For starters, while hype was high, our expectations were low. It’s a Toyota, so how much fun could it possibly be, we mused?
To which hype-defenders would retort; “yea, well, Toyota built the Supra.” A large and monstrously powerful machine, it’s earned a reputation for high-speed runs and drag racing, not on carving twisty canyon roads, the auto-cross course or nailing apexes at your local track.
“What about the MR2,” they’d say? Good point, but have you ever heard the rumor it was designed by Lotus?
Toyota hasn’t build a sports car in so long they didn’t even have the skilled personnel to do it. So it was engineered and manufactured by Subaru. Any praise it might earn, therefore, might best belong to the Subie folks.
And then we drove it. Or should I say, I drove it. Flying to Japan to be one of a the first of a handful of people outside Toyota to get behind the wheel.
With four different models ready to hit the track, it wasn’t until car number four that the Scion FR-S hit me like a revelation.
First up, I drove a right-hand drive model. And on a new track, shifting with my left hand and side-to-side weight transfer the opposite of what I’m used to, I could have set a better lap time in a Prius.
Then came seat time in two models equipped with the brand’s six-speed automatic, and being able to pick up speed and confidence in the left hand drive car I was most impressed with just how surprisingly good the automatic transmission is.
Just six laps and three cars in with the track now in my mind, my rotation through the cars was ideal, landing me in a silver model with six-gears to row myself and the steering wheel on the right (or should I say proper, and therefore left) side.
All it took was one corner and the amazing dynamics of the FR-S were evident, immediately making it one of the most enjoyable cars to drive, regardless of the price. Inspired, I wrote, “The Scion FR-S is the return to the roots of what makes a sports car a sports car.”
Combining light weight, amazing balance, a low center of gravity and strong brakes the FR-S will do exactly what you ask it in a way that’s intuitive and easy. And let’s not forget the tiny, thick rimmed steering wheel, slick shifter and those seats — all for less than $25,000.
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In fact, as good as the $24,200 price is, it’s even better when you consider the Scion mono-spec pricing policy means that no expensive option packs are required.
While the low grade interior is a certain drawback, the only performance complaint we can make are the junk tires. On the positive side, the budget rubber makes the FR-S both more affordable and, perhaps, more fun. True, there are other cars out there that want to hang the back end out like the FR-S, but they also want to come right around. The FR-S will make any driver feel like a pro.
And that can perhaps give way to one other criticism (or disguised compliment), that the FR-S might create a generation of drivers who think they can handle a rear-drive sports car, only to find that it’s much harder in other rear-powered machines.
Some would say the car’s 200 hp is also a drawback, being too little for a true sports car. At just 2,700 lbs, this simply isn’t true. It’s capabilities leave plenty on the table for many a driver and, more importantly, such criticisms are from those who fundamentally misunderstand the car.
An affront to technology the FR-S is designed not for maximum driving performance, but maximum driving fun.
SEE MORE: Read the Complete TGIF[R-S] Series
Since our first drive in Japan a year ago we’ve driven it on two other race tracks in two other countries and Features Editor Sami Haj-Assaad even purchased one himself, inspiring an entire series of articles.
So what stands in the way of the Scion FR-S becoming the AutoGuide.com Car of the Year? Could it be the cheap interior? Or a better sports car? After all, is the Subaru BRZ not more deserving? But was it even nominated?
You’ll have check back next week to find out when we profile out second nominee for the AutoGuide COTY.