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Posted: February 05, 2013

Executive wheels: Toyota’s boxy baby grows up

The new un-Scion Scion

Jeff Rundles

When I heard I was receiving a Scion for my next review car, I naturally assumed it was going to be the Toyota offshoot’s latest eco-box. The idea behind Scion is that the line offers, generally, one trim, very few options, a simple price strategy, and that it targets younger people with guerilla and viral marketing ideas, so the whole thing was to appeal to their sense of new technology and their thinner pocketbooks. The word scion, of course, means descendent or heir, and in that sense the Scion brand, launched in 2003, was meant as both the scion of Toyota and Lexus for the line, and heirs to the owners of those cars as it relates to the buyers.

I have driven a few Scions over the years, found them to be well-made, like all Toyotas, and well-priced, but boxy and relatively unexciting. I should point out that I have never been in the target demographic.

When the FR-S showed up, though, I knew something had changed. This couldn’t be a Scion, I thought; perhaps it was a mistake and they brought me a new Porsche, or a Nissan Z, or some British car with a 1960’s retro feel.

It’s the un-Scion, I thought, and the more I drove it the more un-Scion I thought it was.

They call this car a coupe, in that it has a sort of back seat and it is a 2-door model, but don’t be fooled. This is what I would call a GT, that is, a hard-top roadster. The thing that immediately sprang to mind for me – and continued to spring to mind over the course of the week – was a mid-1960s MGB-GT. Now, admittedly, the MGB was a classic 2-seat roadster with a convertible, and the MGB-GT was that car rendered in a hard top, and neither had even the hint of a back seat. But trust me: the Scion FR-S is a modern MGB-GT with, thankfully, Toyota engineering and quality.

If you look at the Scion 2013 lineup, they have the boxy and tiny, iQ, and the very boxy xD, and then they have the tC sedan that isn’t boxy and looks very much like a Toyota, so I suppose the line is trending away from its eco-box image to some extent. But the FR-S is a real departure – not just in the name that doesn’t have that Scion-speak lowercase/uppercase model name – because for the first time in the Scion history they are going after the sports car market. Make no mistake: This is a sports car.

It begins with the look, of course, which is sports car all the way. But it continues immediately with the 2.0-liter H4 engine with a whopping 200 hp that has get-up-and-go to spare. Coupled with the 6-speed manual transmission (you can get auto) and the tightest steering I have experienced in any Toyota ever, this is a car that is fun to drive, has a complete driver’s feel, corners like a dream, and in all respects acts like and feels like a sports car. It is rear-wheel drive, features traction control, independent MacPherson Strut front suspension, and some of the best brakes I have ever experienced.

I checked out the Scion website for the particulars and discovered there are very few options available on this FR-S. You get what you get – and that’s a good thing. There are no LED screens and rear cameras – just a simple, straight-forward approach to the excellent sound system (Pioneer 330W AM/FM/CD/HD Radio with 8 speakers) and to the easy-to-use and quite good climate controls.

They have, of course, included the auxiliary USB ports with iPod connectivity, hands-free phone capability and music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology. Standard is keyless entry with engine immobilization, power door locks and windows, cruise control, a tach, of course, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, and two of the most comfortable sport seats up front I have ever sat in, which is what a good sports car should have.

The rear seat, such as it is, can accommodate two adults, although I don’t suppose they would like being back there for too long. It folds down in one piece, opening up the trunk for more storage, which is good since the trunk lacks much space. With a little maneuvering, and the seat-back down, you could squeeze a couple of golf bags in there, but it is a chore.

The mileage rating on the car is 22 city/30 highway, quite good, with a combine average of 25 mpg. It’s not spectacular for a car of this small size, but it’s a sports car so what did you expect?

The base price on the Scion FR-S in manual transmission is $24,200 (the auto is $1k more) and the only option here was wheel locks for $67. Add $730 for destination charges and the bottom line was $24,997.

I gotta tell you, that is a great price for this car. It’s sporty, fast, fun to drive, gets plenty of looks, and I can’t think of much on the market – especially in this price range – that comes close to how cool it is. It should appeal to a wide audience beyond Scion’s stated demographic of Gen Y, or perhaps those kids are just growing up.

The Un-Scion. This car shows that Scion is growing up, too.

RATING: 4 WHEELS (OUT OF FOUR)         

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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