7.20.2014

Where To Test Drive The 2014 Scion FR-S (Good Luck Convincing Your Local Dealer)

2014 Scion FR-S front view
2014 Scion FR-S.
It's been two years since our last shot at the wheel of a Scion FR-S and a lot has changed.  TireKicker World Headquarters has relocated to Sacramento, California from Phoenix, Arizona. We've gained winding, twisting mountain roads and the best travelling companion one could ask for.

The FR-S is pretty much the same car that we drove in the summer of '12...still packing the Subaru 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder that makes 200 horsepower, with a six-speed manual (you can pay extra for an automatic, but for the love of God, why would you?), 17-inch alloy wheels, an independent MacPherson strut front suspension and a double wishbone rear suspension with a Torsen Limited Slip differential. There's a new touchscreen audio system standard (but if you want navigation, that's extra).  Base price is up $200 from the original 2013 model, to $24,700...and ours was optionless, so with $755 delivery processing and handling fee, the bottom line was $25,455.

When I knew we'd have the FR-S in our possession last weekend, I asked Navigator to find us a good winding, twisting road.

She found three.



Map of route from Folsom to Loon Lake
Folsom to Loon Lake (source: Google Maps).
The original idea was to run the FR-S over much the same route on which we took the 2014 Mazda Miata MX-5 back in January...out Green Valley Road from Folsom, heading east. Rather than heading south on North Shingle Road, we'd continue east to California State Route 193 and take that north to the gold mining town of Georgetown. But after a quick walk around the town and a stop for lunch at The Loco BBQ Company, we decided the afternoon was young and we'd head northeast out of town on Wentworth Lake Road as far as the road goes...to beautiful Loon Lake...for a total of 80 miles of winding roads one-way.

How far into the Sierra is this, you ask?  Pretty much all the way.  Look at it from this angle:

Loon Lake (left) and Lake Tahoe (right).
See any roads between Loon Lake and Lake Tahoe? That's because there aren't any.  If you want to get from one to the other, your only option is the 22-mile Rubicon Trail.  Trails are rated for difficulty on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being most difficult. The Rubicon Trail is a 10.  Jeep tests its vehicles here.  If it makes it over the Rubicon Trail without modifications, it's deemed "Trail Rated".

It was a hot afternoon, the low triple-digits in Sacramento, 100 in Georgetown and in the mid-high 90s even at elevations of 6,000 feet, so we stopped for refreshment along the way (Coke for the driver, beer for Navigator) at Uncle Tom's Cabin.  It's been out here for 150 years.




Back in the day, it was an "unofficial" stop for the stagecoaches (meaning the drivers were having what Navigator's having), and these days it's the official, de rigeur stop for Jeep owners who run the Rubicon trail on their own, in small groups and during the annual Jeep Jamboree, which attracts off-roaders from all over America and the world (that's their money hanging from the ceiling).

Rear 3/4 view of 2014 Scion FR-S
2014 Scion FR-S. 
On the paved roads, the FR-S handled like a slot car.  Low to the ground and with the fenders dropping off out of eyesight, the impression of speed at the wheel is far greater than the speed itself.  Navigator, who doesn't rattle easily, asked once or twice just how fast I was going on the twisties...and only seemed slightly relieved to hear "45 miles per hour".  It felt like 70.   And that's a major selling point for this car, which looks like a serious performance machine.  You need to get it out on some curves for it to live up to the image. And then, boy, does it.

Interior view of 2014 Scion FR-S
2014 Scion FR-S interior.
Downsides?  There are a few.  The buttons for the touchscreen audio system are so small as to make hitting the right one without taking your eyes off the road a less-than-likely proposition. And there are no audio controls (or any other, apart from paddle shifters) on the steering wheel, so if you don't like what you're listening to, that's what you've gotta do.  If you park it on even the slightest incline, the door will pretend to stay open, and just as you've gotten one leg into or out of the car, it will come back, attempting an amputation not covered by ObamaCare. And Navigator, not one given to complaining, complained after 160 miles (about four hours all told in the car) that her tailbone hurt.

Set those aside, though (your tailbone may vary, you could listen to the engine's raspy exhaust note instead of the radio, CD or iPod, and you can always turn the car around and be facing down the incline, allowing gravity to keep the doors open) and the FR-S is a lot of fun in the right setting.

Truth be told, this is the 45-years-later equivalent of the original 1970 Datsun 240Z...a not-terribly-powerful 2-seater (okay, there are rear seats in the FR-S, but let's get real) that performs decently (the FR-S is actually quicker to 60 and faster in the quarter-mile than the old Z), handles brilliantly and sells for about the same price, adjusted for inflation.  Not bad at all.  If Toyota had kept this for themselves instead of branding it as a Scion, and named it "Celica", it'd be selling five times as many copies.

(As always, the businesses mentioned in this article had no idea that I'd be writing about them.  They're simply included as places you might enjoy if you're in the area.)

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