Everyman’s Sports Car

Swami hat firmly in place and crystal ball planted before us, we predict the 2013 Scion FR-S will be a big success for Scion. The FR-S – which stands for Front engine, Rear-wheel drive, Sport – puts real sports car driving within reach of a lot more buyers. Scion has traditionally been an automobile company for the young, but the FR-S brings a new sports car dimension to the brand.

Scion is a marquee of Toyota, and back in 2007 Toyota President Akio Toyoda told his engineers he wanted them to design a sports car that would be “built by passion” and nothing else. Chief Engineer Tetsuya Tada and his group teamed up with engineers at Subaru to come up with the front engine, rear-wheel-drive FR-S. Subaru’s very similar version is called the BRZ.

Our test FR-S wore a “Hot Lava” coat of paint. With a long hood and stubby rear end, FR-S scoots from red lights like a rabbit running from a beagle. On the road, it has precise steering, strong cornering and good brakes.

Powering the FR-S is a horizontally-opposed, 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder boxer engine that delivers 200 horsepower and 151 lb.-ft. of torque to either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic with paddles.

Those numbers may not scream power, but one of the keys to the rear-wheel drive car’s quickness (Motor Trend timed it at 6.2 seconds from 0-60 mpg) is its light weight. The engineers balanced the 2,758-pound FR-S nearly perfectly from front to rear, and gave it a low center of gravity with a ground clearance of just 4.9 inches.

Most mornings during the test week, it took a little longer to fold my 6-foot-plus frame for the controlled fall into the FR-S cockpit. But once inside and buckled, I found Scion’s sport coupe a blast to drive.

Dive into a hard corner and the FR-S stays flat and sprints out. Lots of sports cars will do that, but how many will do it for a base price of $24,200 with a manual transmission or $25,300 with the automatic?

The mid-20s price tag puts the FR-S much closer to most drivers’ budgets than many European offerings.

The bonus with the FR-S is mileage. The little coupe delivers 34 highway miles and 25 city miles per gallon with the 6-speed automatic transmission. Unfortunately, like most European sport coupes, the FR-S demands premium unleaded gas.

Inside, the FR-S has a sporty cabin with heavily-bolstered racing seats. Back seats are unusable for passengers, but are fine for groceries and other cargo. The FR-S is equipped with the BeSpoke connectivity system. Powered by Pioneer’s Zypr, the system offers iPhone connectivity with Facebook, Twitter, Internet radio and others.

Despite its wheelbase of just more than 101 inches and low slung profile, there is surprising head and leg room inside the FR-S cabin.

Scion President Jack Hollis told automotive journalists at the Las Vegas launch of the FR-S in May that the company expected to sell 10,000 coupes during the rest of 2012, and another 20,000 in 2013. Although car companies’ sales predictions tend to be optimistic, we think Hollis’ numbers could be on target.

With Scion’s “monospec” sales method, buyers will have a choice of color and transmission from the factory, then can select from an a la carte menu of optional extras. Scion uses monospec sales to allow customers to avoid having to buy option packages that include items they don’t want.

The FR-S has not been rated for safety by either the government or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but includes six standard airbags and Toyota’s Star Safety System.

Statistics

Engine: 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed boxer four-cylinder

Horsepower: 200

Transmission: 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters

Test model base price: $25,300 (automatic transmission)

EPA mileage rating: 25 mpg city / 34 mpg highway