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Why the 2016 Scion FR-S Is Perfect for Track Day Novices

Toyota’s secret formula: Big fun without big power

When I found out what car I'd be taking to my first open track day, I couldn't help but smile. The Scion FR-S is the subject of many "firsts" for me: It is the first car I reviewed as a Motor Trend intern, the first highly modified car I was brave enough to drive (a 400-hp, turbocharged TRD model), the first car I ever drove on a road course, and the first new affordable sports car I ever test drove at a dealership. As the summer track-day season came to a close last year, I made my way to GingerMan Raceway in southwest Michigan behind the wheel of a Hot Lava Orange 2016 Scion FR-S to cross off another automotive first.

On the three-hour journey west to GingerMan Raceway from my apartment in metro Detroit, I rekindled my friendship with the small Japanese coupe. In the tight cabin, the perfectly proportioned driving position puts you right at the center of the action. The cabin is snug and enveloping. Don't let the snout-mounted Scion badge and affordable price tag fool you — the FR-S feels special, and not because it's destined for future orphan car shows now that Scion is a dead brand.

I've had multiple stints in racetrack and autocross environments before, but never had I tried my hand at a full-blown open track day, where I would be alongside a field of novices like me. Despite its aggressive appearance and bright orange paint, the FR-S turned out to be this track-day neophyte's best friend.

Nearly every facet of the FR-S works to keep the overeager learner in line. With only 200 hp and just 151 lb-ft of torque from the 2.0-liter flat-four engine, I could floor the car in third gear around the still-unfamiliar course without putting myself in too much danger, keeping focus on my driving line instead of my shifting. In a section where I was elated to crack 70 mph, my co-worker breezed through in a 640-hp 2016 Cadillac CTS-V at 125 mph. Yet at nearly half the speed of the supercharged Caddy, I was still having a blast.

However if you do choose to go straight from the Scion showroom to the racetrack, be prepared for significantly limited grip from the FR-S' standard rubber. The low-rolling-resistance Bridgestone Turanza EL400-02 all-season tires break loose without much provocation. But when you do overstep the eco rubber's capability, traction and stability control are there to curb any under- or oversteer before you crunch sheetmetal. The FR-S presents the right balance of fun and protection for a track day that will make your heart flutter instead of stop.

The Scion's brakes are strong and effective, with a firm pedal and immediate bite. I only noticed them fade during my fourth run, when the pedal turned squishy and needed to travel closer to the floor. Steering is linear, allowing for smooth movements and gentle corrections to the FR-S' active rear end. Shift throws were tight and direct, with a notchy character that always communicated accurate gear engagement.

Want to have your track-day-flavored cake and eat it too? The FR-S has daily usability figured out as well. Once I rejoined tree-lined Michigan roadways for the journey home, the FR-S shook off its finish-line hunger in favor of a calmer demeanor. Getting 34 mpg on the highway kept my fuel stops infrequent, and the Scion's reasonable trunk easily swallowed my helmet, sleeping bag, and backpack. And unlike a certain Mazda roadster, the FR-S has a back seat, which acts as an extra storage shelf or impromptu transportation for a (small) friend.

With the FR-S, I wasn't in over my head. I could focus on building my skills rather than putting myself and others in danger. And after a fun and rewarding day, the Scion proved it's also versatile, getting me home comfortably and with all of my gear, plus some room to spare. The track-day beginner looking to better him or herself as a driver should make a beeline for the affordable coupe now known as the Toyota 86.

2016 Scion FR-S Specifications

On Sale: Now
Price: $26,100 (base)
Engine: 2.0L DOHC 16-valve flat-4/200 hp @ 7,000 rpm, 151 lb-ft @ 6,400 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
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
Wheelbase: 101.2 in
Weight: 2,758 lb
0-60 MPH: 6.2 sec (est)
Top Speed: N/A