It's no secret that the Scion FR-S (released as Toyota GT86 in other parts of the world) is one of the most talked-about new cars on the market. It has been a long time since Toyota has included an affordable sport compact car in its product line up, and the Scion brand was perfectly positioned to take advantage of the new car's introduction.
When the FR-S was first introduced, even the largest Scion dealers like Longo Toyota/Scion in El Monte couldn't keep the cars in stock - and Longo is the largest Toyota and Scion dealer in the world!
Part of the car's allure is the fact that it has been hailed as the second coming of Toyota's legendary AE86 - a car with a huge cult following in Japan and many other parts of the world. Sold from 1985-1987 in the United States as the Corolla GT-S, the AE86 was the last of the rear wheel drive Corollas. In Japan, the AE86 was sold in two different variants - the Corolla Levin (fixed headlights) and the Sprinter Trueno (sportier, pop-up headlights).
While the Scion FR-S doesn't share the same chassis or engine family as the original AE86, it does retail the responsive driving feel. Led by Chief Engineer Tetsuya Tada, the Toyota/Subaru joint engineering team nicknamed "Team 86," did a great job of taking the original spirit of the AE86 and building it into the new GT86 platform.
Even though the Toyota, Scion, and Subaru versions all have their own distinct interior and exterior features that make them unique, the nimble handling and responsive steering that all AE86 owners have loved for decades is standard across the entire platform. In fact, the spirited handling, steering and transmission response on the Toyota GT86/ Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ is exactly what makes the new car embody the spirit of the original AE86.
As a person who drove an almost-stock engined 1986 AE86 almost every day for seven years, I'm confident in saying that I understand what the spirit of an 86 is supposed to be. Whether it was a Corolla GT-S, Sprinter Trueno, or Corolla Levin, the original AE86 has never astounded anyone with the amount of power or torque it put down. Anyone who complains that the Scion FR-S doesn't have enough power simply does not get it. Like its AE86 ancestors, the Scion FR-S is a sports-minded driver's car. The Scion FR-S is perfect for a real driving enthusiast - a person seeking a fun, sporty driving experience every time he or she straps into a car.
What the FR-S lacks in power and torque, it makes up for in driving feel - responsive steering and braking, nimble handling, an engine that loves to rev, and a sporty transmission. Speaking to this, the FR-S is easy to maneuver due to its column-assisted electric power steering, which has a high level of rigidity, directness, and responsiveness. It utilizes a low 13:1 steering gear ratio, which allows the driver to turn the wheel lock-to-lock in 2.48 turns.
Toyota’s main goal in choosing a powerplant for their new FR-Sports car was obtaining efficient, reliable performance. The development concept of the FR-S was to create a sports car built around the driver and making the car fun to drive took more of a priority than pursuing pure speed.
Everyone knows that the Toyota GT86/Scion FR-S isn’t the most powerful car out on the market, so the horsepower figures will sound rather unimpressive to many. However, according to the engineers, it was far more important for the car to feel responsive and have linear power delivery all the way up to redline speeds. Working together, they developed the Subaru FA20 2.0 liter 4-cylinder boxer engine, marking the first time that Toyota's D-4S direct injection technology had ever been incorporated into a boxer motor. The result of Team 86's hard work was a light weight, 200hp naturally aspirated DOHC 16 valve engine with dual VVTi (variable valve timing). The engine redlines at 7400rpm (not too far off from the AE86 4AG's 7600rpm), and responds quickly to accelerator inputs, with easy powerband control.
Usage of the Subaru boxer engine gives the Scion FR-S the benefit of amazing handling, due to a low center of gravity. This was something that they just could not achieve if they used one of the traditional Toyota/Yamaha G heads, much to the disappointment of Toyota twin cam purists. The Scion FR-S has a lower center of gravity than the Porsche Cayman, Nissan R35 GTR, Subaru Impreza STi, and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. In fact, its 'C of G' nearly matches that of the Lexus LF-A and the Porsche 911 GT3! Insane.
When it was first released, the AE86 wasn't really considered a short wheelbase car, at 94.5-inches. Back in the early-to-mid 1980s, cars were just shorter and smaller overall. However, by today's standards, the Scion FR-S's 101.2-inch wheelbase is considered short, compared to other cars. When they're parked together, the 2013 Scion FR-S looks a lot bigger the 1985 Toyota Corolla GT-S. In fact, it's larger than the original AE86 in every measurement except height. The FR-S is 1.2 inches longer and 5.9 inches wider than the original AE86, but it stands 2 inches shorter than the Corolla GT-S. The FR-S is also about 350 pounds heavier than the AE86 GT-S, because of modern day standard features like airbags, ABS, more speakers, a more refined interior, and bigger wheels and brakes.
Even though the Scion FR-S is larger and heavier than the compact classic AE86, it feels perfectly at home on a winding mountain road like its Toyota forefather, but the FR-S feels even better on a high speed twisty stretch of freeway! People frequently ask the question… has Toyota and Subaru's collaborative engineering effort really resulted in the most capable sports compact car under $30K in 2013? I certainly think so, but there are some that disagree. You might just have to test drive one yourself to find out!
- Antonio Alvendia