The Truth About Cars » Scion The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 14 Jul 2014 16:00:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Scion Capsule Review: 2014 Scion FR-S Mon, 07 Jul 2014 12:00:31 +0000 2014-scion-frs-001

If you purchase a Scion FR-S with an automatic transmission, I hope you’re deeply ashamed. There might be a legitimate reason. I’d accept a condition that prevents you from working a clutch and shifter. You know, something like losing a tussle with gangrene as a child or an advanced Type-II Diabetes induced foot-ectomy.

Harsh, inconsiderate statements, but why the hell would you want this car with an automatic?


I was deeply disappointed by this 2014 Scion FR-S, and I was disappointed by a 2013 FR-S before that. Both were afflicted with automatic transmissions. When it shifts on its own, it’s only half as good. Instead of working in harmony with the excellent chassis, the dopey automatic slams and locks the door on driver engagement.

There are still brilliant elements. The styling is handsome, restrained and timeless. If it only lasts a single generation, the FT-86 is going to be a classic the instant it’s no longer available. The long hood, short deck, stubby little trunklid, and fenders arching over the front wheels make up a great-looking car.

Greasy Prius tires, the story goes, were chosen to bring the limits down and make the car more fun on every drive. It works. The FR-S doesn’t need a race track to make you smile. Other ToyoBaru legend-making will include threadbare references to the old AE-86 Corolla. I contend that we’re looking back too fondly. The FR-S isn’t cheap speed, either, racking up a $28,711 price tag configured as I drove it. Options were limited to the rear bumper applique, fog lights, rear spoiler, and the BeSpoke premium audio package, which at $1,198 makes up the bulk of the increase over the $25,800 base MSRP.


For 2014, Scion added some leather-like padded vinyl to cover what had been areas of cheap plastic. It’s an effective trick that premiums up the place. The BeSpoke infotainment system includes navigation, voice control, and Bluetooth connectivity, but it will make you work for it. The unit is fiddly to use, the screen is small, and the Bluetooth sound quality will annoy the people you’re calling. Still, it’s refreshing to get a cabin that’s more of a business office. The important controls are located well and easy to use, and that discourages getting distracted by the electronics. After all, we’re here to drive.

The FR-S is a swell trainer. All of the attitudes and responses of a performance car are available to you without the need to plunge past 100 mph. Much like a Miata is a great performance driving starter kit, the FR-S is an accurate-handling car with well-weighted steering, an alert ride, and responsive turn-in. There’s a Torsen limited slip differential standard, and 17″ wheels with 215/45 tires are small these days, but about all you need with the modest curb weight. The FR-S is certainly equipped as a serious driver’s car, ain’t it a bitch that it’s got no lungs to match the legs?


If only the FR-S had about 100 more horsepower. Actually, I wish for about 75 lb-ft more torque, no need to be greedy. The 2.0 liter Subaru boxer is tweaked up with the Toyota D-4S dual fuel-injection rig that uses its direct injectors all the time and supplements with port injection under certain conditions. Scion touts the 100 hp per liter, and it is good for a naturally-aspirated engine. Thank the high 12.5:1 compression ratio for the 200 hp the engine delivers, but torque is a paltry 151 lb-ft to move 2,800 lbs. That’s something not even a 4.10:1 final drive can make up for.

Wimpy engines are more palatable with manual transmissions. While the automatic may help with off-the-line torque multiplication, I hated the mushy flat spot in the middle of the rpm range. Flatten the pedal, nothing much is going on until you clear 4,500 rpm. That’s a long wait. Dyno tests of the FR-S have shown a deep drop-off in torque from 3-4,000 rpm, and boy howdy do you feel it behind the wheel.


Despite the sharp handling, the FR-S is a chore to drive with the auto. It’s less involving than it could be, it doesn’t have enough power to be responsive, and even with a sport mode and paddle shifters, the entertainment is marginal. I’m not a fan of automatics masquerading as race-bred automated gearboxes, and this six-speed in the FR-S is no exception. Up or down, shifts happen too slowly, and that’s something no amount of gimmicky rev-matching can fix. By the time the transmission gets around to delivering what you’ve asked for, the moment has passed, the apex you were clipping is in the mirror, and that’s that. Yawn city instead of yee-haw.

The aftermarket can help, just like it’s been supporting Miata buyers in search of increased wattage for years. Superchargers are a start, V8 swaps have happened. “You’ll mess up the balance!” they’ll cry. Yes, some, but the FR-S could use a little irresponsible imbalance. Trading some increased understeer and a slightly higher center of gravity for a deeper, more flexible well of whoop-ass would be a worthwhile transaction.

The official line is that the wonderful new turbo version of this engine in the WRX won’t fit. There’s also nothing in the Toyota or Subaru dugout that’s packaged like a pushrod small-block, so dreams of a dry-sumped aluminum OHV V8 snuggled against the firewall are just that. Subaru and Toyota are telling the truth. Automakers have to make stuff fit, meet crash standards, avoid setting things on fire, and be reliable for tens of thousands of miles. That’s hard and expensive, and it’s why we can’t have nice things.

They say turbo plumbing won’t fit, and as neat as it would be to drop the 3.6 liter flat six from the Outback in the nose of one of these things, that’s about as likely to happen as a turbine. A talented individual with money (lots of money), time (lots of time), and skill (lots of skill) can turn the FR-S into whatever he or she pleases, powered by whatever can be made to fit. It’s a great platform for the modern-day AC Cobra or Sunbeam Tiger. Box-stock, especially with an automatic, the usefulness of the Scion FR-S is limited.


The problem comes down to money. A Mustang GT is a squeak away at $31,210, less if you can find a dealer hot to move the now-finite S197 models to make room for the 2015 S550 platform Mustang. For a little bit more every month, or a slightly longer loan with a quarter or half point more on the interest rate, you’ll get a 420 hp V8 and a chassis that’s not anywhere near as disciplined as the FR-S, but good enough. A Mustang GT can make the FR-S a small speck in the mirror and keep it there, whether the road is straight or twisty. A Mustang V6 Premium is priced right on top of the FR-S and will whip it, good. Any multitude of ratty used performance cars are truly vehicular methamphetamine capable of deeply embarrassing the guy bringing his $30,000 Scion to track day.

It probably sounds like I don’t like the FR-S. That’s not true. The upgrades for 2014 dress up the interior. The BeSpoke infotainment option is a nice suite of tech where previously there was none. The chassis is still the standout feature, though I wish they’d get over the hybrid tires and put some real performance rubber on it. The entertainment-versus-efficiency tradeoff is good, delivering a lot of fun with a small appetite. The FR-S remains a nimble, good-looking car. It also still screams for some real power and the automatic could make a yogi have a tantrum. Just learn to shift.

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New York 2014: 2015 Scion FR-S Release Series 1.0 Unveiled Wed, 16 Apr 2014 18:26:27 +0000 2015-Scion-FRS-RS-1_0-03

Tucked away in the darkened Scion section at the 2014 New York Auto Show, the 2015 Scion FR-S Release Series 1.0 may light up the room with its bright yellow paint, but the owner will still have to be the one to make it light up its tires.

The Release Series 1.0 — limited to 1,500 examples — comes with a number of Toyota Racing Development enhancements, such as a new aero kit, lowered springs, the aforementioned yellow “Yuzu” paint, and a quad-tip exhaust. However, the song remains the same under the hood: a 2-liter flat-four pushing 200 horses and 151 lb-ft of torque to the back through either a six-speed auto or manual.

Price of admission for the the limited edition series will be around $30,000.

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Toyota Dominates Consumer Reports Used Car Recommendations Tue, 18 Mar 2014 13:07:02 +0000 2014 Toyota Camry

Several Toyota models dominated this year’s Consumer Reports list of used car recommendations, with 11 out of 28 overall belonging to the automaker’s Scion, Lexus and namesake brands.

Automotive News reports the 2011-2012 Camry and 2010-2011 Camry Hybrid among the best sedans between $15,000 and $20,000, while the 2006-2007 Lexus RX shares the same pricing space with the non-turbo 2009-2010 Subaru Forester. The 2004-2007 Prius, 2004-2006 Scion xB and the Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix twins all took the $10,000 or less small car category, while the 2008-2009 Highlander Hybrid, 2011 Avalon and 2006 Lexus LS took their respective segment spots for vehicles between $20,000 and $25,000.

Overall, all but three of the 28 recommended used cars were made in Japan or South Korea; the 2011-2012 Lincoln MKZ, 2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid and the aforementioned Pontiac Vibe were the only domestics to make the recommendation list.

Consumer Reports also unveiled their “worst of the worst” used car picks, where all but six were made by the Detroit Three, including the Chevrolet Cruze 1.8-liter and Impala, the Chrysler/Dodge trio of minivans, and the orphaned Saturn Outlook and Relay. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and MINI make up the remainder of the 21 picks to avoid.

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Review: 2014 Scion tC (With Video) Tue, 17 Sep 2013 16:23:02 +0000 2014 Scion tC Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Many assumed that with the new FR-S hitting the dealers, it would only be a matter of time before the front-wheel-drive tC was sent out to pasture. However with an average buyer age of 28, the tC is isn’t just the youngest Toyota, it’s the youngest car in America. With demographics like that, product planners would be fools to kill off the tC and so the “two coupé strategy” was born. The last time we looked at the tC, the FR-S had yet to be born, this time the tC has been refreshed in the FR-S’ image. Which two door is right for you? Click past the jump, the answer might surprise you.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Let’s start with the nitty-gritty. Starting at $19,695 and barely climbing to $20,965, the tC is 25% cheaper than an FR-S. This pricing delta is why (in my mind) the tC’s sales numbers haven’t fallen since the FR-S was released with 2012 slightly above 2011. If you think of the tC as the budget FR-S alternative, the two-coupé strategy starts to make more sense. From dealers I have spoken with it seems to be working. Prospective buyers that can’t quite afford an FR-S or are having troubles justifying the cost to themselves have been looking at the less expensive tC.

With strategy in mind, Scion decided to remake the front-driver in the FR-S’ image. Wise choice since the FR-S is one of the best looking modern Toyota designs. Because hard points remain the same on this refresh, tweaks are limited to new bumper covers, headlamps, tail lamps and wheels. I think the tC’s new nose suits the coupé surprisingly well since most nose jobs range from peculiar to downright Frankenstein. Similarly, the new rear bumper cover fixed the 2013′s tall and flat rear bumper cover by breaking it up with a black panel and a non-functional triangular red lens. What’s the lens for? That’s anyone’s guess.  To see how the two Scions stack up, check out my 5-second Photoshop mash-ups.

tC vs FR-S Front  tC vs FR-S Back

While some found the new clear tail lamps too “boy racer,” I think they work better on the tC and with the tC’s target demographic than the old units. As is obvious by the photos,the FR-S is quite low to the ground with a low slung cabin creating the low center of gravity it is known for. The tC on the other hand is mainstream economy coupé.

Since this is just a refresh, the tC’s major styling problem is still with us: the ginormous C-pillar and small rear window. Aside from my personal belief that the look is awkward, the shape has a serious impact on visibility creating large blindspots for the driver and not permitting rear passengers to see the scenery. The new tC’s new looks should be enough to get FR-S shoppers short on cash to give the tC a once-over before cross-shopping. Mission accomplished. Compared to the other FWD competition I rank the tC second, below the new Kia Forte Koup and above the somewhat bland Honda Civic.

2014 Scion tC Interior, dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes


Once inside the tC, FR-S shoppers are likely to be disappointed as there is very little FR-S inside Scion’s FWD coupé. Hard plastics in a mixture of black and charcoal hues continue to dominate the cabin, something I was OK with in 2011 because the competition was coated in hard polymer as well. Nearly three years later, the competition has upped the game with the 2013 Civic bringing soft injection molded dash parts to the segment followed by the 2014 Forte’s stylish new interior. It’s also worth noting that Scion continues to offer the tC in one interior color: black. Sticking with Scion’s model of streamlined inventory, all tCs have a standard dual-pane glass sunroof which is an interesting touch but I think I would trade it for upgraded materials.

Front seat comfort is strictly average in the tC.  Front seats offer limited adjustibility and little lumbar support (the seats do not have an adjustable lumbar support feature). tC drivers sit in a more upright fashion than in the FR-S thanks to the tC’s overall taller proportions but thanks to that large C-pillar, visibility is worse than the low-slung FR-S. The tC’s rear seats are a different matter. At 34.5 inches, the tC sports nearly two inches more rear legroom than the Forte Koup (2013 numbers), four more than the Civic and five more than the FR-S. Combined with a surprising amount of headroom, it is possible to put four 6-foot tall adults in the tC for a reasonable amount of time. Thanks to the hatch back design and a trunk that’s 50% larger than the Civic and more than 110% larger than the FR-S, you can jam luggage for four in the back of the tC as well.

2014 Scion tC Interior, BeSpoke Autio System, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment & Gadgets

The only major change inside the tC is a new Pioneer head-unit. Instead of borrowing radios from Toyota, Scion has generally gone for consumer branded units that are designed for Scion but share nothing with the Toyota parts bin. The notable exception was the old Toyota derived navigation unit which was found in a few Scion models with an eye watering $2,250 price tag. For 2014 Scion is using a new Pioneer made system featuring 8-speakers, HD Radio, iDevice/USB integration and an integrated CD player. The software looks like a blend of Pioneer’s interface and something from Toyota’s new Entune systems. The over all look is less elegant and far more “aftermarket” than the well-integrated systems from Kia or even Honda’s funky dual-level system in the Civic. Sound quality however was excellent in the tC with well matched speakers and moderately high limits.

Should you feel particularly spendy, you can pay Scion $1,200 to add the “BeSpoke Premium Audio System” which is a fancy way of saying navigation software and smartphone app integration. Take my advice, spend your $1,200 on something else. The tC’s lack of infotainment bling is troubling since Scion positions themselves as a brand for the young. At 33 I’m still in the vicinity of the tCs target market (average age 28) and even to my elderly eyes, the entire Scion brand lags in this area. Yes, the idea is: buy an aftermarket radio and have it installed, but I can’t be the only one that wants a super-slick system with a large touchscreen, navigation and smartphone apps as the standard system. Anyone at Scion listening?

On the gadget front, the tC and the Civic are well matched but Kia’s new Forte is rumored to offer goodies like a backup camera, color LCD in the gauge cluster, dual-zone climate controls, push-button start, keyless entry, HID headlamps, power seats, etc. That leaves the Scion in an odd position having no factory options at all and competing only with relatively base models of the competition.

2014 Scion tC Engine, 2.5L Four Cylinder, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain & Drive

The tC uses the same four-cylinder engine found under the hood of the Camry and RAV4. The 2.5L mill has lost 1 horsepower and 1 lb-ft for 2014 (for no apparent reason) dropping to 179HP at 6,000 RPM and 172 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 RPM. Sending power to the front wheels is a standard 6-speed close ratio manual transmission and an optional revised 6-speed automatic that now features throttle matched down-shifts. If those numbers sound healthy, they should. I have a preference toward engines “symmetrical” power numbers (HP and tq are nearly equal) as they usually provide a well-rounded driving experience. That is certainly true of the tC, especially when you compare it to the 2.0L engine in the FR-S.

Boo! Hiss! I know, it’s sacrilege to say anything less than positive about a direct-injection boxer engine, but let’s look at the fine print. The FR-S’ 200 ponies don’t start galloping until 7,000RPM, a grand higher than the Camry-sourced 2.5, but the real problem is the torque. The FR-S has only 151 lb-ft to play with and you have to wait until 6,600 RPM for them to arrive. That’s 2,600 RPM higher than the 2.5. This has a direct impact on the driveability and the character of the two coupés. The FR-S needs to be wound up to the stratosphere to make the most of the engine while the tC performs well at “normal” engine RPMs. Hill climbing and passing are the two areas where the difference in character is most obvious. The FR-S needs to drop a few gears in order to climb or pass while the tC can often stay in 6th. Sure, the FR-S sounds great when singing at 7-grand, but you’re not always on a majestic mountain highway, sometimes you’re just on the freeway in rush hour. Thanks to a lower curb weight and gearing differences, the FR-S ran to 60 in 6.7 seconds last time we tested it, 9/10ths faster than the tC.

2014 Scion tC Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Don’t mistake me, the FR-S has higher limits than the tC pulling more Gs in the corners and having a very neutral handling RWD nature while the tC plows like a John Deere in the corners. What might surprise you however is that despite the nose-heavy FWD nature of the tC, in stock form, at 8/10ths on a winding track, the FR-S is likely to pull away. Some of that has to do with the tC’s improved suspension and chassis for 2014, but plenty has to do with the stock rubber choice on the FR-S. Scion fits low-rolling-resistance tired to the RWD coupé in order to improve fuel economy AND to make the FR-S capable of tail-happy fun with only 151lb-ft of twist. When it comes to the hard numbers we don’t have a skidpad in the Northern California TTAC testing grounds so I’m going to have to refer to “Publication X’s” numbers: FR-S 0.87g, tC 0.84g. Say what? Yep. regardless of the publication the tC scores shockingly close to the FR-S in road holding. Surprised? I was. More on that later.

How about the competition? Let’s dive in. The Civic Si is a bit more hard-core. Available only with a manual transmission, a wide demographic has to be removed from the comparison. However those that like to row their own will find a FWD 6-speed manual transaxle that is, dare i say it, better than many RWD transmissions. The shift feel and clutch pedal are near perfection and the limited slip front differential helps the Civic on the track. In the real world there’s less daylight between the two however with essentially the same curb weight, equal torque numbers and only a 20HP lead by the Honda. The result is a Civic that ties in my mind with a better interior and better road manners but higher price tag ($22,515) and a loss of practicality when it comes to cargo and people hauling.

2014 Scion tC Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I’m going to gloss over the Golf because, as I learned on Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the other. How about the Hyundai Elantra Coupe? It’s considerably down on power (148 HP / 131 lb-ft), has a cheaper interior and handles like a damp noodle. If you’re wondering why the Elantra GT had to get its bones stiffened, the Elantra Coupé is why. How about the GT? Like the Golf, it’s not quite the same animal. Altima? Dead. Eclipse? Ditto. The Genesis plays with the FR-S and the other bigger boys which brings us to the oddly spelled Kia Forte Koup.

The 2014 Koup has yet to be driven, but based on our experiences with the 2013 Koup and the 2014 Forte 4-door sedan, I expect great things. Kia has announced the Koup will land with an optional 1.6L turbo engine good for 201 ponies and 195 lb-ft of twist. I expect the chassis and manual transmission to still be a step behind the Honda Civic Si, but the interior and gadget count on the Koup look class leading. Unless Kia gets the Koup all wrong, I expect it to slot in around 20-23K. I also expect it to lead my list.

2014 Scion tC Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

That brings us full circle to the tCs fiercest competitor: its stable mate the FR-S. No matter how you slice it, the tC isn’t as good-looking. It may seat four with relative ease, but the interior isn’t as nice as the FR-S either. It delivers good fuel economy and is plenty of fun on the road, but the appeal of the tC is more pragmatic than emotional. Still, when the numbers are added up the tC delivers 75% of the FR-S’ looks, 85% of the handling and 90% of the performance for 78% of the price. Being the deal hound I am, that makes the tC the better Scion.


Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • Well priced
  • Excellent handling (for a FWD car)

Quit it

  • Cheap plastics inside continue
  • The steering isn’t as precise as the Civic Si.
  • Lack of premium or tech options young buyers demand

Scion provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as Tested

0-30: 2.8 Seconds

0-60: 7.6 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.8 Seconds @ 89 MPH

Cabin Noise: 76db @ 50 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 29.6 MPG over 459 miles


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Mountain State Review: 2013 Scion FR-S vs. 2006 Mazda RX-8 Tue, 20 Nov 2012 14:00:04 +0000

It’s the perfect day and the perfect road for a brisk mountain drive in the siena red Z3. For the last time this year it’s easily warm enough to put the top down—in a little over a week the remnants of Hurricane Sandy will bury the area in snow. WV15 winds tightly along a mountain ridge, flanked on each side by peaking fall foliage. Valleys far below on each side, you’re on top of the world. There’s only one problem with this soul stirring picture: my father started the day closer to Cass, and the BMW is holding me up. With the next brief straight I snick the firm, short-throw shifter into third, spur the boxer well over 4,000 rpm, and roar past him. WV15 is an even better road for a Scion FR-S en route to meet up with a pair of Mazda RX-8s for our Third Annual Appalachian Road Trip.

No car is the best car for every situation. The Scion was borderline awful on I75 the previous day, assaulting my ears with tire roar and the rest of me with incessant jiggling. “Steel drum,” I note. My ass grows sore within an hour. The seatbelt cuts into my neck each time I forget to fasten the retaining strap to the left of the headrest. Due to the small windows and lack of a sunroof option, the dark, plasticky interior has the ambiance of a cave, albeit one with red stitching. The needle of the analog speedometer starts off at four o’clock, and even at highway speeds is still pointing towards my left knee. It’s nearly useless, so luckily there’s a digital speedometer in the tach face. One wonders why they didn’t follow Mazda’s example with the RX-8 and drop the analog dial altogether.

But the Scion’s fuel economy is good when you consider that it’s geared for performance. On I75 (speed limit 70, actual speed somewhat higher) the trip computer reports 31 mpg. I leave the Interstate for US20. On this 55 mph four-land road the noise level becomes much more bearable and gas mileage jumps to 36.

Still, these endlessly straight highways are not the ideal habitat for an FR-S. Anyone who’ll regularly be driving them is well advised to buy something cushier. Aside from minimal sound insulation and an unyielding suspension, the FR-S includes little beyond the most basic features. There aren’t even audio controls on the steering wheel. Then again, the problem with the audio system’s buttons isn’t that they’re hard to reach. They’re close at hand, but feel cheap and defy logic.

After 235 miles of driving I’d rather not repeat (but will in a few days) I finally exit I77 onto OH800. Afterwards, the further south I go the more frequently the road kinks. By the time I pick up OH26 in Bethesda, my opinion of the FR-S has improved dramatically. Even more than in the incredibly forgiving Mazda RX-8, you have to be extraordinarily clumsy with your inputs to upset this chassis. The rear end dances a bit more than the Mazda’s across mid-corner bumps, just another part of the price for the Scion’s stiffer suspension bits and lower curb weight. The car’s dynamic balance could hardly be more perfect. If you’re on the gas at all the rear tires will slide well before the fronts can start to scrub—in my time with the car the latter almost never happens.

I pass a couple of cars on the way out of Woodsfield, and the final 40-odd miles to Marietta are wide open. The sun is low in the sky, and I intend to be on the other side of the Ohio River before it drops below the horizon. The Scion’s 2.0-liter engine produces 200 horsepower, but at 7,000 rpm. Torque output peaks at a lofty 6,400 rpm, and there’s little twist south of 4,000. Once over bicycling speeds this isn’t a problem. When frequent curves call for oversteer on demand, just keep the engine at a constant boil over 4,000 rpm.

With an assist from the Torsen limited-slip rear differential, the boxer provides enough torque to work the rear end around even at fairly high speeds, but not enough to break it totally loose. At lower speeds it is possible to get the car sideways, but a touch of counter-steering easily retrieves it. For drivers who’ve never owned a rear-wheel-drive car before, the FR-S is a great place to start. At high rpm a “sound symposer” Auto-Tunes the boxer’s usual grumble into a surprisingly successful impersonation of a small block roar. Fuel economy falls in half, to 18 mpg.

Not everyone is a fan of the Michelin Primacy treads. But until near the end of this stretch, when the rear end gets a little loose, they cling tenaciously to 26’s curves without audible complaint. The seat’s tight, firm bolsters do the same with my torso, and now that there’s a need for them I don’t complain. Set to “sport,” the stability control provides just the right amount of safety net. There’s no need (as in the Infiniti G37 I drove along this route two years ago) to choose between an overly intrusive system and none at all. Even though the net is never clearly needed, on an unfamiliar, highly challenging road I appreciate knowing it’s there. After 40 exhilarating minutes I’m in Marietta.

The next day I drive from Parkersburg to Cass, passing that Z3 along the way. A few nearly brilliant miles on WV16 are wasted behind an expertly driven but still insufficiently speedy 18-wheeler, no passing zone coming to my rescue. Virtually all of the others are automotive nirvana. The roads are amazing, the trees are every color but green, other cars are few and far between, and the harder I push the FR-S the better it feels.

Rolling into Cass, I spy the old man’s copper red RX-8 parked on the shoulder. An old friend and his father in a second RX-8 won’t arrive for a few more hours. Cass, a former logging company town, is now a state park. We fill the time with a visit to the engine shop. Outside five old locomotives, Shays aside from one Heisler, are kept under steam 24/7 when they aren’t transporting tourists up and down the mountain. Inside, a sixth is being rebuilt. You can just hang out there as long as you like. We did. That night we stay in a nicely renovated “company house.” If you have any interest in steam locomotives, a trip to Cass is a must.

Not coincidentally, the scariest/most thrilling (depending on whom you ask) road in the state passes through Cass. An aptly named narrow asphalt ribbon, Back Mountain Road snakes back and forth, up and down through varied terrain. Limited sightlines and even more limited space for two cars to pass require slow speeds through many of the curves, but with others it’s possible to see that nothing’s coming. I’ve long thought the Mazda RX-8 the perfect car for such a road, where handling and visibility are a much higher priorities than power. Like the Scion, the Mazda puts handling over straight line performance and luxury, with minimal insulation, a peaky engine, and a finely balanced rear-wheel-drive chassis. I delayed my week with an FR-S by two months so I’d be able to compare the cars back-to-back in this ideal environment.

Hopping into my father’s car, differences become instantly apparent. With a slightly higher seating position and much larger windows, it’s considerably easier to see out of the Mazda in all directions. If Toyobaru took advantage of the flat four engine to lower the FR-S’s hood line, it’s far from evident. All of the RX-8′s control efforts (steering, throttle, brake, shifter) are much lower. In hard turns, the Mazda leans more and doesn’t feel as firmly tied down, but it also feels more agile and communicative. The Mazda aspires to drive like a smaller, lighter car than it is, and achieves this to a surprising degree.

Though the Scion is over 300 pounds lighter (2,758 vs. 3,075), it feels heavier. In character, it’s much closer to a 370Z or even a Camaro than to the Mazda. It does feel considerably smaller and lighter than those cars, but its throaty engine roar, tight suspension, heavy controls, and limited visibility place it in their genus. Or is the Scion a mixed-breed? If someone Miata’s got out while in estrus, and encountered a Z on the prowl, I wouldn’t be surprised if an FR-S arrived a few months later with the size and road manners of the mother but the character of the daddy.

Looking to more practical considerations, the Scion easily wins one category, with fuel economy about 50 percent better than the Mazda’s. But the RX-8 rides much more smoothly and quietly, making for a more relaxing drive the next day to Hawk’s Next (the FR-S is left behind in Cass). Our lodge is eight miles from an annual festival at the New River Bridge.

All four of us get into one of the Mazdas twice to sample some excellent local cuisine and a third time to watch hundreds of people base jump off the bridge. (One of Trey’s friends who happens to be a Navy SEAL, declared this insane, as the seven seconds it takes to plummet 900 feet to the bottom of the gorge provides little time to correct mishaps.) This wouldn’t have been possible in the FR-S, which has no rear doors, almost no rear legroom, and no space for toes under the front seats. (Back home later, even my smallest child complained.) There’s also a little less trunk space in the Scion, and much less storage space in the cabin, but either car will hold enough luggage for two people for an extended weekend.

In the end, I had a blast in both cars on the mountain roads. Both are very entertaining, yet also very forgiving, while also being fundamentally different. The Scion is much more fuel-efficient, while the Mazda’s genius packaging makes it far more practical in just about every other way. Picking one over the other based on how they drive is much like picking Thai food over Italian, or vice-versa. The Mazda RX-8 makes love to the road. The Scion FR-S masters it. Which do you want to do? Thousands of other drivers have already spoken with their wallets. The RX-8 is dead, while the 370Z and Camaro are still with us. In tuning the FR-S the way they did, Toyoburu’s development engineers have delivered what the market clearly prefers.

Scion provided an insured car with a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, an online source of car reliability and pricing information.

Three against bridge and clouds, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh New River Bridge, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh Cass Shop tools, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh Company houses and 3 cars, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S 36 mpg, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S BMR front quarter, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S engine, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh, Toyota FR-S front Shay, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S interior, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S old lumber mill, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S rear seat, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh, Toyota FR-S Side Cass Shop, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S trunk, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S view forward, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S vs Heisler #6 800, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh Old man learns how to rebuild a boiler, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh RX-8 in Cass, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh Shay 11 and FR-S, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh Z3 WV15, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S Hutte, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh FR-S IP road, picture courtesy of Michael Karesh Fixing the torque issue, picture courtesy Michael Karesh Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 56
Review: 2013 Scion FR-S Tue, 11 Sep 2012 14:00:21 +0000 We’ve already looked at the FR-S, but I came of car-driving age just minutes before the heyday of the Toyota AE86 and, by God, I’m going to write about any car that claims to be an homage to the car that stands as the ’55 Chevy of Japan. So, I got on the horn with Toyota PR: “Hey, Moe, it’s Murilee Martin. Yeah, that Murilee Martin. Listen, I’m heading out to the East Bay next weekend and I need something that won’t embarrass me when I need to out-donut the Glasshouse Caprices at the sideshows in Oakland, know what I’m saying? Sure, the FR-S sounds good!”
Actually, given that automotive PR guys probably assume that car writers treat their cars like gorillas all jacked up on adrenachrome-and-Douglas Fir liqueur cocktails, I probably could have said exactly those words and it wouldn’t have raised any eyebrows. In reality, though, I was coming out to California to visit family and spend a day tailgating before an Oakland Athletics game. I picked up the car at the Oakland Airport and was parked next to the Faster Farms 1966 Plymouth Belvedere race car and eating barbecued meat products about five minutes later.
Since the airport and the ballpark are about two miles from each other, I didn’t get much chance to do any real driving right away. However, I did do a real-world trunk-capacity test right away, and learned that you can fit two good-sized suitcases with no hassle. The back seat provides additional cargo space; you won’t be putting any passengers back there, but we’ll return to that subject a bit later.
So, I had about five hours of tailgating time to examine the details of the car and discuss them with my super-geeked-out car-expert friends. I’ve driven, ridden in, and wrenched on quite a few AE86s, and this car looks nothing whatsoever like the Hachi-roku. This is good, because there’s something depressing about car companies exhuming the long-dead corpses of their past and using them to hawk modern machinery.
Once you start looking at the details, you’ll find many more cues that point to Subaru rather than Toyota. The boxer-4 engine, of course, is straight-up Subaru.
The build tag shows that the car was built by Fuji Heavy Industries, the interior materials feel much more Subaru-ish than Toyota-esque, and the inner fenders are stamped SUBARU.
On that subject, everybody, including me, refers to this car as a Toyota, which is as good an indication as any that the Scion brand hasn’t sunk deep roots in the car-buying public’s consciousness.
Here’s a little detail that says a lot about the philosophical differences between German, Japanese, and American automotive engineers. My friend Shawn, of Junkyard Build Quality Challenge fame, pointed out this anti-honk box attached to the air cleaner housing. Anti-honk boxes (or whatever the technical term is— anti-resonance chamber?) change the volume of the engine’s air-intake tract so as to avoid unpleasant audio resonance at certain engine speeds and loads. The Detroit carmakers don’t really care if your sub-$30k car’s engine makes a noise like a seasick rhinoceros sometimes— just shoot some more insulation on the firewall, problem solved! German engineers can’t tolerate the idea of engine honk, so they redesign the entire intake system if necessary. Toyota and Subaru, however, looked at their budget for this car, calculated the cost of modifying the parts-bin air cleaner (which was probably taken off the Impreza or Corolla or whatever high-production-level part came closest to fitting), and opted for the addition of a simple anti-honk box. I’d planned on stuffing a sock into the anti-honk box’s inlet and seeing how bad the honk really was, but ran out of time.
I always like to nose around under the hood of a new car, to get a sense of what corners were cut. The electrical connectors looked to be of pretty high quality— both Subaru and Toyota have always been good about not pinching yen too ruthlessly in that department— but I noticed a few things that you wouldn’t expect to see on even the cheapest Toyota. For example, these plastic headlight-assembly brackets. A few years of underhood heat will make them fragile, and then someone leaning over the hood will put a knee into the headlight and snap the brackets. This is the sort of thing you expect from Chrysler, circa 1991, not Toyota or Subaru.
Likewise, who uses these Manny, Moe, and Jack-grade, 1952-technology hose clamps nowadays?
My first real complaint about the FR-S came up when I decided to crank up some Ant Banks on the sound system, for the enjoyment of my tailgating companions. This is the 21st century, you can buy full-featured MP3 players direct from China for, like, $6.59, and there’s really no excuse for a factory stereo with alleged iPod interface to be such a pain in the ass to navigate.
Then there’s the quality of the sound system itself; the demographic most likely to buy this car is going to insist on some serious boom, and the standard 300-watt Panasonic system delivers less bass than the junkyard setup I stuffed into my ’92 Civic for a total investment of 25 bucks. Definitely not Tigra and Bunny- approved. I had to stick with no-thud-required stuff (e.g., the Dead Kennedys) for the soundtrack of my East Bay visit.
The day after the A’s tailgate party, I decided to take the FR-S on a tour of all my favorite East Bay wrecking yards (you can see the results in the most recent Junkyard Find posts). Junkyards are almost always in areas with terribly potholed roads, and I learned right away that you don’t want to set the car in the stiff “VSC Sport” mode on such roads. I needed a junkyard taco-truck meal just to settle my stomach after getting a beating that felt like sitting in a trash can being dragged over railroad ties.
Even normal highway driving is pretty miserable when in Sport mode, and the car hangs onto the pavement far beyond my admittedly meager driving abilities when taking freeway interchanges at fun speeds anyway, even with all the stability- and traction-control nannies in full effect. The ride is plenty firm when in non-sport mode, but it’s like a comfy Barcalounger next to the bouncy, noisy original AE86. The FR-S would make a completely non-punitive commuter, unless your idea of commuting comfort was derived from the 1974 Cadillac Sedan DeVille.
Another minor quibble that would be a bigger deal if I were driving this car in the Ivy Mike-level bright sun of Denver: the windshield reflections off the reflective dashboard surface. I thought the car companies solved this problem 15 years ago.
Right, so what’s this thing like to drive? It took me a while to figure it out, but after a few hours of horsing around in empty industrial areas of East Oakland I realized that the FR-S isn’t an homage to the original AE86. It’s an homage to the heavily modified drifter/tuner AE86s of the last decade.
The original Corolla GT-S (or Sprinter Trueno, or whatever you want to call it) was a spindly, 2,200-pound econobox of simple construction that was fitted with a pretty-good-for-the-mid-80s 112-horsepower L4 engine. Adding a bunch of power— which, of course, just about every AE86 owner has done by now— turns the car into a real handful, a parts-busting beast that’s eager to wrap itself around the nearest utility pole.
So, the 2,700-pound, 200-horsepower FR-S is to the drifter AE86 as the SRT8 Challenger is to the tunnel-rammed-440-equipped street-racer Challenger of the early 1970s. Just as the new Challenger turns once-difficult burnouts, convenience-store-parking-lot donuts, and 12-second quarter-mile passes into accomplishments that any idiot can pull off with almost no practice, so does the FR-S put all the dorifto moves of Initial D into the grasp of just about any schlub. You want to wow the kids in the mall parking lot with a perfect 180-degree E-brake turn on your first attempt? The FR-S will oblige. In fact, this car makes the previous E-Brake Turn Champion of the World (a rented Chevy Cobalt in a badly paved racetrack paddock) seem uncontrollable by comparison.
The same goes for moves that require you to blow away the rear tires and slide around like an idiot. Turn off the traction control, cock the wheel a bit, get on the gas, and you’ll be drifting around like some dude who killed a dozen Nissan 240SXs as the price for learning his skills.
My prediction: When these cars depreciate enough to put them within reach of the 16-to-22-year-old crowd, say ten years from now, look out! We’re going to see FR-Ss upside-down, on fire, and/or T-boned-into signposts wherever teenagers gather.
For the grownups who don’t care much about Japanese street-racing fads, the FR-S will make a pretty good weekday commuter/weekend autocross car. I didn’t have as much fun driving it as I did with the Mazda RX-8 (the Mazda feels lighter and less like a drag racer), but the FR-S manages to get nearly double the fuel-economy of the Wankel-powered machine, while being several orders of magnitude better-looking. If you want the opinion of Jack “The Ohio Player” Baruth, who is capable of going quickly around a race track in most un-car-journo-ish fashion, on the FR-S’s racetrack prowess, go here.
Something felt strangely familiar about the FR-S as I drove it from junkyard to junkyard, and then it hit me: the stiff, super-short-throw shifter and gargly boxer engine sound might as well have been swapped directly from my wife’s ’04 Subaru Outback. Once again, the FR-S feels more like a Fuji Heavy Industries product than a Toyota product.
I approve of the semi-old-timey-looking instrument cluster, though the weirdly centered speedometer is more or less useless (there’s a digital speed display inside the tach).
The racy-style front seats are great for hurling the car through tight turns and they’re quite comfortable in spite of the goofy-looking thick red stitching; more to the point, they look like the kind of aftermarket component that generations of Hachi-roku owners have bolted into their cars.
The sill plates have this puzzling polka-dot motif, which is carried over to the pedals.
The back seat, well, isn’t. My 12-year-old niece, who’s about 4′ 8″ tall and skinny, couldn’t find a way to sit comfortably in the back of the FR-S. The rear seat area should work well for grocery bags, though, and you can use the seat belts to keep the bags from sliding around as you execute a psychotic power-slide all the way across the Safeway parking lot.
The HVAC controls are uncomplicated, which is good, but the control mechanisms feel crappier than what I’m used to on Toyota cars.
While on my tour of the industrial East Bay, I happened upon this parked mid-80s Cressida. Note the size similarity between the roomy luxury car and the snug sporty car. Also note that the Cressida is sittin’ on some bullshit compared to the Scion.
The FR-S is still small when parked next to a ’66 Belvedere. My verdict on the FR-S: I could drive this thing every day and be very happy with it, but I’d expect Subaru reliability instead of the (historically superior) Toyota version. At $24,997 as tested, the FR-S has a pretty good bang-for-buck ratio… but I’d also take a long look at the similarly priced Miata before I bought one.

49 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 01 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 02 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 03 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 04 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 05 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 06 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 07 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 08 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 09 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 10 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 11 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 13 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 14 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 15 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 16 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 17 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 18 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 19 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 20 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 21 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 22 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 23 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 24 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 25 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 26 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 27 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 28 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 29 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 30 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 31 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 32 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 33 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 34 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 35 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 36 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 37 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 38 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 39 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 40 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 41 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 42 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 43 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 44 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 45 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 46 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 47 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 48 - 2013 Scion FR-S - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 76
Off-Track Review: 2013 Scion FR-S Mon, 13 Aug 2012 20:00:02 +0000  

[Editor's note: TTAC does not review cars, TTAC reviewers do. The reviews can be as different as the reviewers are, and they voice their opinions independently. Due to the high interest the FR-S has received, we put a whole squad of TTAC reviewers into the car, and we are not done yet.]

Alex’s initial look at the pre-production Scion FR-S had a few feathers getting ruffled in the comments section. Then came Derek’s discussion of the hype surrounding the car and his own disappointing drive, and even more feathers were bent askew. Now Jack’s had a go at dissecting the FR-S on the track (his natural environment, if not the car’s), and it’s basically been like firing chickens into a snow-blower.

So, while the little Toyobaru sits in the middle of crossfire of angry verbiage that is like, so totally not what usually happens around here, I’ll belly up to the bar. We’ve had the launch event, we’ve had the track comparo; I had the FR-S for a week to evaluate it as a daily-driver, and one thing right off the bat:

“Make no mistake; it’s a good car.” -Derek Kreindler
“First things first: your humble author kind of loves the FR-S.” -Jack Baruth

Unlike my colleagues, I’d like to avoid the mistake of simply stating that I like the car in the midst of a discussion of its foibles and short-comings. This erroneous method seems to have resulted in much furor including accusations that TTAC is anti-FR-S – we’re not.

Instead, I place my overall conclusion right at the beginning, in 72-point font so you can’t possibly miss it. This is a good car, and I liked it…


Initial Thoughts:
Five minutes or fifty feet: that’s all it takes to fall head-over-heels for the MX-5. I loved Mazda’s little red roadster so much I went straight to craigslist and starting hunting for used ones, temporarily forgetting that shopping for drop-tops shouldn’t be a priority when your wife is 38 weeks pregnant. Oops.

Not so with the FR-S. Those of you who’ve been able to snag a test-drive or a spin in a friend’s new purchase and walked away feeling fairly disappointed: you aren’t alone. My first reaction upon winding out the 2.0L boxer was, to paraphrase Katie Holmes on her wedding night, “Is that all?”

The double torque peak – and in-between crater – makes the FR-S a bit weird to drive in stop-and go. It’s got decent off the line punch, but then you’re revving through a wasteland with little to encourage you forward. Things pick up a bit towards redline, but the 6-7/10ths mid-range (where the MX-5 is such a joy) is lacking something.

What’s more, I couldn’t really fall for the engine note either. It was loud and somewhat tasteless, like – oh, to pick an example at random: this. Frankly, the whole first five minutes was a bit of a let-down. But I persevered.

Inner Space:
Things that do work well? The seats are fantastic. The interior is extremely cheap, but it’s also spartan and uncluttered: no buttons on the steering wheel to accidentally change radio-stations during an apex.

The sizing feels right, not quite as little-car chuckable as the roly-poly MX-5, but low and light, like an early Integra or 240SX. What’s more, if you don’t fit in a MX-5, you’ll likely fit in this car – it’s spacious enough, and the roof has bulges high enough to accommodate a helmet.

Forward visibility is pretty good, beltlines are low, and rear visibility can be perfectly ok if you set your mirrors correctly and trust in the shortness of your car. And then there are those kid-size back-seats: perfect for me you’d think, with a little hellion on the way.

Family Values:
Not even close. First, hoisting a pregnant lady in and out of the passenger’s seat isn’t winning you any purchasing points. Second, rear-facing child seats are all the size of Volkswagen Beetles these days: cramming one behind the passenger’s seat is going to require storing your spouse in the glovebox. Booster seats will be ok, but this is not necessarily an ideal young-family second car in the early stages of child-rearing.

Tofu Delivery Rating:
As a grocery-getter, the FR-S does fine. It’s got a trunk, not a hatchback for chassis-stiffness reasons, and at just seven cubic feet, you’d better be good at Tetris. For larger objects, the seats do fold down; obviously the marketing department is touting its effectiveness at loading up a set of race tires and rims for the track.

Unfortunately, there’s a height issue. Taking back the empties on a Thursday left me with puzzle I never had to face with my WRX: I couldn’t get the truck closed. Some careful rearranging did the trick, but there’s certainly a limit to the FR-S’s trunk capacity: nowhere near a huge practical advantage over the Miata.

Sorry, I mean “MX-5”. I know that’s currently the correct nomenclature for Mazda’s little roadster as the scripted “Miata” was seen as too girly. Here’s an advantage for the FR-S then: in the public view, it’s a dorifto-machine, not some limp-wristed mincing-mobile.

Admittedly, the Miata minces through the corners just fine, and I couldn’t care less about its supposed “girl’s-car” image anyway. But then there are those who worry about that sort of thing, so perhaps the imagined stigma was always too much for you.

Flip-side to this is the V6 Mustang: currently the automotive catch-all du jour. “Why not a V6 Mustang?” Why not indeed?

Here are two reasons: it’s a Mustang, and it’s a V6. Ford’s Pony car won’t work for everyone, and as good as the I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-butter V6 is, it’s still seen as the lite option. Someone will inevitably ask you why you didn’t buy the V8 version just as, if you go for the FR-S, someone will inevitably ask you why you didn’t buy the V6 Mustang.

Either way, Saturday night found me at Canadian Tire, purchasing a cordless weed-eater for my tiny suburban lawn. The parking lot is fairly open in the evenings, and an impromptu car show had popped up: Oldsmobile 442s, some Mopar Iron, a Volvo 122s – a very mixed bag.

Just a bunch of guys shooting the breeze over their definitely-non-concourse machines. I strolled through briefly, admiring, listening and nodding, and found myself in a bit of a mood to go for a drive.

I took the long way home, after fiddling with the FR-S’s traction control system (engage sport mode, then hold down the traction control button for a further 2-3 seconds). The car was the same as it ever was. I pushed harder. It got better.

Here, finally, caning the FR-S along the curve, things started to click. It’s not the sportscar second coming of Christ, but it sure works when you thrash the bejesus out of it.

Finding Greatness:
Part of the deal with the old AE-86 is that everyone forgets what a piece of junk that car is, although good fun to flog. Modify it though, and things start getting interesting.

At the last track day I did, an FR-S owner on Dunlop Star Specs was fairly easily keeping up with more powerful machinery. How? He also had a brake upgrade swapped out of an STI. Looked like fun. Did it look like more fun than the NC MX-5 which showed up with Hoosiers stacked on a mini trailer? Uh…

Click here to view the embedded video.

Oh yeah, and there’s this. Want the power the manufacturer isn’t providing off the bat? No problemo. This turbo kit puts out a nice smooth power curve and still uses stock injectors. No need to overnight parts from Japan either – these guys are in Ohio.

Buying a first-year car is always a bit of a crap-shoot. Even the Miata buggered it up with early crank-nose issues. From leaky tail-lights to idle speed problems to erroneous panel-gap fitment, the FR-S has had what can be charitably called teething issues. Here’s a list.

Even still, would I recommend this car? Let’s see: it’s not a better drive than the Miata, but work at it and you’ll find the reward; there’s bound to be aftermarket support to correct most of the issues (the clutch uptake is horrible, but the community’s already all over that one); there’s enough space to just pip the practicality meter. Add this to the fairly reasonable fuel-consumption – though premium is required – and sure, it’s worth a good hard look.

But so’s the ‘Stang, and so’s the MX-5, and so’s a ‘Speed3, and so’s an Abarth, and so is the surprisingly good Genesis coupe. No two ways about it: we’re living in a golden age for cheap motoring. The FR-S is a good choice, but it’s not a no-brainer. None of them are.

Scion Canada provided the car tested and insurance.

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Boomerang Basement Bolides — Third Place: Scion FR-S Tue, 07 Aug 2012 16:42:59 +0000

“This car,” Derek Kreindler told me as we grabbed third gear down Toronto Motorsports Park’s front straight, “is like a GT-R for a guy who lives in his mother’s basement.” He had a point. Some American subcultures practice what I think of as immobile ambition — think of all those McMansions with no furniture and a double-income couple anxiously hoping someone will stop by and be impressed by the bridal staircase and crown moldings. Other subcultures are all about getting out in the street and showing off your clothes, your ride, or your woman.

The men of Generation Y aren’t marrying hopeful little starter wives, buying hopeful starter homes, and having hopeful little parties the way their parents and grandparents did in their twenties. Instead, they’ve boomeranged back to the stucco-fronted McMansions of their teenaged years so they may contemplate their student-debt-to-likely-career-prospects ratio at their leisure. Their culture is a mobile one. It’s about getting out of the house, which doesn’t belong to them. What better way to do it than with a $25,000 sports car, paid for with Mommy’s mad money or an afternoon shift at the Barnes & Noble record counter, mostly spent furtively spinning a Ra Ra Riot disk instead of the recommended Diana Krall Christmas album and checking Facebook on one’s iPhone? And after twenty-five years of receiving awards for participation and surfing along on a wave of grade inflation, Gen Y has enough self-esteem to view a full-priced sporting car with a healthy dose of ironic contempt. A Corvette is “trying too hard”, and trying too hard is something one simply never does, you see.

That’s the rather labored social context of the FR-S: all the mad tyte JDM dopeness one can finance for $425 a month. It’s a perfect fit. The problem comes when one views the FR-S in a different context: that of its readily available competition.


In the end, it’s the pricing context that will determine the fate of the little Toyobaru. At $17,500, the FR-S would have been the hottest new car in years. At $33,000, it would fall into the kind of deep dealership sinkholes that used to capture cars like the normally-aspirated 300ZX and Supra.

We chose to compare the FR-S with two cars which have found a happy home around the $24,955 “Scion Pure Price” which your despicable local Toyota dealer will no doubt envision as the top line of a long dealer-added-equipment list: the Hyundai Genesis 2.0T R-Spec ($26,500) and the Mazda MX-5 PRHT ($27,540). The venue, as previously noted, was Toronto Motorsports Park. We shared cars and facilities with our sister publication AutoGuide for the test. Using a “DriftBox”, AutoGuide’s time-trial driver Dave Pratte entered what he calls “attack mode”, recording a lap time of 1:26.2 for the FR-S and a 1:25.0 for the Genesis 2.0t R-Spec. These times were so outrageously good — up to seven seconds better than what other publications had recorded under similar conditions — we didn’t bother to try to beat them.

Instead, I called on my friend, TrackDAZE senior instructor and Camaro-Mustang-Challenge champion Colin Jevens, to help me put the Scion, Mazda, and Hyundai into their proper places. We put dozens of laps on the cars, compared notes, and discussed various arcane aspects of suspension tuning until everybody around us was wayyyy past ready to pack up and go home. If you’re able to read a headline, you can see the results of those discussions: the Scion finished what Motor Trend would probably call “second runner-up” but what TTAC calls DFL. Why?

First things first: your humble author kind of loves the FR-S. I tried to buy one, even. I like the way it looks, inside and out. I like the proportions, the size, the interior. I like the sound of the boxer four. I even like the Scion brand and philosophy, enough so that I would pick an FR-S over a BRZ even though from my perspective the price difference between the two is nonexistent and the BRZ has more stuffs.

I have personal reasons to want an FR-S as well. Nearly thirty years ago, my father borrowed his girlfriend’s “sports car” so I could check it out. It looked exactly like this:

That’s right: a black 1984 post-bowtie Celica GT-S. Black velour bucket seats. Graphic equalizer. Fender flares. Five-speed manual transmission. Hidden headlights. I wasn’t a stupid twelve-year-old; I’d already driven a few cars myself thanks to my mother’s easily-charmed female friends and I knew the Celica was slow even by the standards of the era. But it looked sooooo cool. The interior was a dark, private cave that could easily contain not one, but three yoga instructors. It may have been all show and no go, but the show was pretty good. I couldn’t even bring myself to tell the old man it was a sled. To this day, I’m reasonably sure he thinks it was a Supra.

The FR-S is totes the Celica GT-S coupe for the modern era. It’s stylish, it has a completely blacked-out cave of an interior which calls to the basement-dwelling teenager in all of us, and it is likely to be popular with the ladies due to its Scion badge and lack of spine-crushing acceleration. If you want to buy one just because it’s an FR-S, you have my blessing.

The problem comes when you make two comparisons. The first one, ironically enough, is to that ’84 Celica. That Celica had the famous 22R-E Toyota engine. Keep it maintained and throw a chain in it from time to time, and that Celica will last forever. The FR-S, by contrast, has a Subaru engine. I don’t want a Subaru engine in my FR-S. To some extent, that’s like putting a Northstar in a Lexus: hey, it’s boring, but now it will blow up and die! I don’t want to become an expert at swapping head gaskets. I don’t want to do all my maintenance from underneath the car. I want the engine from the dearly-departed last-gen Celica GT-S. Or the turbo engine from the All-Trac before that. In fact, I’d just rather have a JDM last-gen All-Trac, or the CALTY-designed bar-of-soap All-Trac which preceded it. Hell, give me a first-gen All-Trac. Know how much power the ’89 All-Trac had? As much as the FR-S. Where’s the progress? I want a Toyota engine in my Toyota. I want the car to last forever, with no hassle. It’s part of the promise of buying a Toyota. The FR-S, by those standards, breaks the promise. If I am willing to do my own head gaskets, I can buy an STi for similar money, crank the boost, and humiliate the FR-S both down the freeway and on the racetrack.

Our second comparison happens on the racetrack, as fate would have it, and that’s where the FR-S should shine. It’s a great steer, in the literal sense. It’s nice to steer around. It’s about as “neutral” as a street car gets and it does whatever you ask of it. As long, of course, as what you ask doesn’t include going quickly. The Genesis simply eviscerates it. Dave Pratte’s super-quick lap times don’t adequately demonstrate the difference between the two cars. The Genesis is much faster down the straights and in the turns the actual corner speed is pretty much the same.

An FR-S with a Genesis-matching two-liter turbo engine — which is to say, an FR-S that Toyota could easily build in their sleep, from the parts bin, and eliminating Subaru from the equation to boot — would be preferable to a Genesis on-track. That would be the car to have. Get the drivetrain out of the last All-Trac, crank the boost a bit, forget the crap about the center of gravity, and let’s have a great car, okay?

As delivered, the FR-S is not quite a great car, and the boxer is to blame. Half of the time, it can’t even get the “Toyobaru” up to track speeds where the infamous all-season tires would feel loose. It doesn’t give any sense that it’s making the rated two hundred horsepower. It’s a bunch of sound and fury signifying that you’re about get passed by a Hyundai which costs less. Ten laps in the Hyundai will absolutely spoil your FR-S enjoyment, because the Hyundai simply motors away everywhere there’s a chance to do so, and it can play the ’84 Celica Game too: it’s also a deep, dark Oriental cave of a closed coupe and it also looks sporting from a distance. Why buy the FR-S when the Genesis is available? Because it’s a Toyota and therefore reliable? Well, it’s a Toyota with a Subaru engine.

At this point, if you’re part of the FT-86 owners club/clique/Facebook page, you’ve no doubt constructed an elaborate mental response about how the FR-S is lighter, and more nimble, and a far better driver’s car than the Genesis, and how a true driver, a guy who knows anything about cars, would, like really see that. A real driver would prefer the filet mignon of midcorner adjustability to the high-fructose syrup of an overboosted turbo.

Guess what? A real driver prefers the Mazda Miata.

Compared to the Miata, the FR-S feels a thousand feet wide and two tons heavy. The visibility is dismal. The engine feels no stronger than the little four in the Mazda and it doesn’t respond as readily to small changes of throttle position. The steering, sublime when sampled individually, seems to be a little short of the Miata’s. All of a sudden, you realize that the FR-S isn’t the “Miata coupe” that some Internet player-haters called it when the specs came out. It isn’t that good. A true Miata coupe would run rings around the FR-S. A true Miata coupe would make the FR-S obsolete overnight. It’s within Mazda’s power to render the FR-S as irrelevant as Rick Springfield’s entire career.

Even against the hardtop Miata however, the FR-S is still second best, and in my opinion (although not the opinion of Colin Jevens, who believed it to be slightly more fun overall than the R-Spec) it can’t match the Genesis either. It’s too slow to beat the Hyundai and too limp to match the Miata. The English phrase “falls between two stools” applies here, but where the Scion really falls, in the end, is in last place. Yes, you can mod the hell out of it and have a great time, but as we will show you in a special “Zeroth Place” supplement at the end of this series, there are better choices for that, too. It’s back to the basement for the Future Toyota – Eighty-Six.

Images courtesy Julie Hyde, who wants you to know that her lens wasn’t working correctly.

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TTAC Track Days Episode 2: Scion FR-S vs. Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T vs. Mazda MX-5 Tue, 07 Aug 2012 15:15:14 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

In our second installment, we take the Scion FR-S to the track, along with the heavier, but more powerful Hyundai Genesis 2.0T and its spiritual antecedent, the Mazda MX-5. Oh, and there are special guests from Japan and America.


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Pre-Production Review: 2013 Scion FR-S Wed, 09 May 2012 13:00:49 +0000

Scion has had a sordid past. Originally, Scion was Toyota’s solution to a lack of 18-25 year old shoppers. Over the past 9 years however Scion has lost their way and lost their youth. Their median buyer just turned 42. The tC coupe, which started out as a car for college kids, now has a median buyer of around 30. Scion claims the FR-S is a halo car – to me, that means the FR-S will be bought by older drivers (who can actually afford it), attracting younger buyers to their showrooms. Despite being out of the target demographic, Scion flew me to Vegas to sample the FR-S’s sexy lines to find out.

The rear-drive layout, boxer engine and low center of gravity all play out in the car’s distinctive exterior. Toyota claims it was meant to pay homage to classic Toyotas of the past, but if Porsche and Lotus were charged with penning a Scion, this is what it would look like. Our time with the FR-S was limited to a 100 mile drive and about 6 hours of SCCA style autocross and road course track time in a pre-production FR-S. Jack will be flogging a production FR-S on track sometime this summer, assuming the stars align.

Inside, Scion opted for snazzy faux-suede instead of the coarse fabric of the base Subaru BRZ (the BRZ is available with  leather/faux-suede seating in the Limited model). Scion also swapped out the silver dash trim for something that looks like it might be imitating carbon fiber but is actually a motif based on the letter “T.”

Click here to view the embedded video.

Like all Scion models, the standard radio is a Pioneer unit with standard Bluetooth and iPod/USB interfaces. Instead of bringing Toyota’s Entune system to the Scion brand, Pioneer was engaged to bring their “App Radio” into what appears to be its first OEM use. Unlike traditional nav systems, the “BeSpoke” system (as Scion is calling it) is essentially just an iPhone app. The app runs solely on your phone and the head unit merely controls the app and displays the video generated by the phone. This means an iPhone is required for it work (Android phones are not supported.) It also means navigating eats up your data plan and you must be in a cellular service area for it to work. The system is expected to cost under $90 and since it’s an App on your phone, it’s never out of date. Much like iDrive, BeSpoke will also offer Facebook, Twitter and internet radio integration.

Under the lies the fruit of the Subaru/Toyota marriage: a 2.0L direct-injection boxer engine. Although it’s based on Subaru’s Impreza engine, it has been re-engineered to incorporate Toyota’s “D4S” direct-injection tech. The addition of GDI boosts power by 52HP to 200HP. Since the engine is naturally aspirated, the torque improvement is a more modest 6lb-ft bringing the total 151 at a lofty 6,600 RPM, while peak horsepower comes in at seven grand. Despite the online rumors, Scion Vice President Jack Hollis indicated there will be no turbo FR-S.

Since the FR-S is intended to be “baby’s first track car,” Scion’s event was held at the Spring Mountain Motor Resort in Pahrump, Nevada. Out on the track, the FR-S isn’t as slow as an early Miata, but it’s not especially quick either. However, the low center of gravity and light curb weight make the FR-S fairly adept in the corners, whether you’re on track or on an autocross course. The lack of torque is the one major blight, whether on or off track. This deficiency was made more obvious by my trip landing in the middle of a week with Hyundai’s 2013 Genesis 2.0T which delivers more power at far more accessible RPMs, despite its porkier stature.

Unlike most “sporty” RWD cars, the FR-S is tuned toward neutral/oversteer characteristics. When combined with the standard Michelin Primacy HP tires, the FR-S is far more tail happy on the track than the V6 Mustang or Genesis 2.0T. The lively handling is undoubtedly more fun, but inexperienced drivers beware:  getting sideways can be hazardous to your health, not to mention your insurance premiums. Without empirical numbers, I cannot say if the FR-S will out-handle the Genesis 2.0T on the track, however the Genesis feels more composed and less likely to kill you, thanks to a chassis tuned towards understeer and staggered 225/245 series tires (front/rear.) Contrary to the web-rumors, the FR-S is not shod with “Prius tires” as we would know them. The Primacy HP is a “grand touring summer tire” with “lower rolling resistance” tech added. The tire is used on certain Lexus GS, Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6 models and a JDM market only Prius “with performance pack.” Still, the tire isn’t as “grippy” as the FR-S deserves, so buyers should plan on swapping them for stickier rubber ASAP.

Scion’s “single-price with dealer installed options” philosophy continues. Starting at $24,930, the only options are: $1,100 for the automatic transmission, around $900 for the BeSpoke radio and a variety of wheels, spoilers and other appearance accessories. That’s about $1,295 less than the BRZ, although the gap narrows to almost nothing when you add the BRZ’s standard navigation system and HID headlamps. The nicer standard upholstery, more controlled pricing and a plethora of manufacturer supported (and warrantied) accessories make the FR-S a compelling choice vs the BRZ, but speed daemons will want to drive past the Scion dealer and test drive the Genesis 2.oT. If you want an FR-S, be prepared to wait as Scion expects supplies to be somewhat limited starting June 1st.

 Scion flew me out to Vegas, put me up in a smoky casino and provided the vehicle, insurance, gasoline, track time and admission to the state park for the photography.

 Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.6 Seconds

0-60: 6.7 Seconds

Fuel Economy: 22MPG average over mixed roads (track time not included)


2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, Front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, Rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, Front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, Front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, Front grille, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, Front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, Scion logo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, FR-S logo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Exterior, Boxer Engine Logo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, on the track, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, on the track, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, on the track, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, on the track, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, on the track, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Scion FR-S, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Toyota Motors 2013 Scion FR-S, Interior, seats and dash, Photography Courtesy of Toyota Motors 2013 Scion FR-S, Interior, center console, Photography Courtesy of Toyota Motors 2013 Scion FR-S, Interior, seats, Photography Courtesy of Toyota Motors 2013 Scion FR-S, 2.0L boxer engine, Photography Courtesy of Toyota Motors Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail


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Review: Scion IQ, Take Three Tue, 13 Dec 2011 12:26:53 +0000 No, the bag does not fit with the hatch closed.

The Scion (nee Toyota) IQ may be a very small car, but we’ve treated it like big news here. Alex Dykes took an an early look a few months ago. Michael Karesh turned his lens on the IQ in a Take Two. So far, we’ve been cautiously optimistic.

Why review it again? Simple. The IQ is arguably the proper spiritual successor to the original Mini: a packaging miracle which could define the way a large segment of humanity drives in the future. In a market chock-full of retro pastiche and style-over-substance, the IQ is that rarest of things: a truly new automobile, packed throughout its ten-foot length with original thinking.

In this test, we’ll swerve around a bit, race an old woman in a Bentley Turbo, consider who the buyers for this product will actually be, and introduce the IQ to the car which could wind up being its Nemesis. Snuggle up to the asymmetric dashboard and let’s go.

Four's a crowd.

The Scion FR-S, also known as “Toyota 86 whatever”, may be the car which is currently firing the imaginations of Japanese-car enthusiasts everywhere, but it’s the IQ which is actually the most exciting vehicle to come out of the island nation in… well, forever. Certainly it’s the most original and important vehicle we’ve seen since the original Accord. Everyone wants to compare the car to the Smart (and surely “IQ” was a direct nomenclautral riposte to the Daimler mobile phonebooth) but unless you really need to park sideways on the street, there isn’t much of a comparison to be made. The IQ whips it six ways to Sunday.

Let’s talk capability. It’s what sells the SUV, right? Make that perceived capability. Most Grand Cherokees will never leave the pavement, but their perceived capability to do so is reassuring. Well, here’s the two-seat compact car for the perceived-capability set. It’s a perfectly comfortable, normal way for a pair of adults to travel, but in a pinch you can get two more people in there.

Who will those extra two people be? Toyota would have you believe that they will be the skinny-jeans-wearing trendsetter party friends of the skinny-jeans-wearing trendsetter buyers, but let’s be honest: those two extra people will be grandchildren. Never has a car been so ideally suited for the gated communities of the South. Compared to the NEVs and golf carts which wander aimlessly from nineteenth hole to captive grocery store and restaurant, the IQ is thoroughly superior, because it offers full weatherproofing, actual resale value, long life, and the ability to change one’s mind and drive off Hilton Head Island all the way to Savannah should it prove necessary.

Grandmom and Granddad will appreciate the Scion’s low price, big friendly interior buttons, relative lack of confusing features, and 37mpg city rating. (The IQ is estimated to hit 38/37, by the way: its aerodynamic profile is likely to cripple its highway mileage.) If they do get on the open road, they will be surprised at how well the Scion handles the task. Although it is a tiny bit sensitive to crosswinds and pavement waves, never before in history has a ten-foot-long vehicle been this stable at speed. Your humble author ran the IQ up to about eighty-five miles per hour and did a few lane changes without incident. It’s not a Caterham Seven, but it’s no worse to drive than a Corolla.

What the old folks won’t appreciate: the rather dopey CVT. Expect to see the occasional IQ lightly jammed into the bumper of the car ahead of it in traffic, because the CVT’s absolutely unpredictable behavior while slowing down means there’s a different amount of brake pressure required every time. My co-driver nearly bopped a Jetta ahead of us while coming off the freeway, and I found myself regularly missing my planned stopping points by a foot or more. It isn’t the brakes. It’s the transmission.

The normal payoff for a CVT is efficient operation and power transfer, but this ninety-four horsepower, 2150-pound vehicle doesn’t accelerate with much vigor. As we cruised around Palm Beach, I saw a handsome older woman in a twenty-year-old Bentley Turbo R and decided to go have a closer look. Unfortunately, the IQ couldn’t catch her while driving up the drawbridge separating Palm Beach from West Palm Beach — and she didn’t even know we were behind her. We just weren’t making any forward progress. This can be a thrashy, unpleasant powertrain at times.

It was while wandering through the side streets of West Palm Beach that we came across the IQ’s biggest problem in the North American market. Observe these pictures:

That old Yaris is maybe worth six or seven grand, and it offers nearly everything the IQ does except that last twenty inches of packaging efficiency. The young people whom Scion is ostensibly targeting are unlikely to see why they should pay more just to park in a shorter space. One exception: San Francisico apparently has a bunch of 122-inch “parking spaces” on the main streets which are currently the exclusive province of motorcyclists, and those will be IQ-compatible. Another exception: many homes have golf-cart garages which can take an IQ. Oops, we’re talking about old people again.

Other notes: The air conditioning does not impress, not even in weather that was relatively mild by Floridian standards. The intelligent packaging is likely to translate to mildly challenging servicing: the hood/bonnet is more of a mail slot than a functional opening. While it is possible to put two full-sized adults on the passenger side of the IQ, there is a bit of psychological discomfort involved for the fellow in front due to windshield proximity.

The Scion IQ will be sold in a single specification, at a single price: $15,995. All options will be added by your repugnant local Toyota dealer or, in certain regions, by the distributor. As your consumer advocate, I feel compelled to remind you that there is no law on state or national books which prevents your Scion dealer from negotiating on price. Quite the opposite, in fact. The “Pure Price” philosophy is simple gingerbread. Not that there will be a lot of margin in the IQ for the dealer. The money will be in the available wheels, stereo options, lowering springs (insert “lower your IQ” joke here) and interior LED lighting add-ins.

Most small-Toyota intenders will skip the IQ and go directly to the XD, or, failing that, the Yaris. If they do so, they are missing a glimpse into the future. The packaging innovations found in the IQ may not seem terribly important today, but fast-foward to the post-Peak-Oil, 600cc turbodiesel future, and they will be absolutely critical. This will be the only kind of four-seater many people will be able to afford in the future. So if you want a look at the proverbial “tomorrow, today,” it will be as close as your IQ dealer — or as far away as Grandma’s house.

Four's a crowd. Inside the geriactric's studio. Christina card 643 No, the bag doesn't actually fit with the hatch closed. Christina card 657 Christina card 658 Christina card 659 Christina card 661 Christina-card-662 scion-iq-thumb Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 70
Review: 2012 Scion iQ Take Two Thu, 27 Oct 2011 14:56:33 +0000

Scion is quite sure of one thing: the new iQ is a much better car than the smart fortwo. What they’re much less sure of: how many of the targeted fine young North American urbanites will buy one rather than periodically use Zipcar. I’m neither young nor urban, but I’m going to do my best to pretend. Why might I buy this car—or not?

Exterior styling – not

Toyota fits the iQ with 16-inch wheels that can be upgraded to multi-spoke alloys in a bid for the intended buyer. But the exterior isn’t nearly as stylish as the smart’s, with a frumpy nose, awkward B-pillar, and a single, square-cut door filling nearly the entire space between the wheel openings. Add the relatively large wheels, and the whole looks like a Photoshop chop—except it’s real, with a 79-inch wheelbase (vs. 74 for the smart) and 120-inch overall length (vs. 106). Scion has been struggling to get its mojo back ever since launching the bloated second-gen xB. With the iQ the struggle continues.

Interior styling – maybe

The interior is more successfully stylish than the exterior, but still has none of the whimsical character you’ll find inside a 500 or a MINI. All of the surfaces are—surprise—hard plastic but they generally look and feel solid. The red-stitched leather-wrapped steering wheel and the glossy black trim on the doors and center stack are high points. The controls are simple and easy to use, with three large vertically-aligned knobs for the climate controls. Less functional: the driving position is well aft of the windshield, so traffic lights aren’t visible if you stop at the white line. The button to temporarily deactivate the traction control (but not the stability control) is mounted low on the far side of the shifter. A power lock button sits next to it, but there’s another more conveniently located on the driver’s door. My suspicion: the design initially included only the button on the console, in line with European practice, but the Scion marketing folks insisted on having buttons on the doors, where Americans expect them. They got half of their request.

Interior packaging – where the car earns its nameplate

I’m a space efficiency geek. The intelligent packaging and seating of the Ford Freestyle and Taurus X is perhaps the main reason (beyond the need for seven seats) that I bought one of the latter.

Toyota is most proud of its packaging innovations for the iQ, and this part of their pitch for the car is not hype. Though only a foot longer than a smart, the iQ has a rear seat that can fit one adult without resorting to cruel and unusual punishment, and two with it. They were able to pull this off by:

  1. Placing the engine in the nose of the car (it’s in back with the smart) and locating the differential ahead of the transmission, which sits next to the engine. This enables an unusually short front overhang, and would improve the appearance of even large front-wheel-drive cars. (Back in the 1990s, GM’s designers wanted to flip transverse powertrains around for this very reason, but the engineers refused to enable any such silliness.) A special high-mounted steering rack also plays a role.
  2. Compacting the A/C componentry and locating the evaporator behind the center stack rather than ahead of the front passenger, enabling the right front seat to be shifted forward a few inches. Which is why the right rear passenger enjoys more legroom than the left rear passenger. Space is provided between the front seats for the left rear passenger’s legs, as the driver’s seat can slide all the way to the rear seat cushion. This space exists because, with a width of 66 inches, the iQ is over a half-foot beamier than the smart. A by-product: those in the front seat sit about as far apart as they would in a C-segment car like the Corolla, not shoulder-to-shoulder like they do in the smart.
  3. Developing ultra-thin seatbacks. They don’t feel substantial, but aren’t uncomfortable.
  4. Developing an ultra-thin fuel tank—it’s only 4.5 inches tall—and locating it beneath the driver’s seat.
  5. Adding an eleventh airbag that deploys over the rear window, essentially a rear curtain airbag. There are only a couple of inches between the rear seatbacks and the liftgate, so otherwise the rear seat would be dreadfully unsafe instead of…

Of course, Toyota’s engineers can’t do magic. So without folding at least half of the rear seat there is absolutely no cargo room.

Electronics – good, but better gadgetry on the way

Bluetooth (hands-free phone and audio streaming), USB, and HD radio are all standard, while nav is available as a dealer-installed accessory. But something like Toyota’s new Entune system, with Internet-based apps, is a year or two away.

Performance – quicker than a smart!

The iQ weighs only 2,127 pounds, but this is still a bit much for the 94-horsepower 1.3-liter four-cylinder hitched to a mandatory CVT. (The smart weighs 300 pounds less, but has only 70 horsepower.) In normal mode the CVT produces the rubber-banding effect typical of CVTs paired with small engines. Shifting into S largely eliminates this while also kicking the revs up a grand or two (so it’s not a full-time solution for anyone interested in fuel economy). And if you want to keep the small four at high boil there’s B (intended for engine braking on downhill grades) that further bumps the engine speed. Not the ideal transmission, especially not for driving enthusiasts, but far better than the clunky automated single-clutch manual in the smart. The engine sounds better than that in the Nissan Versa, which similarly employs a CVT, but remains well short of spine-tingling. There’s no joy in winding this one out. Sixty arrives in an acceptable ten to eleven seconds, but acceleration trails off considerably past that mark.

Fuel economy – very good in the city, meh on the highway

Scion touts the iQ’s fuel economy as the best of any non-hybrid. But the EPA rating of 36 city is much more impressive than the 37 highway. Then again, the iQ is marketed as a “city car,” not a “highway car.”

Handling – not remotely a new CRX

The best that can be said of the iQ’s handling is that its ultra-tight 12-foot turning radius, roughly two-thirds that of the average car, is truly a joy to experience. The second best: unlike the smart, the tiny Scion drives much like a regular car. Perhaps too much like a regular car, if by “regular car” we mean a Camry. Aided by the car’s unusually high width-to-wheelbase ratio, roll and understeer in hard turns are both moderate. But the steering is neither quick nor communicative, handling isn’t particularly agile, and the non-defeatable stability control cuts in well short of the car’s limits. The legendary Honda CRX was a thrill to drive sideways. That won’t be happening here. The iQ drives like an appliance.

Ride – survivable

Given the iQ’s ultra-short wheelbase, a choppy ride is a given. Drive over 60 down a concrete freeway (again, not the car’s primary mission), and expansion joints induce a rhythmic bouncing. But otherwise ride quality isn’t bad, and doesn’t feel like that of a very small, very light car. Though larger and heavier, a FIAT 500 rides worse.

Pricing – bespoke bits aren’t cheap

The iQ lists for $15,995. Scion continues to practice “Pure Pricing.” This doesn’t mean that dealers cannot discount, only that they must offer the same price to everyone. A similarly-equipped smart fortwo lists for $16,850. Adjust for the iQ’s additional features using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, and its advantage widens to a considerable $2,300.

But Scion rightly isn’t taking the smart seriously as a competitor, at least not in North America. Here stiffer competition will come from the Fiat 500 and B-segment cars. The much more entertaining Mazda2 costs a grand less, though a $1,600 feature adjustment gives the iQ a $600 advantage. Compared to a FIAT 500 Pop, the iQ is $1,000 less before the feature adjustment, $400 less afterwards. So the prices for these three are quite close before discounts and incentives—which will tend to favor the Mazda and (as the cars pile up on dealer lots) the FIAT.

Bottom line: The iQ costs about as much as B-segment cars despite being much smaller and less fun to drive.

Sales forecast – not promising

So, the Scion iQ isn’t going to sell based on its price or driving excitement. Its packaging innovations are impressive, but you don’t have to own the car to admire them. Though the iQ is a much better car than the smart fortwo, the latest B-segment cars are better still in nearly every way. In terms of fuel economy, the iQ does very well in city driving, but the larger cars do better at higher speeds (where the Scion is out of its element). In the end, the iQ’s key strengths are its short length and ultra-tight turning radius, both of which make it easy to park in the city. But how many people have ease of urban parking as their top priority AND will be buying a car rather than occasionally renting one?

Scion provided the vehicle, insurance, and fuel for this review at a media event.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail iQ-front-quarter-thumb iQ view forward iQ side iQ rear seat iQ rear quarter low iQ rear quarter iQ interior iQ instruments iQ instrument panel iQ front quarter iQ front iQ engine iQ cargo room High on the iQ? ]]> 125
Pre-Production Review: Scion iQ Mon, 08 Aug 2011 19:15:55 +0000

It will come as no surprise to regular TTAC readers when I say that Scion has had some sales issues lately. But instead of euthanizing the brand as some on TTAC have suggested, Toyota has decided to take a different route. Thankfully, rather than creating more me-too models based off of US-market Toyotas, the plan includes some JDM/Euro models and the much anticipated “Toyobaru “sports car. The first object of foreign desire landing stateside to start off Scion’s resurrection is the Toyota iQ micro-car. The iQ should be in showrooms across the country soon, but does Scion have the IQ to make a smarter Smart?

The problem with the Smart ForTwo isn’t really the car itself, it’s not Penske (the former Smart distributer), and it’s not even parent company Mercedes’s on-and-off waffling relationship with microcars in America. The problem with the Smart car is that all the other cars on the market exist. I learnt this the hard way back in 2007 when I put a $99 deposit down on a Smart ForTwo Cabriolet. The months waiting for my precious pregnant roller-skate to arrive only fueled the flames of desire for the car only Europeans were allowed to buy. Unfortunately when the car arrived the novelty had worn off due to the anemic engine, steep pricing, lack of features and a dumb-witted automated manual transmission. When Toyota said they were bringing their micro car stateside I was suitably concerned yet strangely intrigued, as a result I could not resist an invite to Seattle to see the latest diminutive people-mover.

Numbers are important with small cars, so with measuring tape in hand let’s explore. The iQ is 14-inches longer and just under 5-inches wider than the US market ForTwo (10-feet long and 66-inches wide) making it not only the smallest four-seater in the US but in the world. For anyone counting, the iQ is considerably smaller than the former (or planned) Smart ForFour or even the Mini Cooper. Lilliputian-car lovers rejoice: the iQ is still small. Strangely however, the increased dimensions pay much larger dividends than you would expect due to packaging and the funky layout.

The Smart’s rear-engine layout hurts the tiny car’s space efficiency compared to the front-engine iQ. How can this be? Well, the radiator and other support systems, steering rack, etc. are all still under the miniature hood while cargo space is restricted by the ending in the rear. The iQ engineers on the other hand found ways to repackage everything to use less space. The steering rack sits nearly above the engine, the differential was relocated and compacted, pushing the front wheels in front of, rather than behind the engine and barely behind the bumper cover. Inside, the glove box was deleted and the HVAC unit went on a diet combining massively reduced pluming, a tiny air handler and miniaturized bits-and-bobs jammed entirely behind center console. This means the front passenger compartment could be shifted forward into the void where these systems would normally live. By shifting the front passenger noticeably ahead of the driver, you can actually fit a 6-foot-tall passenger in front, a 6-foot-tall passenger in the rear, a 6-foot-tall driver behind the wheel and a small child or a small amount of shopping behind the driver. That’s what Toyota means by 3+1.

While it is technically a four-seater, my experience stuffing journalists into the car and driving around Seattle can be summed up this way: it can carry two in comfort, three acceptably, four in a pinch. I was actually able to drive the iQ while a 6-foot-tall person sat behind me. It wasn’t awful, but I wouldn’t want to take a road trip that way. Cabin width is not an issue as the iQ is actually wider than Yaris or Corolla and this makes the iQ far less claustrophobic than a Smart. You would think the addition of extra seats would result in lost legroom upfront vs the Smart but you would be wrong. In reality the iQ possesses 3/10ths of an inch less legroom than the ForTwo in front, while adding 28.6 inches of legroom in the rear. The math whizzes in the crowd will notice that 28.6 inches of rear legroom come with an increased overall length of only 14-inches vs the Smart how’s that for IQ?

Those 2.5 passengers will at least be happy spending time inside the iQ as the diminutive people mover possesses better quality bits than most Toyota products in recent memory. (They are certainly better than Versa, which may be a strange comparison, but I was just here in Seattle for that launch, so there you go.) Most interior surfaces that you will touch are covered in a thin soft-effect plastic that is miles ahead of more expensive Toyota products like the Prius or Sienna. The integrated front-seat headrests are functional but strike me as being a tad out of place as the rears are adjustable. The loss of a glovebox (sacrificed in the name of space efficiency) may be a problem for some, but you can opt for a flimsy tub on questionable rails under the passenger seat as a substitute.

All iQ models get a standard flat-bottomed steering wheel wrapped in soft leather which I have to say is the of the best steering wheels I have had my hands on lately. With every high must come a low; I found the new “joystick” controls for the audio system a pain to use. Speaking of audio systems, Scion continues to take a novel approach on this front. All Scion models are shipped to our shores radio-free and the radio or nav system of your choice can be inserted at the dock or dealer. Fail to tick an optional head unit box and you’ll get the standard Pioneer system which includes HD radio, CD player, Bluetooth (for phone and streaming audio), iPod/USB control, AUX input and four Pioneer speakers. Stepping up to the 200-watt premium audio box gets you a 5.8-inch LCD with iTunes tagging, Pandora connectivity (via a smartphone) and RCA preamp outputs. Should money be no object, you can step way-up to the $1999 Scion Navigation System 200 which is basically the Scion version of the Toyota/Lexus navigation system in everything from the Camry to the LS600. While I find the Toyota/Lexus/Scion nav system easy to use, snappy and well featured, $2000 represents a whopping 13% increase in the price of the car just by selecting this one option. Ouch. Another oddity is the total lack of cruise control, optional or otherwise. As a city car it makes sense I suppose, but it is a nicety I’d still like to have.

Under the tiny hood beats a 1.3L four-cylinder (1NR-FE) engine, brand new for the iQ and for Toyota churning out 94 HP at a lofty 6,000 RPM and 89 lb-ft of twist at 4,400 RPM. I had hoped to see perhaps a diminutive 3-cylinder turbo or perhaps a direct injection engine, but Toyota has decided to go for the tried-and true multi-point electronic injection pioneered last century. Despite high compression of 11.5:1 only regular unleaded is required. Power is put to the ground via a new CVT making the iQ the only Toyota non-hybrid CVT product on these shores. I can’t help another Smart comparison here: the ForTwo’s automated manual shifts like a drunk 12 year old driving daddy’s John Deere, the iQ’s CVT on the other hand likes to rev the nuts off the little 1.3L engine, but at least it is smooth in the process. Pitted against the 2127lb curb weight of the US spec iQ, acceleration is neither swift nor slow but in the same realm as a Prius at an observed 10.52 seconds to 60 (0-60 quoted 11.8) keen observers will note this is considerably faster than the Smart.

The EPA has crowned the iQ with the highest combined economy for any non-hybrid in the US at 36/37/37 (City/Highway/Combined EPA 2008). During my short 105-mile stint with the car on three separate driving routes around town, I averaged 32.1, 37.2 and 49.1MPG on two city routes and one 25-mile highway run.

The safety conscious in the crowd will no doubt be concerned about driving around in a car the size of a high-top trainer. To allay these fears, Toyota has jammed 11 airbags into the iQ including front airbags, knee airbags, side curtain airbags, front thorax bags, a rear window airbag to shield passengers from a tall vehicle impacting your hind end, and finally in-seat airbags to prevent the driver and front passenger “submarining” under lap belts in a rear collision. I don’t know about you, but I want to see video footage of all those bags going off simultaneously.

Starting in December on the west coast and working its way across the country, expect the iQ to slip into dealers with a base MSRP of $15,256 plus destination of $730. Included in the price is scheduled maintenance for 2 years/25,000 miles and 3 years of roadside assistance (mostly because there is no spare). Toyota expects sales to be substantially similar to the xB and xD (20,364 and 10,110 respectively in 2010). Seeing as Smart managed to con 14,595 people in 2009 and 5,927 in 2010 into buying a fairly awkward little car, Scion’s low end sales forecast seems totally achievable. When it does land in a dealer near you the usual bevy of Scion accessories will be available including lowering springs, wheels, sway bars, fog lights, etc. One of our Facebook followers asked us if installing lowering springs would result in lowering the driver’s iQ. You’ll have to check back for the full review of the production model for the answer as well as comparisons to the Mini and 500.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Toyota flew me up to Seattle, put me up in a swanky hotel and stuffed me full of wine and food for this review.

0-30: 3.906 Seconds

0-60: 10.52 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 18.05 Seconds @ 73.6MPH

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Review: 2011 Scion tC Mon, 03 Jan 2011 23:56:21 +0000

Toyota has had a problem lately: aging clientele. While some marketing firms will try to reinvigorate an aging brand with flashy new commercials and risqué advertising campaigns, Toyota decided to create a whole new brand in 2002 targeting Generation X and Y: Scion. Since the generations at the end of the alphabet are short on cash but long on youth, value pricing is the biggest draw for the Scion brand. Therefore it should be no surprise that the average age of Scion shoppers isn’t as low as Toyota could have hoped: old people like a bargain too.

Bargain pricing as a cornerstone means that most Scion models (all except the tC actually) are rebranded Toyota models from foreign markets. Realizing that Scion needed something besides a trendy bread box and a bargain basement people carrier, Toyota released the first model unique to Scion: the tC. Yes, yes tC doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the Scion nomenclature like xA, xB and xD, but Volvo had dibs on the XC trade mark and so tC was born. Based loosely on the European Toyota Avensis sedan, the tC combines an economical European front-wheel drive chassis with a sporty coupe profile.

Speaking of profiles, when Scion announced that a new tC would be arriving as a 2011 model year car, I was concerned it would suffer from the same bloat that has afflicted the xB in its latest refresh. Fortunately the styling of the tC will not offend the Scion faithful. Easily identifiable as a tC, the front has received a tasteful refresh with a larger air dam and a bit more drama. The blacked out A and B pillars combine with the chunky angular C pillar to ape a bit of Camaro styling (just a bit however). Out back a short faux-trunk greets the hatchback-averse in the crowd along with some curvaceous tail lamps and a single exhaust. The Scion tC proves it’s actually possible to build an econobox that doesn’t look like a penalty box. But is the beauty only skin deep?

Step inside the tC you realize that “compromise” is inevitable in an car that starts at $18,995 base and tops out around $22,500. The interior looks nice but comes only in black, if monochromatic interiors are not your thing, you should cross the tC off your list now. The dash plastics have an appealing visual texture; however like the rest of the competition the plastics are best looked at, not touched. Still, the interior delivers exactly what I expect from 19-large. What’s unexpected however is the thick-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel. The flat-bottomed-tiller on our loaner car was covered in soft perforated leather, equipped with comfortable grips and perfect seams. As if this wasn’t enough, the airbag cover and plastic spokes are executed with feel and precision beyond what I’ve experienced in some recent Lexus debuts. Seriously, this Scion steering wheel has to be one of the best wheels I have ever gripped in my life (sorry BMW). The real wheel-surprise is that the wheel is actually standard on the tC, not an option.

Sadly however not all is rosy inside the tC’s cabin. The entry level market usually means leaving out most “luxury” features. I’m usually fine with a bargain basement ride not having power seats or automatic climate control, but base Kia and Hyundai models come standard with Bluetooth phone integration these day. While Bluetooth can be added by optioning up a $300 BLU Logic accessory or stepping up to the $1999 Scion Navigation system, this is a safety feature that should standard by now as many states require some sort of hands-free system. For a brand that focuses on the tech-savvy genberation, this omission could be a deal-killer for some.

Anyone that knows someone in their 20s knows that to young people a good audio system is almost as important as the car itself. To that end Scion provides shoppers with no-less than four head-unit options. From the base Pioneer system to the $1999 Scion navigation system with HD radio and Bluetooth, it’s most obvious that the car was designed with the aftermarket in mind. Radios can easily be replaced with aftermarket units if buyers prefer and a quick Google search yields plenty of options for integrating systems with the standard steering-wheel controls. While many buyers may choose this route, the rest should know that although iPod integration is standard on the base Pioneer system, actually controlling your iPod via the head unit is a tedious and cumbersome task. Buyers who want a factory warranted system but are interested in some options will appreciate the Scion SNS200 nav system which is probably the most flexible factory head unit ever conceived. The SNS200 offers a long list of integrator pleasing features such as 6-channel pre-amp output, aftermarket rear seat LCD support, DVD video player, aux input jacks, etc.

Under the hood, the tC now boasts the same 2.5L four-cylinder engine as the 2011 Toyota Camry. Rated at 180HP and 173 lb-ft of torque, the engine is finally a willing companion. Despite the modest gain in power (19 HP and 9 lb-ft) vs the old engine, the “feel” is greatly improved as is low end torque. The old 2.4L engine always seemed out of breath, a feeling I never encountered during my week with the tC. While I am glad that Toyota has provided a 6-speed manual option (as tested), the heavy clutch and manual-matching-economy of the automatic make Toyota’s 6-seed slushbox my transmission of choice. Speaking of economy, we averaged a combined 27MPG in our week long test of the tC, besting the EPA estimate of 31MPG highway/23 city/26 combined by one MPG. Sure the automatic takes a toll on acceleration (8.4 vs 7.6 seconds to 60), but for every day driving the auto’s gear ratios are a perfect match to the Scion’s dynamics and personality.

Out on the road the tC delivers a solid, stable ride. The chassis and stability control are tuned to allow the driver a bit of fun out on windy mountain roads, but prevent anything approaching risky behavior. The new electric power steering is pleasantly unobtrusive, albeit a tad over-boosted as most vehicles with this system tend to be. Toss the tC into sharp corners and the lower profile standard tires and 1”wider track (than the precious generation) are a welcome ally. Unfortunately some may find the ride delivered by the 18s a bit too harsh for every-day driving in America’s pot-hole riddled urban jungle.

Still, the larger wheels look cool, and that’s what the tC is really all about: impressions. A quick prowl online will reveal a number of reviews critical of the handling abilities and steering feel of the tC. While I tend to agree with the fairly subjective analysis, I have to say that anyone who desires the tC to be a fire-breathing sports coupe is missing the point. If you want to do donuts in the school parking lot; get a rear-wheel-drive base model Hyundai Genesis. The tC provides a much more adult pleasing reality than the youth-hyped marketing material would suggest.

At the end of the day, the tC ends up being something of a fashion statement, and I’m actually OK with that. There’s a reason Generation X and Y have massive spending power but limited automotive budgets: they buy fashion. No other generation spends as much on a pair of jeans and accessories as the metro Gen X/Y. So when it comes to selecting a ride, the Scion may just deliver that right balance of sporty looks and comfortable driving reality. The only part missing? 20-somethings buyers with 20-grand in their pockets.

Scion provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

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Review: 2011 Scion tC with “TRD Big Brakes” Thu, 23 Sep 2010 20:35:34 +0000

Anarchy in the TTAC! It turns out that Michael Karesh and I both got invited to short-lead Scion tC press events. His review is found here and nicely covers things like the sound system, recent sales numbers, and the American economy. It’s so comprehensive that I didn’t feel the need to attend my press preview.

I did, however, feel the need to pay my bookie, so I am dutifully submitting this piece to offset a small amount of my personal debt. If you are not in the mood to read two reviews of this car, I have helpfully summarized my review in one sentence, posted “before the jump” for your convenience:

Given sufficient velocity and violence of application, it is possible to set the brakes on fire.

I autocrossed a previous-generation Scion tC in a few different regions, usually finishing in the top half of H Stock, ahead of the rest of the street-tire mongrel dabblers but well off the pace of the properly-set-up Mini Coopers. The original tC was a type of car which was once vanishingly rare but is now increasingly common: one with too much rolling stock. If the little-ish Toyota had a soul, and that soul wanted to fly, surely that soul was weighed down to earth by the enormous alloy wheels and steamroller tires attached to each corner. Rarely has a car of the tC’s modest size felt so weighty and deliberate on the road.

One the move, that first tC was so relentlessly interested in going straight regardless of input that I found myself using the handbrake to turn the car in tighter sections. It was simply reluctant to turn and the overall dynamic package was far more Somerset Regal than Calais 442, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. It struck me as a perfect conveyance for somebody who wants an affordable Japanese coupe but has no interest in going fast. I would have taken the last-generation Celica GT-S and a kick in the face over the Scion tC.

So now we have a new one, with a little more power and a little more weight. Commendably, it’s exactly the same size. Perhaps Toyota has learned from the xB debacle. A conversation I had with one of Toyota’s PR people went something like this:

Me: “Why is the new xB so freakin’ huge, dude?”

PR: “Well, Scion does better than anybody else at reaching out to our customers. We asked thousands of them what they wanted us to do with the xB. Virtually all of them said they wanted more room, more space, more power, more car.” Thoughtful pause. “They may have been lying.”

I was given a 14-mile loop on which to drive the new tC, and I was given a media co-driver. Thankfully, that media co-driver was Alex Nunez, well-known to most of you from his work with Autoblog and ConsumerSearch. Alex is one of those hard-ass New York types that I knew so well as a kid and I expected him to man up for his passenger stint. After a few words, we were off.

I’d chosen a six-speed manual tC with the “TRD Big Brake package”. My experience of aftermarket brake packages is that most of them suck. Typically, they don’t take master cylinder size into account, they don’t work correctly with the factory ABS or stability-control systems, and they often produce less clamping power than the standard cheapo factory setups despite looking better. A look at the Scion owner “brand ambassadors” who had brought their cars for the press preview didn’t ease my mind on the TRD kit’s likely virtues; they all looked like they had stepped off the set of “The Ali G Show”, being as ghetto fabulous as their parents’ money could make them. Clearly not performance drivers, and the Chinese tires wrapped around their “dubs” reinforced the point. If Scion was aiming at them with this kit, they weren’t aiming high.

Oh well. Time to drive. My first test — can the TRD brakes operate effectively in ABS? — was positive. In fact, on the loose road surface available to us, Alex and I were coming in on the ABS time and time again, chattering and skipping down from all the velocity the chunky 2.5-liter four could produce. That four, by the way… it’s not a performance engine. It doesn’t want to rev and it lets you know in a dozen unsubtle audible and tactile ways. Still, it will boot the car down the road. Alex said it sounded “sneezy” or something to that effect.

Next test. Stability control. Over a hump that put the nose of the car temporarily airborne, I cranked the wheel half a turn and kicked the brakes, starting a relatively strong oscillation. With a few blinks of the light, we were straightened out. Okay. That’s good. So far, these brakes appear to be as safe as the stockers. How good are they?

I spent the next six miles working on generating fade. Every turn was a late, full brake. I must have engaged ABS two dozen times from nontrivial speed. Down a steep hill we went, and I used the last trick in my book — the “rookie brake”. A rookie brake is dragging the pads against the brake for two hundred feet before stomping into ABS. It’s what racing rookies who are concerned about making a corner like to do, and it’s a brake killer. Nope. There was light fade at best (or worst).

We screeched to a final halt at the bottom of that long hill and I heard that familiar “hiss-WHOOSH-hiss”. Yes, there was smoke drifting around our cabin now. The pads, the pads, the pads were on fire! Mr. Nunez laughed. A woman in a Camry stared at us. We moved on.

This is a good car, in the sense that it is made well, reasonably priced, and likely to last a long time. Scion says they expect the buyers to be more than half male. If that’s the case, I think that business about estrogen in the water must be true. I can’t see a man buying this for himself, unless that “man” wears skinny pants and listens to Dashboard Confessional. It’s priced about two grand away from the street price of a base Mustang V-6 six-speed. I knew a guy who raced a Scion tC in NASA. We used to laugh at him, even though he was pretty quick, and since “we” were driving Neons, Miatas, Civics, and a Ecotec-powered Cavalier, I think that says something.

It may not be a “man’s car”, but it’s still decent, and the brakes are decent, too. If your mom says you have to get your graduation present at the Toyota dealer, this is your best choice.

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Review: 2011 Scion tC Fri, 17 Sep 2010 17:49:04 +0000

Eager to connect with twentysomethings, Scion has sponsored over 2,500 cultural events. Nevertheless, sales are far off their peak. Apparently free doom-metal concerts can only accomplish so much when the target customer can’t find a decent job. Or is the product the problem? Apparently Scion thinks so, as it’s forecasting praying that a redesign of the tC for the 2011 model year will double the model’s sales. (Which, if accomplished, would still leave them at half the 2006 peak.) So, might these prayers be answered?

Though technically a hatchback, the tC has again been successfully disguised as a coupe. Scion claims that the car’s revised sheetmetal is more aggressive and more masculine. And it is, to a limited degree. The blacked-out A-pillars and more dramatically kinked C-pillars are especially successful. Standard 18-inch alloys are another plus. The lack of frameless doors, as seen on the Kia Forte Koup…not so much. Though Scion must think some buyers will actually want to highlight the window frame, as it offers “carbon fiber” B-pillar appliques as an accessory (they’re on the darker car in these photos). As a whole the changes are evolutionary, not revolutionary, and the hatchback coupe, while arguably attractive, is neither striking nor beautiful. On the college campus where the drive event was staged, students walked by an entire row of parked cars with nary a glance.

The almost entirely off-black, drama-free interior is a welcome relief from recent trends in Japanese auto design. I’ve been here before—in the Celica All-trac turbo I owned 20 years ago. A pointlessly flat-bottomed steering wheel (okay, it looks nifty) and double-DIN nav screen (one of three available must-be-twentysomething-to-operate head units) bring me back to 2010. The Scion VP challenged us to replicate the typical owner experience by turning the volume of the 300-watt audio system way past 11. To my ears the system sounds loud, but not notably rich or clear. As promised, the door panels do not rattle.

The 2011 Scion tC’s driving position awakens much more recent memories. You sit relatively low behind a tall instrument panel and short, fairly upright windshield. Not as extreme as the Camaro, but pretty close to the Lexus IS-F. So it’s overtly sporty without fatally compromising visibility. The upside: unlike in the competing Kia Forte Koup, there’s no econobox flavor. Nor, unlike in the Honda Civic coupe, are you inspired to hunt down Klingon warbirds.

The front seats have been widened an inch, to enhance comfort, but lateral support remains decent. The interior’s big surprise: an adult-friendly back seat. There’s more room back there than in the Camaro and Mustang combined, and even decent thigh support. I’ve been less comfortable in some mid-sized sedans. This seat both reclines ten degrees and folds nearly flat. A hatchback provides ready access to the cargo area.

Continuing the evolutionary theme, the tC’s DOHC four-cylinder engine has been enlarged from 2.4 to 2.5 liters, and peak horsepower has been bumped from 161 to 180 at an accessible 6,000 rpm. Both the manual and the automatic now include six ratios (up from five and four, respectively). When that 1988 Celica offered 190 horsepower, it was something special. So part of me still expects 180 horsepower to entertain. Well, in this case it boosts the 3,060-pound tC to sixty in about eight seconds (a little under with the stick, a little over with the automatic) without irritating or delighting any senses. I pronounce this engine fit for duty in the Camry. TRD offered a supercharger for the 2.4, and “might” be working on one for the 2.5. Bring it on. The new engine provokes hardly any torque steer. The chassis can handle more.

The manual shifter slides from gear to gear with better feel than most in this price class. Shorter throws, a mod away, while desirable are not a must. The clutch, which engages with little transition at the very top, would benefit more from an abbreviated travel. The automatic, which can be manually shifted via the lever, was nearly as fun to drive. The additional cogs bump the EPA ratings to 23/31 in both cases. I observed 26 in fairly casual ex-urban driving with the manual, and 20 in considerably less casual driving with the automatic.

The tC’s moderately firm, nicely weighted steering, now electrically assisted, is good as such systems go. The kickback present in many Toyota systems is absent here. Feedback is limited and a quicker, more direct feel would enhance perceived agility, but the same can be said for nearly all hydraulically assisted systems. (A thinner, less heavily padded steering wheel rim would improve feedback.) I felt much the same about the steering in the Lexus IS-F, which is over twice as powerful and costs over three times as much. Scion and Lexus are both emphatically not Toyota, and yet the parent’s DNA cannot be avoided. Refinement comes first.

The rest of the chassis is better. Revised suspension tuning lends the coupe commendable balance and composure, if not agility. Only as the limits are approached does understeer prevail, and then gradually. There’s some fun to be had on the right road. The ride is firm but never harsh, and the body structure feels solid. Also contributing to the impression that the tC is more expensive than it actually is: noise levels are about as low as they get in this price range.

Given the target market, affordability is a must. The 2011 tC starts at $18,995. A panoramic sunroof remains an unexpected standard feature. The only factory-installed option, the automatic transmission, adds $1,000. Dealers offer a broad array of performance- and appearance-enhancing accessories, including a “big brake system.” The segment isn’t as large as it used to be, with only Honda and Kia continuing to offer competing coupes. The Honda Civic Si, with a smaller but more energetic powerplant, lists for $3,770 more. A Kia Forte SX, with very similar dimensions and content, lists for almost exactly the same price as the tC. How many people will pick a Kia over a Toyota Scion, if both are priced the same? Luckily for the Kia, Scion dealers aren’t allowed to negotiate, so even before factoring in the Forte’s more generous incentives the tC’s out-the-door price will be over $500 higher.

The changes to the Scion tC for 2011, though all for the better, are also all evolutionary. Scion encouraged us to turn the audio past 11; they should consider doing the same with the car. The new tC provides a very good starting point. A thoroughly entertaining car could well be just a few pounds of boost and a few tweaks to the steering away. As it is, the Scion tC, though aimed at immature buyers, feels quite mature. Some competitors feel livelier, but they also feel less composed, less substantial, and (especially in the Kia’s case) cheaper. With a hatchback and roomier back seat, the tC is also more practical. Unfortunately, such quiet strengths aren’t going to incite doom-metal-loving twentysomethings to spend cash they don’t have. Free concerts can only do so much. Want to earn lifelong loyalty and sell more cars? Forget the rock fest, sponsor a successful job fair.

Scion provided the vehicles, insurance and fuel (as well as breakfast, lunch and a branded backpack) for this review

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

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Review: Scion xD Take Two Mon, 01 Feb 2010 15:02:09 +0000

Big changes were afoot in the Scion back in the summer of 2007, as the brand’s pioneering crop of Yaris-based funkmobiles gave way to a second generation of models aimed at expanding the brand’s appeal to American consumers. Oddly enough, the biggest changes came for a new model with an unchanged name: in a single generation, the the tiny xB went from freaky, fuel-sipping urban runabout to a bloated, Camry-based beast. In contrast, the less-successful xA underwent a far less radical change as it morphed into the xD, saving it from the initial scorn of Scion purists and keeping the brand’s Yaris-based roots alive. Not that the xD has been in any way rewarded for staying (relatively) faithful to its brand’s mission: like the xA it replaced, the xD has never sold better than its larger, less brand-faithful stablemates. Which begs the question: is the xD a bad car, or was the original vision of a funky, urban micro-car brand a dead-end dream?

Surprisingly, this dichotomy isn’t as overly-reductive as you might imagine. After all, the changes made in the transition from the xA to the xD were well-modulated to give American consumers the positive elements of the Yaris platform with the upgrades that could have given the first generation of Scions a fighting chance.

The underlying platform was changed little from the xA, but crucially, the engine was upgraded from a 1.5 liter buzz-box to an altogether gruntier 1.8 liter Corolla unit. Though hard-core purists always enjoyed the challenge of keeping up with American traffic with a mere 103 horsepower, the tiny engines on the first generation of Scions practically required a manual transmission and careful planning to prevent moments of ass-clenching terror on freeway onramps and other high-power-demand driving scenarios. For jaded enthusiasts, these challenges were a revelation in the driving-a-slow-car-fast fun; for the mass-market, this meant popular automatic-transmission models could come across as downright dangerous, even on short test drives.

With an extra 25 horsepower on tap, the xD cures the first-generation’s power-deficit problems, feeling downright rorty in lower gears. The larger engine gives up some of the free-spinning refinement of the 1.5 liter unit, but the rough, raw grunt makes it far more accessible to American tastes. More importantly, the extra performance doesn’t come with the handling and fuel-economy penalties of the Camry-sourced 2.4 liter engine found in the tC and new xB. In fact, even with the very noticeable extra power and 300 lb weight penalty, the xD only gives up a single highway mpg to the xA, coming in at 27 city, 33 highway. 

Indeed, if Scion had simply bunged this engine into the first-generation of xAs and xBs (or better yet, offered it as an option), there’s no telling where the brand might have gone. Especially since so much the first-generation’s charm remains intact. The interior is generally improved over the spartan xA, offering more style and higher-quality materials while losing none of the original’s functional simplicity. Sure, nobs wiggle, buttons jiggle, and the quality appears to be little better than what you can find in late-model Kias, but these are symptoms of the price point and overall an improvement on the first generation of Scions.

Handling is similarly well-preserved, offering crisp turn-in, and firm cornering after some initial lean-in. If the xD’s handling compares poorly to an xA’s, it’s probably because the extra power makes it easier to load up the car’s simple suspension and disturb its composure (a job that’s made easier by the xD’s Toyota-standard numb power steering). On the flip side, the extra power means you don’t have to plan corners out a week in advance in order to find the limits of the xD’s sufficient grip.

Absent any compromises in handling and ergonomics, the benefits of the xD’s power upgrade must be balanced against the its frustratingly unnecessary packaging compromises. Though the xD’s physical dimensions are marginally larger than the xA’s, the extra inches never translate into a noticeable improvement in interior space.

Front leg room is the only interior metric that’s much-improved on the xA, as pushed-forward A-pillars create a more spacious, crossover-like feel up front. Small reductions in headroom go unnoticed, but hip room is down by about 3.5 inches up front and in the second row. The second row’s legroom is also reduced to below 34 inches, eliminating any space advantage in this metric that the xD might have offered over a Yaris (let alone its competitors). Similarly, and despite a larger wheelbase and length, the xD fails to improve on the xA’s cargo capacity, offering only 10.5 cubic feet to the xA’s 11.7. Another non-improvement: the class-leading lack of visibility out of the rear quarters.

When compared to current competitors like the Fit, Soul and Cube, the xD’s packaging compares even less favorably. Though the xD’s extra power makes five-up motoring less terrifying, its compromised packaging eliminates the advantage. Ironically, then, the xD appears to suffer from the opposite problem as the redesigned xB: where the xB became overly bloated in search of PT Cruiser sales, the xA (always the problem child of the Scion lineup sales-wise) had nowhere to go as the designated smallest model of a small-car lineup.

Let’s be clear: unless you regularly roll five-deep, the xD’s packaging won’t be an immediately-obvious compromise. But if you are in the market for a small commuter, two grand less you can now buy a Toyota Yaris five-door that offers a slightly smaller facsimile of the xA experience (without 1.8 power). Or, for the same price as an xD, you buy a Kia Soul which offers first-gen xB-like MPV packaging and xD-like power. Which is exactly what the xD should have offered. Both the Soul and the xD are chuckable and punchy, offering nearly as much around-town fun and frugality and more freeway competence than their most popular competitor, the Honda Fit.

Sadly, more power is all the xD brings to the party. Well, other than the brand-standard dubious set of aesthetics and a now-questionable halo of “Toyota quality.” As just another compact car, the xD is nearly invisible in the market, lacking both the unabashed small-car appeal of the Fit and Yaris, and the practicality of the Soul. The lesson then, is that Scion’s first-generation genius wasn’t in the smallness of its offerings, but in the packaging options it opened in the subcompact class. With the xB swollen out of control and the xD not even trying to offer a distinctive package, it’s no wonder Scion has so badly lost its way.

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2008 Scion xB Take Two Mon, 11 Aug 2008 11:03:21 +0000 The essense is gone.“Hot enough to boil a monkey’s bum!” I don’t know exactly what that means, but it was that hot in North Texas the afternoon I picked up my 2008 Scion xB. How appropriate that the old Flying Circus reference should flash through my mind; the xB looks like something out of a twisted Terry Gilliam animation. Now that Graham Chapman resides in an urn, all of the Pythons could fit in the xB, although 6’4” tall John Cleese would be uncomfortable in any seat.  But the newly redesigned boxy Scion is more than a surreal comic sketch. Or is it? And now for something completely different…

The essense is gone.“Hot enough to boil a monkey’s bum!” I don’t know exactly what that means, but it was that hot in North Texas the afternoon I picked up my 2008 Scion xB. How appropriate that the old Flying Circus reference should flash through my mind; the xB looks like something out of a twisted Terry Gilliam animation. Now that Graham Chapman resides in an urn, all of the Pythons could fit in the xB, although 6’4” tall John Cleese would be uncomfortable in any seat.  But the newly redesigned boxy Scion is more than a surreal comic sketch. Or is it? And now for something completely different…

From its inception, Toyota designed the Scion xB for people that wear their cars rather than drive them. I won’t belabor the stylistic transformation of the Scion’s scion. Suffice it to say, the xB’s breakout proportions and streamlining rob the rig of its cubist innocence. The front of the hood and roof seem crunched in places, and the backwards sweeping headlights contribute to shaping a sinister countenance. Goodbye juice box. Yo gangsta.

How many owners really know what that word means?One gets the sense Toyota tried too hard to bottle lightning with the xB. Scion’s web site features photos of 13 vividly painted and modified xB’s that suggest creative individuality, ala MINI Cooper. Of course, in sensible Toyota fashion, each of these photos also comes with the disclaimer, “Vehicle is for show only and not street legal; modified with non-genuine Scion parts (which void the warranty and may adversely impact performance).” I’m no stylish young dude, but even I know that the kids don’t allow attorneys to crash their raves. Duh!

The overt appeal to the college age demographic is found on the center of the dashboard. For an extra $389, Scion’s Pioneer Premium Audio System gives buyers the same audio features found in the base 160W system. But the Yoof of American can load images and video into the stereo to be played on a small LCD face. Oh, and the more expensive unit’s power button is positioned almost out of reach in the upper right hand corner. That doesn’t seem like money well spent, but what do I know? I remember when radio buttons felt like an old jukebox.

Traditionalists need not applyThe standard six speakers aren’t up to the job (i.e. thumping pedestrian’s chests at forty paces). The bass blasts feel weaker than Hugo Chavez’s threats against Pres Bush. Thankfully, Scion has provided convenient speaker jacks so owners can add subwoofers large enough to agitate pods of orcas frolicking in nearby oceans.

Speaking of false steps, the xB’s interior is plagued by numerous niggling ergonomic errors. Irritatingly enough (and then some), the driver’s seat armrest is placed above the seatbelt buckle. I don’t necessarily mind offset gauges. But the Scion’s are too small; in bright sunlight you can’t read the amber tachometer. Plug-in those subs, and you can’t hear the shift point, either.

Shifting xB’s gears has more in common with an old ’78 Ford F-250 with three-on-the-tree than a contemporary compact runabout. The xB’s stick sprouts from the dashboard; swapping cogs is more an exercise of up and down rather than forward and back. The long travel clutch requires that you lift your entire left leg and stomp down to engage. Heel toe shifting? Forgeddaboudit. Nonetheless, gearshifts snick into place with trademark Toyota goodness.

Just the thing if you moonlight delivering Wonder Bread.The xB is now motivated by the 158hp 2.4-liter powerplant, lifted from the ubiquitous Camry. The Scion’s in-line four-pot is well suited to the xB. Despite the model’s 600 lbs. weight increase (to 3,026 lbs.), the xB’s engine provides class-compliant get-up-and-go. I SAID DESPITE… Faint praise aside, the xB’s extra 55 horses help make the model a far more stable and relaxed high-speed cruiser than its breathless predecessor.

The penalty: Ye Olde Bento box xB got better mileage. Stylin’ SUV refuges will still love the xB’s 25 mpg observed fuel economy (EPA 22/28). Throw the xB through a few corners and these light truck downsizers will feel even more at home. Scion’s rolling brick leans like the Sears tower in a wind storm. On the positive side, the xB’s all-season high-performance 16” Goodyear Eagles resist squealing like John Gotti. Push harder, and the understeer nose plough arrives on cue. The xB’s uber shoes claw at the tarmac until they can’t– at which point they let go and skitter sideways.

Does the \"B\" in xB stand for \"Bloated\"?So here’s the problem: underneath its obvious effort to throw some gang signs at those who know what gang signs are, the reinvented Scion xB has secretly become more like everything else on the road. While there’s nothing about the xB revision that would stop a playa from buying one, or a safety-seeking member of the sensible shoe brigade, the xB has lost its quirkiness and high mpg cred. Send this one over to The Ministry of Silly Cars, stat.

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Scion xD Review Fri, 31 Aug 2007 17:14:14 +0000 08scion_xd_01.jpgThe Scion brand has turned to face some strange ch-ch-changes over the last model year. The bento-box-on-wheels xB was re-fashioned for American tastes, exchanging hip Nipponese style for porky gangsta chic. And now the xA, the mini-minivan-shaped thingie that somehow (unfortunately) captured the spirit of the orthopedic Toyota Echo, has been axed. In a break with ToMoCo’s tradition of maintaining model names, Scion has decided to replace the xA with the xD, a mini-CUV-shaped thingie with bad ‘tude. Go figure.

08scion_xd_01.jpgThe Scion brand has turned to face some strange ch-ch-changes over the last model year. The bento-box-on-wheels xB was re-fashioned for American tastes, exchanging hip Nipponese style for porky gangsta chic. And now the xA, the mini-minivan-shaped thingie that somehow (unfortunately) captured the spirit of the orthopedic Toyota Echo, has been axed. In a break with ToMoCo’s tradition of maintaining model names, Scion has decided to replace the xA with the xD, a mini-CUV-shaped thingie with bad ‘tude. Go figure.

I suppose the best thing that can be said about the xD’s looks is that they’re not nearly so bad in person. The four-door’s evil Pokemon bumper isn’t quite as offensive as it appears in photos. The teeny rear window isn’t really as small as an Electra-Glide’s windscreen. The flame-surfaced sides aren’t as dopey as a Bimmer’s. And the overall effect isn’t nearly as revolting as it could be.

That said, the xD’s grossly distended C-pillar, which links it with the hideous xB, is worse than it appears. Why Scion decided that this visual obstruction should be the brand’s new visual signature is beyond me; unless they’re secretly in cahoots with the insurance industry. I digress.

2008_scion_xd_a.jpgThe xD’s interior is surprisingly swank for one so affordable. Thankfully, the dash ditches the xA’s heinous center display for a more user-friendly central speedo; albeit one housed in a plastic surround reminiscent of a Kohler urinal. The xD’s climate control dials were lifted straight from the Camry, but their tactility doesn’t induce instant recoil. Even better, all the hard bits are sparkly and shiny. And the xD’s sporty-looking chairs are firm and supportive, despite their cuddly-soft covering.

More to the target demographic, the xD’s standard Pioneer-branded audio system offers wheel-mounted iPod connectivity (take that VeeDub). For an additional $389, you get six sick speakers and wikkid graphics. Pony-up $1950 for the Alpine sat nav audio system and you’re looking at backlit blue buttons, touch screen, hidden DVD player–  enough bling to satiate all but the crunkest of pimps. While that’s well over 10 percent of the car’s purchase price, the F&I guy’s got a deal for you…

On paper, the interior of the xD is smaller than the xA it replaced. Yet it manages to feel bigger inside. That’s because the rear seats are well off the floor and set back farther into the trunk, affording rear-seat passengers the kind of legroom xA passengers dreamed about/prayed for. You can slide the xD’s rear seats forward from the hatch, adding an extra four to five inches of length. The seats also fold flat, providing plenty of cargo space for college-bound rug rats or yard sale-haunting retirees.

08scion_xd_11.jpgStart ‘er up, put the pedal to the metal and you’ll know why this car costs $16k. The xD’s 1.8-liter, Corolla-sourced engine squirts out 128-horses. First gear is woo-hoo fun, second gear is a crushing disappointment, and third and fourth are totally forgettable. To help compensate, Toyota offers an automatic setup whereby you can quickly downshift into third gear for passing. At which point the four cylinder mill starts thrash talking, providing nothing particularly helpful in the way of oompf. Hey it’s the thought that counts.

The steering is light and nimble, if predictably numb. The xD rolls through corners like a drunken frat boy, but there is little understeer (a non-speed-related bonus) and dealer-sourced sway bars and a handful of other performance mods will make it, uh, better. Anyway, get a grip (so to speak). At its heart, the xD is an economy car for economy-minded buyers. And that leaves only one real beef with the car’s “performance:” the astonishing amount of wind and tire noise whilst underway. This baby needs some Lexus DNA, stat.

The xA’s 2300lb. curb weight and minuscule engine deliver 27/35 miles per gallon (EPA new method, automatic transmission). Big bruddah xD weighs 300 lbs more, and sports a larger engine, leaving drivers with a slightly less miserly 26/32. But if you like extra grunt– OK, any grunt– it may be worth sacrificing the extra gas for your pleasure.

08scion_xd_06.jpgIn driving for the cheap, urban hipster segment with the first round of Scions, Toyota managed to nail the cheap, middle-aged set square between the eyes. The xB and xA were hits with the gray-hairs, selling in surprising amounts to people who just wanted something small and versatile with great gas mileage. Now that the new xB and xD thoroughly alienate that set of purchasers– due to their shoddy gas mileage and menacing sheetmetal– what’s left?

Most of the cool kids are driving Hondas, after all. But the xD is an amazingly cheap deal. In base trim, the xD doesn’t feel that cheap to drive (take that, Versa). In the end, it speaks better to Scion’s target audience than the xA ever did, even if its more aggressive demeanor disappoints prior fans.

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Scion xB Review Mon, 14 May 2007 11:17:34 +0000 08scion_xb_21.jpgHaving wrested the title “world’s largest car manufacturer” from General Motors, Toyota’s already committing some of the same mistakes that brought GM down. The all-new 2008 Scion xB is a blot on Toyota’s relatively unblemished copybook. It bristles with classic GM-think: dumb it down, fatten it up and cheapen it out.

08scion_xb_21.jpgHaving wrested the title “world’s largest car manufacturer” from General Motors, Toyota’s already committing some of the same mistakes that brought GM down. The all-new 2008 Scion xB is a blot on Toyota’s relatively unblemished copybook. It bristles with classic GM-think: dumb it down, fatten it up and cheapen it out.

The original xB was a brilliant design, an instant cult-classic, as iconic as the first VW Beetle. The box fresh box elicited the same emotional responses as the old bug: children, freshly-minted motorists and the young at heart all loved it. The xB was barely longer than a MINI and almost as much fun to drive, with the accommodations of a Tahoe and 30-plus mpg.

08scion_xb_22.jpgIf the last gen xB evoked images of a lacquered bento box lunch, the new xB evokes a big, sloppy hamburger wrapped in greasy paper. Toyota’s drive to assimilate into the American heartland is relentless; its Texas Tundra brand BBQ sauce-stained fingerprints are all over this little porker.

The xB has gained 650 pounds, a foot in length, and three inches in width. Obviously, there’s a price to pay at the gas pump for that corn-fed heft. EPA numbers are down almost 25 percent for the city cycle (’06 adjusted), from 28 to 22 mpg.

08scion_xb_20.jpgThat xB’s extra 12 inches are totally wasted; it all goes to making the hood longer. More room to mount a set of Texas steer horns? And since height is reduced, the XB actually loses usable passenger space.

The throne-like seating position has lost four inches of leg room. Headroom has also diminished. Ditto the back seat, where my 6’4” frame once sat in limo-comfort, with a good four inches of clearance to the front back-rest. Now my knees graze the horrendously cheap-feeling fabric of the front seats.

08scion_xb_38.jpgThe xB’s front seats might as well have been lifted straight out of a 1971 Chevy Vega. Where the old thrones were nicely bolstered and contoured, with a nubby textural two-tone fabric, the new ones are molded blobs covered in a dreary monolithic black fabric. The Chevy Aveo’s seats put these to shame.

Toyota must have scored a volume deal from GM for vintage interior molds; the door panels are now harder than a trigonometry quiz. The xB’s lamentable polymerization also includes the upper arm-rest surface where my elbow likes to rest. At least the Vega had a little cushion there.

08scion_xb_36.jpgThe xB’s interior package suffers mightily from the reshaped dimensions, the new seating position and the new model's higher belt-line. The xB’s superb view– favored by many of its elderly patrons– has been cruelly reduced. Now one sits deep and low, Hummer style, peering out gun-slit windows. And less of them: the rear three-quarter windows have disappeared.

The cute, perfectly positioned, oval-shaped analog instrument cluster that once perched atop the xB’s artistically shaped and textured dash has been replaced by four small oval, orange-lit displays. They're buried low and deep in the middle of the ponderous dash. The nervously-flashing digital speedometer is yet another 1980’s GM throw-back.

08scion_xb_58.jpgThe new XB has the Camry’s 2.4-liter 158hp engine. It’s a competent and smooth mill that makes the new xB a faster vehicle, but a less engaging one. The old XB’s little 1.5-liter engine had an eager willingness and mechanical presence that made every trip to the pizzeria fun, especially with the stick. 

In another GM-esque move, the Camry’s five-speed automatic didn’t make the bean-counter’s cut; the xB’s old four-speed slushbox soldiers on. Buyers opting for the manual tranny now row their boat with a shifter that protrudes from a large extension from the bottom of the dash– which enhances the perception of lost interior real estate. Equally annoying, the vague-acting clutch pedal sticks up higher than the brake pedal.

08scion_xb_28.jpgThe new XB is faster, but the fun (and challenge) is gone. The new-found heft and softer ride takes XB handling from MINI territory right to into Camry Land. And we all now how engaging and exciting THAT is.

The xB’s electrically-assisted steering lacks the crispness and linearity of the former hydraulic unit. There were times I swear I could feel the electric motor on the other end of the steering column muttering at me under its breath– in a way that reminded me of my fifteen year old son.

Is there anything good to say about the new, ostensibly improved Scion XB? Yes. It now comes with cruise control and more air bags. 

08scion_xb_54.jpgIn short, the xB has become nothing more than a low-content five-door Camry. It’s Toyota’s el-cheapo ($16,230) version of the Chevrolet Malibu Maxx.

In fact, the new xB doesn’t deserve the Scion moniker, which established the brand's U.S. reputation as a provider of affordable automobiles with style, efficiency, quality, innovation and fun. Maybe Toyota could get a deal on the Oldsmobile name from GM.

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Scion xA Review Thu, 27 Jan 2005 00:00:00 +0000 The Scion xA: big and bold, in its own little way Sciontologists are scary people. Who else would re-package a Toyota Echo and sell it to American twenty-somethings? We're talking about a Japanese sub-compact with all the edgy excitement of a five-year-old Readers' Digest (large print edition). You couldn't imagine a more cynical marketing ploy. Still, props to Toyota for having the stones to foist the "new money for old rope" routine on the world's most style critical audience.

The Scion xA: big and bold, in its own little way Sciontologists are scary people. Who else would re-package a Toyota Echo and sell it to American twenty-somethings? We're talking about a Japanese sub-compact with all the edgy excitement of a five-year-old Readers' Digest (large print edition). You couldn't imagine a more cynical marketing ploy. Still, props to Toyota for having the stones to foist the "new money for old rope" routine on the world's most style critical audience.

Thanks to its exterior, the xA almost gets away it. Sure, it looks a bit like a grouper fish, but the xA is big and bold, in its tiny little way. The xA's minivan shape and clever window tinting give it a level of design intergrity that's rare for its class. Whether Gen Y would choose the Scionfish over something with more Cribs cred from the used car lot is another matter. Suffice it to say, the xA is as far removed from the Vicodin-on-wheels Echo as Adidas Ozweegos are from nursing shoes.

Rebel without a clueOnce inside, the centrally mounted instrument pod continues the aesthetic rebellion. This unsafe alternative to traditional ergonomics makes the helmspot as blank as a bumper car, and reflects the brand's skewed priorities: function follows market research. The xA's audio system, complete with 10-color display and built-in distortion (I kid you not), also tries to convince Sciontists that they're rebels without a platinum AMEX, rather than sensible car buyers.

Now THAT's funny. What could be more sensible than a small Toyota? The xA has room for five [slim] adults, gets over thirty mpg, comes with a three-year, 36k mile warranty; pollutes the planet less than a herd of polled Herefords and costs no more than a decent home entertainment system ($13k). Although no sub-compact makes sense from a safety point-of-view, the xA offers surprising survivability for one so small. Scion brand managers will hate me for saying so, but the xA is xActly the kind of car an elderly person on a fixed income would enjoy.

Beneath that black grill beats the heart of a lion.  Well, a lion cub.  Maybe "enjoy" isn't the right word. The xA is powered by the Echo's 1.5-liter in-line 4-cylinder engine. As you'd expect, Toyota's engineers have done everything they can to give the Echo/xA passable (if not passing) power: double-overhead cams, 16 valves, variable valve timing and multi-port electronic fuel injection. As you'd expect, the result is still Slow and Serious. Zero to 60 takes 10.7 seconds, with the quarter mile appearing in 17.4 seconds. Spirited it ain't.

Adequate it is. There's even a tasty chunk of powerband between 2500 and 4000rpm where the xA will do a reasonable imitation of a car with in-gear acceleration. Although peak power (108hp) arrives at 6000rpm, the engine's "Wall of Boom" soundtrack makes an assault on the redline an aural stress test. Thrill seeking xA drivers are advised to buy the 5-speed, shift like mad, plan ahead and plan early.

Take it as red: hit a pothole and it feels like someone hit the xA with a mallet. And avoid potholes. The xA's ride is surprising civilized– until it isn't. The moment you encounter a surface imperfection, it's as if someone hit the car with a large mallet. Clearly, someone at Toyota figured that the youth of America can't tell the difference between the acceptable harshness of a sports-tuned suspension and the rough-riding character of a comfort-biased chassis with the comfort removed.

At relatively slow (sensible?) speeds, the xA's low curb weight and stiffened suspension deliver admirable poise through the turns. Combined with a user-friendly power-assisted rack and pinion steering system, the set-up is responsive enough to embolden a young driver's reckless nature. Uh-oh. Spank the xA and you're headed straight to Hell in a hand basket. The steering loses all precision, the drum brakes fade and the torsion beam suspension gives up. Push it that little bit too far and terminal understeer will slide you across the road like a fallen figure skater heading for the boards.

Toyota would have you believe the customizable xA is Gen Y's whip.  Maybe, maybe not. All of which begs the question: is the Scion xA really a young person's car? Given the large number of elderly xA buyers– given ANY elderly buyers– the answer is an unequivocal no. The only thing separating the xA from any other generic Japanese econobox is the car's shape and the 46 factory-made tuning bits– which aren't half as cool as Scion thinks they are.

In fact, Scion's youth orientation is fatally flawed. When it comes to selling to hipsters, the moment you win, you lose. Brands like Nike and Adidas circumvent the exclusivity vs. mass market problem by inventing new shoes and sports apparel on an hourly basis. Car manufacturers can't use the same template, no matter how many after-market parts they devise. But they CAN create a fundamentally desirable car that attracts a wide range of buyers. Strangely enough, that's a perfect description of the dull but worthy Scion xA.

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Scion tC Review Mon, 13 Dec 2004 00:00:00 +0000 The Scion family.  Guess which sibling is adopted.The Scion tC and I got off to a bad start; I had the audacity to take it grocery shopping. Hey, it's a hatchback, right? Well, most hatchbacks have cargo covers with a hinge at front and stringy-things that tie it to the hatch lid. Open the hatch and the cover swings out of your way. Not the tC. The tC's cargo cover is a cardboard, plastic and faux-dog-hair affair that has three positions: 1) In the way; 2) totally in the way; and 3) tossed angrily into the back seat.

To access the tC's hatch you must lift up the cover yourself, at which time the plastic clip detaches itself and shouts to the others, "Hey guys, you gotta try this!" The other clips jump in unison and the whole affair crashes down into the trunk faster than you can utter your expletive of choice. Good luck re-attaching it. After five attempts and two dozen expletives, I placed the cover in the aforementioned Position 3. By the time I loaded my groceries, the milk was past its sell-by date.

The Scion family.  Guess which sibling is adopted.The Scion tC and I got off to a bad start; I had the audacity to take it grocery shopping. Hey, it's a hatchback, right? Well, most hatchbacks have cargo covers with a hinge at front and stringy-things that tie it to the hatch lid. Open the hatch and the cover swings out of your way. Not the tC. The tC's cargo cover is a cardboard, plastic and faux-dog-hair affair that has three positions: 1) In the way; 2) totally in the way; and 3) tossed angrily into the back seat.

To access the tC's hatch you must lift up the cover yourself, at which time the plastic clip detaches itself and shouts to the others, "Hey guys, you gotta try this!" The other clips jump in unison and the whole affair crashes down into the trunk faster than you can utter your expletive of choice. Good luck re-attaching it. After five attempts and two dozen expletives, I placed the cover in the aforementioned Position 3. By the time I loaded my groceries, the milk was past its sell-by date.

   A good-looking little car-- if not entirely memorableDespite this "challenging" introduction, I was prepared to forgive the tC its foibles. I really like the other Scions. The xA is a zippy little minicar, while the packing-crate-shaped xB makes an excellent packing crate. Despite the vast array of inane options (multi-colored illuminated cupholders? have we really fallen that far?), these two little cars have an irresistible cheap-n-cheerful spirit. In comparison, the tC acts like it was adopted.

In a way, it was. Both Xs are based on Toyota Echo mechanicals; the tC is based on the stunningly ugly European-market Avensis (imagine a Camry wearing a poorly-fitting Passat costume). Parent Toyota's attempt to make the tC look like part of the Scion family is half-hearted at best. The rear has more than a bit of Volvo about it, while the side suffers from a touch of the TT's. Only the tC's front end seems vaguely familial. Put the threesome together and it's clear which children Toyota favors: the little cute ones.

   The Scion tC and Toyota Camry share the same powerplant.  Unfortunately for enthusiasts, someone forgot to tweak the VVT-i.Still, everyone who saw my test tC raved about the styling. Its dimensions are certainly spot-on; the tC offers the speed-oriented driver an alluring size and stance. And I'm happy to admit that it's a good-looking little car in a budget sort of way— but will you remember what it looks five minutes after you turn away? Wait; let me look at the picture again. Maybe not.

Inside, the tC is even less Scionly. The traditional-looking gauges are traditionally mounted (the xA and xB have funky dials mounted in the center of the dash; perhaps they move left when the cars hit puberty). Goofy lights are kept to a minimum. The tC shares the family's wikkid sound system, designed to knock low-flying Cessnas out of nearby airspace. The center stack may look like it's made of the same metal-effect plastic used for Build Your Own Robot kits, but the controls are ergonomically sound. In all, it's a comfortable, practical place to spend some quality drive time.

Speed does not equal soul.  (Photoshop does not equal fast.)To get you up-to-speed, the Scion tC uses a 160hp 2.4 liter four-cylinder engine swiped from the Toyota Camry. Unfortunately, Scion's engineers forgot to tweak the engine's fun critical VVT (Variable Valve Technology) for a burst of high-rpm power. By leaving the Camry's fattened bottom end intact, the tC is powerful enough to escape the xX mystique ("Will I make it to 75 MPH?"), but ditchwater dull. It lacks even a taste of the free-revving excitement of its properly fettled, slightly more powerful Celica GT-S sibling.

But fast is fast, right? I mean zero to sixty in less than eight seconds for $16,465 (base manual) sounds like a performance bargain. I refer you to Pat Boone's "In a Metal Mood" CD. The words and the tune may be right, but you won't want to bang your head to his rendition of Enter Sandman. The tC is more speed efficient than adrenally accelerative. Speed does not equal soul.

There's another way to reach the same conclusion: throw the front-wheel-drive tC into a corner. You'll immediately discover that Scion doesn't expect you to know the difference between good grip and good handling. The all-season Pirellis wrapped around the tC's optional 18" Enkeis provide less feedback than a 20-watt guitar amp. Understeer arrives without so much as ringing the doorbell. Safe, yes. Fun, no.

Hatch mechanism aside, there's nothing particularly wrong with the tC. Spare the horses you'll find a civilized little car at a fabulous price. In fact, Toyota made a mistake by marketing the tC as a Scion. With its refined manner, solid feel and aloof personality, they should have called it the TC240 and sold it as an entry-level Lexus. In other words, the tC is the scion of the wrong family.

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Scion xB Review Mon, 05 Jul 2004 00:00:00 +0000 No dial left behind.Toyota claims the xB is "all about attitude". Roger that. Anyone willing to drive a van that causes children to point and laugh-- and let's be clear about this: the kids are laughing AT the xB, not WITH it—needs a bullet-proof 'tude. Maybe that's why Toyota markets the xB under its youth-oriented Scion brand: the company reckons that only the arrogance of youth could protect an xB owner from the constant snorts of derision garnered by this, this, thing. And yet…

Unlike the Pontiac Aztek, an SUV so gruesome it turns onlookers to stone, the xB is not a heavy-handed pastiche. Sure, there's a bit of bread van, a touch of funeral hearse, a soupcon of the old mini, a hint of an industrial air conditioning unit. But the xB is what it is, in a non-apologetic kind of way. If you like owning something "distinctive", well, Scion's boxy four-door is certainly that. The xB is at least as visually arresting as a Ferrari, Bentley or Aston— for $14k.

No dial left behind.Toyota claims the xB is "all about attitude". Roger that. Anyone willing to drive a van that causes children to point and laugh– and let's be clear about this: the kids are laughing AT the xB, not WITH it—needs a bullet-proof 'tude. Maybe that's why Toyota markets the xB under its youth-oriented Scion brand: the company reckons that only the arrogance of youth could protect an xB owner from the constant snorts of derision garnered by this, this, thing. And yet…

Unlike the Pontiac Aztek, an SUV so gruesome it turns onlookers to stone, the xB is not a heavy-handed pastiche. Sure, there's a bit of bread van, a touch of funeral hearse, a soupcon of the old mini, a hint of an industrial air conditioning unit. But the xB is what it is, in a non-apologetic kind of way. If you like owning something "distinctive", well, Scion's boxy four-door is certainly that. The xB is at least as visually arresting as a Ferrari, Bentley or Aston— for $14k.

Can't see the point?  Try a fresh angleAt that price, pistonheads would be forgiven for thinking that the xB must be an empty style statement: a slow, uncomfortable and nasty-handling tin-can, sold solely on the basis of its eccentricity and much advertised customizability. Nope. The xB is a complete package, offering more-than-merely-adequate poke, superb ergonomics and, gulp, fun.

Make sure no one's looking, cover your eyes and enter the belly of the beastie. The windscreen is widescreen. The driving position elevated. The dinner plate-sized speedo sits on the top tier of the dash, with an inset rev counter and fuel gauge. The idiot lights, clock and odometer cluster nearby. The radio and rotary climate controls occupy the center pod. The window buttons, indicator stalk and lights are right where they should be. And that's it. What else do you need? Nothing. Put that in your iDrive and smoke it.

Nippy is as nippy doesWhile we're at it, let's credit Toyota for being the first manufacturer to realize that buyers at the lower end of the market prefer, no, need premium ICE. The xB's Pioneer unit is MP3-compatible and satellite radio-ready, with three EQ modes. The optional 6-CD player offers 10 display colors, including "lithium". The company's unabashed determination to appeal to Gen Y is also reflected by their decision not to fit a distortion limiter to the 160-watt sound system. Full volume is Hell on wheels, but it's probably a blessing in disguise, as Neighborhood Watch groups will no doubt attest.

If you're dead set on deafening your crew, the xB will accommodate three XXX Large Homies, with Bidness Class leg room. Should street style somehow mutate towards top hats, you're covered there as well. Turf out two cohorts, fold down the rear seats and the refrigerator-shaped van can fit a refrigerator. In short, the xB is a mini-MPV in drag— I mean, with drag

Al a Docious?The xB attempts to surmount its flying brick aerodynamics with a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Toyota has blessed the xB's mini motor with double-overhead cams, 16 valves, variable valve timing, multi-port fuel injection, the works. Although the autobox variant ambles from 0 to 60mph in 10.6 seconds, it feels significantly faster. Yes, overtaking requires more forward planning than a military invasion. Sure, highway onramps demand perfect timing and every single one of the xB's 108 horses. But around town, the unrelentingly angular Scion is a seriously willing, nippy little machine.

The xB's handling accounts for much of the van's fun factor. The xB serves-up a pleasing amalgamation of rack-and-pinion steering and a well sorted suspension (with anti-roll bars fore and aft). Aesthetically challenged hooligans can carry a surprising amount of speed into the corners, without surprising themselves. You wouldn't mistake the xB's road manners for a BMW's, but the front-wheel-drive econo-box is a lot more satisfying to drive than many equally commodious, gas-guzzling SUV's.

160-watt stereo with no distortion control.  Toyota says its 'freedom of choice'.  For whom?The xB's brakes are another pleasant surprise. Again, the numbers aren't particularly impressive. Car and Driver reports that the front disc, rear drum set-up can haul the xB from 70mph to rest in 200 feet. At lesser speeds, in the midst of urban conflict, you can give the xB's brakes a proper pasting, confident that the [standard] ABS and traction control system will help prevent a blizzard of insurance paper work. The pedal feel is not bad, you know, considering.

Considering what? That the xB is more of a fashion statement than transportation? Well it ain't necessarily so. Despite Toyota's clever ad campaigns aimed at style-conscious early adopters, old fogies are buying the van in droves. In fact, 51% of xB buyers are over 35. And why not? The xB is an excellent steer that offers utility, reliability and spectacular value for money. Maybe the key to understanding/living with/appreciating the xB's quirky appearance is to be old enough not to give a damn.

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