Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sporty Scion FR-S offers fun ride, lots of get-up-and-go, for a decent price

Some cars are functional and serve a specific purpose, some cars are groundbreaking in one way or another, and others are just plain fun to drive.
For my most recent vehicle test, I had a vehicle that falls squarely in the the final category; specifically, the Scion FR-S — a sporty little rear-wheel drive ride that has a sharp look, a powerful get-up-and-go, and will definitely turn some heads.

Upon first seeing the Scion FR-S, the first word that popped into my head was racecar. It’s built low to the ground, and has a very sharp and sporty design.
Craig Taguchi, public relations specialist for Scion (which, FYI, is a division of Toyota with vehicles typically aimed at a younger crowd), said the FR-S opens the Scion brand up to a “new world of high-performance driving”.
“We wanted to create a car to really let people have fun with,” Taguchi said. “In today’s market, there’s not too many front-engine, rear-wheel drive sports cars that are affordable. We wanted to create a fun to drive, awesome handling sports car for about 25K, to grab your attention from the get-go. We wanted it to look fast.”
In that regard, Scion has succeeded, as this machine got me a lot of compliments in the week I was driving it. The design has some origins, as it’s inspired by a couple classic Toyota sports cars -- the 2000GT and the AE86 Corolla
The design of the vehicle is definitely more youth-oriented, with its black cloth seats highlighted by red accents. It’s a two-door vehicle, and realistically has seating for two people.
If you’re extra short, it’s possible someone could squeeze in the back seat behind you, but that’s really going to just be a storage area for 90 percent of people. In theory you could fit a child seat in the back, but this doesn’t strike me as the type of vehicle you’ll be dragging your baby around in.
The in-car screens and visuals, and even the shifter, have a very racecar-esque look to them.
You get 17-inch wheels standard, but a new version of the FR-S coming out later this year will offer an option for 18-inch wheels.
Side note: It’s no shocker that this vehicle looks like a racecar; it actually is one. A version of the FR-S will be used by competitors this spring in the 2013 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race in Long Beach this April.

One thing that makes things pretty simple if you’re buying a Scion is that the specs are basically standard across the board. All you really need to do, whether buying an FR-S or another Scion vehicle, is choose the color and the transmission. The rest is all going to be the same.
Power doors and windows are standard, and you get electric power steering, among other features.

During my time with the FR-S, fuel mileage was extremely consistent at 28 mpg combined city/highway, not too bad for a sports car like this.
The official numbers listed are 25 city/34 highway/28 combined for the automatic transmission, and a couple mpg less on the manual transmission due to adjustments in gear ratios to make them more aggressive.

Get-up and go
If there’s one thing everyone can agree on about the Scion FR-S, it’s that this thing has some serious get-up-and-go.
If you’re at a stop, and need to get going fast, you’re going to have no problem whatsoever here. Just hit that gas, and you’re gone in a flash. No slow buildup here, as 0-to-60 has been tested at about 6 seconds. Not bad for car that starts about $25K.
Taguchi said the combination of a strong motor and the design of the vehicle make it so easy to get going so fast.
“The car is designed to be very light. With 200 hp and a lightweight vehicle, it allows it to go 0-60 rather quickly,” he said. “It’s Low to the ground, one of lowest production vehicles you can get. The combination of power-to-weight ration and low seat gives it an excited launch.”
Between this quick start ability, and the fact that this vehicle will instantly go where you want it, when you want it, it’s clear that the 200 horsepower engine makes driving a very enjoyable experience in the Scion FR-S.
In addition to the powerful motor and acceleration, the maneuverability of the FR-S if you need to shift lanes is very responsive — again, this fits right in with its racecar tendencies.
I had a very enjoyable week driving the FR-S around, in large part due to this very responsive nature.
Who’s gonna buy it?
It’s safe to say that the elderly or anyone looking for a family vehicle won’t be in the market for a vehicle like the Scion FR-S. So who will be?
Obviously, there’s a younger target here. If you are a young guy out trying to impress the ladies, this is probably the most affordable option out there for you.
Or you might be an older guy looking for a weekend vehicle to enjoy and get a little racy on the road.

There are some settings that can be adjusted on the Scion FR-S. For one thing, you can turn the traction control on and off. It’s something you’re going to want to keep on in order to maintain traction while driving on regular streets. But if you’re planning to go off the highway or to a racing event on a track, many drivers will choose to shut off traction control to avoid having the computer control it.

One thing I learned on the day I got this vehicle is that it didn’t drive well in a snowstorm — it was a little bit tricky winding through unplowed subdivisions with this vehicle. Luckily, there’s a setting on here (called Snow, appropriately), and when the button is pushed, it softens the onset of power, so you won’t spin the tires as much when trying to get through this pesky snow. Still, it’s much better to drive this thing when the weather is clear.

The Scion FR-S I tested lacked some of the more advanced in-car tech that you get with many new Toyotas, as the design was a bit more stripped down.
You still get a lot offered though, including:
—  AM/FM radio, plus a CD slot and HD radio (which offers extra stations)
— Bluetooth audio access and ability to make calls hands-free (by voice) through your phone
— A standard USB slot, for connecting a music device like an MP3 player to the vehicle, or for charging a device.
The FR-S does not include an SD card slot.

The music I heard was coming from an 8-speaker, 300-watt sound system that sounded great (160 watts from head unit, and 140 watts from external amplifier). After all, if you’re driving a sporty car, you want to be able to blast your music properly.
And while I did not have this on my test vehicle, you can upgrade to a premium audio unit, called BeSpoke premium audio: That unit offers more watts (340) and a 5.8 inch touchscreen. (my vehicle no touchscreen at all, just regular dials). The BeSpoke audio system features Pandora access on screen; but in a different interface than you get with Toyota’s Entune setup. BeSpoke also features access to features like Twitter and Yelp.
Even if you get the BeSpoke system, there is no rear camera offered to help you when you are backing up.
There is also no OnStar-like emergency system to automatically notify 911 in case of an accident. And you won’t get some other safety features like blind spot warnings here, either.

While the Scion FR-S does note offer traditional navigation with maps on-screen, they do offer something called “routing”. It’s similar, but it works through your phone and is cloud-based. You are told in advance by voice and on screen what the turns will be, but maps aren’t preloaded like on other vehicles.

To paraphrase AC/DC, this is a fast machine and it’s motor is clean. You get a 200 horsepower, 2.0 liter, 4-cylinder boxer engine with dual variable valve timing.
Another feature is the D-4S injection system, that was adopted from Toyota’s Lexus line.
In layman’s terms, instead of one injector per cylinder; there are two. One is for the regular port injection and the other is a direct injector, so the computer can tell them how to fire to make the vehicle high performance, but still get good gas mileage. This helps make the vehicle run more efficiently.
Taguchi said this was done so the vehicle would be: “fuel efficient, in addition to fun to drive”
The vehicle features 151 pound-feet of torque, and you choose between a 6-speed manual transmission and a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Paddle shifters are included on the automatic vehicles to allow you to have a more sporty drive.
“A lot of times in automatic cars with paddle shifters, shifts are slow and not crisp and don’t rev match, but this one does,” Taguchi said.

The only thing you can control by voice in the FR-S is to make phone calls via your Bluetooth connection.
The rest (radio, climate, etc.) are all accessible by the dials in the center console.
There is a cruise control knob setup underneath the steering wheel, but other than that it’s kept empty.
This is the only Scion without audio controls on the steering wheel — and Taguchi said this was done because it’s a sports car and they wanted to keep things more simple.

Taguchi said that despite the Scion FR-S being one of the newer vehicles available, “It’s one of the fastest selling vehicles on the market right now.”
“Dealerships are selling them as fast as they can get them, which is generating a lot of excitement,” he said. “And we’re selling them to the right people. The youngest median age buyer in the industry. Median age for the FR-S is 31, which is very young for a sports car.”

The Scion FR-S I tested came in at $26,099.
If you want to start adding a la carte features (which Scion does offer for people who want to boost performance), you can push that higher.
Among the features you can add are a spoiler, an exhaust system, wheels or suspension upgrades and more.
These features are not bundled together, so you only choose what you want.

A vehicle like this is pretty specific in terms of who its target audience is. But regardless of whether you fit the target groups, if  you’re looking a very sporty vehicle that offers a very fun drive and a somewhat low-frills tech approach, and most importantly an affordable price, the Scion FR-S could be right up your alley and is definitely worth a test drive.

Matt Myftiu can be reached at or 248-745-4617. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu or become a fan of the Facebook page “OPTechTime”.
Check out his blog at


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