(Full disclosure: Neither BMW nor Toyota wanted this review to happen, releasing these cars two years apart and in substantially different market segments. However, one Jalopnik user did clamor for a comparison. As it so happens, my girlfriend's BMW 228i MSport shares garage space with my Scion FR-S and for the small price of a Sunday afternoon and "honey-do" list I was able to get the keys.)
Now most people would be hard pressed to cross shop the budget sports car Scion FR-S (also known as the second coming of automotive nirvana in select circles) with the German luxury coupe BMW 228i. However, I know that Jalopnik readers are hardly rational individuals and a mere $8-10K difference in MSRP does not merit a new category.
The Scion FR-S was released in 2012 with great fanfare and rave reviews as Toyota and Subaru brought the 'sport' back to sports car for the entry level segment. Its 2.0 litre boxer engine, agile handling and driver-focused interior helped to complete its bare bones image and move cars off dealer lots. A few years later, the car still holds is own and has been embraced by the tuning community (and some tasteless examples).
The BMW 228i is an all new platform for 2014, offering a replacement to the RWD 1 Series and introducing a turbocharged four cylinder engine. The 1 Series has grown up a bit, showing sleeker lines and a slightly longer wheelbase. The MSport package adds all the necessary bells and whistle to take this from an ivy league college graduate car to a respected sport coupe. It's a top contender for best car in its segment against the Audi A3 and Mercedes CLA250, and a real bargain for what it offers.
As a sidenote: This FR-S is hardly stock and houses a TRD Cold Air Intake, TRD Catback exhaust, FT86SpeedFactory UEL Catted Header, RCE Suspension Kit, Rota 17x9 Grid-V wheels and Hankook Ventus12 Evo2 245/40/17 tires. Arguablly a fairer comparison when $$ comes into play.
I'll be the first to admit that the Scion FR-S exterior is not everyone's cup of tea. It's boxer engine lends itself well to a low hood line and classic GT looks however, with the wheel arches protruding slightly into the drivers view a la Porsche 911. The falling roofline merges nicely into a stylish yet vanilla rear end. As it sits stock, the car has a bit of a rally stance on stock tires with large fender gap. In a world full of ever larger and boxier cars, it is a breath of fresh air.
The 288i on the other hand, is Germany's latest gift to those still seeking out "enthusiast cars" in BMWs lineup. It is a slightly more grown up, refined and in my opinion stylish remake of the previous 1 series. A crease wraps around the car into BMWs new rear end which feels the same for nearly every numerical designation, this time it gets a tiny integrated spoiler. The front hood extends further to a menacing grill only given to the M235i and Msport packages(pain to clean!), but it works. In estoril blue, it is an attractive car no doubt, however it still feels a bit emasculated in the face of the 3 series.
The FR-S has a fairly Spartan interior, lending itself while to a driver focused cockpit yet lacking in the finer features. The tach is front and center, easily readily as you sit in supportive, well bolstered seats. The shifter falls into place in the palm of your hand and visibility is relatively good. For a budget minded car, its pretty great until you find the stereo or HVAC controls. 6.5/10.
The BMW brings the German touch once again, with leather and a great looking interior. The M seats and steering wheel really shine here, bolstering the driver and providing a near perfect steering wheel size and shape. Indeed, the M sport is a much better car to drive than the base 228i. With ample rear seats (hey, we are are comparing against the FRS here!) and a large trunk, it really is quite livable. 8/10
We all know that the stock FR-S is a bit slower than the public would like, handedly losing stoplight races to a Civic SI, GTI and your neighbors Honda Odyssey. Below 3000rpm it's a mundane grocery getter sipping gas, above 5000rpm it begins to push and really hurl you through twists and turns. As it stands now, my car will embarrass a stock FR-S. The addition a full aftermarket exhaust and header setup has done wonders to the lack of oomph and bumped up the power and torque nearly 15% (this still amounts to a measly 220 HP). Still excite in a straight line it does not, I'll give the car a 6/10.
The 228i is a bit of surprise in this segment, with the turbocharged four cylinder providing low end grunt and laughter inducing acceleration. Sport mode, check. Blip the throttle, point and go and the little BMW obliges, offering a slight woosh as the turbo comes off boost. The 240hp/255lb-ft engine feels nearly WRX like and is a hoot to drive in a straight line. 7.5/10
What can I say, both of these cars provide stellar brakes in light of modern technology. 8/10.
The FR-S ride is harsh, there is no two ways around it. The suspension is stiff and purpose driven, and while a long drive is still comfortable in the car, the small amount of sound deadening is not enough to save you from road noise and vibration. Reviewers all state this cars track oriented design, and after 175 miles on Thunderhill's West Track a few weeks back, I can attest this car really corners and maintain speeds with cars twice to three times it price. If you're seeking a car to run the twisties in, you should give the FR-S a long look. 8/10
Like the FR-S, the BMW also boasts a near 50/50 weight distribution making it rather agile and confidence inspiring. Steering is quick, but it lacks feel. General comfort is a bit softer and more compliant, making it joyful to cruise in morning traffic. Press the //M button and you get another animal altogether with more poised steering and sharper inputs. 8/10
The two car's once again show their European and Asian roots in the gearbox. The FR-S has a snappy 6 speed shifter with short throws and a clutch pedal lacking real feedback. It's light and odd, but you do get used to it and are extremely thankful in stop-n-go traffic. 8/10
The 228i features a silky smooth shifter with mid length throws (too long for my taste), however the BMW clutch pedal is magic. Plenty of feedback and weight, just the way a clutch should feel in my mind. 7/10
Let's face it, the average joe is not going to cross shop these cars. I will say this though, they both offer tremendous driver and economic value in their respective segments. For the casual sports car driver looking for class and agility the 228i M Sport is a serious sleeper at the bottom of BMWs current lineup. Capable of driving to work and hauling a small family without a sweat, yet poised enough to hit the track on Sunday. The FR-S (I might be a bit biased here) is one helluva car, offering a driver focused platform capable of teaching and growing with a young or experienced driver. It might be underpowered, it might be cheap, yet you won't hear people complaining about that when driving it on the right roads. Yes, by my own rating system the 228i wins slightly...damnitt. I still take the FR-S keys most often. I cannot wait to see how both companies develop these platforms in years to come.
2014 BMW 228i MSport
- Engine: 2.0-liter turbo four
- Power: 240 horsepower at 5400 RPM, 255 lb-ft of torque at 1900 RPM
- Transmission: 6 Speed Manual
- 0-60 Time: 5.1 seconds
- Drivetrain: rear wheel drive
- Curb Weight: 3,350 Pounds
- Seating: 4 people
- MPG: 23 City/31 Highway/26 Combined
- MSRP: $32,100 base (36,000 as tested)
- Rating: 38.5/50
2013 Scion FR-S
- Engine: 2.0-liter flat four
- Power: 200 horsepower at 7000 RPM, 151 lb-ft of torque at 6400 RPM
- Transmission: 6 Speed Manual
- 0-60 Time: 6.2 seconds
- Curb Weight: 2,747 pounds
- Seating: "4" - 2 comfortably, 4 if necessary.
- MPG: 26 city/30 highway
- MSRP: $25,500 base (29,000 as tested YAY MODS)
- Rating: 36.5/50