The Scion FR-S is a gorgeous, joy-generating, modest-price, small sports coupe that turns out to be slightly more appealing than its near-clone, the Subaru BRZ.
The near-clones are products of a joint development project between Scion parent Toyota and Subaru. They deliver an almost unbelievable amount of driving satisfaction for $25,000 to $30,000. They also deliver pretty good fuel economy for the lively way they encourage you to drive.
Despite their similarities, the FR-S test car made a little bit better impression than the BRZ did.
Can't be, you say. Two peas in the proverbial pod. Same factory, same hardware, same general styling with a few tweaks.
But the Scion starts $1,315 less because it does without (even as options) the Subaru's standard navigation and high-intensity discharge headlights. It also has just one version, with choice of transmission; BRZ offers two trim levels.
And FR-S felt a tiny bit better behind the wheel in several subtle ways, though that could simply be because the Scion test car came off the line later than the BRZ we tested and perhaps had a few tweaks. The Scion test car:
Shifted easier. The manual gear lever is stiff, as is the Subaru's, but the Scion seems to move a bit more smoothly from gear to gear. Scion's clutch action feels a tad gentler so there is less chance of killing the engine at a light or starting uphill.
Rode more smoothly. Should have been no difference, as they have the same 17-inch high-performance summer tires with stubby 45-series sidewalls that offer little "give" over bumps.
Looked better. Reasonable people often disagree on matters of taste, but to our eyes the FR-S has a smoother silhouette.
The FR-S front fender is blemished a tad by an "86" badge, a reference to the 1980s Corolla AE86 that Toyota remembers as a sporting car of touchstone status (which seems like euphoric recall to us). The faux vents on the front fenders are bigger, less artfully integrated on the BRZ.
The Scion ethic, if you will, seems more pure. The idea of the car(s) is a return to affordable, sporty, sexy sports cars, to sort of recapture the excitement of the original Mazda Miata.
To that end, Scion doesn't offer lots of luxury items as the Subaru does -- such as heated seats, automatic climate control and so on -- and comes in just one trim rather than two. We suspect that Scion buyers would like those features but also likely wouldn't miss 'em.
But there's no sense of driving an incompletely outfitted car: FR-S has fog lights, one-touch up/down power windows, satellite-radio compatible stereo, leather-covered steering wheel rim and shift knob, contrasting upholstery stitching.
No navigation offered, but a $200 aftermarket unit could be generally handier and easier to update than a factory built-in.
And don't mourn the Scion's lack of the BRZ's fancy headlights. HID systems have such razor-sharp beam cutoffs (in a failed attempt to avoid shining up into the eyes of oncoming drivers) that you can't see anything even a little above the light's reach. Good normal headlights provide generous illumination and give you a little light scatter at the fringes to spot something lurking just beyond the lights.
Neither BRZ nor FR-S offers a backup camera or multi-adjusting visors. Their tiny back seats are more for small hostages than passengers.
And because the cars come with summer-tread, high-performance tires, and are low to the ground, you'll need at least snow tires, more likely a separate winter vehicle, if you live where snow accumulates even a little.
At some point in shopping for cars of this type, you forget the flaws and embrace the joys. That seems proper. Both the Scion and the Subaru can satisfy you deeply. Fancy-feature lovers perforce must pick the Subaru, but the Scion has a very slight edge on the joy index.
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