Photo By: Gary Anderson/Special to the Town Crier
What would you get by crossing a Subaru rally car with a Toyota compact coupe? Near-identical track-ready twins – the Subaru BRZ or the car we drove recently, the more agile 2013 Scion FR-S.
By either name, with only slight differences in styling and interior appointments, these are the best high-performance track cars for less than $25,000 anyone is building today. But wait – no one else is building an all-out track car in that price range. Maybe that’s why Subaru and Toyota joined forces, recognizing that even a small niche might be profitable if no one else has a car to sell there.
What it is: The Scion FR-S is a minimal two-person, front-engine, rear-drive sports coupe designed primarily for going fast and handling well in track driving situations. It has just enough standard amenities – such as air conditioning, audio and upholstery – to make it usable for everyday driving by someone whose alternative vehicle is a skateboard. It’s noisy, rides hard and doesn’t have much luggage space. But in its element, on the track or an empty curving back road, it is more fun than anything else at its price on four wheels. When we saw it on our schedule the same week Gary was coaching with Hooked On Driving at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, there was no question that this would be a perfect demo vehicle to show novice drivers what it feels like to drive a good car quickly and under control on a world-class racetrack.
What we liked: The low center of gravity and the solid, tightly tuned handling; the racing cockpit with its supportive seats and well-designed steering wheel and controls; the responsive flat-four engine from Subaru pushing the rear wheels through a six-speed manual gear box that actually clicked as it shifted gears; and the great visibility within the reasonably spacious cabin.
What we would change: The tires, which are the same ones installed on the Toyota Prius, and the brake pads that apparently are from the same parts list; the total lack of soundproofing, which can make a long drive an invitation to a throbbing headache; and the sound system head unit that looks like an add-on audio unit from the last century.
Bottom line: For the person who shops for high-feedback track performance at the lower end of the price spectrum – we’re thinking a young engineer at one of the high-tech firms off Shoreline Drive – this car is the answer.