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