With Scion’s introduction of its FR-S the Toyota brand is once again on the automotive radar, recently generating almost as many cover stories as the Viper rollout some twenty years ago. And the advent of an open-road sports coupe within the urban-oriented Scion showroom is an interesting juxtaposition. Almost a decade ago (June 2003) the launch of Toyota’s Scion division certainly generated its share of passion, but most xB and (later) tC owners saw their vehicles as a means to a destination and not THE destination. In contrast, the all-new Scion FR-S is true escapist fare, and we wanted to see if the addition of the optional automatic transmission would – in any significant way – impede that escape.
Our first chance to pilot the FR-S sans clutch was on a private road course outside of Las Vegas. And while not as immediately responsive as the standard six-speed manual the FR-S automatic was better than we might have expected; typically, most automatics matched to engines of two liters or less provide valid transportation, but little in the way of entertainment.
The Scion’s six-speed auto is the only available option – at $1,100 – from the factory menu. In its first three gears it follows the ratios of the manual closely, after which its ratios effectively leave the reservation. Fourth gear in the manual is 1.213:1, while in the automatic it’s a straight 1.000:1. In fifth gear the auto takes an overdrive turn (.713:1), and that overdrive becomes even more aggressive (in sixth gear) at .582:1. In both manual and automatic the final drive ratio is 4.10:1. The end result is a surprising level of responsiveness at lower speeds, along with a commendably relaxed cruising capability when cruising.
Boosting the entertainment factor – no mean feat – are paddle shifters (you won’t be up shift creek without a paddle…) and what the word crafters at Toyota describe as Dynamic Rev Management technology. DRM raises the engine speed to match engine revs to the needed gear ratio; this limits driveline shock and adds “to the visceral experience of driving the car.” Typically, we’re done with the paddles within about twenty minutes, but Dynamic Rev Management proved fully up to the descriptive, pegging our visceral meter with every actuation.
An equally big assist is provided by the Sport Mode button, located just below the console-mounted shift lever. Once engaged, ‘Sport’ quickens shift timing and throttle response. Additionally, the shift programming allows the transmission to hold gears longer before upshifting, and that makes it easier to “exploit” the Scion’s torque and horsepower (200 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque) in the upper rev range. When not engaging the ‘Sport’ variable we found the engine/auto combo rather listless. With it, the FR-S was revved – and so were we. If opting for the automatic don’t leave home without it.
The balance of the FR-S is identical to its manual-equipped stablemate, which is to say way (WAY) compelling. We wish there was one functional cupholder, a place for maps beyond the glove box and a dash area designed by someone not associated with the Braille Institute, but these are small – and ultimately irrelevant – gripes. A chassis with perfect balance, an absolutely sublime ride-and-handling combination and an oh-so-rigid architecture make for Top Gun-type moments. (Thankfully, we never had to eject over San Diego…) For those hoping to one day enjoy a Miata coupe, or an RX-8 enthusiast loving the platform but lukewarm toward the powertrain, the folks at Toyota and Subaru (Toyota’s partner in this) have built one for you. And – I think – me.
Specifications next page. Read also our first drive review of the 2013 Scion FR-S.