“No Jake, you can’t be serious!” my grandfather exasperated, “that car is so beautiful why would you get rid of it”. He put his hand on his forehead and quietly groaned. Needless to say my grandfathers reaction to the comment that I was considering trading in my 2015 Mustang GT matched many reactions to the same news. For many people, car enthusiast or not, I had a dream car. A Ford Mustang with the proper engine – a snorting, high output, five liter V8. It was a big coupe with great styling, good handling, and an amazing noise. To some, owning a GT Mustang is the pinnacle, the goal, the standard. If you own one and decide to trade it in surely it’s for a newer mustang with more power and noise. I traded mine in for a Scion.
Back in late January I reached a decision point in my car enthusiast life. Over the last 5 years I had come to experience a wide reach of the car world. I’d owned 6 vastly different cars, driven countless more, participated in many autocrosses, and even driven on a track. I’d gone to car shows, drag races, worked a corner at a road race, served as autocross chair and regional executive of my local SCCA chapter. I’d made many friends in the car community with a diverse set of cars, all the way from broken 20 year old Lexuses to the cheapest McLaren for sale in the USA.
As I looked to the year ahead a little voice in my head started getting louder. There’s a problem with making cars your primary hobby – they’re expensive. The vehicles themselves can be costly to acquire, and as you explore performance driving outlets the costs add up. The entry fees aren’t usually the problem, it’s everything else. Fuel, brake pads, fluids, maintenance, and tires. Late January is when I typically make my first tire purchase of the year for autocross. The last few years with my Mustangs that was a set of Bridgestone RE-71Rs. At nearly $300 a tire, this was always the biggest single expense on my vehicle each year. And for the last 3 years I’d made that purchase twice as the aggressive ‘200’ treadwear compound sheared away after a few months. This was not sustainable, as getting older had started to catch up. I purchased a home last October. I’m getting married this October. As the tire costs pile up, so do all the other ones.
I told myself I would just drive less. Do half as many autocrosses. Take it easy at track days. Enjoy the car, but in small doses, and stretch that tire purchase out as long as possible.
Who was I kidding?! That was never an option. I love it all too much. Which left me with only one option: swap out my beloved Mustang for a car with more affordable running costs.
Enter the 2015 Scion FRS. It has half as many cylinders as my Mustang did with half as much power. It weighs almost 1000 pounds less though, and a set of good tires costs a third as much as those meaty Mustang shoes. Now that I’m a few months in, am I still happy with the decision?
Yes. I absolutely am.
The Scion FR-S is a fantastic car. Small, light, nimble, and an absolute joy to drive quickly. On the street stiff yet reasonable ride and lack of body roll makes the car feel solid, and the steering response is fast and communicative. I had worried that giving up the size and comfort of the Mustang would be a drag, but the Scion holds its own. There’s enough room up front to share the space with my fiancée without bumping elbows too much, and the trunk easily holds a week’s worth of groceries with room to spare. The seats are much more supportive than the Mustang’s but without feeling intrusive like the Recaro’s on the Focus and Fiesta ST do to me. My only complaint inside is the center console set up: the Scion doesn’t have a ‘lid’ on its center console as there is a repositionable cup holder where it would be. With how low the driver sits it isn’t an issue for comfort – the elbow naturally rests on the edge or on the parking brake. But while the cupholders hold in an American sized drink with little issue, no matter which of the two positions they are in it is uncomfortable to actually use them. Either it gets in the way of the shifter or is awkwardly far behind your back. The radio and instrument cluster are delightfully simple and the manual A/C controls move with solid feeling clicks and slides.
I’ve always been a fan of the FR-S’s exterior styling and that remains unchanged as I’ve been up close with mine. It’s simple yet tasteful, with interesting details like the boxer badge on the front fender. The face has an attractive aggressiveness to it, while the rear is compact and simple. Washing it is a joy as it takes about 30 minutes to do a full handwash thanks to the diminutive size, and I’m rewarded by a brilliant blue sparkle in the sun thanks to the Ultramarine finish mine came equipped with.
Where the FR-S truly shines though is on an autocross course. I’ve been fortunate to drive many, many different cars at autocross. I’ve driven stock Miatas of every generation, prepped Miatas of a few, and even a stripped Miata with no windshield and huge racing slicks. I’ve driven base Focii and Focus STs and a Focus RS. I’ve driven all 3 current variants of the S550 Mustang: Ecoboost, GT, and a GT350R. I have even driven a McLaren MP4-12C and been immortalized on youtube demolishing a cone with 650 British horsepower.
That may seem like a humble brag, and it most certainly is. It also puts weight behind the following words – the Scion FR-S is the best car I’ve ever autocrossed. The handling is best described in a cliché – sublime, like a go-kart. Steering response is basically instant and precise. Mechanical grip levels are impressively high. Placing the car exactly where I want it has never been easier. In fact it’s so good that I frequently start steering instinctively too early and have to back off to avoid hitting a cone.
My FR-S is set up to have a loose rear end. I’m sure some of that is by design from the factory, and I personally am a huge fan. It’s tail happy but immensely controllable. As the rear steps out a light countersteer brings it back in line. Around big sweepers it can be steered with throttle, a saying I had always heard but never truly understood. Not rotating fast enough? Give it more gas. Over-rotating too quickly? Let off. The tendency towards a drift makes you look and feel like a hero, but if you keep it under control it rewards you with fast times without requiring much compromise for the ride home.
In the end, the Scion FR-S is exactly what it seems to be. A practical sports car, one that can be lived with to and from the office and competitive on the track. While its well known power deficiency can disappoint, when the taps are unlocked and the car is at its limit it truly shines as one of the best platforms out there.