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

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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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IT’S NOT ABOUT SPEED, BUT FUN

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.

A GEN Y MAGNET

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.

WHAT ABOUT THE SUBARU BRZ?

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.