2013 Scion FR-S Review

The best Toyota in 20 years is actually a Scion

By Colum Wood, Dec. 09, 2011, Photography by Scion and & Chris Blanchette, Video by Chris Blanchette

Squeeze on the throttle at corner exit and the car begins to track out, with just a hint of oversteer. Get greedy and the tail will gently start to rotate. Ease off and the car tucks back in line. It does what you tell it to, no more, no less. The Scion FR-S is a return to the roots of what makes a sports car a sports car. 


1. A direct-injection 2.0L 4-cylinder boxer engine makes 200 hp at 7000 rpm and 151 lb-ft of torque at 6600 rpm.2. The unique engine makes for an impressive 53/47 weight distribution and a center of gravity that’s lower than even a Porsche Cayman.

3. Compared to the Mazda MX-5, the FR-S is eight inches longer and two inches wider, with 33 more hp and weighing roughly 200 lbs more.

4. The FR-S gets its inspiration from three historical Toyotas: taking design cues from the 2000 GT, using a flat engine like the Sports 800, while applying the many of the principles of the AE86.

It’s not the raw driving machine many may expect. Its not visceral like a Lotus Elise or as singular in purpose as a Honda S2000, and it won’t beat you up. In fact, it’s quite civilized. It is, however, very much a purist’s car and one that company CEO Akio Toyoda aptly remarked, “rewards proper driving technique.”

A better description of the FR-S, or Toyota 86 as its called in Japan, there isn’t. The antithesis of modern sports cars, Toyota set out to create it as such, purposefully avoiding AWD, turbos, excessive technology and even high grip tires.

Instead, the basic front-engine rear-drive layout, combined with a low center of gravity (due to its flat-4 boxer engine), a limited slip differential and an overall curb weight that comes in around 2,700 lbs are the tools at the disposal of the driver. This can be humbling, but it also makes the FR-S a car where you can’t show up and fake-it at a lapping day. Flaws in your technique will show through immediately and the FR-S challenges you to be a better driver.

Like the Mazda MX-5 Miata, a car the FR-S will be compared to ad nauseum, it’s a momentum car, meaning that with just 200-hp on tap, if you’re going to be fast around a race track, you’ll need to keep your speed up. That’s not as hard as it seems, especially when acceleration feels much more rapid than expected considering the engine output. Even torque feels surprisingly potent, despite just 151 lb-ft of the stuff at a lofty 6600 rpm – suggesting a solid torque curve.


Back to the handling, the FR-S has exceptional steering, although with such a short 101.3-inch wheelbase it responds quickly to inputs, meaning you have to be smooth. After just one corner there is no denying this is a rear-drive car.




2013 Scion FR-S Review Steering Wheel

Much in the same way that the car’s layout has been set up for optimum performance, from the driver’s seat, the tools required are also all there. The steering wheel is thick but also incredibly tiny making every input count. At just 365mm, Toyota claims it’s the smallest they’ve ever put in a production car – at least in recent history. The shifter is quite long, although the shifts are incredibly short, with the distance between first and second gear about three inches. It even feels good, weighted perhaps a bit lighter than a MX-5, but with a fluid every-day ease of use much like a Civic Si. Add to this the fact that the pedals are perfectly placed for proper heel-toe downshifts and you’ll find yourself repeating the words “this is a Toyota product?”

That is perhaps a bit generous, as even Toyota will admit that while the concept behind the car is theirs, execution was primarily handled by Subaru – an automaker that one doesn’t have to pull out a history book in order to recall their last awesome performance machine.

Other notable interior features are the seats, which are excellently bolstered, not just on the sides, but at the shoulders as well, and coated in a grippy material to keep you in place.


2013 Scion FR-S Review Interior

Located right in front of the shifter are two buttons, one for a sport mode, the other to turn traction and stability control right off. The sport setting is properly unintrusive, letting you even hang the end out a little. Off, by all accounts, is full-off, with no intervention when late in the day rain soaked the course and our test session transformed journalists into amateur drifters.



Sadly, while an enthusiast’s machine and equipped with a 6-speed manual from the factory, offering an automatic transmission is a necessity to make the FR-S a viable business case. As a sign of Toyota’s commitment to the car, when developing an automatic the engineers didn’t just phone it in. Instead they developed a six-speed unit based off the 8-speed automatic in the Lexus IS-F. With a proper steering wheel mounted paddle shifter setup it’s shockingly good. When pressed, the car’s chief engineer Tetsuya Tada wouldn’t give any data on shift times but did say they targeted VW’s DSG dual-clutch system. By all accounts, it’s close, and easily matches the best auto-boxes in the business.


2013 Scion FR-S Review



Much has been said about the car’s center of gravity, with reports even attributing Toyota engineers as claiming the car will have the lowest CoG of any production car. That, Tata san admits, is not the case, though for a good reason. In data provided by Toyota, they admitted that both the Porsche GT3 and Ferrari 360, not to mention the Lexus LFA, have a lower weight balance. Those super sports cars had a serious advantage, however, says Tata san with a ground clearance of roughly 110 mm. The FR-S, on the other hand, stands 130 mm off the ground (almost an inch higher), putting it as a serious disadvantage. Could it be lower? Certainly, but Toyota and Scion need it to be a mass production vehicle with all the daily-use needs that that entails.


2013 Scion FR-S Review

Those who want a lowered FR-S won’t have to wait long. In fact, they won’t even have to wait for the aftermarket to develop the products, as at launch Scion will offer a selection of parts, including lowering springs and sway bars.



Initial tests of two right-hand drive models proved pleasing but left us without the wow factor the car’s hype suggested. Those models did, however, give us a chance to get familiar with the track and once behind the wheel of the lone left-hand drive U.S.-spec Scion FR-S turn one hit us like an epiphany. Comfortable enough to actually push the machine, it rewarded; the steering, balance and low center of gravity transforming jaded auto journalist skepticism into the realization that the man in charge at Toyota really does get it.


2013 Scion FR-S Review Cornering

“Yes,” you’ll scream aloud to yourself inside your racing helmet. “This is it! This is what I’ve been looking for!”

As any proper rear-drive sports car should, the FR-S can be rotated with the throttle. Pinch a corner and induce understeer and a correction is as easy as a dab of gas to point you in the right direction again.


2013 Scion FR-S Review Rear View
2013 Scion FR-S Review Tires

Brake fade was nonexistent during out five lap sessions, though much longer would surely show some wear. The car’s light weight most certainly has something to do with the longevity of the pads.

For all the praise we’ve heaped on it, the FR-S could use more of one thing – grip. The factory tires aren’t high-performance pieces, something Toyota did on purpose, both to keep true to the spirit of the machine, and keep the price tag down. With a set of aftermarket wheels a necessity for many buyers, some UHP tires should be included. Scion will likely offer those at the dealer as well.

Adding to the car’s functionality is a rear hatchback and fold flat second row seats, which Scion claims leaves enough space to fit a spare set of tires when heading to the track.

If the FR-S is missing anything else, it’s some added aggression, with a subtle aero kit and spoiler high on our list of add-ons. Many will likely say the FR-S needs more power and while more wouldn’t hurt, those folks (the same ones who have probably never driven on a track) are missing the point.



The Scion FR-S is a special machine. It’s unique because it’s the world’s only direct-injection flat-four rear-drive sports car, but the reasons go well beyond the facts, to the level of driving enjoyment it delivers.

If there’s any way the FR-S isn’t what we expected it’s in its civility. And to be truthful, any such reputation it has as a rough-around-the-edges track warrior is one the automotive media, and not Toyota (Scion), has created. Rather, it’s comfortable, functional and refined in a way that perhaps only a Toyota can be. Add to this what is expected to be surprisingly good fuel economy and a price well below the $30,000 mark and the car’s appeal is vast.


2013 Scion FR-S Review Right Side

As Akio Toyoda mentioned, the FR-S rewards a good driver, and is perhaps the best tool we can think of to develop and improve your performance driving skills; or just have a lot of fun regardless of your talent or ambition. Add to that the fact that its light weight and small size mean tires and brakes won’t wear too hard and replacement items won’t cost a fortune and the FR-S is destined to become the track weapon of choice for leagues of driving enthusiasts.

Sometimes it’s hard to know when a car will become an icon. Sometimes it’s not.



Denver Toyota dealers ink $5.4 million deal for naming rights at zoo’s elephant exhibit

Posted: 12/06/2011 01:00:00 AM MST

Updated: 12/06/2011 01:14:23 AM MST

By Electa Draper
The Denver Post

Mayor Michael Hancock, left, and Denver Zoo board chairwoman Katie Schoelzel help announce a deal for naming rights to the zoo’s new elephant exhibit. Local Toyota dealers will donate $5.4 million for the “Toyota Elephant Passage.” The 10-acre exhibit is scheduled to open June 1. (Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post)

The Denver Toyota Dealers Association will spend $5.4 million for the right to name a new Denver Zoo exhibit “Toyota Elephant Passage.”

The deal closes a $2 million gap to match public funding of the $50 million exhibit that will focus on Asian elephants, rhinos and tapirs. The exhibit is scheduled to open June 1.

The donation is the second largest in the zoo’s 115-year history. The largest was $7 million by Janus in 2004.

Zoo president and chief executive Craig Piper said the exhibit, which includes more than 2 miles of trails and 1 million gallons of water features for its animal inhabitants, is the most significant in the zoo’s history.

“We’re not just 80 acres in City Park,” Piper said at Monday’s announcement. “We’re people working all over the world to preserve many species.”

Asian elephants, including bulls, greater one-horned rhinos and Malayan tapirs are the stars of the exhibit, but it also will include fishing cats, small-clawed otters and flying foxes (bats). Animals are beginning to move into the their new digs.

Toyota’s fuel-efficiency goals and the launch of the new Prius vehicles make it a good fit with the Denver Zoo’s commitment to field conservation of species and cutting-edge energy-saving practices, said dealers association spokesman Jeff Thorpe, the Go Toyota general manager.

Mayor Michael Hancock and representatives of the association’s seven Toyota stores were on hand for Monday’s announcement at the zoo, almost two years to the date of the exhibit’s groundbreaking.

Denver voters authorized $62.5 million in bond funds for Denver Zoo improvements in 1999. The zoo committed to raise an additional $55 million in private funds. With the $117.5 million, the zoo completes the first two of four phases in a master plan.

Other improvements have included Predator Ridge, Congo Basin, Lorikeet Adventure, the bird-propagation center, the zoo-entrance complex and a parking garage.

More than 3,000 people have donated to Toyota Elephant Passage, Piper said, and support is still needed for the zoo’s innovative biomass gasification system to power the exhibit.

The system will convert animal waste and zoo visitors’ trash into energy.

Hancock said the zoo was one of his favorite spots in Denver. Piper said the zoo, with 1.9 million visitors in 2010, was the most visited cultural attraction in the state and the fourth most-visited zoo in the country.

“Whatever we do, we do it first class,” said zoo trustee Tom Siratovich.

Electa Draper: 303-954-1276 or edraper@denverpost.com

BMW, Toyota announce diesel, green technology tie-up

Paul McVeigh
Automotive News — December 1, 2011 – 3:03 am ET

MUNICH — BMW and Toyota Motor Corp. said they will work together on green car technologies including the joint development of lithium-ion batteries. BMW will also supply diesel engines to Toyota in Europe as part of the tie-up.

The two automakers today signed a memorandum of understanding at the Tokyo auto show for a mid- to long-term collaboration on next-generation environment-friendly technologies.

They agreed on joint research in lithium-ion battery technologies for electric and hybrid cars and said they will identify and discuss other possible collaborative projects.

BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer said the two automakers are joining forces to expand their innovation leadership. “Toyota is the leading provider of environment-friendly series technology in the volume segment and the BMW Group is the most innovative and sustainable manufacturer of premium automobiles,” he said in a statement.

Reithofer said supplying diesel engines to Toyota is another step in BMW’s plans to expand of sales of its engines and powertrain systems.

The diesel tie-up with BMW represents a reversal in Toyota’s strategy after it scrapped plans two years ago to develop 1.6-liter diesel engines with Japanese truck maker Isuzu Motors Ltd, in which it owns a 5.9 percent stake.

In 2009, when outlining Toyota’s medium-term strategy, President Akio Toyoda said the company would shift its focus in Europe to hybrids and away from diesel so as not to get “lost in the crowd.”

But Toyota has lost market share in Europe, partly due to a dearth of diesel cars, which make up more than half of new vehicle sales in the region. Diesel engines use less fuel and emit less carbon dioxide than gasoline engines.

Hybrid technology has struggled to gain traction in Europe and has never accounted for more than 2 percent of global sales.

BMW will supply 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter diesel engines for Toyota’s European models starting in 2014.

Toyota said the agreement would allow it to expand its European product lineup.

“Fundamentally we are both engineering companies, so in many aspects we have found we speak the same language, and it is interesting to see what can be achieved when Japanese engineering meets European engineering and when the cooperation really works,” Toyota Motor Europe CEO Didier LeRoy told a news conference.

Toyota has forged numerous partnerships, including with Ford Motor Co., Aston Martin, Tesla Motors and Microsoft.

Reuters contributed to this story

You can reach Paul McVeigh at pmcveigh@crain.com.