For years, the Mazda Miata has been known as the perfect beginner car for high performance driving. It is front-engine, rear wheel drive, with three pedals and great chassis dynamics to boot. But what happens when you want all of those driving dynamics in an actual “usable” car? Enter the Scion FR-S.
At this point it’s not news to anybody that the Scion FR-S and its twin, the Subaru BRZ, are fantastic sports cars. Automotive journalists have been praising its handling and steering feel for years. But now that the platform is getting older, there are a ton of opportunities to buy a used one at a much more reasonable price than the 25-30k sticker price. A used Scion FR-S can be had anywhere between $10,000 and $13,000, which is a respectable price for a reliable sports car that can do it all.
I spent the day in the mountains of New York with a daily-driven Scion FR-S that has been modified to be a weekend track warrior. I’ll add the full modification list below, but for the most part this is your basic bolt-on FR-S with an emphasis on handling and braking.
The Toyota/Subaru “86” twins deserve all of the praise they get. It’s a purposefully engineered chassis with a center of gravity on par with some supercars, and it shows. You sit in this car and peer out over the steering wheel at two bulging wheel arches, much like a Porsche. They’re the perfect placement markers letting you know exactly where your front wheels are on the road or track. They would also make precision driving at autocross a lot easier.
The steering is as communicative as I’ve felt for an electric rack with a super confident turn-in once the car is loaded up. While the roads I was driving were very tight, the chassis tends to lend itself to mid-corner and corner-exit oversteer. You are able to trail brake and control just the amount of rotation you want. Everything about the FR-S just feels natural. You can immediately hop in this car and confidently drive it hard. And there is no greater praise than that for a car that you plan on taking to the track on the weekends.
While I can’t personally speak for how this car actually handles the track, I know its owner takes it out often with no issues at all. And after repeated hard runs in the mountains, the brakes were still confidence inspiring and car never got boring.
Side note: Later in the day I chased the FR-S in my own daily driven Ford Fiesta ST on Hawk street-level brake pads. I roasted my brakes in one pass of the road. While the Fiesta ST had no problem keeping up otherwise, it’s clear both cars started life with completely different intentions. At its core the Fiesta ST is a hopped-up econobox, but the FR-S was designed for high performance driving from the start.
One thing you could argue is that the engine is boring. The 2.0 liter boxer engine makes 200 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque. It’s also famous for its lack of torque right in the middle of the rev-range. And while the lack of torque was apparent pulling out of low speed corners, it’s fun to rev the engine beyond its torque-dip to get the car moving. In a tighter setting like autocross or mountain twisties, the lack of power isn’t that big of a deal. It becomes way more apparent when the roads start to open up though.
Overall, the Scion FR-S can do it all, and it’s wrapped up in a package an enthusiast would gladly daily drive. For those who live in climates with less than ideal weather, the hardtop FR-S provides a little more luxury when compared to a soft-top Miata and guarantees fewer water leaks. I haven’t driven the brand new Miata with the reworked redline, but the FR-S brings a side of practicality that the Miata can’t. So for the hardcore enthusiast who wants a cheap, reliable, rear-wheel drive sports car that can do it all, Miata isn’t always the answer; sometimes it’s FR-S.