Key to the Highway

Observations about cars and the auto industry

2012 MPG Track Day: 2013 Scion FR-S

The idea of an automatic transmission in any car with sporting intentions was scoffed at before this century. Dual-clutch gearboxes – born on the racetrack – have dispelled the idea that ultimate performance requires the driver dance on three pedals. Still, the idea of an old-fashioned hydraulic torque converter automatic in the Toyota/Subaru designed sport coupe had me skeptical that it was up to the task. Sure, Scion said it rev matches and can double down shift when you brake hard for a corner. The surprise isn’t that it did those things; it’s that it did them well as I worked my way around the racetrack. Handling, steering and braking are excellent. Well-designed cockpit ergonomics made it easy to drive fast.

Verdict: If a two-seat sports coupe is enough for your daily needs but you don’t want to row the six-speed manual, this is a great choice.

2013 Scion FR-S 6-speed manual

Like its automatic sibling, the manual FR-S is great fun on the track. It takes to diving corners, trail braking and abrupt transitions with nary a complaint. A short-throw shifter, aggressive brakes and the best chassis dynamics this side of a Miata inspire confidence even when the back steps out a bit or drifting through a corner. Running up to redline rewards the driver with the horizontally opposed engine’s growl and a very entertaining level of acceleration. With 200 horsepower and 151 lb.-ft. of torque, the Scion isn’t as powerful as some of the hot hatchbacks, but it would be very hard to beat the handling dynamics.

Verdict: If you prize driving aplomb over straight-line acceleration, this is the coupe you want.

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