2013 Scion FR-S review: 2013 Scion FR-S

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MSRP: $24,200.00
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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good The 2013 Scion FR-S handles beautifully, with extremely well-tuned suspension and steering gear. Digital audio sources include HD Radio, Bluetooth streaming, iPod, and USB drive.

The Bad Low torque leads to mild starts and not much thrust out of a turn. The available Bespoke head unit only integrates apps and navigation with the iPhone 4 or better.

The Bottom Line The 2013 Scion FR-S is a fun sports car, excellent in the turns but lacking big thrust, while the cabin tech upgrade looks intriguing for iPhone users.

7.0 Overall
  • Cabin tech 6.0
  • Performance tech 8.0
  • Design 7.0

In automotive circles, the 2013 Scion FR-S and its identical twin the Subaru BRZ have been anticipated and talked up incessantly. However, for those attracted to this review by the pretty picture, let me briefly recite the car's development history. Toyota, missing a sports car from its lineup for years, codeveloped the FR-S with Subaru, of which it owns a large stake.

Toyota markets the new car elsewhere in the world as the GT-86, but put it under the Scion brand in the U.S. as the FR-S. Subaru sells a car identical in running gear and bodywork called the BRZ. The FR-S hearkens back to the Toyota Supra, out of production for almost a decade, and was designed as a pure sports car, rear-wheel drive and all.

After driving the FR-S over the twistiest roads I could find, I can say that the Toyota and Subaru teams developing this car wholly succeeded. From handling to bodywork to engine, it would be almost petty to point out any flaws.

The greatest joy in driving the FR-S comes from maneuvering through a turn. The response to the wheel felt perfect as the car's nose followed my intentions. Although like most modern cars the FR-S uses an electric power-steering system, I was hard-pressed to notice it. The engineers tuned the steering exceedingly well, bringing in a lot of weight to the wheel and eliminating understeer.

Likewise, the fixed suspension delivers flat cornering, while a limited-slip differential maintains power at both rear wheels. The FR-S' short wheelbase, about 8.5 feet, contributes to its tight cornering. Overall length is just under 14 feet. From the low-slung driver's seat, the hood looks wide and short, with fender bumps marking the edges.

I found a little trail-braking could make the FR-S dance a little tighter, but did not feel all that necessary as it tracked so well through the turns.

2013 Scion FR-S
The Scion FR-S looks and handles like a sports car, and uses rear-wheel-drive architecture. James Martin/CNET

One petty critique, however, is of the car's braking performance. Ventilated discs all around, the brakes do not offer the kind of modulated slowing power I wanted when entering a turn. Tuners can look to this area as an initial upgrade.

The cornering also became more satisfying when I pushed the VSC Sport button, which initiated a sport mode in the vehicle stability control program. Pushing this button also lit up a warning that the traction control was off in the instrument panel, but that wasn't entirely true. The traction control system seemed dialed down a little but still active, and kept the FR-S from being tail-happy. However, unlike in the Hyundai Genesis Coupe, traction control never felt intrusive.

Back to being petty, the engine often feels short of power. This Subaru-designed flat four displaces 2 liters in the cylinders, which it feeds through Toyota's combination direct and port injection system. Toyota originally used this two-mode fuel delivery system in its Lexus models, with port injection working at low engine speeds to eliminate injector clatter, and direct injection taking over at higher engine speeds to deliver better efficiency. I do not think Toyota would lose much to drop the port injection part of this system.

2013 Scion FR-S
The instrument cluster puts the tachometer up front, although the digital speed readout is a practical touch. James Martin/CNET

The engine makes 200 horsepower but only 150 pound-feet of torque, and at 7,000rpm it sounds like a cat being run through a rock polisher. The sound coming out of the FR-S is not an exhaust note, just the natural, untuned result of a series of small, contained explosions. And while 200 horsepower should be more than adequate, the low torque number makes itself felt in a variety of situations.

Coming to a turn exit, the tachometer pointing above 6,000rpm, the FR-S had little power to give. Flooring the gas pedal did not give the car a big push. Likewise, attempting a fast start, the FR-S feels mild-mannered as the tachometer reels up toward redline in first gear, taking much more time than I expected from the excellent sports car design of the body. The FR-S handles like a champ but is no drag strip car.

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