Last fall, Autosavant’s Kevin Gordon and I were both fortunate enough to drive the Scion FR-S. His was equipped with the sweet-shifting six-speed manual, which offers the driver complete control in extracting the goodness out of what is arguably Toyota’s sportiest offering in some time. My fate? Spending a week with the automatic-equipped FR-S. Was it as good?
Unequivocally: yes. What follow are test notes, raw and only slightly edited. In the spirit of David E. Davis discovering the BMW 2002 and putting out the clarion call to enthusiasts to “turn your hymnals to 2002,” I invite you to flip back to “86,” in deference to the FR-S’s name in the rest of the world.
It’s that good.
The first thing you notice about the FR-S is a consistently heavy theme. Everything feels heavy. The steering. The door thud. The gated automatic transmission. Clunk. Thud. For a car that exists to prove that lightness is essential to making a great sports car, heaviness translates to a feeling of quality and solidity.
As soon as I turned the key, I was reminded of the experience of starting up a Miata. With your eyes closed, you’d be hard-presed to discern the differences in the way the seats cocoon both driver and passenger. And there’s that low, low driving position; the way you need to duck your head makes economy cars and hatchbacks practically monolithic by comparison. There are some ergonomic quirks — an incomprehensible radio interface, for one — but none that impede the driving experience. (And if you want a classier interior, check out the Subaru BRZ.)
You turn the steering wheel, and the car magically knows in which direction you want to go. A quick flick results in laughably fun fishtailing. It’s enough to get your license revoked. Proceed at your own risk. The beautifully weighted steering made me second-guess that of the Volkswagen GTI sitting at the other end of the driveway. For the most fun, engage three buttons: Sport, VSC Sport, and TRAC OFF. I’m having fun imagining what the “snow” setting does for this rear-wheel-drive pip. You will easily forget that the steering is electric and that you yell at your friends for driving cars with electric power steering.
The engine is punchy, and sings with the howl of a refined hunting dog, until you hit something like 7000 RPM. There is a clever “UP! UP! UP!” light that will come on if you’re about to overrev. I loved seeing that light; the transmission did not automatically upshift at redline, unlike some of the FR-S’s competition. All this while returning about 27 mpg over 600 miles or so.
To test the livability of the FR-S, I kept it in a rotation with the aforementioned GTI over the week of real-world testing, which included stints in Brooklyn and a 500-mile road trip up the Connecticut coast. Having done the same trip a year earlier in a Mazda Miata, I was prepared for a stiffish ride, a lot of shifting, and the discomfort of a cramped two-seater whose sole purpose is corner-carving. But that’s not the case here. Sure, the FR-S may have a totally unusable backseat, and the trunk may only be large enough to accommodate a gym bag, yet I didn’t feel as if I sacrificed anything to take the FR-S on a journey.
I was humbled and slightly envious of the man who picked up the FR-S at the conclusion of a week’s travels with it. As far as I could tell, the automatic transmission did not cause any compromises to the driving experience. Given the opportunity to live with one for the long term, I might hesitate before selecting a transmission – a testament to the FR-S’s inherent goodness.
You can see the video of Kevin Gordon wringing all the fun out of its six-speed manual here.
Scion provided the vehicle tested, as well as insurance and a full tank of gas. I went ahead and refilled the FR-S’s tiny bladder several times, thanks to a fortuitously-timed road trip.