Automotive

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

For a certain segment of entry-level sports car buyers, the 2016 Scion FR-S is a perfect fit
For a certain segment of entry-level sports car buyers, the 2016 Scion FR-S is a perfect fit
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For a certain segment of entry-level sports car buyers, the 2016 Scion FR-S is a perfect fit
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For a certain segment of entry-level sports car buyers, the 2016 Scion FR-S is a perfect fit
One of the detail differences between the FR-S and the BRZ is the treatment of this cutout on the fender
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One of the detail differences between the FR-S and the BRZ is the treatment of this cutout on the fender
The FT-86 logo appears on both the Scion FR-S and its non-US market twin, the Toyota FT-86, in homage to the company's racing heritage
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The FT-86 logo appears on both the Scion FR-S and its non-US market twin, the Toyota FT-86, in homage to the company's racing heritage
The FR-S' engine begs for a tuner's upgrades
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The FR-S' engine begs for a tuner's upgrades
The 2.0-liter Boxer is the same engine that is in the Subaru WRX, but without the turbocharger
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The 2.0-liter Boxer is the same engine that is in the Subaru WRX, but without the turbocharger
Toyota and Subaru brought the best they have to offer to the design table, and the result shows that they’re a near-perfect match
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Toyota and Subaru brought the best they have to offer to the design table, and the result shows that they’re a near-perfect match
The heart of the FR-S’ appeal is both its signature Nipponese looks and its excellent sports driving foundation
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The heart of the FR-S’ appeal is both its signature Nipponese looks and its excellent sports driving foundation
Strong fenders and a tapered body showcase the rear-wheel drive visually
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Strong fenders and a tapered body showcase the rear-wheel drive visually
The handling characteristics, precision steering, and excellent balance of the little FR-S only add ice cream to the pie
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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 little vehicle
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In every way, this is a truly sport-focused little vehicle
Even commuter traffic is made more fun in the Scion
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Even commuter traffic is made more fun in the Scion
Small and fun to drive are the core descriptors of this car
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Small and fun to drive are the core descriptors of this car
The Scion FR-S is the kind of car that a 17 year-old can buy without scaring his or her parents
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The Scion FR-S is the kind of car that a 17 year-old can buy without scaring his or her parents
The simple lines flow on the FR-S
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The simple lines flow on the FR-S
The interior of the 2016 Scion FR-S is spartan, in a modern, back-to-basics sports car kind of way
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The interior of the 2016 Scion FR-S is spartan, in a modern, back-to-basics sports car kind of way
Bolstering on the front seats, shown here with the optional sport seating package, is phenomenal
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Bolstering on the front seats, shown here with the optional sport seating package, is phenomenal
The back seats of this car are mostly for show
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The back seats of this car are mostly for show
The trunk of the Scion FR-S is more spacious than might be expected
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The trunk of the Scion FR-S is more spacious than might be expected

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 simple lines flow on the FR-S
The simple lines flow on the FR-S

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 FR-S' engine begs for a tuner's upgrades
The FR-S' engine begs for a tuner's upgrades

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.

The interior of the 2016 Scion FR-S is spartan, in a modern, back-to-basics sports car kind of way
The interior of the 2016 Scion FR-S is spartan, in a modern, back-to-basics sports car kind of way

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.

5 comments
Recon7
The only way you are getting a $27,000 car (its over 27k on the Scion website BTW, not 25K) for $250 a month is if you have a down payment of 10K with an interest rate of less than 2% for a more than 60 month term. Your "17 year old poor kid's first car" analogy does not apply.
FluxFlux
In what world do 17yr old kids buy brand new cars? Is this actually common in the U.S?
Jeff Goldstein
Tuner's dream means not much there to begin with. I want a more powerful car from the factory or at least as a dealer installed optional supercharger or turbocharger that will come with a factory warranty and dealer service. There needs to be a convertible version also. BTW, teenage drivers from affluent families don't get new cars. They get their parents hand me downs which in many cases are BMW 3 series or an Audi A4.
Aaron Turpen
Base price for the 2016 Scion FR-S per the Scion website is $25,305 MSRP.
kiterjim
How about a coupe/hatch ? This rear/body reminds me of a 1977 civic trunk model. Yikes http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-jyEybMP_nyg/TgYzWnzninI/AAAAAAAAJj8/r3GseJ_J50A/s1600/1977%2B77%2BHonda%2BCivic%2BCVCC%2BHatchback%2BHatch%2BBack%2BFirst%2BGeneration%2BTrunk%2BModel%2B3.jpg