2015 Scion FR-S is beautifully quick


With the Scion brand going away, the Scion FR-S will become the Toyota 86. There's a reason for this name, but my guess is it is so hard to find a new name to trademark that the number works just fine for Toyota.

Whatever its name, the car disproves the theory that fun is a function of price. Since when I tested it, the car was still a Scion, that's what it's called here. But expect all the bits of wisdom about it to apply to the Toyota 86 as well.

For less than $30,000, you get a car capable of driving much faster in the twisty bits than most drivers can handle. Granted, you are giving up top end and acceleration to the more expensive sports cars, but the FR-S is still fast enough to get the attention of the local constabulary.

Much as Mazda's Miata brought back the joy of the classic British roadster (without the "joy" of Lucas Electronics) the FR-S brings the joy of a GT to a younger and not-yet-affluent customer. It also does it in a package so attractive that you don't even have to drive hard to draw appreciative looks

The car is a shared vehicle between Toyota and Subaru, a couple of car makers that understand a bit about racing and performance. Mechanically they are identical, and there is very little difference at all between them.

Underneath this beautiful body is a flat "boxer" engine located in the front, but in classic sports car tradition drives the rear wheels. It is a 2.0-liter engine generating 200-hp. and 151 lb.-ft. of peak torque. This may not sound like much, but this is a very light vehicle, and performance isn't about power as much as its about power-to-weight ratios.

The power flows through either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. I must apologize for being prejudiced, but the manual is almost a necessity. Sure, the automatic works fine. But cars trying to do what folks will want to do in an FR-S do it so much better with a manual transmission. Either transmission includes a limited slip differential keeping the power effectively where it should be. That because this Torsen unit sends the power to the wheel with the most available traction.

The FR-S is an extremely attractive GT coupe and that doesn't take into account its price. The lines are classic grand touring car, with a very long hood, short overhangs outside of the wheels, and aerodynamics that make the car look even faster than it is, but in a good way. It's a car that will continue to warm the cockles of your heart for years to come. It will also earn you style points with everyone except the serious pickup truck person.

The same holds true inside, where you don't sit in it as much as you become a part of the interior. This is also an essential feature of sports cars, whether they have a roof or not. From behind the wheel of this Scion it is easy to have "Star Trek" moments of being an intergalactic fighter pilot.

For 2016 there is little difference from the 2015, but a couple added features. The object is to up the "premium-ness." This means a couple new colors, as well as upgrades to the interior accents. More importantly, there is a new standard audio system, which adds some connectivity features and most worthwhile, a standard rearview backup camera. This is something which is probably essential on cars in America, so it's good to see it coming on specialty cars such as this Scion.

This new standard audio system uses a large seven-inch touchscreen as well as voice recognition technology. Naturally there is Bluetooth hands-free and audio streaming, HD Radio and USB ports. That makes it easy to reference song titles, album name and artist name right on the head unit.

The Pioneer system uses eight-speakers including tweeters, mid-range and full-range speakers, while a separate two-channel amplifier is designed to drive power to the door-mounted woofers.

This is a car that will be bought mostly by people who either appreciate those quality-oriented touches, or are dating someone who does. But this is a car that is more about the driving rather than the riding experience.

That's because the nicely rigid front suspension, and retuned rear shocks. These mean improved damping, which reduces body roll, keeping the tires flatter on the road. This is a car that is a pleasure to drive, because it is a car which you must drive. Pointing it down the road is a waste. In my view this is not a car to buy because you look good in it, or think you will. Buy it because it makes our driving time more interesting, and probably ends up making owners better drivers.

While it will deal with city traffic and long-distance driving comfortably, it's those special jaunts through the twisties that define the essence of the FR-S. While if you are that kind of driving, doing those roads quickly is exhilarating, but this car on those roads are delightful at any speed. You just feel more a part of the process, more connected to the road and what the car is doing than in less sporty cars.

Granted there is a price to pay for this. It is small, you'll never get a car seat in the rear of it, and you won't be the one driving around groups of friends. This is a creator of joy, not convenience.

Should you step outside the bounds of physics, the FR-S come standard with six airbags, including driver and front passenger dual-stage advanced airbags, driver and front passenger seat-mounted side airbags, and front and rear passenger side curtain airbags. There are other standard safety assists, including anti-lock brakes, electronic brake distribution, traction control, brake assist, vehicle stability control and smart stop technology.

Prices for all this fun begin at $25,305 with a six-speed manual transmission or $26,405 with a six-speed automatic transmission add $795 for delivery, and an FR-S is yours.

Live a little. You can spend more than that on an econ-box.

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