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We test the Scion FR-S

by Ali Arsham
Wednesday, December 12, 2012

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The rear looks very Ferrari F430-like
Every once in a while a car comes that has all the buzz.  Many new cars wish that they would get the media attention but usually one car every few years gets the attention.  The Scion FR-S is one of those cars.  Rumors of a small sports car from Toyota have been circulating since 2006.  Since then the concept cars have been shown at many shows and spy pictures have been all over the magazines.  Toyota has played the game right by building the hype and wetting everyone’s appetite for the car.  We now know the details on the car and have had a chance to actually drive the car and it is a terrific car. 

The FR-S is not a ground breaking car.  It is actually a pretty simple car.  That is perhaps what is so good about it.  This car sends a message to other companies that not all people like their car to make decisions for them and be complicated.  The FR-S has all that you need and nothing else. 

When you walk up to the FR-S for the first time and see it in person, you notice two things immediately.  First is that the FR-S is a small car.  At only 167 inches long, it is over a foot shorter than Hyundai’s Genesis Coupe but about 10 inches longer than a Mazda MX5.  The second thing that you notice is how low the car sits.  The FR-S is 51 inches in height which is four inches lower than the Hyundai.  The MX5 is lower than the FR-S but barely. 

Front view
Inspired by the 80’s Toyota Corolla AE86, the FR-S is designed around the core goal of achieving “Pure Balance,” which begins with the strategic use of the world’s only flat boxer engine in a front-engine, rear-wheel drive configuration.  The engine’s compact size and flat shape allow it to be mounted extremely low, giving the car a dynamically favorable front-to-rear weight ratio of 53:47 and a low center of gravity comparable to some exotic supercars.

The FR-S’s 2.0-liter, naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine is the result of a joint development between Toyota and Subaru.  The partnership begins by combining Subaru’s newly developed, horizontally opposed engine and Toyota’s cutting-edge D-4S injection system, which incorporates both direct and port injection for each cylinder, one injecting fuel directly into the combustion chamber, the other a port injector located above the intake valves.  Adopted from the Lexus IS F, D-4S injection is a new technology for the Scion family.

The D-4S system uses the direct injectors at all engine speeds. Both the direct and port injectors are used at certain engine speeds and under certain engine loads to help fill out mid-range torque. The D-4S is also a key technology that reduces vehicle emissions. FR-S heads utilize dual variable valve timing, making adjustments to the intake- and exhaust-cam timing to help optimize power, torque, and fuel mileage.  The D-4S system, partnered with a high 12.5:1 compression ratio, results in an even 200 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque.

The flat-four mates with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission.  The manual offers quick, precise shifts with a short-throw that is better than any Toyota or Subaru model that comes to mind.  The clutch has good feel and the ratios are well placed. 

Interior
To help you keep track of the engine, a large center mounted tachometer with a digital speedometer is standard.  Next to it, there is an analog speedometer that is a little hard to read and seems like a waste of space since the digital speedometer steals your attention.  The tachometer features a programmable shift-indicator, which has a small but intense indicator that lights up when redline is reached.  The driver can set the warning to go off in 100-rpm increments, starting at 2,000 rpm.  A chime can be programmed to sound when redline is approached.

As soon as you turn the first corner you can tell that the FR-S is a real sports car.  It feels very similar to Mazda’s MX5 but in a coupe format.  Steering feel is very good and the car responds to inputs well.  It is also very easy to drive at the limit with the 215/45-17 inch tires providing good feedback.  On twisty roads the FR-S is a joy to drive and you will want to keep the spirited pace forever.  The engine provides good power and since it only has to move around 2750 pounds of car, acceleration is satisfactory.  The engine tuning makes it very responsive at higher rpms and the only time you wish for more power is on long straights.

One of the great things about having a light weight car with a small engine is that you also get good fuel economy.  The FR-S follows in the Scion tradition with the manual transmission model squeezing 22 miles from every gallon of gas in the city and 30 on the highway.  The automatic version is even better at 25 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. 

It is so great to see a car like the FR-S available to enthusiasts.  It is everything that a real driver would want with a nimble chassis, good transmission and responsive engine all in a good looking body.  Usually such cars come with a host of electronic gadgets that the FR-S thankfully does without.  The best part is that FR-S prices are also very reasonable with an entry level price of $25,000 with only a few options available.

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