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Scion FR-S – Las Vegas Preview and Quick Drive

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Scion FR-S – Las Vegas Preview and Quick Drive

2013 Scion FR-S Sport Coupe by txGarage

2013 Scion FR-S Sport Coupe by txGarage

We don’t venture out of Texas that often to review a car. We normally like to drive the car here in Texas, on our normal everyday driving roads, so we get a real perspective of how the vehicle behaves for everyday driving. Obviously, we’ll make exceptions like we did with the Scion FR-S. We were invited to fly out to Las Vegas to be one of the first in Texas to get behind the wheel of the all-new sports car from Scion. To be more specific, this is a new sports car from Toyota and Subaru, and if you haven’t heard of it yet, then you’ll probably want to go read one of our reviews of the Toyota Prius because this car won’t be for you. On the other hand, if you’re a car enthusiast like us, you’ve probably heard and read a lot about this car already. This is our experience with the FR-S.

Like I mentioned, we’re in Vegas, but not on the strip. Toyota/Scion put us up in a hotel right on the west edge of Vegas. Looking out east from our hotel room, we saw all the lights and excitement of the “strip”. Looking west, there was nothing but desert and mountains. After hearing a lot of marketing and technical talk from the team at Scion, we finally headed out to the front of the hotel where we were greeted with our ride. Looking at the FR-S, you already know what this car is about. It’s small, shorter than a 370Z, and it becomes more apparent the closer you get to the car. The FR-S is also very low to the ground; you’re butt sits just over a foot off the ground. The styling of the body is made to exude sportiness, but also be functional with low drag and good visibility. The arches over the front wheels stick up above the hood, and are purposely larger so you really can see where your front wheels are hitting the road.

I sat down in the first car that was ready to go as most of the other journalists were still mingling and procrastinating; I was ready to hit the road! Sitting in the FR-S, the first thing you notice is the bolstering in the seat. They’re large, yet quite comfortable, and as we’re headed to the track, I immediately realize that they will really come in handy later in the day. Next, I started paying attention to the detail of work and materials used within this car. Jumping into a Scion usually means hard plastics and unpleasant fabric. To our delight, the FR-S has a great interior. There is only one place on the dash where they used hard plastic to break up the dash, but it’s really done well. The steering wheel is wrapped in leather and has a good width and grip points. Directly behind the wheel, I noticed paddle shifters. I took a second look at the gearshift, and sure enough this was a FR-S equipped with an automatic transmission. The shifter is a little deceiving as it looks like it would be a manual. No worries, it’s time to see how this thing drives!

I took another quick look at our designated route to the track and pulled out of the hotel. Heading west, you quickly lost all signs of being in Vegas and quickly began to climb in elevation. Our route took us through Red Rock Canyon National Conservation, which is only 15 minutes outside of Vegas. This was a big surprise and a great treat. I was ready for one long, endlessly straight road through the desert, but the road heading through Red Rock Canyon was windy and full of elevation changes. Yes, it’s time to play.

The FR-S has a few settings you can play with. The automatic gives you the option of Sport or Snow driving, which affects the shifting of the transmission; obviously, when you’re rowing your own gears, you don’t need this option. We put the transmission into manual mode and pushed the Sport setting. Your next set of options is for traction control and stability control. Push the traction off button once and you kill the traction control, but you still get stability control. Hold that button down again and it kills all systems. To the right of that button, you have one labeled VSC Sport. This is your stability control button. Push and hold that and it disables traction control and puts the stability into a more race focused setting, allowing you to have more sliding abilities without killing the systems completely. That’s the option we went with for these roads.

Now normally, I’d suggest that if you’re buying a sports car, you need a manual transmission. In this car though, with this transmission, I was having a hard time deciding which I liked best. The auto is a 6-speed with some of the best paddle-shifters I’ve used, and you get active rev-matching to make sure you have the right power to match your speed. Going through the twisties in the canyon with this transmission was a great experience. Put your foot down coming out of a corner and you scream up to the next; then downshift – hearing the backdraft in the exhaust and the rev’s pop up as the computer does the work to match them to your speed – hit the accelerator pedal a little too soon and too quickly and push out the rear, quickly countersteer to catch the rearend and straighten back up. Then repeat.

Driving this one-way, canyon road in this car is now on my list of great driving experiences. Enough fun and games though, it’s back to the job at hand as we shoot down the desert road heading toward Spring Mountain Motorsport Ranch.

About 40-minutes of driving later, we pulled into the entrance of Spring Mountain. We’ve spent a lot of time in Texas at Texas Motorsport Ranch, and it’s a nice facility, but wow, this place is nice! They had a 1.3-mile section of the track cutoff specifically for us, plus a coned off area for some autocross driving. First thing’s first. I parked the FR-S and headed into the clubhouse to sign an insurance waiver, went through a safety briefing, and waited for the rest of the group to catch up.

After the safety talk, we went back outside. Using the same group of cars we’d arrived in a few minutes before, we headed toward the track; only this time, I found one with a 6-speed manual transmission. We took 4 laps following the track instructors to help us get down the lines and braking points. This was good as the track had many late apex’s and a few hard braking turns.

It was now time to see how well rounded the FR-S really was. We already had a great time on normal road driving, but could this car go straight from the road to the track and really perform? I was in the FR-S with the manual transmission, so I reached down and pushed the traction control button twice to disable all driving aids. Now it’s just me, a steering wheel, clutch, shifter, and rear-wheel drive. Off the line, the 200 horsepower from the 2.0-liter boxer-4 wasn’t quite enough and didn’t feel very fast. Once you get into the higher rev’s, though, you never really feel a lack of power. You can feel the balance of the car, though. It has a very low center of gravity, only weighing 2,758 pounds, and has a weight distribution of 53% front and 47% rear. If you push hard into a corner, you’ll feel the understeer, but using your braking points correctly and turning tight into a corner, you can feel this car gripping, and if anything, it’s ready to give up the rear-end. When you do lose the rear end, which we did on occasion, purposefully of course, it’s easy to control and bring back into line. This car was designed for fun, sideways driving and it shows.

The controllable chassis gives you so much confidence; you’ll be running faster and faster lap times each run. We didn’t record lap times on the big track, but I could feel myself improving each run and it was all made easier by this well-balanced car.

Alas, it was time to move on to the autocross track. There was a fast slalom at the beginning of the course and lots of hard turning throughout the rest. The autocross was timed and we were anxious to see just how well we’d do up against some of the others out there. We were given a few passes to get the feel of the different traction setting, and then were up to post a time. Our first time was 33.8 seconds. The fastest of the day had been in the low 31-second range, so we had a ways to improve. I was a little wide on the slalom, so that was slowing me down. I was also sawing at the wheel too much around some of the back turns. Smooth everything out, get rid of any oversteer or understeer, and be quick but smooth; these are the lessons I’ll always keep with me for fast driving. After calming down and implementing what I knew about track and autocross driving, I was able to get my time down to 31.8 seconds. Given a few more laps, I probably could have gotten that time even lower, but my official time was in so I was ready to head back to the big track and see how much more I could wring out of this car.

After all our track driving, it was time to head back through the desert to the hotel. On the way, we were able to think about just how good this Scion/Toyota/Subaru really is, and just how easily it could have all gone wrong. If they had opted for a cheaper transmission, it wouldn’t have been as good. If they had put a cheaper suspension and a more forgiving frame, it wouldn’t be as good. All models of the FR-S come standard with a limited-slip differential, which is usually an option, if offered at all, on cars at this price. If they hadn’t done that, the car just wouldn’t be as good. For just under $25,000, you basically get a track ready car that is also good for a daily driver.

It’s hard to come up with a real good competitor to the FR-S. It seems that no one is making a truly, unapologetic sports car for this price. The Mazda MX-5 is the first obvious choice. They are both basically the same price, and both lightweight, but the FR-S seems to be more than the MX-5. It has more power and it’s a little bigger of a car. I can actually fit in the car with a helmet on with no problems. Your next choice is the Genesis Coupe, which you might know we like a lot, but the Genesis is actually a lot bigger in size and feel over the FR-S. Also with its new engine tuning for 2013 it has much more power than the FR-S. I think of the Genesis as more of a GT car over a track focused car. Really, one of the cars that comes to mind for me while driving this car was the Porsche Cayman. It’s light and focused and similarly sized. The engine in the FR-S is almost pushed back far enough to call it a front-mid engine layout. Yes, the FR-S is down over 100hp to the Cayman, but it’s also down almost $40,000 in price!

No matter what the proper comparison is, there’s no doubting that it’s a very good car for what it was built to be. If you’re looking for a small, focused sports car that is easy to drive daily and a ton of fun in the corners or out on the track, this is now the car for you.

Adam Moore

Adam was one of the founding members of txGarage back in 2007 when he worked for a Suzuki dealership in Dallas, TX. He is now our Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. He's always been into cars and trucks and has extensive knowledge on both. Check Adam out on twitter @adamaoc.

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