Test Driven: Scion FRS Automatic, Nick’s Impressions (6.5/10)

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.

Notice the paddle shifters, they work well but its still an automatic gearbox with no connection.

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

-Nick Walker

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18 thoughts on “Test Driven: Scion FRS Automatic, Nick’s Impressions (6.5/10)”

  1. Di you drive this car with the transmission in “Sport” mode? It allows faster shifts and as far as I can tell, allows you to turn off Traction and Stability control.

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    1. It was in sport the whole time. The salesman said the assists couldn’t be totally defeated, but obviously most of them aren’t experts. The point is that the automatic ruins the car overall.

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  2. You CAN disable traction control. There is a button inside to do it temporarily. ALL traction/stability systems can be disengaged through tech stream permenantly if you wish. Auto or manual. Doesn’t matter.

    SOURCE: I am the Scion manager at my Toyota/Scion dealership. I specialize in this car.

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  3. I’ve had a manual transmission 2004 WRX for basically the last decade, and when I traded in for my new FR-S, I opted for the automatic. I live in Atlanta, where traffic tends to get pretty awful, so being able to just put the car in drive and not have to worry about wearing my clutch leg out in stop-and-go traffic is super nice (plus I have a 25 mile commute to and from work, so the extra mileage on the automatic helps save on fuel costs). I found the paddle shifter response and the automatic’s gearing perfectly satisfying for day-to-day driving, and even in the “spirited” driving I’ve done with the car, the automatic has held it’s own, completing shifts faster than possible in a manual, and perfectly rev-matching on downshifts. It’s not shy about downshifts, either – it will let you shift down even if the gear you’re shifting to requires 6 or 7K RPM to match the current gear.

    Honestly, this review sounds like a bunch of elitist crap to me. If you’re interested in the car, try it yourself, don’t “buy the manual or buy something else” on the word of this guy.

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    1. Elitist crap? This is a 25k car we are talking about here. I’ve driven both, and my impressions are as such. The automatic has no connection with the driver. Sure the auto may shift “quicker than a manual” or blip the throttle on downshifts. But that is exactly the point…. the car is doing it, not you. That takes most of the fun out of driving this type of car… other than the handling it’s got nothing else without the manual.

      Also, the auto doesn’t really get better mpg than the manual, that is an on-paper marketing ploy by Toyota to give people an excuse to buy the slushbox. Real world results show, as always, that the manuals are better on gas. Simple mechanical reality, a torque converter just wastes more energy.

      I’m glad you enjoy your FR-S, good for you. But you could have spent your money better in my opinion. It’s not elitist, it’s just a well informed opinion I have after sampling both versions.

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      1. Manual driving is a lot of fun as you feel you are a part of the car, but you are suggesting that automatic transmissions are what takes the fun out of the FRS. I believe that is not a fair assessment as automatic transmissions generally take the fun out of any car due to the lost feeling you have with the auto shifting. Your logic must be applied to any other car that uses automatic transmissions and that is not sufficient grounds to fault such vehicles. For day to day driving in traffic, automatic is appropriate and easier. Since most FRS owners would be driving them in the city and not on the track, those auto transmissions are quite capable of mimicking manual transmission performance.

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      2. No I’m saying it ruins the FRS because the FRS is a car that is entirely about offering a connected driving experience. Thus, taking the manual tranny out of the equation does ruin it for its intended purpose.

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      3. The auto is geared less agressively. Far less agressively. That’s why it gets better gas mileage. Look, I love manuals as much as any other guy but I don’t need to make up facts or act like a cunt about it.

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  4. I drove the auto today idk but i found it to be as fun as the manual. It comes down to preference but the auto its not bad at all.

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  5. I have an automatic FRS. I have driven the manual as well. Unless you are racing or on a type of road where you are constantly shifting, there is no more driver connection to the car with an auto or manual on regular highway driving. The paddle shifters can give you almost as much of the sensation of manually changing gears when you want that option, which is the nice thing about the auto. I just don’t understand why people talk trash about driving automatic sports cars as if their preference of having a manual sets the standard for everyone else. That’s not being a “driver”, that’s arrogance.

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    1. It is totally untrue that pushing a button to change gear gives you as much tangible connection to a car as shifting a manual gearbox. Simply from a perspective of an actual physical connection to the gears being shifted. When you pull the shifter paddle, you tell the car’s computer you want to shift (in cyberspace) and then the computer activates the automated shifting mechanism to actually shift… you literally have no direct connection, and the computer can deny your shift. When you shift a manual gearbox the gear lever is physically connected to the gears being changed by way of a physical linkage. There is an actual connection between the driver’s hands and the mechanical action that is happening.

      From my own experience, I find I often need to look down at the dash to know what gear I’m in in a paddle shift car, whereas in a manual I always know what gear I’m in because I physically put it there. This is a common issue for anyone used to driving manual who drives a paddle shift car. And it happens because of the lack of tangible connection to what the car is doing.

      Also, regarding your first sentence. The automatic is likely faster around a track than a manual. The point of the manual is for driving engagement and enjoyment. If you don’t see that, then you can’t consider yourself a “driving enthusiast”, but more just someone who “likes cars”… there are plenty such people out there, and they are who purchase automatic sports cars lol.

      So thanks for buying the superficial automatic FRS I don’t want because it helps Toyota continue to make the manual FRS I do want.

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