2013 AutoGuide.com Car of the Year: the Scion FR-S

2013 AutoGuide.com Car of the Year: the Scion FR-S

The AutoGuide.com Car of the Year has to be a stand-out winner among its competitors, and whether it’s a compact car, a luxury sedan or a sports car, it must set new benchmarks in its class. It must also be an important car, for the automaker, for consumers and for the automotive history books.

For those reasons the winner of the first ever AutoGuide.com Car of the Year is none other than… the Scion FR-S.

A sports car should be agile, well-balanced, responsive and intuitive, responding to driver inputs. The FR-S takes these qualities to an impressive level and flatters the driver, making almost anyone look and feel like a professional behind the wheel.

An engaging daily drive, hit the track and it’s easy to make this car fly. And yet going fast is hardly the primary objective, of the FR-S, or of any sports car for that matter. Those who think so, as well as those who criticise the fact that it makes “just” 200 hp, have missed the point.

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The big misunderstanding about sports cars is that their most important feature is their ability to go fast. On the contrary, the single most important aspect of a sports car is that it’s fun. Speed is merely a byproduct.

Fun can’t be measured in horsepower, or 0-60 times, or lap records. A qualitative value, what can be quantified is how much you’ll pay. And at just $24,200 the FR-S is the democratization of fun. Regularly compared to sports cars twice its price, the level of driving bliss it delivers has for the most part been unattainable to those outside the one percent.

That same price is also part of the reason why the FR-S has been a hit with younger buyers, with Scion claiming the average age of an FR-S owner is just 31 years old. But it’s far from the only reason.


The Generation Y demographic is one every automaker is trying to crack, packing cars full of novelties, tech features and buzz words in the hopes so-called “millennials” will approve. Generally, they don’t.

And yet here is a car that does get their attention, and their cash, despite having a notoriously nostalgic interior. Instead it delivers a level of fun and coolness that no smartphone can.

If the FR-S has a message for those looking to crack Gen Y, it’s: “If you build it, they will come.”

SEE MORE: Scion FR-S Video Road Test

Long known as a company run by bean counters, lawyers and focus groups, company boss Akio Toyoda says it best, celebrating that fact that the FR-S is, “Built by passion, not by a committee.” The FR-S embodies a philosophy championed by a man who literally risks his life each year to compete at the world’s most daunting race track, the Nurburgring.

The antithesis of modern hypercars, it’s a purists machine. Where its merits really show through is when compared to modern sports cars in its class, which we did, pitting it against the Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T R-Spec on the track. Yes, the Hyundai was faster, but we unanimously said this is rare case where the slower car is the better car and the one we’d buy.

The FR-S isn’t perfect, but what flaws it has are not directly related to its primary purpose. It’s also for this reason that the FR-S beats out the Cadillac ATS and Honda Accord for the 2013 AutoGuide.com Car of the Year.

SEE MORE: Scion FR-S vs Hyundai Genesis Coupe Shootout

As impressive as the Accord is, it’s not a game changer and regardless of our accolades, its reward will come in the form of sales figures and profits for Honda. Considering the ATS, while a major coup for Cadillac in the luxury sports sedan segment, forcing a seismic shift in the notion that BMW is king when it comes to driving dynamics, it is, simply put, a vastly more complex beast.  With so many critical areas in which it had to be amazing in, it’s just not amazing in all of them.

True, the FR-S is a complete niche product, but rather than have that detract from it, it just further emphasizes how impressive (and important) we think it is. With no other car this year were our opinions more concrete. Never once did we suggest the FR-S was one of several sports car to consider. Rather, we said it was the sports car to buy.


But what about the BRZ? With both it and the FR-S engineered and built by Subaru, surely the Subie should get the praise? To that we say: no. And here’s why.

It’s not just that Toyota funded the project, but that the folks at Toyota dreamed it up and carried it through. Left to its own devices, Subaru would never, ever have built this car.

If you want to build the sports car of a generation, you need to hire the right engineers. Toyota just hired a whole automaker.

There are a lot of good cars. But there are very few exceptional ones. The Scion FR-S is an exceptional car. For $24,200 the FR-S doesn’t just live up to the hype, it exceeds it.

  • J Mack

    WTF… you guys are idiots. The Accord is 100Xs better than this crappy pile.

  • Manbo

    Except the Accord is one of the most boring cars I’ve seen all year…

    For me I was considering the BRZ/FR-S or the Mustang.
    The FR-S was a little too metro/Euro for me and went for the ‘Stang.

    I liked the Accord’s sensibility… but man that was a yawn inducing car…

  • Yutach

    When we look back to 2013, will we remember it as the year Honda woke up again, or the year the entry-level sports car segment was thrown on its head?

  • bunga28


    But what about the BRZ? With both it and the FR-S engineered and
    built by Subaru, surely the Subie should get the praise? To that we say:
    no. And here’s why.

    It’s not just that Toyota funded the project, but that the folks at
    Toyota dreamed it up and carried it through. Left to its own devices,
    Subaru would never, ever have built this car.”

    So it’s not “Car of the Year” but “who dreamed up the car” title?  Right?  Your logic for the car of the year is so flawed.  While I love the car (own it, FR-S firestorm red), the title CotY should go to both as they are identical twins (give or take a few moles here, dimples there).  Both companies/cars should be equally praised. In my opinion, praise should be directed more towards Subaru as it engineered/dreamed and built the car.  Toyata was/is just a big uncle with deep bank account. 

    Car of the year should be more about the car, and should not be about the company, gentlemen.  Get it? 

  • Yutach

    This is the Autoguide car of the year.  Not your car of the year, or anyone else’s, but even if it wasn’t, try to find a wiki page about “car of the year logic”.  Get it?

  • J Mack

     I actually think it looks nice, in a classy understated way.

  • Manbo

    Fair enough, to each his own 🙂 Just not my cup of tea.

  • Rob

    I would have to agree that the Scion FRS is the right pick, and the obvious choice. Good selection Autoguide

  • Bobby

     The Accord??????  Are you high, it’s for car of the the year, not refrigerator of the year.  The ATS is easily the winner here, but I guess Toyota paid more for ads.

  • WiseYoda

    No. Can you explain? What is logic, really?

  • Aimless Amus

    Here’s my complaint: the BRZ would have been a better choice because Toyota is a selfish, arrogant company that puts people in danger. They pay out more money in the usa than any other car company because of delaying recalls. That’s crap and I wish there was a better way to punish them for it.

    They also hoard all those TRD goodies and don’t share them with the Scion customers. What a load of crap.

  • J Mack

     You are right about Japan keeping all the awesome TRD goodies.

  • Nsuro80

    I’d bet its so hard to get TRD stuff here because the US is such a litigious country

  • Mattskucas

    The accord is bland as hell guys. No styling changes, itl always be a boring family car. My real problem with this review is the fact that the BR-Z is a better car! Better interior, more quality put into it, its more grown up than the “86”ed out scion, made from shitty cloth interiors. 

  • J Mack

    I think he’s implying that there are “other” reasons for choosing these cars… as in.. they are paid for.

  • Evicmar

    How can you rate the FR-S as the car of the year? Anyone who knows what an AE86 is knows that this car should be the Toyota GT86. Toyota took a crap in the mouths of the American purchasers who know what an AE86 is by branding it Scion and pissed in our faces leaving the 86 badge on the front fenders. Then to make matters worse your thanking them for it!

    FYI, you need to rewatch the Subaru videos that came out when they released the BRZ. Subaru was already working on the BRZ and had 80% of the mechanicals done when Toyota was walked to the table by Fuji Heavy Industries for a co-op. Toyota wanted to make FHI more profitable and asked them to build some cars for them. FHI (Owners of Subaru) said do a co-op with Subaru and make us both more profitable. Toyota would never have gone to the table otherwise!

  • J Mack

     “Crap in the mouths” LOL. But seriously, here’s a great read about the whole FR-S/BRZ thing and who did what. http://www.autoguide.com/auto-news/2011/12/how-the-scion-fr-s-almost-never-happened-and-why-subaru-thought-it-was-a-bad-idea.html

  • Evicmar

     I think you need to look back 6-7 years ago when Subaru announced they were going to split the WRX and Impreza to two separate models. 5-6 years ago FHI pulled Toyota to the table. Subaru said they were already working on a SUV and a sports car. Toyota jumped on the sports car for the co-op. Subaru didn’t think Toyota knew how to build a sports car so it took two more trips to the table and some engineers chatting back and forth for the two to agree to work on the BRZ/GT86. Had this not have happened, we would have a new AWD WRX instead. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad they went the BRZ/GT86 route, but there was a new sports car coming from Subaru no matter what.

  • J Crow

    I actually followed all the way to the video hoping i’d hear a reason why it the scion was chosen over its subaru counterpart, as my interest was in those cars (and choosing a better one). All i got however was no real justification at all. Granted Toyota carried out perfect project planning and development (an area they excel in), and supplied some vitally needed funding and tech (eg. transmission, direct injection) to carry out the project, most of the engineering was still carried out by subaru…i.e. much of its driving technology.
    How can you then say subaru then is the weak partner here. Even the presenter said it, its like the only toyota with such driving promise…wonder why, because its not really a toyota. True, they went much further than hiring good engineers. False, they bought out an automaker. We’ve seen both companies greatly benefit from this and while subaru (partly because of size and its all-wheel drive racing tradition) may not have done this on its own, Toyota as well couldnt.
    Running back to the point…with two cars so very similar, i wanted to know what would have edged this car out in terms of trim, driving dynamics, price, etc, since this is a competition about the overall best car. Instead, i hear sweet superfluous comments about toyota. I agree with the commentors, someone was bought out. I went somewhere else and actually got my answer. Sorry AutoGuide, you really didnt actually help me here. 

  • yo

    wow people! I hate to tell you..but besides you three…NO ONE CARES that it is named a SCION!! Mainly cause all you old turds no NOTHING about what is cool now. Go back to watching Jeopardy!

  • Cbaker37

    So which did you decide you like better?

  • guy r. johns

    after retiring from Subaru they finally built my kind of car. (old school rear wheel drive) I have much fun with the Justy  and hope the people will love the BRZ or Toy model

  • SO much BS in this article. Toyota paid for the R&D and subaru did 90% of the car. Only thing Toyota did was help with the direct injection system and the body styling. 

  • James Buff

    Thank you for including your own comparo of the FR-S to the Genesis Coupe (2.0-turbo), as this is the car I frequently compare the FR-S to when attempting to show that you can get a very similar vehicle (Japanese RWD coupe) with considerably more power (74HP) for less money.

    Sadly, Scion/Toyota will leave it to TRD to force air into this engine, where I have no doubt that Subaru will be putting a turbo kit on at the factory in the coming years (since they like to throw turbo’s on all their other cars). And ultimately that’s what this car is missing, more power either via displacement or forced induction.  But by the time that’s done, we can start the FR-S vs Genesis V6/Nissan 370 comparo’s.

    And here’s a wild card:  why buy an FR-S when you can spend $15-20K to buy a pristine late-model (2006+) Honda S2000:  the handling is just as balanced, it’s got 40 more horsepower and it’s a convertible.  I asked myself the exact same question back in November…and bought the S2000 instead.

  • Evicmar

    Wow, I didn’t know that being 25 years old classified me as an “old turd”. A college roommate clued me in to an anime series called “Initial D”. As an 18 year old who was getting into cars it got me a lot of info I did not have about Japanese cars. It also got me to do more research into the AE86. So my view point is from that of someone who knew what the car was.

    PS: After looking it up you need to rewatch F&F Tokyo Drift. You’ll catch something a lot of people miss.

  • Yutach

    Point is, they’re not declaring fastest to 100mph, or most headroom, it’s a subjective test, so the reasons Autoguide uses don’t have to be the same as other review sites.  There’s no recipe for car of the year.  This is just the one they thought was most deserving of recognition.

  • truequintessence

    I just bought a BRZ over this because I support subaru and believe subaru had most if not everything to do with making this car what it is. They are pretty much identical so I don’t understand what this guy is saying when he pretty much acts like the Sub verison is inferior. Obviously it was payed for by Toyota to try and save them from bankruptcy. (Another reason they went to subaru to save their sorry asses)