“I have to buy one of these,” I said. It took just one corner, one gear change and one easily controllable slide in the Scion FR-S to convince me that it was a fantastic sports car.
Engine: 2.0-liter flat four with 200 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: Six speed manual or six speed automatic
Fuel Economy: Manual: 22 MPG city, 30 MPG highway, 25 MPG combined. Automatic: 25 MPG city, 34 MPG Highway, 28 MPG combined.
Fuel Economy (CAD): Manual: 10.9 l/100kms city, 7.9 l/100 kms highway, 9.6 l/100 kms combined. Automatic: 9.6 l/100kms city, 7.0 l/100kms highway, 8.4 L/100 km combined.
Price: $30,760 for Manual model. Automatic costs $31,860
Price (CAD): $32,565
Back in 2012, it was an experience I couldn’t shake. Its grip on me, a complete contrast to its grip on the road, was intense. I bought one shortly after and have put almost 20,000 miles on it since then.
But over that time, I’ve learned that the FR-S isn’t perfect. It doesn’t tickle your eyes and ears like other sports cars and it can feel a little underpowered at times; its engine needs constant attention at high-RPMs to be really enjoyed. And although it is designed to be a back-to-basics coupe, it also lacks some modern amenities that would make it a better daily driver.
For 2015, the youth-oriented Japanese brand is offering a limited run of its rear-wheel-drive sports car, designed with some help from Toyota’s racing development team (TRD). Named the Release Series 1.0, I set out to see if this is the perfected FR-S that I’ve been waiting for. But that’s not all. I also had to see for myself if this new special edition has anything worth pining for over my three-year old model.
The Release Series 1.0 model features the same basics as the FR-S that debuted three years ago. With its low curb weight, rear-wheel-drive layout and low center of gravity, it’s clear that the FR-S’ engineering team was made up of driving enthusiasts.
Between the front wheels is a 2.0-liter flat-four cylinder engine that’s borrowed from Subaru and also found in the mechanically identical Subaru BRZ. Thanks to port and direct injection, this little motor peaks at 200 hp when the tachometer reads 7,000 rpm, giving you just 400 rpm to play with before you hit the fuel-cut off at redline. The FR-S also puts out 151 lb-ft of torque at 6,400 rpm.
Peak power happens so high up in the rev range that you’ll need to be shifting often to keep the engine in its sweet spot. If you’re like me and savor the satisfying feeling that every throw of a gear stick offers, you’ll love the transmission. With six forward gears, the FR-S is a joy to drive and shift, with well-placed pedals and quick, short throws. A six-speed automatic is also available with rev-matching and paddle shifters, but much of this car’s charm comes with its rewarding stick handling.
It’s the little details that get all the attention with this Release Series model. You’ll immediately notice the new quad-tipped exhaust that gives the FR-S an angry growl. It’s always loud and if you don’t like it, you’re stuck. Compared to a normal FR-S, you’d bet there’s something big lurking under the hood of the Release Series model. Sadly, there isn’t. Not a single engine-related upgrade is to be found with this car, giving this special edition the “all bark no bite” status.
That’s a huge shame, considering the aggressive appearance upgrade from TRD. You’ve likely already noticed the bright yellow paint finish, a color that’s not available on any other FR-S model, or even Subaru BRZ. A unique aero-kit is outfitted to the car along with a slick trunk-lid spoiler. A new wing-like garnish is found near the front fenders, a touch that, when combined with the rest of this special edition’s exterior design, seems inspired by the TRD Griffon Concept Car.
For those who haven’t heard of the Griffon Concept, it’s a project by TRD that is intended to explore the racing potential of the FR-S’ platform. With barely an engine upgrade (just exhaust) the Griffon Concept managed to lap the Tsukuba circuit in less than one minute. In order to achieve that lap time (which is faster than what a 600-hp, all-wheel-drive 2015 Nissan GT-R NISMO or a Ferrari 458 can post) the folks at TRD dropped as much weight as possible, improved the grip through better tires and aerodynamics, then enhanced the ride and handling of the small sports car.
I wish Scion looked more to the Griffon Concept for inspiration than just a body kit and exhaust note. Sure, I can live with the lack of extra power, but the car doesn’t lose weight with lighter wheels nor does it get extra grip with better tires. It sports the same low-grip, bland Prius tires as a three-year old FR-S.
In terms of handling upgrades, the Release Series 1.0 is outfitted with lowering springs, but it seems like more of a cosmetic than a performance enhancement. Other new additions include LED headlights that seem swiped from the GT 86, or the international, slightly more upscale version of the car.
Inside, the Release Series 1.0 features some important changes in vital places. The steering wheel is thicker and reminds me of the M Steering wheel in BMWs. The shift-knob also gained a bit of weight and size, but this added to satisfying shift action of the car.
The trim around the shift knob is updated with a more premium looking material, bringing to mind a brushed aluminum feel rather than a cheap plastic, and that’s where you’ll find a numbered plaque, so you can show you friends just how special your particular model is.
The Release Series model also comes with a touchscreen audio system, which I found to be a little slow and unresponsive, a sad story when contrasted to the actual controls related to driving the car that are so fantastic. Additionally a dual-zone automatic climate control is standard on this model.
None of these changes make a single difference on the road, where it really matters. Sure, you hear the exhaust note a bit more from the driver’s seat, but that’s it. There’s no noticeable improvement in throttle response, power delivery, ride quality or handling.
Disappointing for a special edition vehicle, the truth is the FR-S already drives extremely well. The biggest highlight is just how communicative the car is. The steering provides ample feedback on what’s happening to the front wheels and how much grip you have. The rear-end is lively, letting you slide it about on a whim. Get things just right when pushing the car into a corner and the car rewards you with more speed, and the feeling like you’re in complete control of a very capable machine.
The same complaints that exist with the base FR-S still exist with this louder and brighter model. It could use more power earlier in the rev range to satisfy those who don’t like wringing an engine out to its redline whenever a pass is proposed. Additionally, the ride can get a bit uncomfortable over rough pavement.
The interior is also pretty basic and low-rent. There’s no navigation, leather upholstery or heated seats, for example. Honestly, these are petty complaints, but this Release Series model has to offer much more to buyers to justify the price premium over the regular FR-S, and I don’t think it does.
Starting at $31,515 the Release Series 1.0 commits the cardinal sin of breaking the $30,000 price point that makes the FR-S so appealing in the first place. While it represents just a $4,685 increase over the 2016 model year FR-S, the sad fact is that it doesn’t feel like it’s worth $30,000.
The enhancements do nothing to improve the driving dynamics of the car, something that’s really expected in a special edition sports car. It feels like a magic show, misdirecting you with a flashy paint finish and loud noises. But at the core, it’s the same FR-S you can buy for nearly $5,000 less.
Enthusiasts could take that money and customize the car their own way, but if you aren’t comfortable with modifying your car, you can buy this pricey poser and enjoy the warranty that comes with it.
The Verdict: 2015 Scion FR-S Release Series 1.0 Review
As a FR-S fan, I wanted to like the Release Series 1.0, but it fell flat. While the car is still a blast to drive, you can enjoy that experience at a lower price point, and save the money for a set of better tires, engine upgrades and even more. If you’re after a fun back-to-basics sports car, like I was, three years ago, the base FR-S is exactly what you’re looking for and offers some of the best fun for the money.