I was able to take a short drive in an Automatic Scion FRS recently. The drive was kept brief because I had asked for a manual, and was “just getting a feel for it so I could see if I wanted to order a manual”. Obviously this was not an ideal situation for a review but it did get me some seat time in this hot new car that is selling off the shelves, so I took what I could get for the time being. What follows are my first impressions on the Scion FRS, expect a full fledged review once I am able to get my hands on one with a clutch pedal for a decent amount of time.
First off was the color, a dark blue that I had never seen even in pictures. I found it gorgeous, and if I were buying one, I think this just became my preference. Proportionally the FRS is quite small, not much larger than a Miata actually. It offers some decent trunk space, especially with the seats down, so it can be more practical than it appears. For people with legs though, the back seats are almost useless. It is a short range three-seater at best, but really those rear seats are there just for insurance purposes.
From the driver’s seat, everything is well laid out and functional. There isn’t much artistic flair because this car is meant to be driving focused. The seats are great, nice and snug with great bolstering. Driving position is good as well, and the steering wheel is rather small and easy to wield.
On the move the FRS drives exactly like you would think if you knew how it was designed. The ultra low center of gravity makes it very planted on the road. It drives nice and sharp, with the chassis responding to inputs briskly. The FRS also has the best electric steering I have ever experienced, it is light and very quick, and it adjusts well to the speed of the car. I am not a hug fan of electric steering because it lacks road feel, but this was actually quite engaging overall; I applaud their efforts. In hard corners the FRS is phenomenal, the chassis is communicative and sure footed, a real point and shoot experience. It is definitely an exciting car to drive from a handling perspective, if there are corners to carve this is the tool.
Speed wise it is a lot like a Miata, and I say that in the truest of senses. It gains speed well enough, but that is not the party piece here. On the bright side though, it will get over 30mpg on the highway, so it is give and take. The engine is decent, not bad sounding but not great either; those of you looking for the “boxer rumble” will be disappointed though.
This brings me to the transmission, the automatic. In action it is not too bad; there are shift paddles and it is basically the same system as in the Lexus ISF, so shifts are quick. However, a slushbox is still a slushbox, and it doesn’t offer the connection you get with a stick, or even the halfway sensation you get with a Dual Clutch. That is an ok trade to make on a car that has lots of power or luxury, but the FRS is purely about the enjoyment of driving. It is not sensational on paper at all, and it doesn’t really do anything to the extreme. The entire appeal of the car is being a fun, connected driving experience, so why would you want to take 80% of that aspect away from it? It is like paying $50 for a day at the amusement park, and not riding any of the roller coasters, you just aren’t getting the experience. Honestly, if you are considering an FRS, either buy the stick (learn if you have to) or buy something else. It is a great car dynamically, and I imagine that it will be a phenomenal driving experience with a clutch pedal, but with the automatic it basically just falls on its face. The traction and stability control cannot even be defeated on the automatic version. It is as if Toyota knows that people who will buy the auto aren’t serious drivers, so why buy a driver’s car at all then? You don’t have the driving connection so you are just left with a very mediocre car that handles kind of well. If there is any car out there that MUST be a manual, it is the FRS because its entire appeal depends on it.
So that about sums up my initial impressions. The biggest thing you can take away from this is that the automatic transmission ruins the car. People looking for an auto should forget this car exists and go buy a Genesis, or a Mustang, or a bus pass, or a bicycle, or maybe just throw someone some gas money for a ride to work everyday. I imagine it will be great with a stick shift because it has all of the ingredients in its chassis, but I’ll have to wait until I find a manual one to try out properly.
WoM Score: Scion FRS (Automatic)
Primary Function: Performance: 1…….. handles great, but the auto loses driving dynamics
Secondary Functions: Practicality(1), MPG(2): 1.5
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 0……. Driving dynamics are the whole point of the FRS, you lose those, you lose your reason to buy the car
Final Score: 6.5/10