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FR-S For Us: The Scion FR-S Audio System Kicks It Old School

Sections: Car Audio

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2013 Scion FR-S Photo Shoot 011

The Pioneer-branded head unit in our Scion FR-S tester was simple in appearance and operation, but did its job so well we didn’t mind its lack of flashy display or trendy features such as capacitive touch buttons-that-aren’t-really-buttons. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

I said earlier the Scion FR-S was probably the purest Japanese sportscar, in the old-school sense, to hit our shores in quite a while. Its old-school sensibilities even carry over to the audio system.

The Pioneer-branded audio system in our test FR-S is the standard audio option in all FR-S models. After weeks of testing cars with touchscreen interfaces and even a lack of real buttons– capacitive touch is all the rage, nowadays– it’s kind of refreshing to get back to the FR-S head unit with its large dial, simple display, and honest-to-God buttons that provide tactile feedback. Through our test week, we had no unexpected hiccups from the head unit.

Pushing a respectable 300 watts out eight speakers, the audio system in our FR-S features AM/FM/HD radio capability as well as a single-disc CD player and AUX and USB jacks. It also has the ability to stream content from a phone or other mobile device via Bluetooth. That last functionality is one we didn’t get to test, given my lack of a smartphone that could be loaded with such content. Sirius/XM satellite radio service is available, though apparently wasn’t enabled on our test car, as pressing the button marked “AM/SAT” would only bring up the AM band.

2013 Scion FR-S Photo Shoot 012

The USB and AUX ports on the Scion FR-S are located at the bottom of the center stack. Next-door is a handy hideaway for either a couple of CDs or your MP3 player– or even your smartphone, since the Pioneer head unit can stream content via Bluetooth. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

While 300 watts is a third the wattage claimed by our recent Chrysler 300 SRT8 tester’s audio system, there’s one important difference to remember here: size. The FR-S interior feels like it’s roughly one-third that of the hulking Chrysler. And with the volume cranked to the maximum setting, the music was still plenty loud enough to disturb traffic waiting in the next lane over at the traffic light.

While the system doesn’t feature the hair-tingling bass pressure that comes with some aftermarket subwoofer setups, the stereo’s EQ presets have a “Feel” setting that ratchets up the bass in an effort to allow the listener to feel what the performers on the stage would be feeling, according to the owner’s manual. That setting does allow for some pretty good thump for a factory system, and as a musician who has played his share of rock gigs, I can say with some authority that at least when listening to rock albums, Scion and Pioneer did a pretty good job with this EQ preset. I’m a drummer, and the slightly bass-heavy mix is exactly what I would want the soundman at the club pumping into my monitor behind the kit.

Old-school look-and-feel aside, the system still allows for Bluetooth calling capability, and in our testing was both easy to hear and easy for callers on the other end to understand. Depending on your phone, voice dialing may be supported.

Though I wasn’t a huge fan of the stark white-on-black text display– I would rather have orange text to match the text in the gauge cluster, or alternately, white text in the gauge cluster to match the radio display– I did like the Scion FR-S factory audio system. Much like the car itself, it’s a throwback to a simpler time when a Japanese sportscar was free to be lightweight, hard-riding, and quick-handling and when car audio head units were free to be simple in both appearance and purpose.

Disclosure: Scion provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.

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