Cheap Thrills: A Scion of the Times

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Michael Toscano


Here’s a sporty, 2-door coupe that seems aimed to attract younger drivers. But I think it should be pretty attractive to those of us with a bit of gray hair and a few wisdom lines. And, of course, a still-active sense of driving adventure. I’ve earned my share of silver hair and lines, but I like to think there’s a bit of road rascal left in me. And I found that inner rascal enjoying the heck out of this stylish re-boot of the Scion brand. This car offers cheap thrills, and by that, I mean it’s really quite affordable while still managing to provide the kind of sports-car enjoyment usually found with more expensive models.

Price first. The MSRP for the model reviewed here is $25,300, with just an extra $140 tacked on for a couple of the few options available (you can choose between manual or automatic transmission, but not much more), and the $730 delivery, bringing the total to $26,166. Keep that figure in mind as I keep telling you how much fun this car is to drive.

The secret to that fun is not found in its power. There’s a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, 16V “Boxer” engine, generating 200 horsepower for use with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. That will get you moving along pretty well, of course, but it won’t get you to Le Mans. However, that 200 HP is sent to the rear wheels, not the front, for one thing. And the rest of the secret is the way co-producers Subaru and Toyota have managed a combination of light weight (maybe 2,800 lbs), compact size, and a low-slung center of gravity to give this lively coupe enough nimbleness tofeel like a sports car. That’s helped by MacPherson struts in front and double wishbone suspension in back, with stabilizer bars. The electric power steering is better than usual here, giving you tight control and the confidence to enjoy the car’s agility.

So watch out, or you’ll find yourself turning heads as you turn corners. The Scion FR-S is easy to drive and so responsive that you can be forgiven for feeling you’re driving a true sports car.

Here’s an aspect you may like a bit less: While this small car is comfortable enough, especially with form-fitting front-seats, you do have to sort of climb in and out of it, and that may not be 100-percent fun for less than limber limbs. Plus, the ride is quite stiff; you will feel the bumps and all the twists and turns along the road. Personally, I found that enhanced the experience as I zipped along, but it’s possible that could grow less appealing after more than the week Scion and I spent together.

The Scion had originally been developed as a reliable, economical car, and was marketed and sold that way. Well, the 2013 incarnation is still an economical car and it makes sense for younger and older drivers alike who don’t have a need to transport growing families or lots of stuff around. It’s really just for you and that special someone, as you can forget about having anyone other than a small-to-medium size dog occupying the back seats. (Hey, dogs like sports cars, too.) Trunk space? Not so much. On the plus side, I found the telescoping steering wheel allowed me to get the driver’s seat configured just the way I like it, allowing me to hit the road in comfort. On the minus side, I wasn’t crazy about the way the snug confines forced me to have to awkwardly reach blindly backward with my right hand to retrieve my coffee travel mug from its console resting place. But then, who needs caffeine with a racy baby like this?

Gas mileage is OK, considering the ride: 25 mpg city, 34 mpg highway.

Our “ultramarine/black” model was a beauty, its aggressive, forward-leaning attitude flowing into a sloped roof that melts into the abbreviated rear deck. Inside, it’s much more cockpit than cabin, with the center console functions presented in a no-frills way and user-friendly.

The FR-S comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, the aforementioned telescoping steering wheel (nicely bound in leather), a good audio system and many of the latest communications features, but no navigation or satellite radio, and definitely no back-up camera. Standard safety features include antilock brakes, traction and stability control, and airbags at the front seat positions and full-length side curtain airbags.

The 6-speed automatic transmission on the model I drove suited me OK, the paddle shifters adding to my sense of control. Were this used as a weekend or “fun” car, I’d say go for it and ride the stick. But as a daily driver, Scion’s 6-speed seq auto trans still lets you have plenty of fun.