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.
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.
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:
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