The fact that Toyota (Scion) has reintroduced an affordable FR–Sports car (front engine, rear wheel drive) back into its product lineup is so exciting! Everyone has been talking about it, dreaming about it, and hypothesizing about it for quite some time now… but last week, I actually had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the new 2013 Scion FR-S.
As a member of the automotive media and an AE86 owner, it’s no secret that I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to see the new FR-S up close on a couple different occasions, but this would be the very first time that I had any quality seat time with the car.
This being said, once I received the gracious email invite from Scion, I cleared my schedule and eagerly jumped on a plane to Las Vegas to find out what it would be like to drive the highly anticipated FR-S on a winding road, open highway, autocross course, wet skidpad, and perhaps the most enjoyable – a high speed handling test at one of Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch‘s racetracks.
I admit that my opinions of the Scion FR-S may sound a bit biased to some, so I’ll give a full disclosure. Coming from a family full of Toyota owners ever since I was young, I learned how to drive in a Toyota (1989 Camry). Just out of high school, my very first car was a Toyota (1986 Celica), and once I got involved with SCCA autocross, I scraped together $1300 to buy my very first AE86, a 1985 Corolla GT-S with a factory limited slip differential and became a member of the AE86 community. Since then, I’ve owned more than ten AE86s – a mixture of street cars, restored show cars and a few race cars, and have been passionately Living The 86 Life since 1996.
With that in mind, some might think at first that I’m just a Toyota fanboy that would automatically give the Scion FR-S a favorable review, but it’s actually the exact opposite. See, I was an FR-S hater at first – much to the surprise of my friends. I’m what some people refer to as a Toyota purist. I can’t stand it when people hack up clean AE86 and TE27 Corollas to drop Nissan SR20DETs or Mazda rotary engines into them. I throw up a little bit in my mouth when I see indifferent people lazily shoehorning Chevy V8s into vintage Toyota FJ40 Land Cruisers and even worse… rare Toyota Crowns (Horrible!).
I was NOT a fan of the Subaru/Toyota joint venture when I first heard the news that they would be collaborating to produce the FT86 (Toyota GT86/Scion FR-S/Subaru BR-Z). I was skeptical about having a Subaru boxer engine in a Toyota body. Admittedly closed-minded at first, I publicly expressed dislike for the way Subaru engines sound when they have an aftermarket (non-equal length) exhaust installed. The pulsating exhaust note reminded me of how blown motors sound. I even had voiced some ‘smart comments’ during some round table forum discussions that the manufacturer invited me to.
So what was my ideal vision of a car hailed as the second coming of the legendary cult classic hachiroku? I wanted it to be a nimble FR sports coupe powered by a Yamaha-designed high revving Toyota twincam “G head” engine; it would ideally continue the spirit and the lineage of the 2TG, 4AG, 3SG, and 2JZGTE engines that made Toyota great in the first place. However, spending time behind the wheel of the new Scion FR-S has changed my mind.
Toyota’s main goal in choosing a powerplant for their new FR-Sports car was obtaining efficient, reliable performance. The development concept of the FR-S was to build a sports car built around the driver and making the car fun to drive took more of a priority than pursuing pure speed.
Everyone knows that the Toyota GT86/Scion FR-S isn’t the most powerful car out on the market, so the horsepower figures will sound rather unimpressive to many. However, according to the engineers, it was far more important for the car to feel responsive and have linear power delivery all the way up to redline speeds.
Led by Toyota GT86/Scion FR-S Chief Engineer Tetsuya Tada (above), the joint Toyota and Subaru engineering team code named “Team 86” certainly lived up to its goals. Working together, they developed the Subaru FA20 2.0 liter 4-cylinder boxer engine, marking the first time that Toyota’s D-4S direct injection technology had ever been incorporated into a boxer motor.
This engine was designated 4UGSE on the Toyota/Scion side, which provides U-series continuity in the Toyota engine lineup, as the Toyota Sports 800 (chassis code UP15) was powered by a 790cc 2U engine, which produced a startling 45bhp at 5400rpm!
The result of Team 86’s hard work was a light weight, 200hp naturally aspirated DOHC 16 valve engine with dual VVTi (variable valve timing). The 4UGSE engine redlines at 7400rpm (not too far off from the AE86 4AG’s 7600rpm), and responds quickly to accelerator inputs, with easy powerband control.
Usage of the 4UGSE boxer engine gives the Scion FR-S the benefit of amazing handling, due to a low center of gravity. This was something that they just could not achieve if they used one of the traditional Yamaha G heads, much to my dismay. The Scion FR-S has a lower center of gravity than the Porsche Cayman, Nissan R35 GTR, Subaru Impreza STi, and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. In fact, its ‘C of G’ nearly matches that of the Lexus LF-A and the Porsche 911 GT3! Insane.
It’s hard not to notice the 86 Boxer emblem on the car’s upper fender. The logo shows pistons on opposing sides of the 86, to signify that it’s a boxer engine under the hood.
The number 86 is symbolic of the 4UGSE engine’s square 86x86mm bore and stroke ratio. I’m pretty sure that most Toyota aficionados don’t even know this, but this square stroke ratio keeps the 4UGSE engine faithful to some of the other engines in Toyota’s 2.0 liter sport engine history – the high revving Yamaha designed four-cylinder 3SG engine (Celica and MR2) had a square bore/stroke of 86x86mm, and the classic 3M six-cylinder engine in the 2000GT had a square bore/stroke of 75x75mm.
Taking a closer look at the peculiar 86 font design on the fender emblem, I was told by one of the engineers that the logo was also meant to resemble the contact patch of four wheels drifting. These guys apparently put a lot of thought into this logo – they even made the inner diameter of the car’s exhaust tip 86mm! This 86 thing is getting a little out of control…
I paired off with a friend of mine, Justin Kaehler, to try out the Scion FR-S on the open road. Since we were staying at the Red Rock Resort just outside of Las Vegas, we took turns driving our cars through the winding roads of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just fifteen miles west of Las Vegas. Apparently, Red Rock Canyon is home to about 200 different mammals, which include burros, wild horses, coyotes, bighorn sheep, golden eagles, mountain lions, and yes… even tortoises.
Sitting inside the FR-S, it’s impossible not to notice the sporty seats and steering wheel. The seats feel like a mild version of a Recaro SRD adjustable sports seat – they are comfortable, but substantial side bolstering helps keep drivers in place on a spirited drive. I think these seats would do just fine for daily driving and occasional track use, especially if used with some aftermarket 3-inch racing harnesses. More aggressive drivers will likely opt to replace the factory seats with full fiberglass or carbon fiber bucket seats, like those sold by Recaro, Sparco, or Bride. A full racing bucket would definitely work well on the track, but it wouldn’t be ideal for a long drive. I think the OEM Scion FR-S seats would be more than enough for the needs of most people, especially when paired with some wide racing seatbelts.
The Scion FR-S comes from the factory with the smallest steering wheel in the Toyota lineup, a leather wrapped 3-spoke wheel, 14.4 inches in diameter for quick steering changes. Like most anatomic steering wheels, it has grooved thumbrests on the inner circumference, which allow for thumb stability on long drives. The outer rim of the steering wheel is thick and sporty – it feels similar in size to the M-Tech steering wheel in an BMW E46 M3 or E39 M5.
The car I drove in the above photo (those are Justin’s hairy arms pictured, though) had the new Scion X Pioneer collabo head unit, the BeSpoke Premium Audio System. Since I had limited time in the car, I decided to focus my attention to driving it, but I heard the BeSpoke Audio System has a lot of awesome features; things like an LCD touchscreen display, a 340 watt powered head unit with external amplifier, back-up camera capability, Bluetooth, integrated Pandora Internet Radio, and get this… integrated FACEBOOK WALL and Twitter Feeds! Whaaaaaaat!!!
Now I can keep up to date on the @MOTORMAVENS Twitter feed while I’m driving?! I can’t wait.
The AC, fan and heater controls in the FR-S are very easy to use dials instead of more complicated pushbutton units found in other cars. I like that.
However, what I like even more is the fact that there’s a little pocket underneath the AC controls, with just enough room for an iPhone and/or iPod. Even better than that is the small rubber lip that sits at the edge of the pocket, which prevents your iPhone from sliding out onto the floor in the middle of a spirited driving session. AWESOME.
That’s why I have so much respect for Japanese-designed engineering and ergonomics. They think of everything! There’s even a USB port and auxiliary audio port right next to the accessory pocket, so you can charge your phone while listening to the music contained on it. PERFECT.
What good is a sporty FR car with limited slip differential if you don’t take it to the track? Scion graciously allowed us to take the FR-S through its paces at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch. One of the best exercises for testing a car’s chassis rigidity and steering is definitely slalom/autocross! During this exercise, we tested FR-S models equipped with the A960E 6-Speed Automatic Transmission.
Even though I’m not normally a fan of automatic transmissions in sporty cars, the automatic FR-S shocked me with its highly responsive gear changes! In the manual mode (M position), the A960E transmission controls engine braking in accordance with the shift position selected. I even overheard some engineers saying that in the M position, the 6-speed automatic trans changes gears more quickly and smoothly than most drivers could if using the 6-speed manual. Automatic FR-S models have two options for gear changes – upward or downward movements of the center console-mounted stick, or paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.
On the autocross course, I found it easier to shift using the console-mounted shift lever, as I kept losing track of the paddle shifters when the steering wheel was fully rotated. I’m sure the paddle shifters would be more convenient to use on the highway, however, as it’s much easier to pull back on a paddle when you need to downshift and pass a car.
As the engineers promised, the automatic tranny shifted quickly and smoothly between First, Second and Third gears on the autocross course. First and Second gear had a surprising amount of torque all the way from low to high rpm. Since the FR-S comes stock with a torsen LSD, it was not difficult to kick the tail out in First and Second gear even with an automatic transmission! (With both Traction Control and VSC off, obviously.) I unconsciously found myself giggling like a schoolgirl as I drove the FR-S more and more aggressively through the pylons, hanging the tail end out through the turns with the steering wheel crossed up ever so slightly. This was definitely a fun car to drive!
Since all the cars in the autocross area were automatic, the staff told us we should concentrate on the steering response and overall feel of the car. After driving it through the entire course several times, I truly felt as if the nimble handling, steering and transmission response on the FR-S is exactly what made the new car embody the spirit of the original AE86.
I think I may have a different viewpoint than many automotive journalists out there – especially those that typically review a car by poring over stats and figures. To be honest, some of these people might not like the new Scion FR-S.
However, as a person who daily drove an almost-stock engined 1986 AE86 for seven years, I’m confident in saying that I understand what the spirit of an 86 is supposed to be. Whether it was a Corolla GT-S, Sprinter Trueno, or Corolla Levin, the original AE86 has never astounded anyone with the amount of power or torque it put down. Anyone who complains that the Scion FR-S doesn’t have enough power simply does not get it. Like its AE86 ancestors, the Scion FR-S is a sports minded driver’s car.
What the FR-S lacks in power and torque, it makes up for in driving feel – responsive steering and braking, nimble handling, an engine that loves to rev, and a sporty transmission. Speaking to this, the FR-S is easy to maneuver due to its column-assisted electric power steering, which has a high level of rigidity, directness, and responsiveness. It utilizes a low 13:1 steering gear ratio, which allows the driver to turn the wheel lock-to-lock in 2.48 turns.
It was clear that certain invited Scion guests took the opportunity to drive the FR-S harder than others. While some of us took the opportunity to pitch the car sideways on the dry autocross course, we were all invited to have some Figure 8 fun on the wet skidpad as well, with Scion Formula D driver Ken Gushi giving us tips on how to negotiate the course.
While driving the FR-S was incredibly fun on the autocross course, it was even MORE fun on the wet skidpad. Pressing down the center console-mounted TRAC button for three seconds will turn off both Traction Control and VSC. When driving a Scion FR-S, this is where all the fun lies!
Following Gushi’s example, I accelerated towards one of the center cones in Second gear, turned in while briefly yanking up the e-brake lever to break the rear traction, and had a ton of fun negotiating the Figure 8 course with a ridiculous grin on my face the entire time. To drive the car through the wet skidpad exercises successfully, we had to perform a balancing act of throttle modulation and quick countersteering in the transitions, with occasional clutch kicks to keep the tail end of the FR-S loose when going over a dry patch on the pavement.
Even though he’s a professional drifter with a high horsepower Scion FR-S competition car, Gushi admitted that even driving a bone stock FR-S is so much fun that he could strap into the car and do Figure 8s all day. Even after eight years as a professional drifter, the simple joys of driving an LSD-equipped rear wheel drive car, like doing donuts and Figure 8s, still makes him giggle.
The Scion FR-S is perfect for a driver like this; a person seeking a fun, sporty driving experience every time they strap into a car.
No test of a sporty car would be complete without spending time with it on a race track. With our wet skidpad and autocross exercises complete, the Scion staff invited us to test the high speed handling of the FR-S after lunch, so we headed over to one of Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch’s road courses for a little road racing fun.
I was given the opportunity to try out both A960E 6-speed Automatic and RA62 6-speed Manual versions of the FR-S with several track sessions, so I also tried driving the course a few times with TRAC & VSC ON and also with TRAC & VSC OFF. Let’s just say that the car felt a lot more FUN with Traction Control and Vehicle Stability Control OFF, but these features are probably a good thing for normal people driving to work every day.
The 200hp of the Scion FR-S was more than enough for the tight road course we were driving at Spring Mountain; the car maneuvered decreasing radius turns with ease and agility, but it also felt stable at high speed – even when it was slightly unweighted going over the course’s sweeping crest.
I felt as if the car understeered a bit in the tighter turns with TRAC & VSC ON, but switched off, the FR-S put more power to the ground, and got me through the turns more easily. In a racetrack environment, it’s really easy to get hooked on LSD. The FR-S is definitely fun with the factory OEM torsen (gear-type) differential, but I can only imagine how much more fun the car might be with a more aggressive aftermarket clutch-type 2-way LSD. I can’t wait to find out!
I love just about everything about the front end of the FR-S, but I’m not entirely sure about the 12-element LED taillights. Some people say that they look a cross between the Toyota Altezza (Lexus IS300) and BMW Z4.
Either way, it wouldn’t deter me from buying an FR-S once it becomes available at North American dealerships in June. It’s time to fill the piggy bank with $24,200…
Mounted on the rear bumper’s raised air diffuser, right in between the 86mm inner diameter oval exhaust tips are the FR-S reverse lights.
A close inspection of the roof line will show the car’s pagoda roof design. The middle of the FR-S roof has a relief that widens toward the rear of the car. A centralized air stream starts from the relief (indentation) in the lower front bumper cover and the hood, and travels up to the roof. This pagoda design lowers the roof’s center and helps to enhance handling stability at speed.
Having a lower roof line, one might think that headroom in the car might be a bit tight. However, I’m just over 6 feet tall, and I had no problems fitting into the car, even with an XL sized racing helmet on. The low seats must compensate for the roof, because I was perfectly comfortable inside the FR-S. (And I’m a big boy. haha)
Looking at the rear of the car as we drove off from the racetrack and headed back to the hotel, I remembered that my friend Jeff Huang, an AE86 owner from Art Center College of Design, pointed out to me that the rear end of the FR-S is trapezoid-shaped, just like the AE86 hatchback. I didn’t even notice this at first (I guess expensive automotive design schools help you notice this kind of stuff), but he was absolutely right. The center area near the license plate does have a trapezoidal design, just like the AE86 hatchback. The logoed trimpiece above the centrally mounted license plate is also reminiscent of the original AE86.
On some of the long, straight highway roads leading back to the hotel, my driving partner Justin and I noticed that the FR-S doesn’t have the highway torque of other sporty rear while drive cars, like the 370Z or the BMW 3 series, but those cars aren’t real competitors to the FR-S anyway.
Where the Scion FR-S really shines is in the twisty backroads, and that is what really counts (to me).
As we arrived back at the Red Rock Resort for dinner, we just happened to drive right past a sushi restaurant that was very aptly named “Hachi: Modern Japanese.” What a perfect ending to a fun day of driving the Scion FR-S, a modern Japanese take on the legendary Toyota hachiroku. Thanks to the collaboration between Toyota, Subaru and Scion, new drivers can now Live The 86 Life without having to hunt down and restore a 27-year old classic Toyota.
This is the NEW cult car… the Scion FR-S has arrived.
:: Antonio Alvendia
More Scion FRS on MotorMavens
Watch Team86 Chief Engineer Tetsuya Tada’s informative interview explaining the characteristics of the Scion FR-S (Produced by GT Channel)
FT-86 Club Responses to MotorMavens FR-S Review
If Mr. 86 says they went a little crazy with the 86 references, it must be true. 😉
On a more serious note, I think this is the best article I’ve read on it to date. I’m wondering if I can’t go out and drive one when they come out…. Though I’m not sure the dealerships will be so nice. :/ I really enjoy the sound of boxer engines — especially the way people get confused when they don’t understand haha. (Of course, I may be biased because I’m head over heels for the 911’s flat six. The 991 sounds aaaaaaaaamazing when you put your foot down!)
I’m hoping we can see one autocross here, sounds like they’re great for it!
awesome review bro! i might just have to order an FRS if i can get it in black. and i love the summerlin / red rock area in las vegas!
thx Antonio….lookin fwd to my brz.
@Meg//CarsxGirl: Ohhh!!! I forgot to mention something in my article, and you might be interested in it! There’s actually a special resonator that runs to the engine to the driver’s compartment so that the driver can HEAR the engine’s sound better.
It channels the sound from the engine’s intake into the cabin (it’s a small tube that goes right in front of the passenger’s feet) in response to the accelerator operation. When you drive around normally in the city, it’s a faint sound… but when you’re accelerating under WOT, the car has a throaty, aggressive engine sound, similar to that of a 4AG engine at high RPM. It’s especially loud from 4000-7600rpm.
Thanks Brian and AllUdC! Hey, did you buy (preorder) a BRZ already???
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A review from Antonio! Just freaking awesome man! A review from a true 86 head is an honest review; no bs. This is exactly the type of review for all of us that are curious/anxious about the new FRS. Good stuff man. I myself was skeptical at first, but after reading so many reviews, and after reading/hearing interviews from the 86 design team, I know they have created an awesome car. For all those folks that say its underpowered, GTFO and buy yourself something with more power! I’m down for this car all day.
Here’s a link to development of the FRS…good read from FT86Club.
Lucky!! The perks….. Sounds like this car will really take-off. With huge aftermarket potential.
Maybe Mike K should buy this car instead of the Hyundai Genesis he was talking about??!! Your story sure convinced ME. Awesome job Ant!
Halarious and informative write up.. Had me laughing quite a few times. And stunning photos as always.
FR-S CG project car soon?? I’d be down to get an FRS if I didn’t have this Prius car payment. Maybe later! Hehe
It’s about time Antonio! Been waiting to read a review after you got to drive it. Being a subaru driver myself, I love the suby sounds, especially with my “loud pipe” (aka mufflerless axleback hehe). I thought the emblem was for the 86 in AE86, didn’t know it was for the 86 square borexpiston design. Cool details! I can’t wait to drive one. I think the motor fits the car perfectly, especially since the S800 coupe had a boxer style motor. The usual boltons should get the motor even more peppy and a bump in redline to 7600. Not sure on NA tuning with direct injection, but at 12.5 compression, any additional air in and out with an intake, headers and exhaust should get poewr up to 225hp+.
It’s basically an Acura RSX Type S/Civic Si but with wright wheel drive. That combo once aftermarket gets in gear should make for some amazing giant killing track specials. I’m excited to see what a tuned up GT86/BRZ can do at Tsukuba, a track small enough to be perfect for this car.
Counting the days until I can see one for the first time.
Great article, I can’t get enough of the new 86. This is the first “new” car I’ve felt the urge to purchase in over 10 years, and decided I’d buy one, until I found out the badge was completely wrong. My life was shattered, then I found out there was an USDM alternative…
I’ll take mine in Subaru, please.
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Antonio. Very nice review man! That event was a blast. Good seeing you in Vegas. Take care.
@Kevin T: Thanks so much for the comment! Sounds like we were BOTH skeptical at first… but the new FR-S has definitely won me over. Thanks for the link to FT86Club too. I just met Go from that site in Vegas…
@Oliver: I DEFINITELY think Mike Kim should get this. Especially a RED one! As long as he doesn’t fall asleep behind the wheel and flip it, we’ll be able to roll out HARD with a red FR-S and one of my red AE86s! sick!!!
@Fdogg: haha thanks man. Hmmm…. CG project car, huh? I’d love to. We’ll see.
@hechtspeed: I have even MORE details on the FR-S that I haven’t even shared yet! I’ll keep publishing details on our site…
@Aaron: Thanks so much for your comment! I felt the same way. This IS the first “new” car I’ve felt the urge to purchase in quite a while. Actually, this and the new GS350… I love that thing! Completely different cars though.
@Kirby Quinto: Nice seeing you in Vegas, man! Post up a link to your story if it’s already up!
@Antonio, no problem man. That was a really good read. Shows that the car was really built by folks with some passion. I think everyone or anyone interested in the development of the FRS should find some time to read it. Here is the link again:
@Kevin T: Yup, in fact I have a jacket from the FRS event that says “Built by Passion, not Committee”
such a good read. I’ll have to add this car to the pack one day… but I’ll always have my AE.
Lucky dude Antonio! I’d wish I got myself one of those jackets…nice. Damn nice. Toyota is definitely playing the cards right on this new car. I think it’s gonna blow up!
great photography (as always), and now you REALLY make me want an FRS. is it true that the subaru brz is supposed to be only $500 more?
Can we say t is like driving an EP3/DC5? or maybe more like an S2K?
@Jose M Lopez: I don’t really think the Scion FRS would be a good comparison to FWD Hondas like the EP3 or DC5.
I’ve driven the S2000CR, and I loved it. The FRS doesn’t feel like it is as powerful as an S2000, but it’s certainly rev-happy like the S2K. They BOTH handle really well, but the FRS definitely has much much much more room inside the cockpit and in the trunk. (The S2K’s trunk is pretty much nonexistent obviously) Also, the FRS will have a much better sound system (if you care about that) than the S2K. Plus, we’re talking hardtop car vs convertible/roadster with hardtop option. I really DO love the Honda S2K and think it would be a super fun weekend car, but if you want a fun weekend car that’s practical for daily too, then FRS is a great choice.
Also, if you look at the engine bay of the FRS, it looks relatively easy to work on. That’s a HUGE plus for shadetree grassroots mechanics.
The aftermarket potential of the FRS is going to be crazy too. Test drive one as soon as it gets to the dealerships. I can’t wait to drive one again, and I already own a bunch of fun-to-drive cars.
ay yo antonio those pics got to me they’re sick as fawck keep up the good work
thanks so much! it means a lot!!! i’m excited about the FRS!!!
There’s a restaurant here in the LA area called, Sushi Roku. Sushi is pretty good too.
At 1st i hated this car because honestly for the price you can buy a car that has more HP & performance, but now i want one.
@herbrockone : yeah man, I actually met the owner of Sushi Roku!
@Slappy : yup, a lot of people shared your same feelings at first, but after driving it, they decided they liked it a lot!
Arilctes like this just make me want to visit your website even more.