Published on February 19th, 2012 | by Paterson Prosper630
2013 Subaru BRZ and 2013 Scion FR-S: A Study in Comparison and Contrast
I have to say I like the scion a lil more than the subi.. The scion looks more agressive up front but the radio and a/c controls are just funky. Guess thats what you get with a scion.
From two brands, a single vehicle emerges: an affordable, basic, rear-wheel-drive Japanese sports car. Twenty years ago, this sort of vehicle was commonplace. Japanese carmakers had been giving us inexpensive, *reliable, rear-drive sports-car catnip since the 1970 Datsun 240Z. After effectively killing off their Italian and British inspiration in the U.S., though, the Japanese were left to battle themselves.
The 1980s and ’90s became a technological . . . well, let’s just call it “urinary Olympics.” First came turbochargers and intercoolers, then four-wheel steering, four-wheel drive, electronic shocks, adjustable aerodynamics, and variable exhaust systems. Tires and wheels got bigger, suspensions stiffer, wings more absurdly wingy. Weight, horsepower, and prices skyrocketed as swiftly as sales plummeted. With the exception of the Mazda Miata and the Honda S2000, simple, affordable Japanese sports cars peacocked themselves into extinction.
The Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S—which go on sale in the U.S. this spring for about $26,000—mark a return to the Japanese sports car’s roots. As with any good idea, everyone wants the credit. Toyota claims that the whole thing came from the top, that Akio Toyoda surveyed his showrooms and said, “Where’s the passion? I want to build a sports car.” Subaru says that it approached Toyota, basically asking the larger firm to underwrite its project.
Both agree on who handled what tasks once development got under way. Subaru did the engineering and development of the chassis and powertrain, and Toyota handled the design. Subaru’s fingerprints are everywhere—most obviously on the 2.0-liter flat-four, code-named FA. In case the layout isn’t enough of a giveaway, there’s a “Subaru” label on the intake manifold. *Toyota’s contribution underhood is its D-4S combination port- and direct-fuel-injection system. More Subaru markers are hidden away beneath the car, on the inside of the fenders, and on the muffler.
More than Toyota’s injection system separates this engine from Subaru’s other flat-fours. The FA is radically different from the 2.0-liter FB found in the new Impreza—a Subaru spokesman tells us the two share “maybe a few screws.” The FA is more compact and slightly lighter. Compared with the FB in the Impreza, its oil pan is shallower and its intake manifold lower, allowing the FA to be mounted with its crankshaft 2.4 inches closer to terra firma. It sits 9.4 inches farther rearward than the FB, too, although there’s still a sizable gap between the back of the engine and the fire wall. It’s rare to see open space beneath the hood of a modern car; in the BRZ and FR-S, you can look down on the top of the transmission. A transaxle would have allowed the engine to cozy up to the passenger compartment a bit more—and would have shifted the 54/46 front/rear weight balance a bit aft—but transaxles are more expensive than separate transmissions and axles. The good news is that some of the extra underhood space should be filled by a turbocharger and intercooler within a few years.
But—and it pains us to say this—it’s debatable whether the FR-S and BRZ need more power. The FA feels perfectly attuned to this car’s spirit. With an eye-popping 12.5:1 compression ratio and a 7400-rpm redline, the 2.0-liter FA makes 200 horsepower at 7000 rpm and 151 pound-feet of torque at 6600—as well as a tremendous amount of noise. Above 5000 rpm, it’s loud enough that you have to scream to converse. It isn’t the most seductive thing this side of a Ferrari V-12, but the 2.0 sounds and feels like an engine with a purpose. It pulls forcefully throughout the power band, and we figure it should take six seconds to get to 60.
Two six-speed transmissions are available, a manual and an automatic. Following drives of each model in Japan, the manual had us seeking a temple at which we might offer thanks. The clutch pedal is a touch light but snaps to attention right off the floor and engages smoothly. The stubby shifter snicks its way between the gears. Heretics who spec the automatic get paddle shifters and rev-matched downshifts without the ego gratification.
The strut-front and multilink-rear suspensions have been adapted from the Impreza, and both cars have the same electrically assisted steering. Throw large inputs into their quick racks, and the cars ricochet back and forth, your body held in place by supportive seats. Both cars demonstrate remarkable body control and change course so quickly that you’d think they could slalom the lane-marker lines on an interstate at 85 mph. They probably couldn’t: The charitable among us would describe the Michelin Primacy HPs’ grip as underwhelming. Toyota chief engineer Tetsuya Tada tells us, “They are Prius tires,” and he’s not joking—they’re identical to those in the Toyota hybrid’s top trim level (outside the U.S.), right down to the compound and construction. Mark that down as Toyota’s second big donation to the project.
Those wimpy tires, however, contribute to the fun. Their deliberately tenuous grip encourages drivers to explore the cars’ limit behavior. Tada boasts that these cars are largely a reaction to the advanced technology and high-grip tires that have become synonymous with the modern sports car. The Primacy HPs’ easy breakaway characteristics make for a playful demeanor.
At the limit, you’ll find the key difference between the Subaru and the Scion. Go screaming into a turn or hop on the gas too early exiting one, and the Subaru simply understeers—perhaps for the benefit of drivers familiar with the brand’s all-wheel-drive products. The Scion uses softer springs and stiffer shocks, and it has a sensitivity to driver inputs that makes it feel alive. Too much or too little throttle upsets the Scion’s balance, sending the car into an easily controlled drift. Its behavior reminds us of the dearly departed first-generation Honda S2000. It’s not impossible to get the Subaru to oversteer—deliberately timed and moderated inputs will coax the tail out—it’s just not going to catch you by surprise. In either car, though, the transition from cornering to drifting is gradual, and the low curb weight—about 2800 pounds—helps make it easy to rein in a slide before you tailwhip your neighbor’s mailbox.
Visual distinctions are arguably more subtle than the differences in the two cars’ cornering attitudes. The front-bumper design is specific to each brand, and each has its own treatment for the scallop at the top of the front fender. On the Subaru, it houses a fake vent; the Scion features a funky “86” badge whose design pays homage to the boxer engine. The cars’ headlight housings are the same shape, but the Subaru’s lighting elements are bordered by LEDs. That’s about it. The cars we drove even wore the same wheels, but ease back from your keyboards, ye fanboys: Each manufacturer fitted its own center caps.
Toyota says it drew styling inspiration from its classic 1967 2000GT, and there are echoes of that car’s proportions and greenhouse here. The company took advantage of the low-slung boxer engine to draw a front end that rises gradually from its knee-high leading edge. A fast roofline looks like it might incorporate a hatchback but ends in a short trunklid. Both brands make a point of telling us that, with the rear seat folded, a complete set of tires will fit inside the car. (It helps that they’re just 215/45-17s.)
The interior is as straightforward as the bodywork. Inside, you’ll find analog gauges, a thick steering wheel, and toggle switches for most secondary controls in the Subaru and conventional buttons in the Scion. Materials in the prototypes we drove are richly grained. The front seats provide excellent comfort and support, although rear-seat occupants aren’t as lucky. Back there, adults will find very little leg- or headroom.
Who cares? The folks at Subaru and *Toyota should be proud of what they’ve built and the stand they’ve taken. Both companies resisted the urge to put technology ahead of simplicity. We see why they’re squabbling over whose idea it was.