The Truth About Cars » Boomerang Basement Bolides The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 17:47:59 +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 » Boomerang Basement Bolides Boomerang Basement Bolides – Zeroth Place: 2003 “Time Attack” Ford Mustang GT Tue, 14 Aug 2012 15:00:51 +0000

When we awarded the Scion FR-S DFL in our three-way affordable-sportster test, many commenters both on TTAC and elsewhere pointed out that the FR-S supposedly wasn’t meant to be a complete package from the factory. Rather, the new hachi-roku was intended to be a platform for individual development, you see. By judiciously applying the finest in aftermarket upgrades, the FR-S would become a highly personal racetrack scalpel.

Well, to paraphrase Katt Williams, “The Scion do look like an outstanding platform on which to build one’s ideal track car… until a real outstanding platform on which to build one’s ideal track car pull up.” As it turns out, one of our Best&Brightest brought his lightly-modified “New Edge” Mustang GT to our test, and he was gracious enough to let your humble author put twenty or so laps on it.

How’d it do?

Well, in the context of the FR-S, Genesis, and Miata, this lightly-reworked Mustang which can’t be worth more than about twelve grand managed to — how shall I say it — rip the throats out of our delicate little trio like Patrick Swayze handling business at the end of Road House. Another publication was out playing race drivers in the Hyundai and Scion while I was doing some rather cautious laps in what, after all, was a car that the owner was going to have to drive fifty miles back to his house that night. Measured in isolation, the Genesis feels quite fast and the FR-S feels like it handles pretty well. Next to the Mustang, they might as well have been missing a spark plug and running space-saver tires. We’re talking an easy three-or-four-second per lap difference. Move over, ladies; Daddy’s here.

What makes this old Mustang so much better at running around a racetrack than three modern contenders? Well, the weight and the power. New Edge GT Mustangs have an official curb weight of 3,237 pounds. That’s Genesis territory, but it’s nowhere near what the new generation of ponycars weighs. To push it, Ford puts in a 4.6-liter mod-motor V-8 with 260hp/302lb-ft of torque. Now add the following modifications, made so the car would be competitive in the Ontario Time Attack Series, and reported by the owner like so:

  • Strut Tower Brace
  • Subframe Connectors
  • -2.5 degrees camber
  • Short throw shifter (OEM springs were too soft)
  • Cobra Brakes (Factory bolt on, running Hawk HP+ with Motul RBF 600 Fluid)
  • K&N Intake (picked up only cause I found it really cheap on ebay, used)
  • Magnaflow magnapack cat back exhaust (probably worth 5whp, about 100 aural hp)
  • Corbeau reclining drivers seat
  • 265-40-17 Dunlop Star Specs

As you can see, there were a few items removed from the interior to save an odd pound here or there. The important parts, in our opinion, are the camber, the subframe connectors, and the Star Spec tires. The Mustang also appears to have a fairly aggressive alignment; as we were following it in the Miata earlier in the day, it just plain stepped out on Sal (the owner) at about 60mph. Way past Tokyo Drift territory. If the color rags had managed to get an FR-S that sideways, they’d have used it for the cover shot. Sal caught it pretty easily; turns out TTAC doesn’t just have the best on-staff drivers in the biz, our freakin’ readers are ace, too.

From the moment you turn the key and turn off the traction control (concerning which your humble author needed some instruction despite having been a Ford salesperson in the mid-Nineties), the ‘Stang feels like serious business. It doesn’t have the whole riding-down-the-road-on-metal-bearings thing going on that a true full-on racer has. Real race cars are intensely unpleasant, cramped, and claustrophobic. Nope, this is just a hardcore street Mustang. There’s no window net, no halo seat, no incomprehensible jumble of Dymo-labeled, safety-latched switches on a sheet-steel “dashboard” ahead. It’s not that different from the way it was when it rolled out of the factory ten years or so ago. But it sounds like the business.

Once released onto TMP’s front straight, the Mustang flat swallows the road down to the first turn. The brakes are surer, more trustworthy than our other testers, and we aren’t using them as much because the Star Specs are halfway to R-comps and they barely squeal before catching the Ford’s nose and throwing it across the apex.

Back in the throttle and now we are grinning because we know what’s coming up: a twisty section. Camber is king here and the Mustang handles the right-left-right transitions with aplomb the FR-S would no doubt have if you put decent tires on it. Oh, yes, and we can also easily adjust the attitude with the throttle, although that’s a trick you can only play about twice a lap before the back tires get hot enough to become untrustworthy on the faster bends.

It would be a nice credibility-builder here to say something along the lines of how “Well, the Ford continues to suffer from numb steering” or something like that, but truth be told it’s fine, particularly with these tires and these suspension settings. No, it can’t compare to the Miata in that regard, but the rest of the package is so entertaining it matters less.

The current-gen Mustang’s physical incarnation as a long-hood, Thunderbird-esque, Camry-sized product tends to make people forget that for the majority of its production lifetime the nameplate has been attached to a small car. The “New Edge” Mustang has its roots in the ’79 Fox-based Telnack design and as a result the seating position and the view over the hood are almost more like a Genesis than a 2013 Mustang GT.

Speaking of that delightful modern pony: The old 4.6 two-valver is no Coyote 5.0. Heck, it isn’t even the rambunctious three-valve mod-motor found in the 2005-2011 Mustangs. It’s a Crown Vic engine in a lighter body, and freed from police or retirement-home duty it picks up its (iron) skirts and reaches for the redline with a reasonable helping of enthusiasm. It’s certainly enough to see off the Genesis, which until the moment I twisted the key in the Ford’s dismal, ill-fitting steering column was quite coming off like the muscle car of the bunch. But you know, it only came off like the muscle car of the bunch… until the muscle car of the bunch pull up.

Sal paid thirteen grand for the car a few years ago. It now has 120,000 kilometers on it, which in miles is… not the same number. It could probably be duplicated in the United States for well under fifteen grand now. That money will get you a reliable, easily-serviced vehicle with an aftermarket of intergalactic proportions and a resale value that won’t dip below half of your purchase price as long as it starts and runs well. When you get tired of driving it on the street, you can cage it and run it in the outstanding Camaro-Mustang-Challenge series. (For a video of your humble author hackin’ it up to a podium finish in his first CMC race, complete with what was almost a massive crash caused by my sheer stupidity, click!) If you want to personalize it, you can get everything from an Steeda IMSA bodykit to a stitched-leather dashboard. Parts are available everywhere and if you blow the engine somehow a replacement will cost you nine hundred bucks at a junkyard.

Does that sound like the very model of a modern “platform for individual expression”? There’s only one problem. It’s a Mustang and that means you won’t have any credibility with the Racers Of The Internet, who judge every vehicle ever sold on how it fits into their fantasy of being sixteen again and sent to a Japanese high school by their frazzled mothers. Don’t worry. You’ll have plenty of credibility with the Racers Of The Racetrack.

Photography courtesy of Julie Hyde, who isn’t going back to that crummy Grossman’s Tavern for any reason, even if her boyfriend has a chance to “wail” in the open jam session.

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Boomerang Basement Bolides – First Place: Mazda Miata PRHT Thu, 09 Aug 2012 15:55:03 +0000  

The conventions of auto writing require that we come up with at least one labored metaphor for every comparison test, so here goes: You guys remember that movie It Might Get Loud? Obviously, the Scion FR-S is Jack White: deliberately stripped-down and retro, perhaps too self-consciously context-sensitive, adored without reservation by a bunch of people who have never signed a mortgage. The Genesis 2.0t R-Spec is the Edge: a lot of sharp edges and technical brilliance intended to cover up a fundamental deficit of talent.

The Miata? Well…


When we meet Mr. Page in the aforementioned movie, he is being chauffeured to an ancient English home. He is a sixty-ish man in a bespoke greatcoat: quiet, reserved, old. He tells a few stories in a voice that barely registers over the road noise and looks thoughtfully out the window at the lovely countryside and whatnot. You know he wouldn’t fit into the infamous dragon suit, and you wouldn’t want to see him in it even if he could manage the trick. Sure, he used to be a rocker, but now he’s a dead ringer for your college roommate’s grandfather.

Then, somebody hands him a guitar. Oh, look, old chap, it’s that 1959 Gibson he used to carry around. Frightfully ancient now, just like the fellow wielding it. Jack White is watching him dispassionately, perhaps wondering exactly why they’ve disinterred the man and the instrument for the movie when he, Jack White, is the man of the hour, he‘s the one who soaks the panties now, he‘s the one with the hipper-than-thou record company and super-precious Nashville building chock-full of limited-press vinyl records, this guy is as dead as Elvis, just doesn’t know it yet, and it appears Mr. Page is plugging in now, and might manage to give it a strum or something OH MY GOD HE’S PLAYING WHOLE LOTTA LOVE.

At that precise moment, anything and everything associated with the movie disappears and it becomes plainly obvious to everyone that, despite their millions of record sales and undisputed merits, Jack White and the Edge aren’t fit to carry Page’s dragon jockstrap.

The same thing happens as I, fresh from ten laps each in the FR-S and Genesis, hop in the Miata, loaf down the front straight courtesy of the never-impressive normally-aspirated MZR/Duratec/whatevs, and tap the brakes briefly before bending in for Turn One. Well, this car is cramped, and it’s slow, and OH MY GOD IT ISNT EVEN CLOSE. This is a sports car. Pay attention, Toyota. Once upon a time, you guys made a sports car. You made a few of them — the star-crossed turbo second-gen MR2 and the miniature-Boxster MR Spyder — that equaled or surpassed the greatness of this particular Miata. You know how to do it.

More importantly, Mazda’s made it easy for you. The Touring-spec power-retractable-hard-top Miata is the least charming MX-5 in history. To begin with, it’s too big, it sits too high, and it has neither the Elan-through-a-copy-machine charm of the first-gen car or the sleek sports appeal of the second-gen. It weighs too much and it sure as hell costs too much; no matter which country you call home, this is probably the most expensive car of our trio and it delivers the least content by some large margin.

It’s possible to whip the “NC” Miata into shape as a race car, as I know from experience. Our test car, however, hasn’t received that sort of fettling. Instead, it has a folding metal hardtop. Why? The Miata has always been a convertible. It makes sense that way. For more than twenty years, however, people have been demanding a Miata Coupe. Other than a very brief Japanese-market production run of 200 NB Coupes, Mazda’s never felt like responding to that request. Instead, we have the PRHT. I can’t see weekend warriors spending the extra money for it over the soft-top, and the people who want a Coupe want one for reasons of weight and stiffness which the PRHT explicitly fails to address. Call it the “Miata New York”; it only makes sense if you live in an area where people cut soft-tops open to steal whatever’s been left in the glove compartment. We didn’t ask for a PRHT, but we aren’t a color rag and we don’t get free Honda S2000s with signed-over titles sitting in the glove compartment so we can go play SCCA racer on someone else’s dime. Instead, we got what happened to be in the press fleet, and that was the retiree-spec PRHT. Ugh.

Going into our test, I was reasonably certain that the hardcore, touge-tofu-dorifto FR-S was going to humiliate the Miata. It made sense: a newer, faster, stiffer car should win against this thoroughly-compromised end-of-run special. I could not have been more wrong. The FR-S and Genesis are both far too large and clumsy to compete. You don’t realize how big the Scion is until you sit in the Mazda. Yes, the current car is pretty monstrous by Miata or Elan standards. No, it’s not a 1.6-liter NA. It’s not that good. (Full disclosure: your author owned an ex-SCCA National Solo Winner Miata “C” package ’94, purchased as a surprise gift for his wife, who drove it twice and pronounced it “weak” before returning to her Stage 3 SRT-4.) It’s still good enough, however.

Against an MR2 Turbo, the Miata would seem slow, weak, prone to pushing. Against an MR Spyder, the Miata would seem like a bit of a Bayliner, truthfully, particularly in tight sections. Against the FR-S, the Miata comes off like a freakin’ Caterham. It’s only a couple of inches narrower by the tape, but in practice it feels like the FR-S is a foot wider, a Testarossa to the Miata’s 308GTS. This is not something that anybody on the Internet wants to admit, but if you have to group our trio by driving characteristics, the Genesis and FR-S are in one basket and the Miata is in another.

It’s such a joy to steer around Toronto Motorsports Park; the Miata always communicates exactly what’s happening. Even at the more-present-in-magazine-articles-than-reality 10/10ths, I can’t imagine that anybody short of a ham-handed idiot could crash this car. Anything the Scion can do, the Mazda can do better. At a place like VIR, the lack of power and undesirable aero profile would cost the little convertible money, but on the Alan Wilson-style tracks with their short straights and compound corners the Mazda can deliver the tofu just as well as the FR-S. Naturally, the Genesis has so much more power that it just disappears into the distance regardless of track layout. You’d need an SCCA rulebook autocross course, complete with 45mph max corners, to equalize the two.

Driven in isolation, the Miata’s 167-horsepower four seems energetic enough, and as has been the case since 1990, the shift quality is outstanding. The brakes are thoroughly unremarkable sliding-caliper affairs but they work fine. All the control efforts are light and well-matched. It’s possible to get better steering feel in a production car, but you’ll need to hurry, since the 987 Boxster has almost disappeared from showroom floors.

The current Miata has been roundly criticized for its suspension tuning, and that criticism is valid. There’s more roll than strictly necessary and the car can feel a bit tippy-toe at times. For about $1400 you can do Koni Yellows and aftermarket springs. I’d certainly make that change on my personal car, but descriptions of the stock settings as “scary” or “uncontrollable” are either hyperbolic or incompetent. You’re not going to roll the car. I tried, believe me, mostly to upset our News Editor Derek Kriendler who was in the passenger seat at the time.

Mazda’s perfectly aware that the Miata is a third car for most of its owners, and they build it that way. What I mean is this: the interior is high-quality and clearly built to last. The plastics are durable, the vehicle is easy to service, and save for the aforementioned PRHT there’s no stupid gimmickry. There’s no SYNC system or the like, because Mazda understands you’re going to keep your Miata for ten or twenty years and by the time you’re ready to sell, today’s most advanced system will be as embarrassing as the “Your Door Is A Jar” electronic-voice system from a 1982 Datsun Maxima would be today.

At the end of our testing day (which, again, we shared with AutoGuide) we were informed that we had about half an hour with which to drive a shortened variant of the track. The AutoGuide crew heard this news and immediately ran for the FR-S, which was sitting next to my Boxster in the grid. Derek and I were between them and the FR-S. We looked at eachother… what should we do? As one, we turned away from the Toyota and walked back to the Miata to put fifteen or so more laps in. This current MX-5 may be the worst Miata in history, but it’s still the best car in this test. Deal with it, kids.

Images courtesy of Julie Hyde, who thought she was just coming along for the Mike Stern gig in Toronto that night.

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Boomerang Basement Bolides — Second Place: Hyundai Genesis 2.0t R-Spec (Yo) Wed, 08 Aug 2012 15:23:32 +0000
“That is how I drive. Flat Out.” So says the infamous, Miata-blocking Koenigsegg/GT2 driver in the trackday community’s Most Favorite Video Ever. As a journeyman instructor and track rat, I encounter fellows like this all the time — but just as often, I see reasonably talented drivers in small-caliber hardware who take a perverse pleasure in holding up equally talented students in Corvettes and the like. When I discuss their behavior with them, they will always say, with a sort of wounded, defensive pride,

“It’s more fun to drive a slow car fast, than it is to drive a fast car slowly.” My response is always the same:

“Yes, but it’s the most fun to drive a fast car quickly, so next time, I need you to point us by before the Climbing Esses.”

The Genesis 2.0t R-Spec has the most power, the lowest lap times, and the most ridiculous name in our little group. It’s the fast car of the group, and it’s fun to drive fast, too. Why’d it finish second?

Before we get to the part of the review where I natter on about how the Genesis “rushes to the apex like the furious Golem of legend with its arse on fire” and “stamps every exit with the authority of close to three hundred fire-breathing turbocharged Korean Eohippuses” or something like that, we’re going to take a moment to let some of the people in the classroom go home early. If you are in the market for a car of this type, and you have no interest in driving your personal car in a fashion which is both time-consuming to learn and reasonably risky to undertake, and you don’t care to put the top down on fall evenings, you can close the browser window now, turn your computer off, go to your local Hyundai dealer, and arrange financing for your new Genesis.

Let me tell you some nice things about the Genesis. They are all true, and perhaps it will keep the Genesis-forum guys from joining the mass of underemployed FR-S wanna-bes who are currently camped out on my front lawn and threatening to burn my house down. (To those people, I have only one thing to say: playing the solo from “Mr. Brownstone” is tougher than it sounds, so I’m going to go ahead and practice it fifty more times with the volume cranked, and sometimes I’m going to just stop the song in the middle and go back for another try.)

The Genesis looks great on the inside, even in two-liter trim, and on the outside it is, ah, distinctive. Here at TTAC, we are of the opinion that the facelift helped matters in that regard. The original nose was tres generic. This one’s like the LS1 Trans Am compared to the LT1 model: not nearly as graceful, but it clears the lane like Charles Barkley. It’s also recognizably a Hyundai, and that’s starting to be important for everyone involved, both the company itself in its efforts to build the Hyundai brand and for the growing community of young people who are proud to be seen driving one. Like it or loathe it, once you’re inside there are no excuses necessary. It feels special in the way that owners want their first “nice” car to feel special.

Although Hyundai no longer plays the value-for-money card with completely committed fervor, the Genesis is still aggressively priced. It costs more than the pre-facelift model, but you get more for your money, particularly in the engine room. On the spec sheet and standard equipment list alone, the Genesis would handily win this comparison. It also beats the infamous V-6 Mustang as an over-the-road proposition, being noticeably more pleasant to drive around town and considerably easier to park.

In a straight line and around an off-ramp, the Genesis is rapid, impressive, and stable. If the FR-S has a bit of the normally-aspirated 300ZX to it — willfully slow and incapable of pushing its chassis — the Genesis happily plays Fox Mustang by contrast. The engine is the point here. We’ve all read complaints about turbo lag. That’s what happens when you twist 274 horsepower out of two liters. You can’t conquer the laws of physics. The specific output of the GenCoupe beats most variants of the GT-R and 911 Turbo, and those hallowed steeds have a turbo for each side of the block. In any event, the turbo lag isn’t bad. It isn’t a Switzer GT2 or something like that. It’s a perfectly reasonable car with a 100,000-mile warranty that just happens to make a lot of power.

Unnnnn-fortunately, it also weighs a lot. At 3,300 pounds, it’s a chunky monkey. For that reason, although I’m virtually certain the Hyundai puts more power to the ground and has a much fatter torque curve than, say, my 1995 Porsche 993, when it’s time to hustle the old Superbeetle kicks its ass up through its massive grin. We can let a few more readers out of the classroom now, too: the simple answer to “Why didn’t the Genesis win your stupid test?” is the simple word:


Around Toronto Motorsports Park’s perfectly flat, perfectly unremarkable, lunar landscape of a road course, the Genesis is a car of much bigger inputs than those required by the FR-S. Down the front straight — bam! The engine picks up and rushes to the apex like the furious Golem of legend with its arse on fire. Once you get there, the standard Brembos are massively useful to have. Any fade is almost certainly due to the standard-equipment pads. Pad swaps are much easier than caliper swaps, and much cheaper. Don’t skip out on the R-Spec option if you plan to track the car. Into the first turn, the Genesis proves to easily have the same amount of cornering ability as the FR-S, and it’s just as easy to drive. It isn’t as nimble, but that’s not relevant until you get to the second section of the track.

Once you’re there, the R-Spec can feel a bit truckish to get through the tight left-right-left section, but unlike the FR-S you can cheat and rotate the car on the throttle a bit. Plus, it isn’t like the FR-S is a natural-born racecar through the tight turns anyway — for that, you need the Miata.

Our friends at AutoGuide complained about the transmission, but we didn’t have any issues. It might just be because AutoGuide’s Dave Pratte is a world-famous Canadian time-trial driver and your humble author once had to do a 218-minute race stint in an ’86 Supra with well over 200k on the clock. Compared to an ’86 Supra with well over 200k on the clock, the Genesis might as well be a Caterham Seven in the whole gearbox department. It is a bit long-throw. Put on your big-girl panties and deal with it.

Not like you have to shift all that much anyway. The Genesis can be loafed in third through sections that have the FR-S and Miata repeatedly slapping their rev-limiters in second. It’s strong like that. If you’re in the mood to hustle, you can use the gearbox and let the engine build boost from the apex. When you do that, the two-liter stamps every exit with the authority of close to three hundred fire-breathing turbocharged Korean Eohippuses.

It’s fundamentally a very nice car around TMP. As with the 3.8-liter V-6 model of the same car, the forward visibility is nice and solid in the Japanese low-hood tradition. It’s easy to see your marks on-track, and as long as you respect the car’s size and weight, it’s easy to hit your marks on-track. It’s hard to escape the sense that the Genesis, although perfectly capable of track work, would rather be cruising the boulevard with its angry face or hammering the left lane with its ramped-up turbmotor. Of the three cars in our test, the Genesis saw the least amount of time behind the wheel. We all wanted to drive the FR-S because, hey, it’s the FR-S, and it’s a celebrity. We all wanted to drive the Miata because it was a joy to drive. The Genesis? Fast, competent, and entirely ready to hit the road for lunch.

As previously stated, the Hyundai’s engine in the FR-S easily wins this comparison. When you separate the proverbial peanut butter and chocolate, however, you get two contenders that don’t quite cut the mustard.

Why did the Genesis beat the FR-S? This is a track test. Going fast counts for a lot. The Hyundai is faster than the Scion. Had the Scion been hugely superior to the Genesis from a dynamic standpoint — as we expected it to be — then we’d be willing to overlook the speed deficit. It isn’t, so we aren’t.

Why did the Genesis lose to the Miata? The Miata was hugely superior to the Genesis from a dynamic standpoint. Enough so to overcome the laptime difference. It’s that simple. Fast beats slow, great beats fast. The Scion is too slow; the Hyundai is too heavy. On the open road, the Hyundai is your winner; around the racetrack, it’s just a strong second place.

Images courtesy of Julie Hyde, who was mostly hired on account of her outstanding rack.

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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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