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Quick Drive: 2013 Scion FR-S

Scion FR-S IMPA

Suddenly it’s 1986. There is a lightweight and nimble sports car from a Japanese manufacturer on the market that completely eschews what the American three are doing in the sports car segment. Only, it’s not 1986; vehicle weights have pushed upwards and outwards for past 30 years to the point where Chevrolet is now marketing its top of the line Camaro with a curb weight that makes a 1986 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight look positively anorexic. Sure, Chevy compensates for the chub by equipping the Camaro ZL1 with a tire shredding 580 horsepower V8 and an advanced magnetic suspension that does all the right things keep the Camaro on the tarmac, but eventually it starts to feel like you are piloting the world’s best handling 747. It is raucous and fun, but requires concentration and skill to keep things from going wrong.

A full paragraph into a Scion FR-S quick drive and I’ve only talked about Chevys and Oldsmobiles. Back in the 1986, Toyota introduced a new Supra. It was not a muscle car in the tradition of the V8 powered pony cars from Detroit, but it had speed and agility from being blessed with a curb weight of about 3,000lbs and a 200 horsepower I-6. It was also intended to be a technological showcase for Toyota. As such, the price tag was relatively high.

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The FR-S is a return to this idea of light weight over raw muscle making the FR-S very refreshing to drive. The FR-S’ single biggest advantage is its low weight platform. At about 2800 pounds with an automatic transmission, the FR-S is a feather-weight in this class. The light weight also allows Toyota to equip the car with a 200 horsepower / 151 lb-ft flat-four engine jointly developed with Subaru to give the FR-S sporty performance without the raw muscle. The flat-four also lowers the center of gravity on the car to further improve cornering.

During my drive of the FR-S, I found a light-weight, nimble, and carefree sports car with just enough kick to keep things fun. Low end torque is superb with more than a few instances of chirping the tires unintentionally at take off. Those of you hunting for raw V8 muscle will probably be disappointed, but the FR-S makes up for it with its willingness to be thrown around a corner and an engine note that will please almost any gearhead. Power is routed through a 6-speed manual or automatic to the rear wheels like its Supra predecessor. Steering is quick and precise with only a minor quibble with on-center feel; in either direction just off center, the FR-S doesn’t seem to want to pull back to center nicely. This leaves you making frequent minor adjustments on longer straight roads. Though quite sporty and nimble, the FR-S doesn’t punish you with a harsh ride.

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Toyota pressed the reset button on the interior as well. The interior FR-S is at once modern and retro. My first thought when sitting in the car was the thought that this is what would happen if Toyota tried to re-create the spirit of the ’86 Supra without duplicating the look. This is not a bad thing; it is actually refreshing in an age of highly complicated interiors.

Getting in is surprisingly easy for such a low car and I found a comfortable seating position right away. Toyota even equips the FR-S with an old school double-DIN head unit so the owner can swap in something more to his or her own liking if they wish. The head unit does include Bluetooth for hands-free calling, but that’s about the extent of the technology there. The version I drove was an automatic, but the look and gate of the shifter could fool your friends and neighbors into thinking you bought row-your-own. The rear seat is essentially unusable for adults unless the driver is very cramped or very short. Forward visibility is excellent, but I found visibility while backing up to be a bit more limited.

Checking in with a base price of $24,955 and without high end technology or interior room, the Scion is not a Supra replacement no matter how hard the buff mags wish it. But that price makes the Scion an interesting alternative to the Camaro ($24,245 with steel wheels) and Mustang ($22,995).

The Scion FR-S was one of my favorite drives during my time in Monticello, NY. It is just the car to hop in and go for a carefree ride on rolling country back roads with the windows down on a nice fall day. I hope to spend more time in one soon.

The full gallery of pictures from the IMPA Test days is located here and will continue to be built as quick drive reviews are added:

2013 Scion FR S 006
Album: IMPA Test Days Fall 2012
26 images
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Year: 2013
Make: Scion
Model: FR-S
Engine: 2.0 Liter horizontally opposed 4-cylinder with Direct and Port Injection
Drive line: Rear wheel drive, 6-speed automatic transmission
Horsepower @ RPM: 200 @ 7000 RPM
Torque @ RPM: 151 @ 6400 RPM
Fuel Economy: City/Highway: 25/34
Location of Manufacture: Japan
Base Price: $24,955
Est. As Tested Price: $25,300

Drew Dowdell is Managing Editor of CheersandGears.com and can be reached at Drew.Dowdell@CheersandGears.com or on twitter as @cheersngears
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18 Comments

I wish Oldsmobile were still around to build a sweet little ride like this. It reminds me of the Quad 4 Calais, another small, nimble, good handling car, only it came from GM.

Sadly, GM seems to have abandoned the small coupe segment, and after raising 5 kids, I think I'm pretty much done buying 4 door cars.

NICE review, thanks for writing it. This may well be my next car, although I like the Focus ST and the GTI as well.
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I'm jealous you got to drive one without the begging drone of a salesperson in the passenger seat. While I'd purchase the Subaru on principle, the truth is, both of these are delicious throwbacks to a better era. I am thankful they're on the market.
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Now if only Chevy could build such a competitor to this car. . . . .
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I'm hoping that Subaru brings one to the MAMA meet on Wednesday. I didn't drive the Subi at IMPA because I wanted to try for a variety of cars and had limited time.

I'm surprised I haven't had more reaction from this review, I believe it is the first Toyota product to actually be reviewed by a staff member here.
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It's always good news when there is a new RWD coupe entry into the market, but this is still a Toyota, so the interest here is bound to be tepid at best.

Bring on the Code 130R.
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So they have a stupid high HP motor with no Torque. Another ugly design like the Honda S2000. I see no purpose or use for cars like this other than stupid young people driving them with no skill causing more accidents.

If they actually put some style into it like the Supra had from the 80's it would be far better, but the outside is a jelly bean to me which I hate that look and the inside is a blah layout.

For having gone to college in Japan, I have seen much better auto's on the street over there compared to this. I do not understand why they think the American public is freak-in conservative in willing to deal with new technology and pushing the style envelope.

Sadder yet is that the American car companies seem to ignore building a solid light weight commuter car that can have style and speed.

Perfect option would be for Chevy to build the 130R with a Katech 285 Push rod V4. This would rock everyone's world.
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I don't have torque graphs handy, but this car is light enough and geared right for enthusiastic driving. I wouldn't call it torque deficient at all, it was right where it needed to be. Subaru boxer engines have always been good at low end grunt... that they added direct injection to it only makes that better.
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Olds...Agreed, it drives quite well
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This IS Junk. I also have an upcoming "road test" with this car and a Ford ...wait and see just how awful the Toyopet product actually is.
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Common wisdom tells us to never buy the first production year of any automobile, since that’s when all the bugs not found in pre-production testing tend to surface. In the case of a car as anticipated as the Scion FR-S (or Subaru BRZ), sometimes emotion wins out over common sense.

As early buyers of the FR-S and BRZ are finding out, some cars aren’t quite flawless in execution. Autoweek reports that owners of early production models from both manufacturers are reporting intermittent rough idle and engine stalling issues related to ECU programming.
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Like any atuomaker, there are issues, but the car is far from junk....
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rough idle and subaru boxer almost go together naturally.
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This IS Junk. I also have an upcoming "road test" with this car and a Ford ...wait and see just how awful the Toyopet product actually is.


Toyopet, huh? Are you Sixty-8 in disguise or something?

Seriously though, I know you're entitled to your opinion, but the FR-S/GT-86/BR-Z has proven itself to be a good sports car and the issue you mentioned can be easily sorted out with a quick ECU reflash. It isn't like the engine is developing sludge issues at 5,000 miles or anything stupid like that.
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rough idle and subaru boxer almost go together naturally.


As do Subaru and bad paint...tjis car has abysmal paint quality, but its still cool!
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Bring back the '86 Olds 98. ;-)
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I wish they would bring back the 86 Olds 98....
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It isn't like the engine is developing sludge issues at 5,000 miles or anything stupid like that.

....WAIT for it !!!

Honest, It IS Just a matter of time before this too becomes another RECALL victim...and really Who wants another Celica anyway ??
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Obviously a lot of people want it...dealers around here still have wait lists six months after the thing came out.
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