We have dedicated a lot of space to the Scion FR-S and its JDM cousin the Toyota 86 over the last few weeks, not to mention the Subaru BRZ we saw at the Tokyo Motor Show. It’s not often this happens; sure there are tons of anticipated cars that everyone wants to get their hands on, but the FR-S is something different. This is the car that will re-write the rulebook when it comes to modern day, affordable sports cars as it’s, well, unique. It’s precisely for this reason that I felt a little bit short changed after getting the chance to sample the car at Fuji during the Gazoo Racing Festival. Of course I was very happy Toyota allowed the press to sample the 86, but getting only three laps was torture!
However, I knew that in a few short weeks I’d have the chance to get some more time behind the wheel in a special Scion event that was being organized at Sodegaura Forest Raceway. So I patiently waited; and oh my, was the wait worth it. Imagine having a cool little technical circuit like Sodegaura at your disposal and a selection of cars to abuse, ehm, sorry…test for a whole day.
It was the perfect opportunity to not only discover what the FR-S is all about…
…but use it as an owner would use his car on track.
So the day started at the crack of dawn as I jumped on the train to Shimbashi where I met up with Luke Huxham of Maiham Media who was coming along to make a film about the FR-S. From there it was a short monorail ride to Daiba station where we met up with the Scion guys and all the journalists and photographers that had been invited from the US.
One of them was our very own Larry Chen, who I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting until that morning on the bus ride to the circuit.
Jonathan Wong from Super Street was busy throughout the day taking notes and exploring the limits of the car out on track.
D-Sport‘s Michael Ferrara was doing a whole lot of filming, but sometimes he had to drop his heavy video gear and grab a couple of shots with his iPhone!
Aesthetically the JDM 86 and FR-S are almost identical…
…aside from very small variations like the orange front side markers and the boxer/86 badge on the fenders…
…which has a black background rather than a red one like the Japanese cars. The wheels are the same as on the 86 and BRZ, again only the emblem varies for each model.
Under the hood the direct and conventionally injected 4U-GSE 2-liter flat-four develops the same 200 HP as on the Japanese cars. Here is Column Wood from AutoGuide having a look under the hood of the 6-speed automatic version of the 86.
Scott Tsuneishi from Import Tuner was checking out the available space around the motor, and wondering where the best place to fit a turbocharger would be.
Inside red accents on the seats matched the stitching around the cabin. Obviously the car will be offered with a selection of different trim packages, but more information on that will come once the car hits the dealers.
One thing we all noticed was the lack of a push-start button in the FR-S, something that all the JDM 86 seemed to have. The key-less entry system with push-button may well be an option offered when you order the car, probably along with the climate control which was a manual type on the FR-S and not the two-zone automatic one with digital controls like in the 86. Minor details of course, that have nothing to do with the driving experience.
As the first few test drives kicked off I headed out on the midfield to check out how the cars looked when put through their paces. This particular masked car is one of the development test mules that have spent most of their lives being lapped hard around the Nordschleife. I took this car out later in the day and it felt “well-used” compared to the tight pre-production cars we were playing with.
Luke was busy running around getting as much footage as possible.
Each session consited of 5-laps, the final of which was a slow one to allow the cars to cool down.
Larry and Luke were trying to figure out the best position to place their cameras.
As the four cars provided entertainment out on track…
…chief engineer for the 86/FR-S project, Tetsuya Tada, was available in the hospitality area to answer any questions about the cars.
My first stint behind the wheel was on board of the automatic. Admittedly I wasn’t eager to drive this self-shifting version, but thought I’d have a quick go just so I could experience the 86 in all its guises. Man was I blown away. As I sat inside I turned all of the traction and stability controls off, as you go of course, shifted the gear selector to the manual side of the “D” position and floored the throttle. As I shot out onto the main straight and grabbed the right paddle for the first to second gear upshift I was instantly surprised. I was pretty sure that they had told us this was a torque converter but the speed and urgency in which it was shifting was more dual-clutch-like than a lazy, torque sapping slush box. Engine wise, I can’t add much more to what I have already said about the flat-four on my previous drive. It’s smooth and linear and a great match for the car, and sounded especially good in the manual version for some reason.
I pushed the car harder and harder through the corners and began to play around with the lively rear end that steps out whenever you want it, and with as much angle as you desire. The relatively short wheelbase makes the car very precise and agile through the corners but if you get too sideways you will be swapping ends faster than you can say “uups!” I spun the car a few times in this way but it helps you find out the limits of the chassis, when and where to keep your foot down and when it’s better to chill so you can return the car in one piece! Aside from the two second-gear hairpins that were fun to powerslide out of, it was the two third-gear corners in the in-field that were the most fun. This is where the precision and balance of the chassis and suspension shines through. You can hold the car right on the limit of grip and as you being to exit the long sweeper you can feather the throttle, placing the car at a slight angle, each millimeter of the gas pedal pushing the rear end out further as you wind in a few more degrees of opposite lock. The precision is amazing, and extremely satisfying. I didn’t dare go crazy on this particular section as a mistake at that speed would have ended in a potential mess. However Formula D champion Ken Gushi was going full out, flicking the car into a drift in third with a whole turn of opposite lock and holding it there until the transtion and downshift into second, to set up for the final hairpin of the course. Crazy stuff!
After a couple of outings…
…I returned back and asked Tada-san with a few questions. First up the automatic. Why is it so damn good? Well it turns out it is based on the Lexus ISF’s 8-speed transmission, probably one of the best torque converters in the world known for machine-gunning through gears and serving up delicious rev-matched downshifts. For the FR-S two cogs are removed obviously and the solenoids that shift the ratios aren’t quite as advanced but that is one hell of a lot of technology to be putting in a little sports car like this. It turned out I didn’t even put the transmission in Sport mode, where the shifts get even quicker, something I sampled in my next drive of the car. I think I did at least 20 laps in the auto, it was really that good. I also asked Tada-san if he could let us know the chassis code for the 86/FR-S, as I am sure a lot of you might want to know this. Well it turns out he does have an idea what it will be but it won’t be confirmed until the homologation paperwork from the government is finalized. So for all you otakus out there, sorry but you will have to wait a couple of months to find this out!
With a whole lot of driving under our belts, it was time for a spot of lunch.
Peter from Modified sat with us and, like yours truly, was very eager to head right back out on track!
When Ken Gushi took the FR-S for a drift assessment Larry, Luke and I headed to the infield…
…by far the best place to capture some sideways action.
The poor little FR-S had so many cameras attached onto its body it looked like a porcupine!
Luke and Larry both liked the FR-S as much as everyone else there so thumbs up from them too!
Larry attempted to get a nice zoom up shot of my nose hairs.
With the final session completed…
…it was over into the back of the service van do to some tracking shots of Ken in the FR-S.
We were told no drift shots but I think Ken got bored after half a lap, as you can see in the opening shot.
I am usually extremely critical of new cars, but there is hardly anything I can fault the FR-S on. I’d have to really nitpick because as it is, this is an astonishingly good ride. I literally haven’t had this much fun in a car at a track in a very long time. I can’t wait to get my hands on a production model and take it up to some touge to see if it shines as much on mountain passes as it does around a smooth track.
Stay tuned for Larry’s Behind the Scenes post of his trip over to Japan coming up tomorrow, and Luke’s video at the end of the week.
-Dino Dalle Carbonare
Pictures: Dino Dalle Carbonare & Larry Chen