Review: The 2016 Scion FR-S is potential on four wheels

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For a certain segment of entry-level sports car buyers, the 2016 Scion FR-S is a perfect fit(Credit: Aaron Turpen/Gizmag)

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The more we talk about the automotive space, the more we realize that there is literally a car for everyone out there. For a certain segment of entry-level sports car buyers, the 2016 Scion FR-S is a perfect fit. This car isn’t so much a track-ready checkered flag winner as it is a tuner’s dream. It’s potential on four wheels.

The FR-S is one of the "Toyobaru" triplets created when Toyota and Subaru collaborated on a rear-drive sports car concept that eventually became production reality. These are the Subaru BRZ, the Toyota FT-86, and the Scion FR-S. All three are essentially the same car with just a few style details changed between them. Frankly, it’s one of the best collaborations we’ve seen in a long time. The two companies brought the best they have to offer to the design table, and the result shows that they’re a near-perfect match.

The 2016 Scion FR-S holds itself as an entry-level sports coupe that targets Scion’s key demographic, teenagers and college-age kids. It hits it very well, striking a balance between budget and fun factor. Yet even those well beyond their teenage years, like myself, can find a lot of joy in this great little car.

The heart of the FR-S’ appeal is both its signature Nipponese looks and its excellent sports driving foundation. The 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine ("boxer" style) and its 200 horsepower (149 kW) and 151 pound-feet (205 Nm) of torque should not be viewed as the downside to this car, but rather as the base upon which more can be built. For the entry-level buyer, those 200 horses and the wonderfully well-tuned six-speed manual transmission they are attached to is enough to get a good feel for sporty, rear-wheel driving. That transmission, with its easily-defined break point in the clutch and short, energetic shift throw is – even in the hands of a professional who’s driven many much more expensive sports cars – one of the best in the business. To find it on a US$25,000 car is a surprise.

The handling characteristics, precision steering, and excellent balance of the little FR-S only add ice cream to the pie. In every way, this is a truly sport-focused vehicle. Its back-to-basics nature is why that 100 horses per liter is acceptable. The fact that the engine powering it will be familiar to anyone who’s versed in the Subaru WRX’s current-generation powerplant will bring the next point into light. This engine is a tuner’s dream waiting to be made into reality.

The only thing missing, a rally driver once told me when talking about this car, is the built-in mounting bolts and sticker saying "attach turbocharger here." This fact has not gotten past forum enthusiasts, who’re busy transforming Subaru Tecnica International (STI) motorsports packages for the WRX to fit the little Scion FR-S and Sub BRZ coupes.

It’s in this way that the entry-level FR-S is becoming the platform onto which potential is added at every turn. Many other modifications are also possible, including a host of Tokyo Drift-style body upgrades, serious race-ready brake changes, and more. Much more.

For the everyday driver, or those who do not plan on modifying the FR-S out of warranty, this little coupe is still a great ride as-is. It’s thoroughly enjoyable to drive so long as you don’t fall into the trap of pretending that HP ratings and 0-60 times are all that matter in a sports car. That Camaro might outrun you on the straighaway, but once the curves come, this little Scion will dance around that Chevy like it’s stopped for a potty break. Add in the 30 mpg (8 l/100km) highway rating that the manual transmission in a stock FR-S achieves, and the appeal only gets stronger.

The interior of the 2016 Scion FR-S is spartan, in a modern, back-to-basics sports car kind of way. It’s comfortable and done well enough that most who get into the front seats will find them appealing. The rear seats are mainly for show, though child safety seats or a canine friend can be squeezed back there if needed. Trunk space is larger than it might appear, though, adding a little versatility to the car’s daily use.

New for this year is a larger, more functional touchscreen interface. A rearview camera is standard in the FR-S and smartphone options have been added to the infotainment, though satellite radio is still not a factory option. Most of the upgrades to be found for the FR-S are dealer options rather than factory installations, which both adds versatility to the option mix and makes some items regional in availability. Some upgraded trim around the cabin also brings a little more style to the look, breaking up the black-on-black-on-gray that was there before.

In the end, though, the FR-S is all about driving. The rest of the amenities are just there for the passenger. Even commuter traffic is made more fun in the Scion. This might be difficult to understand, but until someone has spent time driving this little car, it’s not easy to express how engaging and entertaining the FR-S is to drive.

The Scion FR-S is the kind of car that a 17 year-old can buy without scaring his or her parents. It’s not threatening in its base form. By the time that kid learns to control the car and drive it well, the upgrades will be ready and affordable. At 20 or 21, money normally poured into less productive pursuits can be spent instead on tuning kits, turbochargers, and upgrades. When that grown-up child is ready to handle it, the FR-S would then become a real weekend track machine and even a checkered flag contender. It will have opened up a whole new world of possibility for someone who began with a $250 a month payment as a teenager. We can think of few things more commendable than that.

That, when it’s all boiled down, is the whole point of the 2016 Scion FR-S. It’s just fun to drive. It’s also a great base upon which a vast potential of sports tuning can be built.
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