The Scion FR-S And The Problem With Hype

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler

A few weeks ago, I took a Scion FR-S out for a spin. It was an automatic dealer demo, so I decided to withhold judgement until I drove the manual transmission car.

Having driven one yesterday, my opinion hasn’t changed much. Alex has already reviewed the car, and Jack will have his upcoming track test (which is a totally different process altogether). As far as my impressions go, I drove it around some empty backroads and urban environments, and came away a little cold.

I really like the styling, and the cut-rate (ok, really cheap) interior is there since the car was built to a price. But the whole driving experience leaves me cold. One of the complaints about the Nissan GT-R was that it had “no soul”, or in less nebulous terms, it felt like a a very synthetic, contrived experience rather than an organic driver’s car.

It’s not that the electric power steering is a let down, or the engine is a poor performer or the suspension is tuned wrong. I think that the real problem is the massive hype surrounding this car and the capitulation that followed. When I told a few other journalists about my thoughts – journalists that I respect and trust when it comes to vehicle evaluation – they were incredulous. “How can you not like it? It’s amazing!” Even as I tried to explain my reasoning, they just weren’t having it. I asked another journalist (who does not wished to be named) about his review of one of the Toyobaru twins. It was a glowing piece, praising the car as if Christ has descended from the heavens. Apparently, his review was less enthusiastic, but some changes were made before deadline…you can figure out the rest. So far, the main critic of the car has been Evo magazine. I didn’t want to believe their assessment of the car, and thought it was more Euro-snobbery, but I can identify with their criticisms now that I’ve been behind the wheel.


The main problem, as I see it, is the enormous hype surrounding this car. I’m not talking about inflated expectations that require managing. In this world, it often manifests itself as a simple unwillingness to declare that the emperor is naked. Witness Car and Driver praising the Chevrolet Camaro for its “zip and grip through the gymkhana” and “fresh, inventive interior”, both of which we know are patently false. Or how about C/D these gems, which Ezra Dyer highlights in his own New York Times piece about the car

Camaro’s Zeta roots pay dividends, with the suspension striking a brilliant balance between lively, grippy road-holding and wonderfully compliant damping. Meanwhile, the SS offers decent feedback through the steering wheel.

Could it be better? Absolutely, but at least its deficiencies involve its interior detailing more than its dynamics.

—Car and Driver, March 2009

Then, just a few months later:

We wish Porsche had supplied the steering. Shades of Camaros past are evident in the slightly overboosted and overinsulated wheel.

The stiff, insulated structure soaks up engine vibes and tire moaning, but the rear end discombobulates and dances while accelerating over rough pavement.

—Car and Driver, July 2009

Ezra attributes the change in opinion to the notion that once something becomes popular, it’s no longer cool. I think that they’ve come out of the woodwork now that it’s safe, and they aren’t at risk of getting blacklisted from the gravy train. Most journalists will now tell you that the Camaro is irredeemable garbage, with the dynamics of a Crisco-doused hog and an interior that was dreamed up after a bath salts bender. I’ve always held that view (though the convertible is much easier due to actually having rearward visibility and a stiffer structure).

When I was a very green car reviewer, I gave the Camaro a poor review when it launched, comparing the windshield to an artillery pillbox viewport I’d seen on the Golan Heights. GM was not pleased. In the end, I was vindicated. How long until we see the tide turn for the Toyobaru?

Derek Kreindler
Derek Kreindler

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  • Ryoku75 Ryoku75 on Jun 27, 2012

    I'd just like to know what makes the '86 so special, I could go buy a used car of sorts that low, modestly powered, FR, and cheaper.

    • See 7 previous
    • DenverMike DenverMike on Jun 27, 2012

      @imag - If you're going to haul ass on poorly maintained roads, a Porsche will dance around about as bad a Mustang GT. I don't know why you would be, but IRS isn't a magic cure for bad roads.

  • Msquare Msquare on Jun 27, 2012

    Want a rotary Miata? Find an original RX-7. No convertible top, but similar in size and weight. Also drank gas like a V8 despite putting out 100 horsepower and hardly any torque. Don't get me wrong, it was a great car in its day, but the rotary's fuel consumption let it down a bit. A first-year Miata is comparable in performance and is far more economical. Toyota tried to go back to the original MR2 roots with the MR2 Spyder but failed miserably in that there was absolutely no storage space save for a couple of tiny cubbyholes behind the seats. You drive a car to go somewhere and if you can't carry at least a weekend's worth of luggage in it, it's useless. Both prior MR2's had small trunks, but they were very usable. The MkI could take a golf bag easily. I can't comment on FR-S vs 944 behind the wheel but I certainly can guess that the non-Porsche is much less fussy to maintain. Because virtually anything on four wheels is. I remember having the second-gen RX-7 and 944 on my shopping list when I bought my first MR2. The Toyota had an engine good for 7500 rpm without having to adjust the timing belt every 15,000 miles and delivered a steady 28-29 mpg. Only hot laps at Bridgehampton could drive those figures down. It could chase E30 M3's on the track despite the huge power disadvantage. With fresh shocks, it rode very well, too. Much better than the slam-bang-pow of Trans Ams and Z28's of the time. They eat miles like Panthers and are only let down by rust. So if you were to offer me a choice between a mint-condition 944 or MkI MR2 (MR2 virtually impossible to find, btw), the MR2 would win hands-down. As a black-on-black 1986 with 16,000 miles did in the summer of 1992.

  • Charles The UAW makes me the opposite of patriotic
  • El scotto Wranglers are like good work boots, you can't make them any better. Rugged four wheel drive vehicles which ironically make great urban vehicles. Wagoneers were like handbags desired by affluent women. They've gone out of vogue. I can a Belgian company selling Jeep and Ram Trucks to a Chinese company.
  • El scotto So now would be a good time to buy an EV as a commuter car?
  • ToolGuy $1 billion / 333.3 million = $3 per U.S. person ¶ And what do I get for my 3 bucks -- cleaner air and lower fuel prices? I might be ok with this 🙂🙂
  • VoGhost Matt, I'm curious why you write that inventory levels are low at 74 days. Typically, 60 days is the benchmark for normal inventory.