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

Scion's new little sports car is at its best in a series of tight turns, but low torque leads to power lulls.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
6 min read

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.


2013 Scion FR-S

The Good

The <b>2013 Scion FR-S</b> 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.

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.

2013 Scion FR-S (pictures)

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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.

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
Model2013 Scion FR-S
Power trainDirect and port injection 2-liter 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed manual transmission
EPA fuel economy22 mpg city/30 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy28.3 mpg
NavigationOptional, cloud-based system
Bluetooth phone supportStandard
Digital audio sourcesPandora, Bluetooth streaming, iPod integration, USB drive, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio systemPioneer 160-watt 8-speaker system
Driver aidsNone
Base price$24,200
Price as tested$24,930

2013 Scion FR-S

Score Breakdown

Cabin tech 6Performance tech 8Design 7


Trim levels BaseAvailable Engine GasBody style Coupe