Scion FRS Release Series 1.0 Car Review
The Scion FRS has been on sale since 2012. We recently picked one up as a dealer loaner car (yup, that’s odd), and figured it was due a review. This isn’t your girlfriend’s base model, but the limited edition FRS Release Series 1.0. Yeah, that name is too long, but Scion went under in 2016 so they don’t care. Here’s what the car is like.
The Scion FRS is often called a Toyobaru due to the co-development of parent companies Toyota and Subaru. The collaboration made an entirely unique set of cars in the FRS and currently the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86. The Toyobaru is a lightweight rear-wheel drive 2+2 sports car in the traditional old-school theme. With Toyota’s emphasis on green tech, and Subaru’s recent turn to “love” in all their commercials, I really have no idea how something sporty came out of their collaboration.
Lots of strengths
With a long nose, small cabin and short overhangs, the FRS looks like a traditional sports car. In the same price range, the Mazda Miata MX-5 RF looks edgier and upscale. There are some Subaru touches that show in the tail lights and lower bodywork, but instead of an overblown WRX STi, you get an overall clean Toyota, more like what could have been an eighth generation Celica. The TRD body kit disrupts the clean lines of the FRS, but it’s not outright bad like all the kits on eBay. Sure, it’s heavy handed, but it works.
The only engine available for the FRS is the 4U-GSE, a 2.0L flat four cylinder. It’s a Subaru design, and produced in one of their plants, and then shipped to Toyota. The internets say it sits lower in the engine bay than even the Nissan GT-R. It has an unbelievably high compression ratio of 12.5:1, which is why it prefers 93 octane. The result is 200 horsepower at 7000 rpm, and a paltry 151 lb-ft at 6600 rpm. That torque sounds sad, but those are S2000 figures, so it’s actually decent in the real world.
The transmission options for the RS1 are the same as the base model, a choice of 6-speeds in manual or auto. This car was equipped with an auto, and it proved surprisingly capable. It would shift appropriately for everyday gas mileage, but push the sport button and it shifts hard and holds the gear well before downshifting when slowing. There’s paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, but I just let it be an auto and figure it out. With Dynamic Rev Management, the software did a better job than I could. Reviews say the manual is just about the best available at any price, but I didn’t get to try one out.
The steering is the definition of perfect. The thick wheel feels great in your hands, and feedback is enormous. It’s still electric, like everything else these days, but makes you think of the Porsche 911 GT3. It’s quite a statement that I’m comparing a $30,000 car to a $140,000 supercar, but it’s that good. The steering is absolutely brilliant and reason enough to own this car.
Front suspension is pretty standard MacPherson struts and coil spring setup, common to every affordable sporty car since 1980. The rear is quite a step up from your old pony car, with an independent double wishbone design, centered by a limited slip differential. The RS1 has TRD lowering spring to drop it an inch versus the base model, and slightly thicker swaybars. With 53/47 weight distribution, the engineer’s hard work shines in a well-balanced car. This car is flat in the corners and ready for a track day. It feels like it is far more capable of pushing limits than you are, but it’s also noob-friendly and it won’t mind showing you how it’s done.
The brakes are great, there’s no other way to say it. Front rotors are 11.6” in diameter, and the rears are slightly smaller. That doesn’t sound large, but they have to stop less than 2,800 lbs of car, so they proved more than enough on the street. Pedal feel is exactly what you would want, with just the right amount of grab and logical and progressive bite as your push it towards the floor. Everything should brake this well.
A few weaknesses
The downside to excellent handling is typically a rough ride, and the FRS is no exception. It’s not punishing, but it is a bit much for a daily driver. Despite the harshness, the car doesn’t get unsettled over crappy roads. Dips, bumps, cracks, through an off-camber turn, whatever. It doesn’t care, and remains Toyota quiet through it all. Really, rather than the harshness of the suspension, it makes one notice how crappy our roads are.
While there are no rattles, there is a bit of engine drone. The 2.0L is a pretty sweet engine, but it is buzzy at times. Going from memory, it sounds almost exactly like the 4G63T in the Evo VIII, minus the turbo noises. Not terrible for a four banger, but it’s certainly no Jaguar F-Type R.
Speaking of loud, the Release Series 1.0 was only available in “Yuzu Yellow.” Yuzu is apparently Japanese for “eye punching” as the color seems to be shouting at everyone, all the time. It has a school bus feel to the hue, but while safety yellow isn’t the most beautiful color, you’ll also never lose it in a parking lot.
Spending five days with it, over the weekend and a couple days grind to work, it made me understand the reasoning behind the FRS/BRZ. It’s fun, in a less-is-more way. It looks like few other cars on the road, and the small size and agile steering make it nimble in any situation.
This is not the car for everyone. Read anything online and trolls will be shouting “Where’s the horsepower, bro?!” as if every car currently made needs to compete with the Hellcat. What they don’t understand is the point of this car. It’s not a drag racer. It wasn’t designed for sick launches to throw up on YouTube for the comments. This car is finesse. It has just the right amount of power for the weight and suspension. As is, with 200 horsepower, it was tail happy. The FRS will gladly light up the rear tires as you drift your way around every corner. Just like drifting, the FRS is not the fastest way to get around. But it sure is entertaining.
How fun is it? I tried to buy the loaner. Unfortunately this RS1 was in a flood, and totaled by insurance before being rebuilt by the dealer. It’s their permanent loaner. So, not for sale, as they didn’t want to take a massive loss, and I wasn’t willing to pay full NADA value for a car that lists as worthless. Still, I’m on the hunt for a new weekend driver. It probably won’t be a Release Series 1.0, but any FRS or BRZ will make for a delightful weekend car or even daily driver.