Of course it starts with a more powerful engine.
After spending a week with the Scion FR-S I can confidently say that Toyota has done a damn fine job. This thing is great to look at, fun to drive and relatively affordable (my tester checked in at $26,075). The FR-S has soul, style and is rear-wheel drive, so it’s unlike any other Toyota out now. After spending a week with the FR-S I also now know why no-one is buying it. It’s wildly impractical and underpowered, compared to the cars it should be competing against. Luckily, I have a plan to save the FR-S.
The first thing Toyota should do is up the engine’s power output. Now, I thought the 2.0-liter boxer-four which makes 200 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque was fine, especially when paired with the standard six-speed manual. Remember that this car weighs just 2,761 pounds and isn’t designed for stoplight sprints. It’s for carving up twisty back roads. The problem is that it’s the only car in its segment—Japanese RWD two-doors designed for handling—aside from its BRZ twin. As a sports car and at its current price point the FR-S is positioned directly next to cars like the Mustang and Camaro, aka the kings of the sports car segment in America. If the idea of competing with these two icons sounds crazy then you need to know this.
The FR-S isn’t even as powerful as Kia’s Forte Koup SX which makes 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque with a manual standard, albeit in FWD. Yikes. Now the FR-S doesn't need to come close to the turbo-four Camaro's 275 hp or the EcoBoost Mustang's 310 hp. But 240-260 horsepower (do some tuning and add a turbo) would make it no slouch when compared to these two American giants and it would still possess its handling advantage and be RWD. The FR-S would still hold the advantage of being the only car in its segment while stealing some sales away from Ford and Chevy. The second thing Toyota needs to do is kill off the S-FR Concept before it can even make production. Yes more sports cars is always good but more competition isn't.
A production-spec S-FR would be a waste of time and resources as it would enter a segment consisting of and dominated by one car: the Mazda MX-5. The Miata has carved out its own niche in the automotive world, one that isn’t easy to enter. Hell, its only competitor is a clone of itself (the upcoming Fiat 124 Spider). If Toyota really wants a convertible it should offer the FR-S with a soft top. Then the automaker would be forced to do something about the horribly cramped cabin! Still, making the FR-S a little roomier and creating a convertible variant is much cheaper than building a new car from the ground up. Speaking of which…
Toyota needs to pull the trigger on the new Supra. Yes, the FR-S doesn’t need lineup competition but the Supra would be a halo car meant to hunt Porsches, not Mustangs and Camaros. In order to do that it will need at least 340(ish) horsepower if it wants to run with the 718 Cayman and Carrera 911. It’ll also need a high price tag to reflect its specialness. Of course, not everyone will be able to afford the new Supra. But imagine if the FR-S shared some of the Supra’s style. If the production version looks even half as good as the FT-1 it’ll be a winner. Now imagine if the FR-S had an engine that didn’t look like an underpowered afterthought when put next to the new Supra’s hybrid setup/inline-six/whatever the hell powers it.
That sounds like an awesome and affordable alternative to what is sure to be an awesome and unaffordable (to most) sports car. I really did enjoy my time in the FR-S and applaud Toyota for creating a car that’s such a throwback to a time gone by. However, I also know that car companies leverage nostalgia to make money, not to lose it. Making the FR-S in the first place was a bold choice. Putting it in a position to steal sales from the Mustang and Camaro would be an even bolder one, as would be building a new Supra. But if anyone has the resources, heritage and know-how to pull it off it's the people over at Toyota. Photo Credit: Simmi Sinha.