By on September 25, 2012

Damn near everyone in the Industrial Design department at CCS said my engineering/gearhead/history buff background was killing my potential Car Design career. In hindsight they had a point, but most were complete jerks about it.  With three art history courses at three different colleges in mind, automotive brands/models/trim levels do indeed nod to something more than PR-hyped styling takeaways: perhaps a vintage automobile, a vague reference to a sub-culture not normally associated with a large corporation, or an entire genre of fine art. But the Scion FR-S isn’t retro…

…it’s retro-futurism.


Toothy and fang-like.  The FR-S has an assertive stance, made clear with pointy scoops at the base of the bumper and a hard cut line separating the bumper’s snout against the headlights.  Nissan 370Z it ain’t, there’s another hard crease between the headlights and the fog light area, making for three pairs of hard lines that give the FR-S a very angry look.

The round bulge for the low-beam headlights adds a more-than welcome soft point to all these fierce elements, but something about the Scion emblem in the center looks less like an organic extension of natural facial features…and possibly more of a wart on an otherwise lovely face. Even the hood cut lines are clean and logical.


The depression around the emblem is what kills the nose. This is far too cute and soft, which has nothing to do with this car.  While corporate logos housed in round casings is more than a little trite, combining it with the bumper’s reverse pimple takes away from the design’s overall aggressiveness.

A mail slot grille, individual S-C-I-O-N lettering…heck even the flat spot/round logo combo of the last Toyota Supra is a huge improvement.  Maybe on the mid-cycle refresh!


We discussed the hard, fierce lines before, but there’s more to the FR-S.  Note the gentle bend in the hood and bumper, creating a new point of surface tension.  It keeps the bumper from being too bloating and boring. If there was a slotted grille (a la mid-cycle refreshed Lexus SC400) using this soft curve and its genesis, the nose would be far more aggressive. It would no longer have a self-congratulatory wart for the Scion brand.

And if you missed the round element of the headlight, note how it breaks the surface tension of the front end from this angle.  Less techno-future, more retro Ferrari headlight from the 1950-60s.  Retro and future combine to form one being.  Dang.


The fog light pod is a different story.  The gigantic black plug is pretty tasteless, though I am sure the aftermarket can make it into a functional speed hole for something.  Perhaps a brake cooling duct, or something turbo-intercooler related. No matter, the entire form is a key element to the FR-S’s fierce nose.  And the strong linearity of the beveled edge around its bottom and outer edge looks pretty trick.


The angry creases of the lower bumper, the headlight, the fog light look absolutely sinister.  But the subtle crease above the headlight? That’s like a flirty eyebrow on a very pretty face.  It’s like a Maserati Gran Tourismo coupe, but not Italian super car pompous. Me likey.


Nicely integrated signal light!  But the front end’s angry lines look so tough because of one design feature: front end overhang allowing for an organic tapering of the snout.  Repeat after me, “Overhang is a good thing. A GOOD THING!”

Put another way: you ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, Mr. Scion FR-S!


OMG SON, am I really seeing a non-Ferrari-Corvette-Panther with an impressive amount of space between the firewall and the front axle?  This dash-to-axle ratio is more than a little delicious, and such a great value compared to the others! (except the Panther, ‘natch)


While this 86-boxer emblem is “emblematic” of the limp-wristed motor beneath, you can’t deny the presence of such a “fast” looking line on the expansive canvas of a rear-wheel drive fender. Even better, this painted fender trim lies on a separate plane from the sheet metal itself, adding surface tension to a tall (by retro standards) belt line.

But I’m seeing another, far bigger problem. More on that later.


Thank goodness my camera phone couldn’t properly show this fake fender vent.  Oops on my part, double oops on the designer’s part.


That “far bigger” problem mentioned two photos ago?  Take a look at the sheer number of panel gaps, and their terrible sizing!  The door to fender is the worst, until you spend a little more time with the plastic cowl trim that starts with the wipers and ends at the base of the A-pillar.


Chintzy. Cheap. In poor taste for any non-Yugo product.  Go back to the last photo and note the sloppy end-point installation of the black plastic cowl trim. Hell, even the Yugo didn’t f–k up a fender’s meeting point this badly.  It doesn’t take much to visualize a fender that fixes this problem, too bad they couldn’t metal smith that plastic tab out.


You can see a bit of the black cowl plastic here too.  And the gigantic panel gap of the A-pillar to fender.  While Toyota generously gave a glass triangle instead of the typical DLO FAIL at this point, this area suffers from a unique form of FAIL: the DLO slides below the A-pillar, the fender AND the fender vent panel, adding another unnecessary line to the profile!

On the plus side, the unique plane of the fender vent/emblem continues across the top of the door.  Back on the minus side again, the side-view mirror’s black plastic base fights this plane with pudgy, bulge-y, overlapping curves. It reminds me of when I used to pour batter into the waffle iron as a child, and spill it over the “lines”.


In collector car speak, the FR-S is definitely more of a 20-footer. The ungainly cowl plastic, the hideous panel gaps and unnecessary meeting points blend into a smooth and slick coupe.  While the FR-S is still tall and mid-heavy like most modern cars, the ample greenhouse, flowing C-pillar and elegant “swoop” of the door’s cut line are an instant classic.  I love the complementary swoop of the rocker panel, especially as it naturally flows to the rear wheel well! Retro-futurism, indeed.


Not as lovely as a Porsche Cayman from this angle, but quite a stunner compared to everything else on the market.  While I’d like more chisel to the quarter panel’s “shoulders” on the C-pillar and a bit less hard/perfectly round negative area behind the door handle, this car is still the business.

Except for that droopy, chubby side view mirror.  I can’t wait for the aftermarket to “fix” this with a more suitable replacement.


Ack! The door cut line doesn’t end at the same point where the B-pillar begins!  While not as horrendous as the CTS coupe, it’s the same buzz kill.  The extra line presented here never had to exist.  And the FR-S deserves better.

Then again, this ain’t nothing compared to the nightmare of panel gaps and extraneous lines at the A-pillar…so the B-pillar is like totally my second favorite pillar on this car!


But kudos to the team responsible for the window trim and weatherstripping: the mating of two unique parts above the B-pillar is super tight and very intuitive. Yup, this is totally my second favorite pillar on the FR-S.


But there’s something about the FR-S’ C-pillar: it starts with this reverse power dome roof, continues to the glass shaped like the “T” of Toyota’s Truck emblem…even the black plastic rain gutter looks fast and powerful.


Note the amount of tumblehome between the roof and the quarter panel’s wheel arch/flares: significant!  This is a straight up sexy roof.  The Toyota Truck themed glass is very Toyota/Scion modern, but the forms presented in silver paint are just so, so classic. Retro-futurism ahoy!


The trunk shares its endpoint with the rear glass. The quarter panel and trunk share a common line with the side of the glass. Combined with the classical goodness of a proper RWD sports coupe in proportioning, this is one of those classic moves we just don’t see enough.


Oh yeah baby, that’s a C-pillar to die for.  Like I mentioned before, the gentle bend above the gas door should be a little more creased: this blends the hard edges in the bumper to the rest of the body far more elegantly.


What the heck is that???  As a Lincoln-Mercury fanboi I’ve always enjoyed the round Continental kit, grudgingly appreciating the goofy trapezoidal butt of the 1977 Mercury Cougar…but seeing this all over again on the FR-S? Some elements of retro-futurism MUST DIE!

This trunk needs a serious diet.  Just like the Cougar, when 1983 rolled around and that bustle got borderline beautiful.  Perhaps just raise up the bumper’s middle section to make the trunk a little smaller…but do something, ANYTHING to get that gaping maw outta my face!


Far less annoying is this subtle Bangle Butt on the rear.  Trunks don’t need flame surfacing, nor do they need a solid chunk of chrome tail light for no good reason.  Don’t make me wish this was an AE-86 liftback instead!


The Bangle Butt goes up.  The bumper slides down like Homer Simpson’s gut. The trunk thinks it’s a 1977 Mercury Cougar for a new millennium.  I really hope Toyota cleans this mess up in the mid-cycle refresh.


Flush-mounted tail lights would help too.  The chrome spear adds another layer of gravel to this talus pile of FAIL.  Imagine lights that are flat and form-fitting, and the FR-S could have more of a Lotus Elise “cove” treatment instead!


Another problem: the flat face of the trunk fights the downward sloping curve presented from corner-to-corner of the bumper. I’ll go into further detail, three pictures from now.


I guess the red triangle in the backup lights is cool, but it is another busy element to this convoluted rear deck.  It also reminds me of the over-the-top literal rotary theme on the Mazda RX-8 in the same place: considering their flawed engines, is it no surprise that both of these machines have this quirky styling element?


I’d prefer a smaller version of this emblem on that massive plastic mustache above the license plate instead.  Leave the Scion emblem in its place, but shrink it down a good 25% too.  Then put “FR-S” in the lower RH of the mustache.  Maybe emboss it into the plastic…nah, that’s a bit much: stream of consciousness writing FTL.


Remember what I said about the trunk needing a little slope?  If it leaned (from the top, leave the bottom’s location as-is) juuuust a bit, if the signal light didn’t thrust toward the center of the trunk so violently, there’d be a sweeter face to this sour puss.


The gas filler door is slightly melted over the fender bulge, but not bad enough to offend.  Safe!


One last curve: now you know why my professors/classmates at CCS said my automotive passions handicapped my designs!  How slow can you go? Sure it’s got a pretty face and a lovely hood, but open the bonnet and the FR-S’ retro-futurism officially failed.

Thanks for reading, I hope you have a great week!

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50 Comments on “Vellum Venom: 2013 Scion FR-S...”

  • avatar

    Lotta love; lotta hate. Don’t forget this is a $25k car – you are comparing to vehicles (besides the Yugo) over twice the price (CTS, Cayman).

    All those lines coming together around the A pillar are too busy and cheapens the car – I agree – it looks better (less noticeable) in darker colors.

    Couldn’t find a stock FR-S with the factory wheels to opine on? And Sajeev, no comments on it being “slow” until you’ve driven one. It is certainly faster than your Cougar SVT – it might not feel it but against the clock it is.

    • 0 avatar

      This was the first FR-S I saw in the flesh. I photographed it, wrong wheels and all…course I sat on the photos for months, so that’s my bad.

      It’s obviously slow. Other autojournos aren’t lying in their reviews, and the power curves don’t lie either.

      Maybe it’ll beat a 3.0 Cougar on a tight roadcourse, but 155hp to the wheels vs. 210hp to the wheels with V6 torque isn’t a fair fight.

      • 0 avatar

        this car won more awards than anything else in the past 10 years.

        What journalists are you talking about? Youtube reviews?

        BTW. What car did you design? Nothing? just a big mouth? FAIL.


    • 0 avatar

      A $25K car can have good design just as much as a $125K car (or a $15K car). The cost of doing good design is a drop in the bucked of total car development costs.

      • 0 avatar

        And man…does the 0-60 in 8.1 seconds FR-S have a good design.

        Just like those Chevy Camaros and Pontiac Firebirds from the early to mid 80s.

    • 0 avatar

      Are you kidding me?! Those wheels are a HUGE improvement over the stockers. I’m not even a wheel guy but the stock wheels are downright hideous.

      I may only be an aircraft designer, but I totally agree about the ass-end of the car. WAY too busy. The tail lights are a lost opportunity at an aggressive-but-trimmed look that would have been made with flush-mounted LED tails. Same thing with that trapezoid; it’s a plague that spreads because no one else tries to make a better solution to that area of the car. Lazy.

  • avatar

    I generally disagree with these design assessments, which I find to be way too pedantic, droning-on about minuscule elements and skimming over the overall design intent. The CTS-V coupe makes a strong visual statement. Love it or hate it, it’s unique and powerful an has succeeded overwhelmingly for a brand that has failed miserably in the past. However, while I disagree with the microscope analysis of the FRS, I do feel that it is a bland and unoriginal design. It feels almost 90s nostalgic. With Prius tires and a weaksauce engine, I expect the enthusiasm to drop quickly.

    • 0 avatar
      Jean-Pierre Sarti

      You must not be an ass man because anyone with eyes for asses can see the total and complete abomination of the CTS-V coupe’s ass.

    • 0 avatar

      Unique maybe, but isn’t powerful an inaccurate descriptor? Also, I don’t believe that Sajeev skims over the overall design intent; did you miss all the parts about retro-futurism, aggressive lines, and classic proportions?

      This sort of analysis provides valuable insight into process of designing a car. The stylist’s intent, the engineer’s compromises, and the bean counter’s cost cutting become clearly visible under the magnifying glass.

  • avatar

    What the heck is that thing in the back window? A CHMSL? Why isn’t this better integrated somewhere else? This just looks tacky.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a CHMSL…very 1986 indeed. Nice catch!

      • 0 avatar

        I hate the CHMSL. It sits too tall in the rear window and ruins the view out the back from the inside. Hopefully the aftermarket will come out with something to replace it – maybe a strip along the top of the rear window?

    • 0 avatar

      yeah the tacked on afterthought CHMSL is a sore point of contention

      it also has a horrible set of OEM alloy wheels

      i think there’s a lot of odd stuff individually but overall its a strong statement… and possibly one of the few interesting toyotas of this era

      • 0 avatar

        The factory wheels have grown on me. Not my favorite (is there anything better than an open five spoke design?) but the alternating chrome strips accentuating some of the thin spokes (and they are thin) is a nice element. I’m not sure the fascinating with the japanese manufacturers (at least on my Odyssey and FR-S) with painting the wheel black / dark grey and using chrome facing to change the design look of the wheel.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        I like the JDM 16″ wheels better.[email protected]

  • avatar

    I think they are nice enough looking overall but the sphincter cramp is pretty bad. Good thing you don’t see it when you are driving.

  • avatar
    Freddy M

    Nice review Sajeev. I agree with pretty much all of your points. My buddy took delivery of the Subaru BRZ only two weeks ago, and I did not notice that A-Pillar Fender Door fail until you pointed it out. But I guess I was too caught up in the excitement of seeing his new car in the flesh. And it’s blue so I suppose it doesn’t stand out as much.

    So technically the only difference between the Subie and Scion is the front nose. What’s your take on the Subaru front end styling? I personally like the Scion nose better (but I’d never tell that to my buddy).

    Oh, and from what he tells me, that small red triangle on the rear is actually the housing for the rear fog light which is mandatory in Europe and Japan (?) but deleted for the North American market.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    A well-equipped Fiesta costs the same as this car, stop your niggling of this groundbreaking car and niggle over the Karma, the worst $110k you could ever spend on a vehicle, the Malibu and Fusion have a better interior than that thing!

  • avatar

    Some of the things you are hoping to be fixed will never change.. the trunk is one of them, the fender is another. If there is even a mid-cycle refresh at all, the only things they will change is the easily modified plastic parts… new bumper covers, MAYBE new taillights, but I doubt it. Toyota has a thing for lights that pop out from the body, and one of the first “mods” on the market will probably be blacked out (or fake carbon fibered out) taillights, likely with LEDs too.

    I happen to like the trunk treatment, and if they were to take your advice and make it even smaller how do you think anyone would fit anything through the opening? They really should have made it a hatchback, that works so much better with the fastback styling, but I guess they had their reasons. I would never have noticed the A-pillar issues until you pointed them out, but I can forgive it, considering the price. I am still just happy this car was made. Overall, I think its great looking. I am surprised you didn’t point out any problems with the huge expanse of plastic where the fender vent/logo is?

    • 0 avatar

      I think you nailed it with the hatchback comment, because it would need to be Camaro-like to create my vision. Which isn’t very cool.

      I’m okay with the huge expanse of plastic, I think you can have some fun with it: contrasting colors, wrap it in vinyl, etc. It’s a neat canvas for someone’s creativity.

  • avatar

    Great vellum Sajeev. When brought under the same microscope that yielded the denouement of such luminaries as Lincolns, Infinities and Maybachs, the little Toyo pocket rocket came up short. No surprise. You obviously do your homework on these venoms. The eightysix, well, it aint so great. Some of these design elements are frankly quite shocking coming from Toyota. How long have these guys had to get this thing right? Most of these problems seem to be the product of a late night let’s-just-get-this-thing-out-the-door design session.

    I can’t actually say I’ve ever seen one of these things on the road yet. I’m sure I probably have by now, in fact I must have. It’s just that they are so damned generic looking that I must just look right past them.

  • avatar

    That A pillar mess reminds me of the Chevy Volt. A styling disaster. In general that’s how I feel about the FT86. The more you look into it, the less appealing it is. In that sense it is the antithesis of the original AE86.

  • avatar

    Well, let’s see… here are my thoughts even though no one asked:

    1. That odd emblem below the A pillar; looks suspiciously like the thinly-disguised neo-Nazi swastika. What is that actually for? What does it do? Is there a light in it? I can’t tell. A tacky, clunky execution of the Scion emblem that doesn’t work.

    2. The tail lights look cribbed from a Cruze. No problem with that, just noticing. I also don’t like how they stick out. At least they have chrome on them, so that evens it for me.

    3. The front end in its entirety: Look, I’m sick-and-tired of the fish-maw-demonic-vampire-look. Enough already. How about a full-width grille. That’s a concept, huh? Putting all those angled sticks trying to break up the wide-open look doesn’t cut it and is merely a shortcut in my opinion – but you didn’t ask.

    4. That odd-looking cut on the back of the trunk lid: Reminds me of the shape of a Toyota truck grille. Perhaps intentional, but any and all Toyota truck grilles have been and still are the ugliest things out there, aside from fish-maw-demonic-vampires, of course.

    Overall, it looks like a good young man’s or woman’s run-around car. They should just stop the pretending and call it a “Celica”.

  • avatar

    The RX-8 rear end is thing I just can’t get over. I’ve seen a few FR-S(es?) on the road and they not why I’d call “head turners”. Honestly they look like an updated version of the Toyota Passeo.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m a RX-8 driver. I was chatting in a parking lot with a car lover who saw it and wanted to come over and ask about it today.

      There’s something wrong with the roofline in back. I have no way of getting around or over that. I think it’s inspired by the Gen 1 RX-7 but it didn’t work with the RX-8’s longer midbody. A Gen 2 RX-7 like hatchback would have been a better style, or a vertical flat rear window and partial aero fairing, or pretty much anything else.

      I say these things and grimace slightly on a regular basis. Then I get in, and I can’t see the damn butt from the driver’s seat, and I go run around in the hills for a while and forget about the styling faux pas.

      And then drive home, where I am reminded of it on arrival because my wife drives another RX-8, so pulling in to the driveway I always get a nice close-up view. Again. Sob.

  • avatar

    Overall, I think the car is well proportioned, but unappealing in the details.

  • avatar

    It appears the tail lights are taken from another car, since they fit poorly and have a shape completely unrelated to the space they sit in. Or perhaps they were mounted on the wrong side of the car (which explains why the pointy amber turn signal part is toward the center line rather than toward the side). I don’t see anything here that could be considered ‘classic’ from anywhere under 50 feet…

  • avatar

    About as productive as counting how many peanuts you ate from the night before in your morning dump.

    Hideous car. Talented reviewer/writer wasting time on junk- review the new jag or something good.

  • avatar

    Interesting analysis. That A-Pillar mess is a complete boggle. You’d expect something much better from Toyota.

    Brings to mind one of the most interesting panel intersections I’ve ever seen:
    (headlight, cowl, fender)

    They didn’t have a way to neatly integrate everything behind the hood without making the cabin smaller, so they worked it in as a design element instead of resorting to an ultra-tall fender.

    Now why couldn’t Toyota have done something like that? You know your lines aren’t going to match up, so why not massage them into an interesting design detail, instead of just letting them end up looking so pasted together? At least make the insert slimmer, so the top line can meet the door!

  • avatar

    Holy panel gaps Batman, who put this together, Oldsmobile workers?

  • avatar

    I noticed the grand canyon panel gaps by the 4th picture. This car looks (and judging by inital reports is) shoddly built. As a RWD snob I really wanted to like this car but its price puts it too close to the Genesis and Mustang, the latter gets better MPG with two more cylinders.

    And to those of you who say the 3 don’t compete or wont be cross shoped: Bullshit, the’re all sub 30k rwd sports coupes. Just cause your car gets trumped by the competition doesn’t mean you can declare it to be king of its own class.

  • avatar

    The design of the majority of this car puts me in mind of a modern interpretation of the original Opel Gt though I wish the b-post were canted forward. It is really too bad that the convoluted back end was not so inspired.

  • avatar
    Robert Gordon

    “….metal smith….” = Tautology

  • avatar

    Counting on Toyota and Subaru to make a good looking car… Haha. I couldn’t tell you why but reliable and stylish seem to be at total odds with each other..

    Best looking coupes A5 and Challenger.

  • avatar

    What’s going on with the headlight in picture 4? The pic makes it look like there’s a large open slot between it and the bumper. It doesn’t appear to fit.

  • avatar

    I just love these!

    What amazes me is that it would seem that the mess at the A pillar would be cheaper if it was done right instead of that mishmash. Fewer parts count and easier assembly. One thing that I really like about VW’s, especially the Golf, is that attention to detail through engineering and styling that makes so much sense once you really look at it.

  • avatar

    Thank goodness you didn’t critique the interior, because as much of a mess as the exterior is in places, the interior is just horrific.

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