Our man Brett has been talking a bit about his recent experiences with a Scion FR-S, and I’m slightly jealous because, at least for a short time, he got to experience a manual transmission model before Toyota stole it back for NYIAS. Now, my silver FR-S tester makes the second slushbox-equipped sporting Scion to grace our fleet.
Don’t get me wrong, the automatic doesn’t sap the fun out of this car’s chassis. The FR-S is tiny, front engine, rear-wheel drive, and has the kind of stiff suspension you hate on rough roads but praise on smooth, curvy ribbons of pavement. Its steering is go-kart direct, and its light weight makes its grip tenacious despite smallish (17-inch diameter, 215 section width) Michelins. With a curb weight of just under 2,800 lbs, the car has an almost uncanny ability to maintain its momentum, as well.
Which is a good thing, because to be honest, the FR-S will not snap your neck under hard acceleration the way our recently tested Chrysler 300 SRT8 does. But then, the Chrysler had more than twice the horsepower and torque. The payoff of choosing the Scion FR-S over the beastly 300 is its chuckability. Hustling the 300 down a narrow, curvy road felt insane– dare I say intimidating– due to how quickly the car accelerated combined with its large footprint.
If I were to compare the two cars to racing motorcycles, I’d say the FR-S is the 125cc bantam bike to the Chrysler’s 1000cc monster machine. With its smaller footprint and lighter weight, it’s much more fun to maintain your momentum through corners where you’d feel compelled to slow the Chrysler a lot more. Put the same (non-racing trained) driver in both cars on a closed road course, and I’d bet he or she would lay down better times in the FR-S almost immediately. It just makes you feel that confident in the curves. The Chrysler, meanwhile, makes you feel lucky to survive them without brushing the guardrail.
Brett hinted at how well the stability control system works, and he’s right on the money. Despite my best efforts on a wide-open airport tarmac just before our photo shoot, I could not intentionally break the rear tires loose by dialing in my steering, closing the throttle, downshifting with the excellent steering wheel-mounted paddles, and putting the hammer down. In the Chrysler, this move elicited at least a second or two of wailing protest from the big, 20-inch Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires. In the little FR-S, not a peep.
In a lot of ways, this may be the most rootsy Japanese sportscar in decades. Its small size combined with its willing engine, transmission, and chassis would doubtless make the Scion FR-S– or its Subaru BRZ sibling– as comfortable on the autocross course as it is dicing up mountain roads or, if you can deal with the firmness of the suspension to road imperfections, schlepping you to work.
But if I had one for any of those purposes, I’d want one with three pedals. With everything else about this chassis that is so right for its intended purpose, it’s hard to imagine the manual transmission wouldn’t further improve an already fun-to-drive package.
More about the FR-S soon. Watch this space.
Disclaimer: Scion provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.