Road Test: nimble Scion FR-S
Yes, this is a review of a Scion, the Toyota sub-brand normally aimed at teens. Yes, you're a grown-up and are probably about to move on to the next distraction. Don't.
Not if you have a taste for buzzworthy fun on an extremely modest budget. Other Scion models may be boxy oddities, but the FR-S is a hummingbird on wheels. This small coupe delivers a flutter of fast, divebombing activity and starts at $25,600.
Carmakers don't design all-new models like the FR-S very often. Crossovers and eco-boxes are in greater demand than small two-door sports cars with tiny rear seats.
If you want a fast, fun and cheap car of the rear-wheel variety, you're looking at the long-in-the-tooth Mazda MX-5 Miata for $24,000. Or you can pony up $52,000 for a Porsche Cayman, an awesome small car indeed.
The FR-S provides a viable new alternative. Less than 14 feet long and only 4.2 feet high, it weighs around 2,800 pounds and has an incredibly low center of gravity.
Working as a joint venture, Toyota and Subaru designed their rear-wheel-drive architecture and drivetrain together to save on development costs. The result is the release of two extremely similar cars, the FR-S and the Subaru BRZ.
The FR-S may not be big, but the design is tricked out, with a complex interplay of character lines, indentations and a blacked-out rear diffuser.
The powerplant is conservative, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder Boxer engine that forgoes turbochargers for a naturally aspirated setup. It gets 200 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque.
However, a car this light doesn't need 500 hp to push it down the road. You've just got to whip it rather strenuously.
The FR-S comes with a six-speed manual. That is, clearly, the right choice. Like matching a blue suit with brown shoes and belt, they just go together. The six-speed automatic is OK, but less entertaining.
The suspension is wonderful, courtesy of sophisticated parts you'd find in very adult sports cars, including a Torsen limited-slip differential, MacPherson struts up front, and a double wishbone rear.
When I took it on one of my favorite serpentine roads, which I drive weekly, I found I could carry a lot more speed in the corners than I'm accustomed to.
The car's interior is craftily simple. The dashboard has interesting contours and undulations, and the red stitching along the doors seems to suggest it's holding together pieces of leather, rather than plastic. The plastic also has a faint scale-like texture, which makes it easier on the eye.
BASE PRICE: $25,600
PRICE AS TESTED: not available
EPA FUEL ECONOMY: 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway
ENGINE: 2.0-liter four-cylinder
POWER: 200 horsepower
LENGTH: 166.9 inches
HEIGHT: 51.2 inches
WHEELBASE: 101.2 inchesBOTTOM LINE: A grown-up, nimble Scion that's priced right.