The great artist, designer, inventor, and all-around thinker Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” I am no da Vinci, so I’ll put it this way: simplicity is the residue of energetic and committed genius.
Now you might be asking if the delightful Scion FR-S sports coupe is a work of genius. Close. It’s inspired, and the idea and execution are as simple as things get in the car business. The thumbnail: affordable ($26,450 to start) 2+2 seater springs from the unlikely partnership of Toyota and Subaru, with the end result a grown-up toy that is ideally powered (2.0-litre four-cylinder, 200 horsepower) and eminently tossable thanks to 50/50 front/rear weight distribution and careful chassis tuning.
This is not a pavement-eating monster, but instead a demanding gem, one requiring skill and finesse and commitment from the driver. You want to scare the neighbours? Get a Ford Mustang Boss 302 or a Chevrolet Camaro Z/28. Want to impress them? Empty your bank account on a Porsche Boxster or Cayman.
But if you want to take a time machine back to when sports cars were simple, say the post-war era when North American servicemen discovered the joys of finicky British sports cars that were a little underpowered and entertaining, then test drive an FR-S. Warning: you might fall in love.
The downside? Somehow, two car companies able to puff up their chests and boast of the best reliability on the planet have conjured up a joint venture with below average reliability, according to Consumer Reports. The Subaru BRZ, in fact, came in second from the bottom among all sports cars in the latest rankings, while the FR-S stands only slightly better. If I were Subaru and Scion, I’d want a recount and a clear explanation of why two cars identical in every way except the badging differ in quality scores.
The FR-S/BRZ, for the record, is a project that started back in 2008 when Toyota and Subaru announced their agreement to jointly develop a sports car. Subaru took charge of engineering development and production, Toyota product planning and design. The goal was to create a car connected to the road, with predictable handling yet civilized in day-to-day commuting.
The rear-drive FR-S is a comely sports car with the classic longish nose, short rear deck layout – a car with a profile almost identical to a Porsche Cayman. The humble little “boxer” four-banger under the hood gurgles rather than growls, and that’s fitting; you need to work what in my tester was a six-speed manual gearbox – keep the revs up beyond 3,000, or things get sluggish. If you seek disconnected, uninvolved driving, get something else. If you want an entertaining and lightweight sports car with a low centre of gravity, little body roll and great corning grip, step up.
2014 Scion FR-S
Type: Sports car
Price: $26,450 ($1,495 freight)
Gas engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder
Output (horsepower/torque): 200 hp/151 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Drive: Rear-wheel drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.5 city/6.5 highway using premium fuel.
Alternatives: Ford Mustang, Mini Cooper S, Subaru BRZ, Hyundai Genesis Coupe, VW GTI, Chevrolet Camaro
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Globe rating for the 2014 Scion FR-SOur ratings guide
The Scion holds its line in a corner, yet isn’t punishing in the everyday.
The design is handsome and balanced, but not elegant or sophisticated.
The instruments and controls are sensible enough, but it’s pretty easy to spot where the developers saved money.
Solid package with lots of air bags and electronic nannies.
If you want a sports car that puts a smallish footprint on the planet, here you go.
(out of 10 / Not an average)
The numerical ratings are assigned by The Globe and Mail’s car reviewers on a scale out of ten. Each car is assigned a separate rating in five key categories - plus an overall satisfaction rating that is calculated separately, and is not an average of the five category ratings.
Vehicles that do not yet carry ratings on this site will be assigned them when the latest model is reviewed.