The tidy little 200-hp, two-seater Scion FR-S coupe once again makes the case that, to deliver a truly rewarding driving experience, a car doesn’t have to be expensive and certainly isn’t all about horsepower.
The hot-shoe cornering approach most makers of more exotic sporting machinery take to entice buyers into expensive offerings that most will never have the desire, skill or opportunity to fully appreciate is to expend large amounts of advertising hyperbole to tout ludicrously high horsepower numbers and low Nurburgring lap times.
But for enthusiasts who motor about in the real world, this entirely misses the apex, as some time spent poking the pedal and twisting the wheel of the affordable, fun and more than fast enough FR-S will soon prove.
And hey, 200 hp isn’t exactly insignificant, at least to an earlier generation of enthusiasts – mine. My 1970 MG Midget’s 65-hp engine proved perfectly capable of propelling it to a speed that resulted in it exiting a corner backward and through a split-rail fence, resulting in dents to its body panels and my pride.
You could do something like that with the FR-S too, of course, if you were imprudent, or just young and foolish. But you’re less likely to. Its balance of power, handling, braking and cornering grip make it an easy car to drive quickly. But also a car that even those of us with modest talents, can figure out how to drive hard and fast, at perhaps an autocross event, track day or in a Solo 1 competition.
More importantly, it’s a car you have to actively “drive” every time you twist the key. And that’s what sports cars are all about, not 500-plus-horsepower and the ability to reach speeds of 300 km/h.
The Scion FR-S and its virtual twin, the Subaru BRZ, were developed jointly by Toyota and Subaru and it is an attractive little machine that’s 4,235 mm long and weighs 1,255 kg. Inside, there’s a twin-set of seats that fit you snugly, the one on the driver’s side placing you in front of a small-diameter, thick-rimmed, leather-wrapped-with-red-stitching wheel that frames a large central tach (with digital speed readout), an analog speedometer and fuel and temp gauges.
The centre stack contains the audio and climate control (with A/C) systems and a stumpy gear lever falls under your hand on the console. Some alloy trim pieces and racy alloy pedals add sporty notes, and a 196-litre trunk will handle weekend luggage for two.
Driving the rear wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox is a Subaru-sourced/Toyota-tweaked horizontally opposed, 2.0-litre four-cylinder rated at 200 hp at 7,000 rpm and 151 lb-ft of torque at a sky-high 6,600 rpm. FR-S suspension is by MacPherson struts up front with a double-wishbone setup at the rear, with disc brakes on all four corners.
What all that means is that the FR-S makes a comfortable-enough commuter, or weekend trip-taker. And electronic stability and traction control, combined with proper winter tires, will make it manageable year-round. But also a car that lends itself to more sporting endeavours.
The fun-versus-fear factor the FR-S represents was brought home while chatting with a fellow auto journalist at last fall’s AJAC Canadian Car of The Year TestFest after stepping out of the 660-hp Shelby Mustang, an example of today’s ultra-high-horsepower cars.
I was effervescing about what huge fun it was to hammer the Shelby, electro-nannies switched off, around the tight handling circuit. But then more soberly (and for an auto journo, humbly) noted that I lacked the talent – and likely couldn’t meet the testosterone level requirement – to want to explore its speed, braking and cornering outer limits on a seriously fast racing circuit.
Not so the 200-hp FR-S I’d just driven in judging the Sports/Performance under $50,000 category. Its capabilities, in acceleration, braking and cornering, are all within parameters most people, with a little training, can keep up with and stretch to its – and their – limits.
The Shelby requires just 4.4 seconds to get to 100 km/h and 2.7 seconds from 80 to 120km/h, which means you arrive at places, like the next corner, much sooner and going much faster than you expect. The FR-S takes 7.3 seconds to accelerate to 100 km/h and 5.6 seconds to get from 80-120 km/h, giving your brain a little more time to make decisions about important things. Such as, when you’ll start braking, and how much speed you think you can carry around the approaching corner.
The Shelby’s high-performance, P265/40R19 front and P285/35R10 rear rubber provides such prodigious grip, cornering speeds are an order of magnitude higher than those of the FR-S’s not-very-high-performance P215/45R17 tires. And so are the consequences of getting it wrong, which I’d hazard is more likely for most of us in the Shelby. I’ve read, incidentally, that better tires up the FR-S’s capabilities considerably.
Apparently my fellow judges (the $73,000 Shelby was in another category) found exploring the FR-S’s limits left them in a positive frame of mind, too.
It ended up in a close second place in the class of 10, behind Ford’s hot-rod Focus ST and just ahead of Hyundai’s Genesis Coupe, also cars that can be extended to their limits by mere mortals. Oh, and the FR-S made Car & Driver magazine’s Top 10 list, too.
2013 Scion FR-S
Type: Sports car
Base Price: $25,990; as tested, $28,134
Engine: 2.0-kitre, DOHC, horizontally opposed four
Horsepower/torque: 200 hp/151 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.6 city/6.6 highway; premium recommended
Alternatives: Mazda MX-5, Mini Roadster/Coupe, Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder – and, for a little bit more money, various Aston-Martins, Audis, BMWs, Ferraris, Corvettes etc.