By on August 18, 2012

There is a well traveled myth in the animal kingdom when it comes to dogs.

Seven years = One human year. In reality, dogs will often reach their version of adulthood within the first year to two years of their life.

The same is true with certain sports cars.

The Mazda Miata quickly became a car of legend within the first two years of its release. The first Ford Mustang did so well, that Ford managed to build over a million units in the first 18 months alone.

On a far smaller scale, the AC Cobra, Ferrari 250 GTO, and Jaguar E-Type may never be a common sight in the flesh. But they have adorned millions of posters and magazine covers, and established a benchmark of what sports cars represent in the eyes of auto enthusiasts.

The Scion FR-S may not ever come near these heights of popularity. However, it will help redefine the current image of a sports car as some testerone poisoned icon that tries to invoke power and muscle above all else.

Hedonist: This car reminds me of a well-designed suit; smooth, svelte, with an eye towards the conservative side of design. It’s not meant to draw attention in a brutally obvious way like most other sports cars of today.

There is no bling. No steroid ridden look to the front fascia, and as a result, it doesn’t get the eyeballs of anyone other than the enthusiast.

Frugalist: I consider that a good thing. There seems to be a minimal level of ostentation to the outside that blends well with the extreme focus on functionality and sport with the interior. The driver’s window lowers itself about a half inch when you grab the door handle and you see…

Hard plastics are kept to the simple functional aspects of the dashboard along with the precious few buttons that adorn it.

The armrests on the door panel are well padded and well stitched. Speaking of which…

You better like the color red when it comes to all the stitching on the door panels, steering wheel and seats. If not, then just enjoy the road ahead.

Hedonist: I rarely stopped smiling for the first thirty minutes I had this car on the road. There is a linearity to the handling, the acceleration and the overall design that makes the FR-S a fun daily driver.

For perhaps 25% of the population.

If you are in a part of the world with rough roads. If noise is not your thing. If you have even a slight orientation towards driving isolation, don’t buy this car. The Scion FR-S is a noisy, hard riding vehicle that is nearly as unforgiving as a first generation aluminum bodied Honda Insight.

But if you live in an area where the roads are relatively smooth. If driving involvement to you is not so much about speed as it is about handling and finding that quick little spurt of joy in a humdrum commute, this car should be right at the top of the list.


Frugalist: 34.5 mpg overall and 37 miles per gallon on the highway. That is what I averaged in a long commute through metro-Atlanta where I spent about 20% of my time stuck in various traffic jams and construction backups. The Scion seems to take an almost perverse pleasure for those drivers who feather the pedal when the road ahead is chock full of cars.

There is one down side, or good virtue, if you want to look at it through the economics of long-term driving.

When you’re not in an enjoyable environment, the Scion will lock in 6th gear at around 37 mph and keep the car moving without the feel of a heavy pedal or lag in the acceleration. This makes the FR-S a far easier and economical vehicle to drive on a daily basis than most other sports car of today.

Hedonist: But where it excels is in the country. If you’re one of those folks who gets to enjoy endless winding one lane roads in your commute, the Scion FR-S will represent a sweet spot of satisfaction well worth the $26,000 MSRP. Precise real world handling devoid of nervousness. Solid mid-range torque. Exceptional fuel economy. In real world driving it’s all there.

Frugalist: Most sports car enthusiasts will never spend any time in a race track. Even the ones who would like to have that experience simply have too many other things going on with their life. The real world of driving is where a Scion FR-S can outshine a heavier and more powerful sports car because it never feels ponderous or laborious while handling the misfortunes of traffic.

Hedonist: Lightness has its virtues. A 2700 to 2800 pound drivetrain engineered with a focus on handling and balance is a far better companion for most daily drivers than a high revving glorified go-kart or an overwight muscle car.

Even the noise levels and patterns of acceleration for the FR-S are designed for you to find a comfortable limit, and enjoy it. Many sports cars encourage stupid behavior on the open road. This Scion is the exact antithesis of a stupid sports car. The set of tools that it provides you; a 2.0 Liter 200 horsepower engine devoid of turbo boost or lag, and a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters, is a solid fit for the winding road.

There was one other surprise underneath this car.

It’s maintenance friendly. Oil changes are easy to do. All the fluids and nearly all the basic maintenance procedures should be easy to perform. Unlike most other cars of the modern day, the Scion FR-S seems to take pride in letting the owner get to know the vehicle and be directly involved with its long-term care.


Hedonist: There are a slew of competitors to the Scion FR-S. The Fiat Abarth is a bit lighter, smaller, even more go kart like, and has the thrill of turbo boost. But the interior and packaging are not up to the same standards as the FR-S.

The Ford Mustang V6 is an excellent alrternative consideration if you want more power and plenty of fun. But the spirit of that car is from a different age and the greater curb weight makes it a better fit for those seeking an American styled daily driver. The Camaro and Challenger have nearly the same virtues of the Mustang. But all three are hard to find well equipped in this price range.

Then you have a slew of four door models and European hatchbacks. The upcoming Ford Focus ST, the VW GTI, the Mazda 3i and Mazdaspeed 3, the Hyundai Genesis coupe, the Mini Cooper S. Even the Subaru WRX and FR-S cloned BRZ will fight the Scion FR-S for the souls and pocketbooks of American sports car enthusiasts.

The competition is exceptional (let’s not forget the Mazda MX-5 as well). Overall, Toyota has performed an exceptional job as well. If you are in the market for a $25,000 to $28,000 sports car, test drive one.

It will be time well spent.

Note: Toyota provided gas, insurance, and the Scion FR-S pictured for a full week. 


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42 Comments on “Hedonist vs Frugalist: 2012 Scion FR-S (Street Edition)...”

  • avatar
    el scotto

    It’s a good car at a good price. Opinions of this car have been boiling in the internet blog cauldrons for way too long. Thanks for the write-up from, uh-hum someone who has actually driven one. Expect much gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands to follow.

  • avatar

    I don’t like hearing about the FR-S. Why doesn’t the BR-Z get this much love?

    • 0 avatar

      +1 I don’t think I have seen a single article on the BR-Z by itself.

      On a scoobie and maintenance related note-do you have to disassemble the entire intake system to get to the passenger side spark plugs?

    • 0 avatar

      Because they’re the same thing.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 to you

      Any article about living with this car should focus on the Subaru, in my opinion, since it offers better seats, nav, and some other creature comforts the Scion lacks.

    • 0 avatar

      They’re the same car save for the nav system and options like HIDs so it’d be kinda silly. Yes there’s slightly different trimming differences (oddly the cheaper Scion gets some of the interior trim on the Limited BRZ) and the suspensions are theoretically slightly different but 99% of whatever is written here applies to the BRZ and vice versa. Get the BRZ if you want to option it out and get the FR-S if you don’t, it’s pretty much that simple.

      And seriously I’m glad someone actually found the interior to be fairly nice, I thought the padded stitched leather on the door was actually a really nice touch but half the reviews expect the interior to equal a luxury car’s when you can buy one for $24K ($1000 scion recent grad rebate) when nothing else in this price range has a nicer interior. The V6 mustang base certainly does not.

  • avatar


    Its virtues are many; its faults are two (IMHO):
    1) It needs a real 50/50 weight distribution;
    2) It needs a touch more HP, say 230 (No turbo!).

    Both are correctable. Their correction will produce a home run, hit out of the park.

    May its sales be prolific and its children be prosperous….


    • 0 avatar

      why was the article published a week ago and then removed after 15 mins?

      was this place turning into

      one thing the Miata boys don’t seem to get is that for some people, even a fake gesture at pretended to be a bit practical goes a long way in the real world

      can I as a married man with two kids, sell an 86 to my old lady? possible?

      what about a Miata? not a chance in hell

    • 0 avatar

      @NMGOM – Just relocating the battery to the trunk would get you half way to 50/50. Then add a tool kit or amp & sub and you’re there.

      The best solution for its lack of power would be swapping out the fairly economical 4.10 gears.

    • 0 avatar

      FA25 engine? :D

    • 0 avatar

      What’s so “real” about 50/50?

      The Boxster’s (and Elise’s) 45/55 or so is probably about ideal for outright speed in a rear driver through the twisty stuff. Perhaps even a bit more rear biased. That way, you get about 50/50 when hard on the brakes, which is where you need max traction most of the time.
      Tough to achieve while minimizing weight and keeping a back seat and trunk, though. And besides, noone remotely sane limit brakes on their commutes.

      For GT driving , which is closer to how roadgoing sports cars are driven in those rare events when they are not simply loafing around behind some Camry, a heavier front bias, along with the increased longitudinal inertia that comes with moving the engine up front, makes good sense; as it makes it easier to build a car that tracks straighter.

      And, tah-dah; drifting certainly easier in a car with more front weight bias. Especially when power is a bit on the, shall we say, soft side.

      I agree 230hp, gained from better breathing and a higher redline, would make this thing mucho better. Honda got 240 out of 2L with good reliability forever ago, so it ain’t that crazy. Or, perhaps a 2.5 would make for a better allround engine. Like you, I hope they leave out the turbos

      • 0 avatar

        “What’s so “real” about 50/50?”

        Spirited driving at part throttle through the turns. People that rave about 50/50 bias sports cars aren’t looking to autoX or set personal/track records.

        You’re right. You want more weight over the rear when braking hard, deep into a turn. Same thing when you stand on the gas exiting a turn.

      • 0 avatar

        All the cars with rearwardweight bias need wider tires out back to avoid old 911 ass-around syndrome.

        If tire area does not match weight distribution the car is likely ti badly snap the end around that has more weight per unit tire area.

        Most road cars use the same tires all around for economy and to allow better tire rotation patterns. The more exotic ones just blow that off, but as a rule those are much more expensive to buy and operate.

        Those standard sports cars trend towards FR and slightly front heavy. The closer you can get them to 50:50 the more neutral they are at edge handling.

  • avatar

    How is access to the spark plugs? My Subarus have always been tricky, but possible.

  • avatar

    Thank you Steve. This is the clearest, most concise and honest review of any vehicle that I have read anywhere, in memory.

    Would love to know how you like (or not) the stick version.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Unfortunately, I did not have access to a stickshift.

      I will mention that the paddle shifters on the FR-S are so responsive that I doubt most folks would ever miss not having a stickshift.

  • avatar

    I love the looks.

  • avatar

    This sounds like me type of car, minus the bad ride quality on rough roads.

    Its both nice that this has some modest styling but silly that its so rare, even economy hatcbacks and mommy-daddy sedans have silly amounts of “aggressive” styling, so you can get your grocery’s with attitude!

    I expect that once its face-lifted next week it won’t look so nice.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, the bad ride would be a deal killer for me. I’m in my early 20s and don’t have back problems, and I’m not expecting the ride of a Buick in the FR-S, but the bad roads in my area (New England) mean I’d prefer better damping. Specifically, is a firm but well-damped (as opposed to “bag of hammers” hard) ride possible?

      • 0 avatar

        I suspect if it was set up for decent ride, all the “enthusiast” reviewers would be screaming to the heavens about body roll. Old French cars had pillow soft ride. And they stuck like glue. But they cornered on their doorhandles and required a bit of finesse on turn-in, and since that doesn’t match the “how race cars do it”* benchmark, it has to be derided and run out of town by the bench racer set.

        *and never mind that racing and street driving have just this side of zero common goals, and that driving a race car on the street sucks for any purpose other than posing.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        I’m sure that Koni, Bilstein, etc. are all hard at work on replacement shocks as we speak. “Firm but well-damped” is pretty much spot-on for the autox-valved single-adjustable Koni yellows I have on my S2000 now.

        Also, the BRZ suspension tuning is supposed to be a bit less aggressive than the FR-S setup.

  • avatar

    Am I the only person here who is already bloody sick and tired about hearing about this car?

  • avatar
    Andy D

    right wheel drive FTW

  • avatar

    I’ve seen this car blasted by the ignorant for its low EPA numbers. The numbers were low compared to cars that are crippled by EPA game gearing precisely because it is geared for the real world, where it makes the most of its moderate power. Real world fuel economy is still determined by physics, which are poorly modeled on the EPA’s dyno. At the end of the day, this is a light, naturally aspirated, aerodynamic car with a high compression engine. As such, it gets 34.5 mpg combined in the hands of someone that drives efficiently.

  • avatar

    This article so totally disappeared a week ago! I was going to comment on it last Saturday but the article had disappeared by the time I had written my thoughts! :P

    Was the delay to prevent GT86 overload?

  • avatar

    “If you are in the market for a $25,000 to $28,000 sports car, test drive one.”
    Steve, I don’t know about your neighborhood dealer, but mine neighborhood does not have one to test drive. They don’t even have one in the showroom for customers to check out. They all have been presold. BRZs till the end of this year, and FR-Ses? There is a one month wait time for your order. You pay $500 (refundable) to wait for the car to arrive that you don’t get to see or choose the color of, or test drive.
    The question becomes: Why bother? It is an over-hyped two seater (Good luck trying to fit anyone but a two year old in the back seat).

    • 0 avatar

      That was the case where I live, as well, but a Scion dealer has gotten a few. Unfortunately, they are all automatics. As I’ve remarked before, the local Subaru dealer said the BRZ allotments were sold as soon as they became available for pre-order and suggested getting in line for one would be pretty pricey.

  • avatar

    Respectfully disagree.

    Get one, park it in the middle of a 2-car garage, and allow two weeks to pull the interior down to install RAM Mat in all the appropriate places, which pretty much means everywhere.

    Tires. Tire Rack has enough different ways to sort for quiet but very sticky tires you will be able to find a set meant for you.

    Install a rear view camera and proximity sensors.

    Enjoy the crap out of a car you were able to buy on the cheap but make a daily driver for the next ten years.

  • avatar

    Think of the demand for this car had they put a turbocharged Subaru boxer instead of the N/A one? How much more would that really have pushed up the price? $1,500?

    There would be year long waiting lists for this car.

    • 0 avatar

      “…had they put a turbocharged Subaru boxer…”

      That would get me to spend my money. And I still believe that Subaru and Toyota will offer a FI model.

      As is… I’ll pass. Horses for courses.

  • avatar

    Kudos to TTAC for offering varying viewpoints from their diverse roster of editors. It helped me form a more complete and balanced picture of the FR-S.

    I know it’s tough to get a hold of spankin’-new OEM testers, but I’d sure love to see a similar treatment with another anticipated car, the Cadillac ATS. So far, only Michael has reviewed one.

  • avatar

    Even in street style autocross this car is slow and can’t even match real GT and sports cars.

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