Scion FR-S – A brilliantly engineered sports car

I haven’t done much car photography, but I do know what time of day most subjects look nice. The other evening, I took my new (used) FR-S out for some photos, which I’ll follow with a review I’ve written.

Scion FR-S - 35mm, 1/90 @ f/4.5

Scion FR-S – 35mm, 1/90 @ f/4.5

Scion FR-S - 35mm, 1/125 @ f/5.6

Scion FR-S – 35mm, 1/125 @ f/5.6

Scion FR-S - 35mm, 1/10 @ f/8.0

Scion FR-S – 35mm, 1/10 @ f/8.0

Scion FR-S - 35mm, 1/45 @ f/3.5

Scion FR-S – 35mm, 1/45 @ f/3.5

Scion FR-S - 35mm, 1/90 @ f/4.5

Scion FR-S – 35mm, 1/90 @ f/4.5

Scion FR-S review – How many of these features do you usually get in a sports car?

  1. Amazing handling and driving feel
  2. Zippy acceleration
  3. Stunning lines and design
  4. Good-size trunk space for a sports car
  5. Economical gas mileage
  6. Seating for four
  7. Quality build and reliability
  8. Affordable pricing

All of my favorite cars made in the last 15 years have some of these perks, but not all of them.

My all time favorite, the Porsche Cayman, has a larger engine and so more power, but lower gas mileage numbers.  It handles like no other car out there, but it has no back seat, and very limited trunk space. It also costs nearly 3 times what the FR-S does. It is expensive to repair, even if it is relatively reliable.

What about the Honda S2000?  It had (when it was produced) an economical 4-cylinder engine with surprising power, incredible reliability, and superb handling.  Again, a shallow trunk and no back seats to fold down to extend the trunk space.  And personally, I’m not into convertibles.  I like hardtop coupes.

The Mercedes SLK, Nissan 370Z, Hyundai Genesis Coupe… There are things I love about all these cars. The refined luxury of the SLK, the raw power of the 370Z, and practical rear seat and trunk room of the Genesis Coupe.  But they’re missing things I am loving about my used Scion FR-S (see list above).

Of course 200 HP compared to the 300+ of the 370Z or Cayman can seem anemic.  It’s really not. The 370Z, depending on options, can weigh 800 pounds more than the FR-S, and the Cayman can cost 3 times the price.  You can have a lot of fun in a 200 HP car that weighs only 2,700 lbs, if it’s set up to handle like a dream.  In practical city and rural driving conditions, the incredible handling outweighs the lack of power, and it’s only on the track where you start to feel left behind by the more powerful competition (assuming no illegal street drag races).

What I have noticed is the lack of low-rev grunt. I’m coming from a 2001 Lexus IS300, which had a 215 HP, 3.0 liter, inline 6, 2JZ engine from a normally aspirated Toyota Supra.  I could stomp on the gas at almost any RPM and feel the seat push my back.  You don’t feel that unless you’re above 4,000 RPM in the FR-S, with it’s 2.0 liter Subaru boxer engine. The boxer engine is very comfortable cruising at 2,000 to 3,000 RPM, sipping gas and not making much noise, but it doesn’t have much torque there.

When the red needle passes 4,000, the low-rev growl turns into a louder, throaty warble, the red MPH numbers start to flicker faster, and there is a strong forward surge. You might say if I’ve never been in a car with real power, I don’t know what I’m missing. But I’ve been in Corvettes and 911s, and my brother-in-law has a 416 HP Lexus IS-F, so I know what those cars feel like.  I also know not everybody can afford them, and I’m very satisfied with the performance of the FR-S.

The first time I filled up the FR-S, the gauge showed a quarter tank left. It took 8 gallons and $22 to top it off. And it looks like it will have at least the range of the IS300, so the gas mileage should be much better!

I used to have a 1995 Honda Prelude Si, which had a fantastic 5-speed manual tranny and a rev-happy 2.2 liter motor that put out 160 HP.  That was awhile back but I still have very fond memories of that car, and only sold it because the car payments were competing with my college tuition.  The Honda motor wasn’t really happy unless you were winding it up into higher revs, where it was somewhat buzzy and raspy.  The sound from the boxer engine in the FR-S has more growl, if not rumble, and I like waiting to shift just to listen to the revs build up.

I still don’t think the FR-S short shifter can match the Prelude’s. Nobody makes a manual transmission quite like Honda. But I do like the 6-speed manual in the FR-S, and it works great. I feel like first gear is a little short to launch the car quickly, but it becomes very useful in parking lots where I don’t have to shove in the clutch pedal for every little slowdown.

Then there’s the rear-wheel-drive thing.  The Prelude was front-wheel-drive.  When you try to make the front tires steer AND pull the car, you get things like torque steer and understeer.  A rear-wheel-drive car just rotates more effortlessly in corners, and I got spoiled with my IS300. But the FR-S is in a whole different class!  It’s just so much fun to drive on curvy roads.  The FR-S has a very stiff suspension, but it soaks up bumps and pavement seams fairly well, while the Prelude was so hard it made me wonder sometimes if something had just broken underneath. BANG! “Ouch! What was that? A crack in the pavement?”

Now, I have 2 small kids.  So the general thinking is, if you have small kids, you can’t have a sports car.  Baloney!  For the past decade I’ve been driving a 5 seater sedan that gets 17mpg around town, because I thought I needed one with a family.  But over the last 10 years, 98% of the time, it’s just me alone in the car going to work or running errands.  The other 2% of the time, my son came with me. If we ever go somewhere as a family, we use the minivan.  So I didn’t need a sedan after all.

In that department, there’s one more thing to consider.  Two days after I got the car, my wife hadn’t been in it, and she needed groceries.  So for a fun experiment, we belted the kids into the back seat of the FR-S and went to Costco.  A full cartload of groceries fit in the trunk with room to spare.  No, the car isn’t designed for soccer moms, but it handles a grocery run with the kids just fine! Try that with a Porsche Cayman or BMW Z4 Coupe!

I don’t have much experience with Subarus, but excluding the Honda Prelude, all my previous cars were built by Toyota, and I’ve learned to trust the bullet-proof reliability.  I got my FR-S used for $19,999 with 30,000 miles on it.  Aside from a few minor scratches, it’s like a new car. I’ll likely be driving it into my 50’s.

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