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2013 Scion FR-S: The Good News? Itís Uncompromised. The Bad News? Itís Uncompromised

The cars I test are usually painted white.  This caused an awkward moment with the Scion rep upon returning from a test drive of the 2013 FR-S,  the white rear quarters conspicuously speckled with bits of molten rubber. I'm not sure if the rep noticed, but if he did - he graciously let it slide.

The Scion FR-S (and sister Subaru BRZ) is an undiluted and uncompromised sports car.   This purity is earning the FR-S the accolades of critics, but whether it will translate into market success is to be determined.  In the months since Scion introduced the FR-S, I've seen exactly three plying the roads in our area of New England. This is a truly worrisome observation - I can only hope the rarity of the FR-S in this locale is offset by stellar sales in Florida, California and other warmer climes.

Buyers increasingly expect their vehicle to do absolutely everything - without compromise.  This expectation results in real oddities such as; 500 horsepower Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover sport utilities, BMW M3s that are no longer available with a manual transmission,  and Mini Cooper SUVs.  To us, these examples represent companies diluting their brand equity in the chase for incremental sales.

The test ratings demonstrate that Scion has clearly emphasized the performance side of the ledger with the FR-S.  In terms of daily practicality, the FR-S has some serious (but intentional) deficits


This is far from criticism.  The FR-S is the resurrection of the pure sports car and a celebratory moment. Potential buyers should understand what theyíre committing to when they sign the purchase contract however.  Life with a sports car mandates certain trade-offs.

The looks are restrained but emotionally evocative. I find the Scionís styling tidier than the BRZ (the optional BRZ rear spoiler is hideous in my opinion.)  and youíre immediately struck by how small the FR-S is.

Inside, it feels like your bum is mere inches off the pavement so youíll have a commanding view of the door handles, license plates and rear differentials of surrounding vehicles.  The seats are very comfortable though larger drivers and passengers may have trouble fitting between the side and bottom bolsters.  Iím 6 feet tall and 210 lbs and the seats were tight Ė so NFL running backs and tight ends need not apply.  Leg, elbow and headroom are very good and the FR-S interior did not feel at all claustrophobic.

The rear seats are useless Ė suitable only for storage of inert objects or passengers you donít like very much.  Fortunately the rear seats fold down creating a generous amount of cargo room for such a small car.

The primary and secondary ergonomics are superb Ė everything is perfectly laid out and accessible.  The instrument cluster is simple, legible and purposeful but the orientation of the speedometer (turned about 30 degrees left) was a bit odd.  The Pioneer radio also looks out of place - the faceplate doesn't match anything else in the interior and the sheer size of the thing reminds us of the Pioneer "Supertuner" from the 1970's  (at least the rear speakers weren't propped up on the rear package shelf)

The controls are right for a sports car Ė Steering is direct and not overboosted, clutch take up is good, shifter effort is light and direct and the brakes bite with proper linearity and feel. 

We found the throttle response a little soft down low, but the 2.0 port/direct injected horizontal 4 has decent torque and willingly revs to its 7,450 RPM limit.  Around tight turns the FR-S initially pushes, but with throttle transitions quickly to oversteer and then into wildly tire smoking, elbow flailing donuts as your inner Bo and Luke Duke takes command.   This is good - the stock tires are slipperier than KY on a Flounder and youíll want to wear them out quickly en-route to more performance oriented rubber.

The FR-S is loud, and not necessarily in the good sense.  Tire, wind and engine noise are very high, particularly at interstate speeds.  This noise overwhelms the factory sound system and Bluetooth phone and gets tiresome quickly.  On this basis we would not find the FR-S at all suitable for distance touring or commuting duties.  As a third vehicle or Sunday driver the FR-S would be delightful.

Like all Scions, the FR-S has a reasonable no-haggle base sticker price which sadly doesnít rule out some underhanded dealer shenanigans.  The models we looked at were each saddled with preposterous dealer add-ons, including one car with over $1,600 in charges for two different paint sealant (i.e. wax) treatments!  Assuming you can find one at true $24k sticker, the FR-S is a bargain.

We hope that buyers reward Scion for the clarity of their FR-S vision and purity of its execution.  It would be tragic to see  Scion trying to drum up sales with V6, 2+2, t-top or  all wheel drive models. This car is simply too excellent to become the Datsun 280-Z of our generation.

Update: I was saddened - but ultimately not surprised - to learn that a Cabrio version of the FR-S and BRZ will be offered next year.  This is an ominous development.  Will we soon learn that the convertible mandates a softer suspension tune that ruins the FR-S remarkable chassis capabilities?  

I forsee that one day we'll be shopping for an FR-S and find only automatic equipped convertibles on the dealer lot.  Is this the first step in the tragic journey to blunt and compromise the purity that makes the FR-S so special?  Will the FR-S indeed take it's place in the long line of once great cars, either damaged or destroyed entirely by marketers?

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