The 2013-2015 Scion FR-S is exactly the sort of car gearheads crave. It’s a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2+2 coupe with a manual transmission and an affordable price tag. Really, there’s nothing not to love with that combination. In 2012, when the FR-S and its corporate cousin, the Subaru BRZ came to market, we were overjoyed.

Many initial opinions of the cars suggested the 200-horsepower four-cylinder was underpowered, though with only 2,758 pounds to move and 13.79 pounds for each horsepower, its weight to power ratio bests the 2014-2015 Ford Fiesta ST and 2016 Hyundai Veloster Turbo R-Spec, at 13.8 and 13.93 pounds per horsepower, respectively. You hardly hear folks complain about those two being underpowered. Heck, it even bests the 2013-2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata’s 14.85 weight to power ratio. Sure, there are other variables to how powerful a car feels, like drive ratios and transmission gearing, but these stats still speak volumes.

Arguments aside, the FR-S has the spec sheet of a purpose-built sports car. Its engine is just a few millimeters forward of being a front mid-ship design and its weight distribution is only three percent from perfectly balanced. Heavily bolstered seats, good visibility, a manual transmission and parking brake, and an appetite for revs from its 2.0-liter flat-four gives the FR-S plenty of credibility.

To put its creds to the test, I spent a week with a 2015 FR-S fitted with three pedals. This isn’t my first time in an FR-S, but my last tester came with the kill-joy automatic. Thankfully my suspicions about the manual transmission curing all my reservations with the automatic FR-S were true. This car was made to row your own.

Continue reading for the full review.

  • 2015 Scion FR-S - Driven
  • Year:
    2015
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    inline-4
  • Transmission:
    six-speed manual
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    200 @ 7000
  • MPG(Cty):
    22
  • MPG(Hwy):
    30
  • Torque @ RPM:
    151 @ 6400
  • Energy:
    Direct & Port Injection
  • Displacement:
    2.0 L
  • 0-60 time:
    6.4 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    136 mph
  • Layout:
    Front Engine, Rear Drive
  • car segment:
  • body style:

The Walk-Around


Exterior

2015 Scion FR-S - Driven Exterior Test drive
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2015 Scion FR-S - Driven Exterior Test drive
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2015 Scion FR-S - Driven Exterior Test drive
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Designers did a great job of embodying the FR-S’ soul and emotions into the sheet metal. The tapered front end expands onto the curvy front fenders and into the faux side vent with the opposing-piston 86 logo whose lines then travel up the C-pillar and onto the roof of the car.

The tapered front end expands onto the curvy front fenders and into the faux side vent with the opposing-piston 86 logo whose lines then travel up the C-pillar and onto the roof of the car.

The large front grille and two side inlets look the part as well, with pointed accents down low that lead the car forward. The Scion symbol looks as if its traveling across a placid lake with its bow wake creating a ripple in the otherwise still waters. The wake continues onto the roof where the creases deepen, giving the top more detail.

Out back, the FR-S sports two large exhaust tips peeking from under the black lower valance that’s styled after a diffuser. A short deck lid makes the truck lid small and its opening somewhat narrow for getting items in and out. That’s not a big deal though, as the trunk space is limited in what it can carry. But more on that later.

The FR-S comes with beautiful, two-tone 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 215-series rubber. The machined sections of the wheels match up with the other bright pieces of the exterior; namely the badges, the headlights, taillights, and low, center-mounted reverse lights.

Walking around the car and opening its doors and trunk reveals why the FR-S has such a moderate curb weight. Its body panels feel light, especially its trunk, almost to the point that it feels cheap. The trunk tends to slam shut with a tinny thud and rattle. The doors, on the other hand, sound more substantial and bulky when you close them.

Interior

2015 Scion FR-S - Driven Interior Test drive
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2015 Scion FR-S - Driven Interior Test drive
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2015 Scion FR-S - Driven Interior Test drive
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The cockpit of the FR-S is all business. Black plastic and carpet surrounds most of the interior, with accents of grey plastic molded to resemble carbon fiber and silver accents brighten things up, while suede seats with red stitching hold the driver and front passenger in place. The seats aren’t the only things accented by red stitching. It carries onto the leather-wrapped steering wheel, shifter boot, and dashboard in a tidy, yet look-at-me kind of way.

Black plastic and carpet surrounds most of the interior, with accents of grey plastic molded to resemble carbon fiber and silver accents brighten things up, while suede seats with red stitching hold the driver and front passenger in place.

Those seats aren’t branded by any certain manufacturer, yet they hold as if they were. The bolstering is firm enough to hold yet soft enough not to cause discomfort on long trips. Their manual adjustments allow for a wide range of seating positions as well. The steering wheel helps in the matter with an open-range style tilting feature, though it does not telescope.

Rear seat passengers will feel very cramped. This is a 2+2 coupe, so don’t expect to throw your 6-foot, 7-inch friend back there for a weekend road trip. The seats do provide just enough space for two extra passengers should the time arise. I did manage to install my daughter’s car seat back there, though getting her in and out of the car wasn’t easy. Then again, the FR-S doesn’t pretend to be a family car.

As I mentioned before about the trunk, this minivan antithesis doesn’t boast much in the way of cargo space. However, the rear seatbacks fold down, allowing you to carry longer items.

Trunk size aside, my only major complaint is the size of the analog speedometer. It’s simply useless. I relied 100 percent on the digital readout placed within the tachometer. There’s nothing wrong with the digital screen, it’s just the space used by the speedometer and its illegible numbers feel like a giant waste of important real estate.

Powertrain

2015 Scion FR-S - Driven Drivetrain Test drive
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The Scion FR-S hasn’t changed since it debuted, meaning it has the same 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder under the hood. The naturally aspirated engine features direct and port fuel injection and cranks out 200 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 151 pound-feet of torque at 6,600.

There is also a surprising amount of torque down low, requiring fewer revs than expected to pull away from a stoplight under modest acceleration.

It’s at high revs where the engine feels its best, though torque starts pouring on above 3,000 rpm. There is also a surprising amount of torque lower down, requiring fewer revs than expected to pull away from a stoplight under modest acceleration.

The six-speed manual gearbox features a very short throw and very positive gear engagement, and makes rowing very entertaining. The clutch features an equally short pick-up with a very predictable engagement zone. Sadly, the transmission’s gears are spaced very close, meaning first gear runs out quickly and sixth gear has the engine turning at nearly 4,000 rpm at highway speeds.

Nevertheless, the engine and transmission setup are wonderful. They are joined by a Torsen limited slip differential out back, keeping power moving to both wheels. Launch it right, and the FR-S will hit 60 mph in just over six seconds

Perhaps the powertrain’s most endearing quality is the engine’s love for revving – the red tachometer needle rises and falls quickly with nary a hesitation. Blips for downshifting are done for you, making the car very easy and smooth to drive.

Driving Impressions

2015 Scion FR-S - Driven Exterior Test drive
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All the stats come alive once you’re behind the wheel. The short-throw shifter and clutch, the seats, rev-happy engine and steering all work together in harmony to offer a top-notch driving experience.

The short-throw shifter and clutch, the seats, rev-happy engine and steering all work together in harmony to offer a top-notch driving experience.

The car’s low center of gravity and good balance are keenly felt in the corners. Pushed hard, the car will understeer, but only slightly. The steering is of the electronic variety, but its one of the best in the business, communicating plenty of road feel through the wheel.

Driving wise, the car’s biggest downfall is its tires. The 215-series rubber is just not sticky enough to inspire confidence. The rear feels a bit tail-happy when powering out of corners. Then again, that’s what makes the drifter and Hoonigan types happy. Tires are an easy upgrade anyway.

Though the car isn’t the fastest sports coupe on the planet, the FR-S more than makes up for it in its visceral, seat-of-the-pants driving experience. It’s like an old muscle-car in that regard – not overly fast, but an absolute hoot to drive.

Pricing

2015 Scion FR-S - Driven Emblems and Logo Exterior Test drive
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Aside from its solid handling and fun-to-drive appeal, the most attractive part of the FR-S is its price. At $25,670, the car comes fully equipped – including the $770 destination fee. Remember, Scion bases its sales approach on “mono-spec” trim levels, meaning there is no base trim or some leather-lined luxury trim. Each car model is practically the same. Of course, there are optional extras you can tack on, like an upgraded stereo with navigation, spoilers, and even a Borla exhaust system.

For those who don’t want to row their own, the automatic FR-S carries a starting price of $26,770. Nothing changes besides the transmission, meaning all the interior equipment and wheels stay the same.

Competition

Ok, so before diving into the competition, I’ll admit that finding solid comparisons for the FR-S is a challenge. You’ve got the 2014 Hyundai Genesis Coupe, but it’s slightly more expensive and only comes with a V-6 these days; and the 2016 Mazda Miata is merely a two-seater and its top comes off. So it looks like the Scion has to play with the American pony cars.

2016 Ford Mustang EcoBoost

2015 Ford Mustang High Resolution Exterior
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Though its not the least-expensive Mustang version (that’s the base V-6 at $23,800) the EcoBoost-powered Mustang starts at $26,200, including a $900 destination fee. The ‘Stang fits the two door, 2+2 configuration and is powered by a 2.3-liter inline four-cylinder. Granted the Ford’s engine is turbocharged and makes substantially more power at 310 horses and 320 pound-feet of torque, but the Ford weighs some 700 pounds more than the Scion. This weight difference will surely be felt behind the wheel, especially if driven back to back.

Still, the Mustang EcoBoost with its six-speed manual provides a great alternative to the FR-S.

You can check out our full review of the 2016 Ford Mustang here.

2016 Chevrolet Camaro 2.0T

2016 - 2017 Chevrolet Camaro High Resolution
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If you don’t mind waiting until the fall when the all-new 2016 Camaros start hitting GM showrooms, the new turbocharged four-cylinder also falls in line with the FR-S. Like the FR-S and Mustang, the Camaro is a two-door, 2+2 coupe with power going to its rear wheels. The new Camaro’s smaller exterior dimensions help rein in its visual mass and makes the car seem more like a competitor to the Scion.

The Camaro’s power output continue that case, landing between the Mustang and the FR-S at 275 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, but its estimated curb weight of 3,500 pounds puts it in the same weight class as the Ford. A six-speed manual is the standard transmission choice here as well.

Chevrolet has yet to release pricing for the 2016 Camaro as of this writing, but the base four-cylinder model is expected to start around $25,000.

You can check our full review of the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro here.

Conclusion

2015 Scion FR-S - Driven Exterior Test drive
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The Scion FR-S fitted with its standard-issue manual transmission proved to be a much more exciting vehicle than its automatic-equipped counterpart. Though the two are otherwise identical, it’s that added level of control and engagement with the car that separates the two cars as being “alright” and “fantastic.” What’s more, opting to stick with the stick shift saves you $1,100 on the sticker price.

Sadly for me, being a married man with a kid, the FR-S doesn’t fit my needs. Sure, the car seat fits, but my wife was none too happy to deal with the lack of four doors. But if I could reverse time and introduce this car to my younger, thinner, and single self, I’d make a serious move. It’s simply that much fun to drive.

  • Leave it
    • * Sacrifices comfort for sport
    • * Limited interior room
    • * Requires premium fuel
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