2013 Scion FR-S review:

2013 Scion FR-S

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Scion offers the FR-S with a six-speed automatic, but there is a special place in hell for people who choose that option. The six-speed manual, with which CNET's car was equipped, is the clear choice. This transmission has a typical Japanese engineering feel, precise but very mechanical. I could feel and hear the bearings in the linkage as I shifted.

The lack of a hill start feature was a minor inconvenience when driving around San Francisco, but the transmission and engine were cooperative in getting started while on a grade, minimizing rollback. And the suspension, while well-tuned for cornering, was not too stiff for everyday driving. The FR-S was surprisingly comfortable over normal city streets, highways, and big, multilane freeways.

2013 Scion FR-S
The VSC Sport button sits just behind the six speed manual shifter. James Martin/CNET

The close ratios of the transmission put the tachometer at 3,000rpm when driving in sixth gear at 65 mph. With the manual transmission, the EPA fuel economy comes in at 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, about 4 mpg under the automatic-transmission option. However, I had an easy time keeping the car in the middle of that range, and ended up over 28 mpg as an average, even with plenty of high-rpm driving.

Of other, more practical concern, the FR-S gets Scion's latest cabin electronics, which have changed in the last year. Scion offers a base and an optional Pioneer head unit. The optional system brings in many advanced connected features, such as navigation, Facebook, and Yelp integration. This system, called Bespoke, requires an iPhone 4 or better, which is limiting. I was surprised that Toyota did not offer some form of its new Entune app integration.

CNET's car came with the base Pioneer head unit, a decent non-navigation system with a number of digital audio sources and a Bluetooth phone hands-free system. When I paired my iPhone with the system, it did not download my contact list, although the head unit offers a phone book function. The small screen also shows recent calls and speed dial lists. The voice command button for the phone system is on the lower left of the head unit.

2013 Scion FR-S
The monochrome screen is smallish, but works well enough in conjunction with the dial for browsing a music library. James Martin/CNET

This head unit handled music playing from my iPhone well, either cabled to the USB port or through Bluetooth streaming. With Bluetooth, it actually showed full track information on the display. Browsing my music library was relatively quick using the dial on the head unit. For FM, the head unit included an HD tuner, which could pick up a station's multicasts.

The eight-speaker audio system in the car was as youth-oriented as the brand, with strong bass response. I could feel the bass pulses against my left calf from the door woofer. Mids and highs were not quite as strong, but still clear. When I turned up the volume, panel rattle became evident.

In sum
I found the 2013 Scion FR-S perfectly satisfying when I put it into a tight turn, followed by a dollop of disappointment as I tried to power out of the exit. Trying for a fast start was equally disappointing, as the FR-S does not launch fast. The car is at its best in a set of tight turns. Track day hopefuls will quickly wish they had bought an M3.

The base Pioneer head unit in the car offered an excellent set of audio sources. I was completely happy with the stereo, although panel rattle got obnoxious at high volumes. With its lack of voice command, the Bluetooth phone system proved annoying when I wanted to initiate a call. The upgrade Bespoke head unit, with its app integration, sounds very intriguing, although its iPhone 4 requirement is a bit limitation.

Tech specs
Model 2013 Scion FR-S
Trim N/A
Power train Direct and port injection 2-liter 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed manual transmission
EPA fuel economy 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 28.3 mpg
Navigation Optional, cloud-based system
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Pandora, Bluetooth streaming, iPod integration, USB drive, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system Pioneer 160-watt 8-speaker system
Driver aids None
Base price $24,200
Price as tested $24,930

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