Test Driven: Reactions to the Scion FR-S

By | November 15, 2012

Scion FR-S in Lexus White

Ever since the Scion FR-S/Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ was announced, we’ve been drooling over it. It’s like a more beautiful, more powerful Toyota MR2. Or a less powerful Porsche Cayman. Either way, it’s in a category of its own.

Finally, thanks to two local Toyota dealerships, we drove it.

What was it Like?

In a word, engaging.

When you climb into the cockpit, the racing seats wrap you up. The dashboard is all about you. You’re hunkered down tight, and the car is communicating to you that you’re in for quite the ride.

Take off down the road and it’s immediately apparent that it’s rev-happy. Redlining at 7500 RPM isn’t something most of us are used to. The short-throw shifter and its short shifts begged to be driven spiritedly. It’s not ridiculously fast at 200hp, but it’s certainly not underpowered. The direct-injected revving machine is sufficient to burn out in first gear, and chirp in second. No complaints there.

And then the handling! This alone deserves its own paragraph.

The FR-S has .2 inches lower center of gravity than a Porsche Cayman. That means it bites into the road like a Cayman. Quick jerks of the wheel at speed don’t upset it. It sticks to the road and the stock racing seats hold you in with aplomb. Take a curve with too much speed, and you quickly realize you could have taken it faster.

You can turn off the traction control (not recommended), or set it into sport mode. Sport lets the tires break loose just enough, and then snaps you right back.

Scion FR-S Ready For Delivery

Manual or Automatic?

These cars have very few options. You can upgrade the stereo, or apply a clear bra. The biggest choice you face, though, is do you go stick or paddle shifters. We drove them both.

The gears are taller in automatic, and so much less exciting. The paddles were less responsive than we’d hoped on the downshift. You can’t access neutral or reverse from them. They felt like they were there to be cool, and not to enhance the driving experience. Even in the automatic, the gear shifter looks like a stick shift. That feels like a real poser douchebag accessory. The only consolation is that, due to the taller gears, you get a couple extra MPG.

One salesman even told me, “You don’t have fun until 3rd gear in this auto.” Basically, you would be doing yourself a disservice to get the automatic if you’re reading this.


If you’re looking for a punchy drive that feels like it’s on rails, powered by a high-revving, direct-injected NA powerplant pushing the rear wheels of a gorgeous body, you’ll love the FR-S. On top of all that, you can drive it out for $25k. Not freaking bad! I’m sold.

Would you buy one? Let us know in the comments!

Special Thanks

A very special thanks to Brent Brown Scion in Provo, UT and Larry H. Miller Scion in Murray, UT for the test drives. We’ll be talking soon.



Shah B on November 15, 2012 at 12:40 pm.

Great review! I love this car. What else can you get that is less than $25k, rear drive, looks this good and (hopefully) as reliable as a Camry?

I agree with AJ, manual is the only way to get this vehicle. I wonder if the tuner (ricer) crowd will mess this car up?

AJ Wilcox on November 15, 2012 at 1:05 pm.

Thanks Shah! I totally agree – as value goes, this is tops.
Judging from SEMA this year, the ricer crowd has already messed this up. I have countless pictures of over-the-top styling. Are you considering? I can give you salesmens’ names to talk to.

Matthew Davis on November 15, 2012 at 11:51 pm.

Automatic drivers shall be scorned for their ignorance and lack of vision. I want one of these so bad!!! I think the Z is a good pre-owned alternative until prices come down.

AJ Wilcox on November 16, 2012 at 6:57 am.

Agreed Matt, the Z and the Miata are the two closest to this segment right now. For the Z’s extra weight, it still has more power and is more practical than a Miata. I could also go for an MR2 from the 90′s!

Chance Hales on November 16, 2012 at 2:02 pm.

Don’t forget about the S2000! I’d prefer one over a Z or a Miata.

AJ Wilcox on November 16, 2012 at 2:03 pm.

Totally agreed, Chance! I was only thinking cars still in production, but the S2000 is rad.

Chance Hales on November 16, 2012 at 6:36 pm.

Oh well cars in production you could argue the Hyundai Genesis, however, the steering in that car is more numb than my face after a visit to the dentist.

AJ Wilcox on November 16, 2012 at 8:54 pm.

Chance. that’s true. The Genesis is pricier, so I didn’t think to include it. I feel like Hyundai had to add more luxury to the Genesis because of its namesake sedan. If they could strip it down and make it lighter and nimble, I think it could compete.
On the other hand, I haven’t driven one, so I might be way out in left field.

Chance Hales on January 26, 2013 at 7:14 pm.

Finally went and drove a couple of these today, in the wet. I drove the auto first. It didn’t feel very fast. It felt more like a wannabe. However, I disagree with what AJ had to say about the shifting. It was quick, kinda fun, and relatively responsive. I liked how it blipped the throttle on downshifts. The auto does have the advantage of quick shifting and a few extra MPGs but it also costs an extra $1100! The auto also had a couple of settings. There was normal, sport, and snow. Since it was wet and cold I tired the snow setting which was interesting because it wouldn’t let you use 1st gear, instead, it’d keep you in 2nd to start off. Sport allowed the shifts to be a little more aggressive. The other car was of course, a manual. If you want an FR-S, for the love of all that is holy get the manual! Every word AJ says about it is true. The short throws took a moment to get use to but holy crap is it amazing! The car is a completely different beast. It feels so much quicker. I’m planning on getting one by summer in orange.

AJ Wilcox on January 26, 2013 at 7:25 pm.

@Chance Glad you got to drive them too! Thanks for coming back to the post to give your thoughts. I totally agree – the automatic was just so blah! The last thing I drove with paddles was the Porsche, so the shifts felt languid to me, but I’m glad you thought differently. I wanted so badly for even the manual to be a fun car, but I just couldn’t get into it like the manual.

I’ll have one in the Ultramarine blue around the same time. No hatin’, but the volcano orange color really doesn’t appeal.

Chance Hales on January 26, 2013 at 8:48 pm.

Yeah well The 911 is in a whole different league! I’ve driven a few paddle shift cars at work and most are painfully slow. This one has good response and I’d say the shifting, as far as quickness anyway, is as responsive as the BMW 335i’s auto in manual mode.
I love the blue too. I’m torn between a few colors but I love the orange.

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