The sportiest car in Toyota’s Scion family, the 2014 FR-S, is a fun-to-drive, four-cylinder, rear-wheel drive coupe that looks more expensive than its $25,455 starting price tag.
Even better, the 2014 FR-S earned top, five out of five stars in overall federal government crash tests.
And, considering its tidy size, coupe body style, rear-drive propulsion and 200-horsepower engine, the FR-S has no direct competition except for its Subaru BRZ twin.
As an example, the nimble-handling FR-S is much smaller and lighter than a rear-drive, 2014 Chevrolet Camaro coupe and doesn’t have a six cylinder engine.
At the same time, the sleek, low-to-the-pavement FR-S looks downright sexy compared with a sport-oriented, 2014 Mini Cooper Coupe that’s front-wheel drive.
Still, few people will want to even attempt to sit in the minimal and carved-out back seats in the FR-S.
And big cargo won’t fit in the shallow FR-S trunk.
In addition, Consumer Reports rates the reliability of the FR-S as below average.
FR-S stands for front engine, rearwheeldrive and sport, and this pretty well sums up what buyers get.
There are no FR-S trim levels — just choices on how to customize a new FR-S with Toyota Racing Development dual exhaust, rear spoiler lip and other items.
The biggest decision is whether to get the base, six-speed manual transmission — with starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge of $25,455 — or the six-speed automatic that comes with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters at a starting retail price of $26,555.
Meantime, the 2014 Subaru BRZ, which was engineered with the FR-S, uses the same Subaru "boxer" engine and is built at the same assembly plant in Japan, starts at $26,390 with manual.
Toyota owns part of Subaru’s parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries.
FR-S prices compare with the $24,550 starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a base, 2014 Camaro coupe with 323-horsepower V-6 and six-speed manual.
They also compare with the $25,545 starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a base, 2014 Mini Cooper Coupe with 121-horsepower four cylinder and six-speed manual.
Introduced during calendar 2012 to the United States, the FR-S is the only rear-drive Scion. Rear-wheel drive is considered an asset for sporty handling.
The only other Scion coupe, the tC, is front-wheel drive and has a starting retail price, including destination charge, of $19,965 for a base, 2014 tC with 179-horsepower four cylinder and six-speed manual.
During calendar 2013, tC sales declined 16 percent to 19,094 from a year earlier, while sales of the FR-S rose to 18,327. The FR-S was the only Scion to post sales gains last year. FR-S sales in the United States last year were more than twice what the Subaru BRZ tallied.
The FR-S makes a solid first impression with its expressive exterior that makes the car look like it’s in motion even when it’s standing still.
Some people think the FR-S resembles Honda’s S2000 sports car on the outside, while others liken it to earlier Porsches. Both comments are high praise for Scion, which is Toyota’s brand for young, budget-conscious buyers.
Enthusiasts of any age, however, will enjoy this car’s combination of balance and agility.
The test car stuck like glue to the pavement, though it was not shod with grippy, fat performance tires.
The FR-S took curved highway onramps with amazing composure even as speeds picked up along the way. There was nary any body lean in this low-slung car, so a driver feels confident on curves and in turns.
The electric power steering was quickly responsive in a natural way and never felt artificial the way some electric systems do.
The car’s light weight — the FR-S weighs just 2,758 pounds with manual transmission — accounted for a satisfying "scoot" feeling, even though torque from the 2-liter, double overhead cam four cylinder peaks at 151 foot-pounds starting at 6,400 rpm.
There is considerable road and engine noise, however, and the ride can feel rough on broken pavement.
Inside the FR-S, front seats are sport buckets and covered in premium fabric to help hold driver and passenger in place during driving. In the test car, these seats were well cushioned and comfortable.
Everyone rides low to the ground in the FR-S and gets good looks at the tailpipes of big pickups.
The FR-S roofline is low on this 4.2-foot-tall vehicle. So, getting in and out requires dexterity and care so heads don’t bump at the low door opening.
Even the side windows seem a bit constricted, height-wise, and views out the side rear are blocked by thick rear window pillars.
No rearview camera is offered by the factory for the FR-S, however.
The small, sporty-sized steeringwheeland an instrument panel where the largest and centermost gauge is the tachometer, not the speedometer, are perfect in this car.
To help keep an eye on the FR-S speeds, a sizable, digital display inside the tach’s circle shows the car’s speed in bright orange color.
The six-speed manual in the test FR-S had short, satisfying throws.
Premium unleaded gasoline is required, meaning a full, 13.2 gallons in the tank at today’s prices can cost nearly $50.
Intriguingly, though it was driven in spirited fashion during much of the test drive, the test FR-S averaged 26.2 miles per gallon in combined city/highway travel. This was a bit better than the federal government’s 25 mpg estimate for city/highway travel for a manual transmission FR-S. The automatic model is rated higher — 25 mpg in the city and 34 on the highway.
For 2014, a 6.1inch touchscreen audio display is standard on all FR-S cars. It doesn’t include satellite radio but includes AM/FM/HD radio with Bluetooth audio streaming and iPod connectivity.