Welcome to the first installment of a new Friday feature on AutoGuide: TGI FR-S. Focused on Scion’s new sports car, it’s not a review, or a behind the scene’s look at how the rear-drive Toyota came to be; rather it’s one auto journalist’s first-hand account of buying an FR-S, from the decision, to delivery, to life with perhaps the most hyped sports car of our time.
The Scion FR-S, Toyota GT 86, or Subaru BRZ is a car that is on the mind of almost every automotive enthusiast. Rather than just think about it, or even talk about it, I’ve decided to drive one, every day, putting down my hard earned cash and parking the back-to-basics sports car in my driveway.
Despite what you might think, it was not an easy decision. I jumped back and forth from buying a used car, to buying a new one. I thought I wanted a practical sedan, not a light and low sports coupe. In terms of performance, I wondered if I’d like a turbo-charged four-cylinder, instead of the quirky flat-four found in the Scion.
As I said, it wasn’t easy. My first choice for a new car was the Hyundai Veloster. It was stylish in a geeky way. It has tons of packaging, like navigation, a back-up camera, a hefty sound system, and it even has a practical element to it thanks to its third door.
However, it just wasn’t tickling me in the right way. It’s engine was lacking a considerable amount of everything, and its ride was uncomfortably firm and twitchy. My mind told me to wait for the Turbo model coming this summer, but my heart wandered.
FIRST SIGHT: 2009 TOKYO AUTO SALON
The FR-S planted a seed in my mind years ago, back when I was a student and when I was still dreaming about being an automotive journalist. I remember the rumors of what was then called the ‘Toyobaru’, in reference to its shared Subaru and Toyota heritage. Then there was the reveal of the FT concept car at the 2009 Tokyo Auto Salon. And then the years of waiting, with another updated concepts revealed every few months, further unravelling its charms to the world.
Those concepts had sharply sculpted headlights and a stylish interior that looked like an automotive version of Darwin’s Missing Link, where a simple dash was trying to evolve into that of a spaceship’s.
Once unveiled in production form the finished product rekindled that image. It wasn’t as crazy as the concepts, but it made up for it in one key way: pricing. It fit the price point, I had to at least give it a test drive.
Now employed as an auto journalist, I didn’t have to wait for a chaperoned tour around the block by my local dealer, and found myself in an FR-S on a Saturday morning at a large autocross course. It ruined the rest of my car search. It changed my perspective on what an affordable sports car could be. It wasn’t a big shouty Mustang or Camaro, it was something else. Yes, it was nimble, light weight and fun, but it was also a lesson.
You see, although I’m an enthusiast, I wouldn’t call myself a traditional one. I love cars, respect them, and enjoy learning more and more about the industry. But I’ve also never owned a car that was worthy of my passion.
Prior to the FR-S I drove a 2002 Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Sure, on the surface that sounds wonderful, who wouldn’t want a comfy, rear-wheel drive sport-sedan with a smooth V6? But after 150,000 hard driven miles the C-Class wasn’t what it used to be. It’s leather interior had deteriorated and rust had begun to sprout from the body panels. It’s endless suspension issues, and electrical problems, had worn on me in a way that would keep most people from ever considering a Mercedes again.
Seeing it go now, I’ll admit to loving the car, but as I haggled over its trade-in value, I felt like I had learned my lessons from the old German, and it was time to move on.
NEW AUTOMOTIVE DIRECTION
The FR-S represents a hole in my automotive knowledge. I’ve never had a sports car. In fact, I’ve never owned a vehicle with a manual transmission. I don’t heel-toe or know how to sustain a drift. I was used to being coddled, having my car do the driving for me, having grown up in an era of traction and stability control.
In many ways my reason for wanting the FR-S has more to do with my ambitions and goals. I want to learn how to be a better driver and everything I had read up until I got behind the wheel mentioned that the FR-S rewards good drivers, and requires skill to really drive it. And so I bought it like you’d hire a tutor. It’s not a high-tech sports car and won’t do my homework for me, rather, it will help me learn.
But there’s another reason still that I bought an FR-S. It was developed under a unique partnership with Subaru and with a rekindled enthusiasm for performance vehicles at a new Toyota that’s transforming from a brand that defines itself based on reliable beige appliances to one that cares about enthusiasts. A turning point for that company, it’s a car that’s defying a high-tech trend, returning to the basics of driving fun and is almost certain to be remembered as a watershed moment in the automotive history books.
Decades from now, when people talk about the FR-S, I’ll be able to say: I had one of those.
Are you an FR-S owner, or thinking about becoming one? Join our FR-S forum at FR-SForum.com
Check back next Friday when AutoGuide Features Editor Sami Haj-Assaad takes delivery of his Scion FR-S.