Google+

BBC Autos

Joyride

Scion FR-S: The essential sports car

About the author

Deputy editor of BBC Autos, Jonathan was formerly the editor of The New York Times' Wheels blog. His automotive writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Details, Surface, Intersection and Design Observer. He has an affinity for the Citroën DS and Toyota pickup trucks of the early 1990s.

HIDE CAPTION

Balance is what prevents a Michelin-calibre béarnaise sauce from breaking down into a curdled, oily mess.

It is also what keeps a great sports car on a driver’s mind long after the brakes have cooled and engine has ticked itself silent. Unlike torque curves or power-to-weight ratios, balance resists quantification. Perhaps that’s why it is so rarely encountered in the car world – and when it is, not so easily forgotten.

When such a slippery quality manifests in a vehicle costing $25,000, something special is afoot.

The Scion FR-S, marketed in Europe and elsewhere as the Toyota GT86, commands one of the lowest rates of churn – the amount of time a car sits on a dealer’s lot – in the industry. Judging from a weekend spent careening over the linguine-like strands of asphalt strung across the Catskills mountain range of New York, the enthusiasm does not seem misplaced.

Our test model, painted a burnt orange that Scion likes to call Hot Lava, was fitted with the standard six-speed manual transmission. That this box feels a little more mechanical than most is a testament to how well Toyota understands its customer. Liquid-smooth shifts are not the goal; the driver’s hand should feel the progression through the cogs, ideally while forcing raw, agitated bleats from the FR-S’s 2-liter, 200-horsepower boxer four-cylinder engine. Downshifting for the sake of hearing that protest is a constant temptation.

Filled with rollicking elevation changes, the numbered county roads of the Catskills test a car’s poise. But the FR-S felt so planted on its struts and wishbones, and its steering so effortlessly precise, that body roll was virtually neutralised. (The seats’ torso-hugging wings helped with that impression.) Rarely does a driver feel more like a driver than when pushing the FR-S through a curve.

In naming the Toyota equivalent to the FR-S, the GT86, his car of the year in 2012, Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson used a process of negation: this was not a supercar, nor was it a grand tourer or a hot hatch. It was a sports car, plain and simple – the kind that Toyota and Nissan (née Datsun) built to win over millions of European and American drivers in the 1970s (with the Celica and Z, respectively), and that both had seemingly forgotten how to build.

Like Subaru, which co-developed the FR-S/GT86 and sells its own version, the BRZ, Toyota has made noises about offering a more powerful version of the coupe. This may be a rare case where more power would not equal more fun. The FR-S is a sauce in equilibrium. Toyota and Subaru tinker with the winning recipe at their own risk.

Vital stats: 2013 Scion FR-S

  • Base price: $24,930, inclusive of $730 destination charge
  • As tested: $25,066
  • EPA fuel economy: 22mpg city / 30mpg highway
  • Powertrain: 2-litre four-cylinder 200hp boxer engine, six-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive
  • Standard equipment: Vehicle stability control, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, chrome-tipped dual exhaust, Pioneer 300w audio system, leather-trimmed tilt-telescoping steering wheel, bolstered sport seats with red inserts
  • Major options: Wheel locks ($67)
Rarely does a driver feel more like a driver than when pushing the FR-S through a curve.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.