Review: 2016 Scion FR-S

The Scion FR-S was designed as an “authentic sports car at an affordable price.” To reach that lofty goal, the designers mounted a flat boxer engine based on Subaru’s design in a low slung, rear wheel drive chassis. The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine cranks out 200 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque that is good for 0-60 times right about 6 seconds. The engine can be mated to one of two six-speed transmissions, a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic with the DIY option paddles shifters. Our FR-S was equipped with the automatic.

The exterior of the Scion FR-S is definitely eye-catching and lends to the sports car idea. More than one person stopped us to ask what it was, and many more were caught checking out the car as we drove by. The color of our FR-S was a dark gray Scion calls Asphalt. It’s a great color that visually helped to sharpen some of the lines and creases. If you find yourself in the market for an FR-S, be sure to choose your color wisely as it’s just about the only option you get to choose.

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The FR-S is a featherweight fighter. It’s short, compactly muscular, and chiseled. The tapered front end starts with a wide grille opening and runs along bulging fenders. The profile has curving creases that move the eye to the tall, square back end reminiscent of classic muscle car coupes. That back end and the swollen rear wheel wells let you know the FR-S never skips leg day.

A furrow runs the length of the front two-thirds of the car—up the middle of the hood and roof to the rear glass and the spoiler on the trunk lid—and it screams downforce. That tall backside is finished along the bottom with a piece of gray trim that surrounds dual chrome-tipped exhaust and a funky triangular third brake light, all of which adds to rest of the car’s design message that it’s ready to run.

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The sportiness carries over inside the FR-S. The front seats are firm with race-inspired bolsters that keep you planted while you enjoy testing the car’s limits on your favorite backroads. The rear seats are hardly worth mentioning. We had our slightly built tween tester crawl into the rear while our shortest adult tester moved the driver’s seat as far to the front of her comfort limits as she could. When asked about her comfort level, the tween remarked she would be fine if it weren’t for her pesky legs and feet getting in the way. Don’t plan on using the FR-S for more than two.

While the seat bolsters are excellent at maintaining occupant’s position on the curves, they inhibited normal movements during every day driving. Setting a purse, or raincoat, or small purchases onto the rear shelves (we refuse to call them seats anymore) was a chore and required reaching around said bolsters. Retrieving anything from back there required getting out of the car and leaning back in. Additionally, we don’t recommend using the FR-S for a road trip. The firmness is a bit much for the long haul.

One has to keep in mind the track inspiration in the FR-S design. Just like race cars are difficult to get into, the FR-S requires a normal size adult to fold themselves in half and essentially drop into the seat. Climbing out of the car just about requires actual climbing.

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Not everything about the FR-S interior is negative. While Scion is the young folks/budget branch of Toyota the Toyota lineage comes through in fit and finish. Seams are tight and flush where parts come together. Materials that are obviously on the less expensive end of the spectrum are by no means cheap. Any part you might bump into or rest on is soft touch and comfortable. If you’re looking for an affordable track-inspired minimalist without basic creature comfort those negatives likely aren’t negatives anyway.

Minimalism and budget friendly fight as the best descriptors of the infotainment and console area. The driver’s area provides everything you need to scoot down the highway and not much more. There are no audio controls on the steering wheel, and there is no flashy info center in the instrument cluster. You get a solid steering wheel with a good feel and a large tachometer which turn out to be everything you need on the backroads. The control stalks are not very well placed. They are hidden most of the time by the horizontal spokes of the steering wheel and a little more effort to find and manipulate than we are used to in Toyota products.

The centerpiece of the stack is a 7” touchscreen that allows access to audio controls and the Bluetooth hands-free system. The budget FR-S doesn’t feature an infotainment system. A backup camera is standard, and very necessary. The audio controls on the side of the screen are easy enough to understand, but aren’t really logically placed. We felt they required a bit too much eyes-off-the-road-time for our comfort. We want to keep using “budget” to describe everything below the screen, but it unfortunately heads into the cheap category enough we started to wonder if the clock and HVAC controls came from that ’85 Corolla college transportation that was old even back then.

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The center console is made up of the shift lever, a few switches for selecting drive modes and a shallow well. The well is just large enough for a removable tray molded in the shape of two cupholders. Interior storage also includes a slot at the bottom of the stack in front of the shifter and two square pockets in each door. The door pockets aren’t sized to hold anything specific. They’re like an odd closet in your hallway that exists solely so the builder can claim “no wasted space.”

All of the sports car like elements of the appearance are justified in the way the FR-S drives. It drives like a flat, pavement hugging track car. It is quick, and does a decent job holding corners.

We spent time on limited access highways and carving up the foothills around us. While we much preferred the curve carving, the FR-S did a good job on both. One brief jaunt through a gravel parking lot left us worried about the condition of low profile tires, once we recovered from the jostling that is. The DIY shifting available in automatic was done through wheel mounted paddle shifters or by bumping the shift lever to the left and using it as a sequential shifter. The shift lever took a second for the transmission to respond, but the paddle shifters got an instantaneous response we enjoyed.

The Bottom Line

The FR-S was at times really fun to drive; however, the minimalist design and lack of basic features standard in other similarly priced vehicles make it hard for us to see it as a daily driver. If Scion is going to keep selling the FR-S as is, we suggest Toyota and Subaru figure out how to squeeze 40-50 more horses under the hood to make it a real minimalist scream machine.

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