its closest competitor, the Mazda MX-5 Miata, the Scion FR-S is less about horsepower than it is power to weight. A 200-horsepower engine might not seem like much, but it is when tucked under the hood of a 2800-pound car. Having driven both automatic and manual transmissions, I’d opt for the manual. The automatic has Formula-style shift paddles for manual gear selection, but I prefer pushing a clutch: it’s the old fashioned girl in me. The manual transmission model is also fifty pounds lighter, hence more agile.
Either way, there’s no arguing with the Scion’s acceleration off-the-line, which is spirited, to say the least. And while sitting inside the car’s frame presents its challenges in terms of access and egress, it can’t be beat for control. A low center of gravity translates to better steering response, plain and simple.
Cars are all about components and the FR-S has very good ones, including ventilated disc brakes on all four wheels to ensure that the car maintains its superior stopping power during long, hard days at the track. The electric power steering system is so well tuned that it’s virtually indistinguishable from a conventional hydraulic system: just lighter and more compact.
The engine’s high compression ratio necessitates using premium fuel: something buyers should keep in mind. Its compression combined with direct injection give the car its superior throttle response for better performance in competition.
Visibility around the perimeter is surprisingly good for a car of this type. I had no issues monitoring vehicles in adjacent lanes on the highway and good visibility out the front.
The FR-S interior includes most of what drivers need going to the track, with the exception of a five-point harness. Heavily bolstered front seats keep occupants in place during hard cornering. As with most two-plus-twos, rear seats are primarily a nod to insurance companies. The seats fold flat for additional storage space: a handy feature for the occasional road trip.
A large odometer makes it easy to keep track of revs. I found both the gauge cluster and center stack screen easy to read in bright sunlight and after dark.
The Scion FR-S comes with six airbags, stability control, traction control, antilock brakes, tire pressure monitoring, a first aid kit and rearview camera. The FR-S received a five star NHTSA overall crash test rating.
The sporty FR-S is on display at Scion dealerships nationwide.
Like: A track-ready sports car that can live in the real world and serve as everyday transportation.
Dislike: Harsh ride might be uncomfortable for some drivers.
Base price: $26,405
As tested: $28,900
Horsepower: 200 Hp @ 7000 rpm
Torque: 151 lbs.-ft. @ 6400 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Standard
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 25/34 mpg city/highway
Comment: The manufacturer requires the use of premium unleaded gasoline