In case you somehow missed it, I traded my Camero in for a Scion FR-S last Thursday. Since then I’ve put about 350 miles on it, which is enough for a quick oppo review
First of all, let’s clear the air. As many people seem shocked and/or appalled: yes, this really happened. The Mustang is gone, the Scion is here. I just had the title inspected this morning, I didn’t rent or borrow the car.
So why get rid of a 435 horsepower Mustang GT and replace it with a 200 HP torque-less car for the youths?
After last year’s sports car season wrapped up, I started thinking about this season. Having just purchased a house and begun planning a wedding in earnest, I was genuinely concerned about the running costs approaching. I had to replace the Mustang’s all season tires for a not-insignificant cost and I knew from experience that I was staring down a ~$1400 tire bill at the start of the year for autox and track days. My initial plan was to eat that cost and just drive less - do maybe 5 or 6 events instead of 10, one or two trackdays, and call it a year.
As I gave more thought to that plan I began to feel uneasy. Was it really worth giving up all that fun just to save a few bucks? What would my spring, summer, and fall look like if I didn’t participate in these sports? How would I feel at the end of the year with worn out tires and weekends spent at home doing nothing? I decided that wasn’t truly what my heart wanted. I wanted to get out and drive. So I turned my sights to a car that seemed like a promising surrogate for the Mustang: half the power, but less weight, still rear wheel drive, still attractive, selling for about what my Mustang was worth and equipped with tires that cost just over $500 a set.
That car was the Scion FR-S.
I found one in town to test drive about 2 months ago. Going into the test drive I was concerned that my dreams of a cheap season would be crushed behind the weight of the oft derided torque dip. But I came away impressed: these cars are an absolute riot to drive.
The thing about power, I’ve learned, is it’s relative. Yes, 435 HP from a roaring V8 is thrilling and I will absolutely miss the noise and thrust, but I don’t need it to have fun. I recall shopping for my first Mustang, a 2015 Ecoboost, and test driving a BRZ at the time. My goal that year was to get something with real power, so the BRZ was a huge let down. But now that I’ve had real power I didn’t feel burdened by the desire for it. I was able to let the FR-S speak to its strengths.
Nimble, light, sharp - all words that describe driving the FR-S. On center the steering actually feels very similar to the Mustang’s electronic power steering in “sport” mode with one very important difference: as you move even a hair away from center something very strange happens. The car turns. And thanks to its small stature, it can actually slalom and wander in a standard traffic lane a surprising amount.
That quick and direct steering made itself abundantly apparent on the autocross course this weekend. This is easily the most controllable car I have ever driven. Maybe it’s the honeymoon period talking, but I was downright stunned by how easy it was to control when the tires broke loose.
In fact, I can already tell this car has much to teach me. Take the balance between oversteer and understeer, for example. I know, logically, that to correct understeer with a RWD car one should simply add power to get the car to rotate. I tell this to novices on guided coursewalks every event. In the Mustang obviously this is true, but as the front tire squeal for grip the slightest breath on throttle can put it into a wild drift. With the FR-S I entered a turn, felt the front getting away from me, added throttle and immediately the rear end stepped out the at the perfect angle to complete the element with a fast line.
Despite the terrible all season tires I was coping with, I managed consistent times and a 13th place finish in PAX. A far cry from my usual top 3 finish, but downright impressive for a car with a pair of weathered Prius tires on the front.
On the street the story is similar. Sure, my days of blasting to 120 MPH are gone, but the car is so engaging up to 60 it nearly makes up for it. The ride is certainly firm, but not uncomfortable. And the cabin, while spartan, is incredibly well laid out with many nice touches that I’ll share in a later post.
When we put aside our biases and assumptions we open ourselves the new experiences and opportunities. While I will always hold a special place in my heart for the S550 Mustang, and will likely purchase another one in the coming years, the FR-S is hear to stay and I cannot wait to see how far it can go.