Sound & fury Toy­ota adds some sporty zip with its Scion FR-S

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - AUTOS - By Rus­sell Pur­cell

THE Toy­ota Mo­tor Co. takes a lot of flak for putting out rather bland, vanilla ve­hi­cles. How­ever, the mere fact they sit atop the heap as the largest auto man­u­fac­turer in the world proves the ma­jor­ity of con­sumers seem to have a taste for vanilla.

Es­tab­lish­ing a cat­a­logue of ve­hi­cles broad enough to ap­peal to all sec­tors of the au­to­mo­tive mar­ket­place in ma­jor mar­kets across the globe was the key to the com­pany’s growth.

Scion, Toy­ota’s value brand in North Amer­ica, was con­jured up by the bean coun­ters to mar­ket a line of small, fu­el­ef­fi­cient ve­hi­cles to ur­ban hip­sters and col­lege kids. Scion’s ini­tial of­fer­ings in­cluded a sim­ple coupe (Tc), a five-door hatch (xD) and a boxy peo­ple-hauler (xB), and all were de­signed to of­fer ba­sic equip­ment and be bud­get-friendly.

The small­est mem­ber of the fam­ily, the iQ mi­cro car, ar­rived for model year 2011. Ini­tially, Scion mod­els proved pop­u­lar with young buy­ers, who treated them like blank can­vases upon which they could add their own af­ter­mar­ket ac­ces­sories, au­dio sys­tems, body kits and wheels. How­ever, there was no es­cap­ing the fact the cars were rather weak in the per­for­mance and han­dling de­part­ments.

In an ef­fort to add some spark to the mix, Toy­ota ini­ti­ated the Toy­ota 86 pro­gram with Fuji Heavy In­dus­tries (Subaru). This in­trigu­ing part­ner­ship led to the pro­duc­tion of two new com­pact sports coupes aimed di­rectly at the North Amer­i­can mar­ket — the Scion FR-S and the Subaru BR-Z. The two cars share a plat­form and the ma­jor­ity of me­chan­i­cal bits, so per­for­mance is on par. Sub­tle styling cues in­side and out and slight dif­fer­ences in stan­dard equip­ment are what set them apart.

The sub­ject of this re­view is the lat­est vari­ant of the Scion FR-S. The moniker is de­rived from a de­scrip­tion of its plat­form — Front-en­gine, Rear­wheel-drive, Sport.

Launched for 2013, the FR-S fea­tures a nat­u­rally as­pi­rated four-cylin­der en­gine fit­ted with both di­rect and port fuel in­jec­tion. This com­pact power plant was de­signed by Subaru, so it should come as no sur­prise it is a hor­i­zon­tally op­posed, boxer de­sign.

The D-4S en­gine pro­duces 200 horse­power and 151 pound-feet of torque, and red­lines at a very healthy 7,400 r.p.m. This durable lit­tle en­gine idles rough and gen­er­ates a sound just like the four-cylin­der that pro­vided my first car, a 1981 Dat­sun King Cab 4X4 truck, its source of mo­ti­va­tion back in the early 1980s. Luck­ily, the ex­haust note im­proves when you ap­ply a heavy foot to the gas pedal and ex­plore the up­per lim­its of the tachome­ter. That said, sprints from a stand­ing start to 100 km/h can be ex­e­cuted in 7.3 sec­onds.

While not ex­cep­tion­ally quick, the sound of the me­chan­i­cal fury tak­ing place un­der the long hood cre­ates an at­mos­phere that feels like you are trav­el­ling much faster.

The Scion FR-S comes equipped with a six-speed, short-throw man­ual trans­mis­sion as stan­dard equip­ment, but a sixspeed au­to­matic with pad­dle shifters and Dy­namic Rev Man­age­ment is avail­able as an op­tion ($1,180). Ur­ban com­muters might want to splurge for the slush-box, but I thor­oughly en­joyed row­ing my own gears dur­ing my time with the car.

I would be re­miss if I did not point out the gearshift felt some­what clunky in my test ve­hi­cle, but the car was brand­new and had very low kilo­me­tres. I am cer­tain the mo­tion will be­come more fluid as the gear­box breaks in.

Han­dling is this car’s strong point. The rear-wheel-drive lay­out and light weight (1,251 kilo­grams) go back to the leg­endary sports cars of the past and help de­liver a very en­ter­tain­ing driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. The elec­tric power steer­ing feels pre­cise and true, but with a lit­tle ex­tra ef­fort, you can ini­ti­ate enough tail wag to drift through tight-adius turns.

Body roll is min­i­mal, largely due to the car’s low cen­tre of grav­ity. The driver’s seat of­fers enough side bol­ster­ing to hold your torso in place dur­ing ag­gres­sive driv­ing ma­noeu­vres, but taller in­di­vid­u­als will find them­selves hav­ing to dial in a lit­tle re­cline to en­hance out­ward vi­sion and keep their head from mak­ing con­tact with the roof.

The pas­sen­ger com­part­ment is cosy for two up front, but the rear seat­ing area is best re­served for gro­ceries and gym bags. The rear seat­backs fold flat to al­low larger items to be trans­ported in the trunk, in­creas­ing the cargo ca­pac­ity to 196 litres.

The sus­pen­sion on the FR-S is a MacPher­son strut setup in the front and a dou­ble-wish­bone type in the rear. This com­bi­na­tion is quite firm, but the over­all ride was pleas­ant.

Driv­ing en­thu­si­asts will find the FR-S com­mu­ni­cates its in­ten­tions through the seat of your pants, much as in a ded­i­cated track car. This is es­pe­cially the case when you op­er­ate the car’s sta­bil­ity-con­trol sys­tem in track mode.

Per­for­mance cars are only as good as their brak­ing sys­tems, so the engi­neers at Scion have mounted over­sized, ven­ti­lated disc brakes in all four cor­ners to help keep en­thu­si­asm in check. Stops from triple-digit speeds were short and dra­mafree, as over­all han­dling was pre­dictable and the brakes re­mained fade-free.

Toy­ota has de­cided to keep things sim­ple, as that is the Scion way, so there are few op­tions avail­able.

Pop­u­lar choices will in­clude a rear spoiler, fog lights and a Bon­giovi Acous­tics DPS dig­i­tal au­dio sys­tem.

My choice would be the TRD ex­haust sys­tem, which I as­sume will give the FR-S the throaty growl it’s cur­rently miss­ing.

At $26,450, the Scion FR-S is one of the most af­ford­able per­for­mance au­to­mo­biles in Canada. Pros: Low price, im­pres­sive han­dling Cons: Noisy en­gine, clunky gearshift and mi­nus­cule pas­sen­ger com­part­ment Value for money: Good Stan­dard fea­tures: Air con­di­tion­ing, cruise con­trol, re­mote key­less en­try, power door locks, one-touch power win­dows, two 12-volt power ports, three­spoke leather-wrapped steer­ing wheel, leather-wrapped shift knob, alu­minum sport ped­als, black fab­ric seat­ing with red high­lights and stitch­ing, 17-inch al­loy wheels, dual ex­haust, pro­jec­torstyle halo­gen head­lamps, power heated colour-keyed mir­rors, 6.1-inch touch screen, Blue­tooth tech­nol­ogy, USB port with iPod con­nec­tiv­ity, eight speak­ers, aux­il­iary au­dio jack, roof-mounted an­tenna, dual-stage driver and front­pas­sen­ger airbags, seat-mounted side airbags, front and rear side-cur­tain airbags, en­gine im­mo­bi­lizer, tire-pres­sure mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem, Star Safety Sys­tem (in­cludes Ve­hi­cle Sta­bil­ity Con­trol, Trac­tion Con­trol, Anti-lock Brake Sys­tem, Elec­tronic Brake-force Dis­tri­bu­tion, Brake As­sist, and Smart Stop Tech­nol­ogy)

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