Praise for the 2013 Scion FR-S (and its Subaru BRZ twin) has been nothing short of unanimous, and for good reason. But an interesting thing happened a few weeks ago, as I entered the pits of Spring Mountain Raceway, in Pahrump, Nevada. I was reveling in the post-coital aftermath that follows a good track session in a very good car. I was thinking: There is no better-sorted chassis this side of a Porsche Boxster.
After getting out of the car, two eager faced Toyota engineers approach. Through broken English, they ask about the car. “Well, it’s a lot of fun,” I blurt. “Incredibly fun.” But they aren’t satisfied. They want criticism. They ask for it — specifically. “Um…” I try. “The tires’ limits are pretty low, but, you know, it’s kinda fun because of that.” The unsatisfactory thought trails off, and I quickly duck out of the conversation.
I spend the rest of the day scratching my head. Are there any legitimate complaints worth making about the Scion FR-S we just tested? It’s a question that would rack my brain for the four-and-a-half hours it takes to drive from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, and for the following weekend.
Well, how about those tires? The small and narrow Michelin Primacy HPs (215/45R17 at all corners) do have low limits, and those limits are the first thing you notice on track. The second is how much they screech when pushed hard (short description: a lot). And yet I wouldn’t change them for daily driving duties. The low limits match the engine output perfectly on the street, allowing you to safely push the FR-S hard within legal limits. Adding more grip has the potential of upsetting that accessibility, balance, and fun.
I understand why these tires are on the car, but those who regularly do track days would do well to buy another set of wheels and some sticker rubber. Scion’s seemingly planned for this, as the FR-S’ trunk and folding rear seats will accommodate four wheels. It even tells you so in the owner’s manual – diagram and all. A problem then? Not really. Track day regulars are going to buy a new set of tires anyway. Scion’s simply providing a decent set for the road.
Horsepower then. The flat-four only makes 200 of the stuff, and it does so at 7000 rpm. Peak torque — all 151 lb-ft of it — arrives a mere 400 rpm sooner. That makes the Scion FR-S woefully underpowered, right? Not really, especially when you place the car in the context of the sporty $25,000 group. Performance numbers aren’t the point of this car, but, at 6.2 seconds to 60 mph, the FR-S is on par with the Civic Si, and it’s not far behind the GTI, whose fast-shifting twin-clutch transmission provides a huge advantage. Besides, any car that costs the same money and is faster in a straight line won’t be as invigorating on a winding road.
So, the noise it makes? The engine note is rather generic, missing that iconic, syncopated flat-four rumble. A sound tube resonates the intake noise though a membrane before piping into the cabin, and while the quality of the final product isn’t the sweetest noise a four cylinder has ever made, it is encouraging. Again, not really a problem, either.
Now, I was reaching. The styling? It’s not beautiful, but it makes a decent attempt at conveying rear-wheel drive fun. The interior? It’s actually quite nice, decorated with red highlights, and the seats expertly juggle comfort and side bolstering duties. Fuel economy? Among the best of the sporty $25,000 group.
Finally, I remember a demonstration of the FR-S’ infotainment setup. Called Bespoke, the Pioneer-designed audio system interfaces with an iOS app (also called Bespoke) and offers web radio and limited navigation capabilities. While the Scion representative was flipping through the various menus, I noticed something was missing. “Is there satellite radio?” I asked. He said no, and explained that the take rate was so low on that option that Scion decided it wasn’t worth installing an extra box in the car.
That’s the problem then: There’s no satellite radio. Oh, bother.
Read more: 2013 Scion FR-S: A Fault-Finding Mission - Motor Trend Blog