It might not hold true everywhere, but in Los Angeles at least the 2016 Scion FR-S Release Series 2.0—the last-ever FR-S special edition as the brand prepares to go extinct—gets a lot of attention. That’s partly the result of the “what is that?” factor. In car-centric Southern California, Angelenos pride themselves on knowing their cars. So you can plainly see the quizzical expressions on their faces when they don’t recognize the wheels passing them by. In the Scion’s case, that’s due to the car’s rarity: Just 1,000 Release Series 2.0 models are being built, each with external mods (including front and rear lip spoilers and LED daytime running lights), a unique greenish-khaki paint job (Scion calls it Lunar Storm), and 17-inch forged-aluminum wheels in dark metallic silver (almost black). It’s a handsome combo, one that looks like no other FR-S on the road. The result: In L.A., it captures lots of eyeballs.
The FR-S Release 2.0 starts conversations, too. During my week with the car, most times when I parked it someone would approach to chat. “How much?” “Is it fast?” “Does the stereo rock?” “Is that Italian?” And while the FR-S by no means looks cheap, the passers-by almost unanimously know at a glance that they can afford it. “What’s it go for, about $30?” said more than a few questioners. And they are right: My test car, with the Release Series 2.0 package and added foglights ($495), stickered for $30,800. Hence the added buzz for this FR-S; unlike a hyper-pricey exotic, this little wedge of Lunar Storm is something an admirer could actually buy.
What you get for that $30,000-plus is a surprisingly flavorful two-door. It only takes a few blocks behind the wheel to get the message: This sporty little Scion is serious. The ride is as hard as a go-kart’s; on less-than-smooth highways every crack and seam will thwack you in the backside. If you’re not enough of an enthusiast to put up with such directness, walk away right now. The FR-S will quickly beat the humor out of you. That said, there is a payoff for those who endure. The chassis is also go-kart responsive—alive, neutrally balanced, hungry to slash through a wavy mountain road. Gunning up and down some of my favorite Malibu wigglies, I was surprised at how often the stability control stepped in, both up front and in back. The FR-S is plenty grippy, but it’s light enough on its feet to be as playful as a puppy. Understeer? Not really. The FR-S is far more inclined to rotate. Switch-off the stability/traction systems (don’t unless you honestly know what you’re doing), and this thing can really dance—as in, it’ll step sideways out of every corner with ease. Bet the FR-S would be awesome through an autocross course, too.
Like its doppelgänger, the Subaru BRZ, the FR-S feeds its rear wheels with a naturally aspirated, direct-injection Subaru-designed 2.0-liter boxer four making 100 horsepower per liter. While an automatic is optional, my test car sported the six-speed manual—and was the better for it. It’s a nice gearbox: relatively short throws, cogs well matched to the engine’s penchant for revs (it reaches peak output at 7,000 rpm). Well-spaced pedals aid shifting performance; the brake and gas are close enough together for secure heel-and-toe downshifting.
This isn’t a fast car by any means (the newly rebadged 2017 Toyota 86 coming this fall will have a few more horses). It’s more like a Mazda Miata that way. The driving experience isn’t about being pinned into your seat; it’s about wringing out a happy machine that enjoys being worked hard. The familiar Subaru growl is front and center as you watch the tach needle rise. It’s loud and gutsy, seemingly eager to bang along near the top of its range all day, feels bulletproof. Terrific sport seats wrap around your torso to hug you in place as the cornering forces build, while a beefy dead pedal on the left makes it easy to balance against the impressive g’s delivered by the chassis.
While it’s mechanically unchanged from the basic FR-S (well, aside from those wheels and a chrome exhaust tip), the Release Series 2.0 sports a cockpit that’s in an altogether snazzier league. While the regular car is plasticky inside, in the Release Series the interior is a feast of thick, black Alcantara accents (even on the dash) and cognac-hued leather trim (the all-leather steering wheel also features the two-tone treatment). It looks sensational, and elicited plenty of “wows” from those who peered inside. I was pleased to note that the three-spoke steering wheel is completely devoid of buttons and switches. Unlike many modern wheels, it’s not there to run your smartphone, it just steers the car.
I applaud Toyota’s decision to make the FR-S a strong-coffee 2+2 (yeah, there are a couple of back seats, but they’re strictly for teddy bears). Sure, not everyone likes fuller flavors, but adding milk and sugar to this brew would’ve made the FR-S mild and lackluster and … boring. Instead, what we have here is an affordable two-door coupe that’s simply not for everyone. It hits you like an undiluted French roast—too much for some, just right for the bolder few. Add the unique dress—inside and out—of the Release Series 2.0 edition, in addition to its end-of-an-era brand status, and you’ve got a ride that really stands out. Even in L.A.
2016 Scion FR-S Release Series 2.0 Specifications
|Price:||$30,305/$30,800 (base/as tested)|
|Engine:||2.0L 16-valve, DOHC flat-4/200 hp @ 7,000 rpm, 151 lb-ft @ 6,400 rpm|
|Layout:||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA Mileage:||22/30 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H:||166.7 x 69.9 x 50.6 in|
|0-60 MPH:||6.2 sec (est)|
|Top Speed:||150 mph (est)|