One year and 6,000 or so miles ago, I took delivery of a new, 2013 FR-S manual. In true TCL fashion, I felt a little write-up was in order:
Though it resulted in much hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing on the part of TCL (and rejoice from TFL), this car effectively “replaced” a Cayman S in my garage. Since it wasn’t a daily driver (more of a weekend/autox/very occasional track day car), in large part the reason I ditched the Cayman was simply because I wasn’t getting as much use out of it as it was costing each month. Punk move? Possibly…
I was set on finding something older that I could tinker around with, but then this FR-S popped up on eBay about two months after I sold the Cayman at a price I simply could not ignore. I had a good bit of experience with the FR-S/BRZ and already knew I liked the cars a lot; it ticked the right boxes in terms of what I look for in a fun car. Was it fast? No. Was it fancy? No. Would it impress the ladies? Probably not, unless they’re into autocross (which would be a no). Just about the polar opposite of the Porsche then, right? But what it does do well is provide a good feel for the road through a light, small, tossable footprint. It also provides a great platform to tweak for autocross and light track day usage. In the ways that matter, it’s very similar to the Cayman it replaced.
My particular FR-S was a leftover new 2013 model, bought in May 2014 from a small Toyota dealer in rural PA. The car had been sitting in their showroom and had just a few miles on it; lucky, since I would have expected an “old stock” car on the lot to be used for demo duty at some point. I purchased the car entirely online, flew up to Pittsburgh, was met at the airport with the car washed and full of gas, and continued on my way back to Florida. The whole process couldn’t have been more painless.
•The big reason one would buy an FR-S/BRZ, and the reason I bought mine, is because it’s a great handler. And it is. Few new cars under $50k, short of a Miata, provide the kind of feedback and telepathic response that these cars do. If you want something that’s simply outright fast, you’ll be disappointed. If you want something refined, you’ll also be disappointed. If you want an undiluted driving experience, you’ll love it.
•It’s well-known that the stock wheel and tire package on these cars is a joke, and made to exaggerate their tail-happy balance - maybe for test drives, maybe for journalists. Either way, when you’re trying to burn down a back road, you’ll probably want a halfway decent set of tires. If you hope to be competitive at autocrossing, you’ll definitely need a better wheel and tire setup. To that end, I fitted 17x9” (same diameter as stock, but two inches wider, and with a lower offset to boot) Enkei RPF-1 wheels and 255/40-17 Hankook RS-3s. The RS-3s are one of the top autox tire choices for good reason, as they’re far stickier than their 200 treadwear rating (the SCCA minimum) would suggest. If I were driving these things daily, I would expect less than 10,000 miles out of them. Compared to the Pilot Super Sports I ran on the Cayman, these are far stickier, although the trade-off is the way they thrum at any speed above walking pace. Coupled with the FR-S’ lack of sound deadening, my fiancé is now reaching for the ear plugs any time we take my car. A good way around this is to lower the windows and listen to the wind.
•One of the things I most appreciate about the FR-S is how the chassis feels hardwired to your brain, by way of your hands and feet. You can feel exactly what the car’s about to do, and then quickly change its cornering attitude on a whim. That’s part of what makes it so competitive in a setting like autocross, where the game is all about speedy responses. I’ve taken it to probably a dozen autocrosses by now (just once on the new suspension setup, sadly, although a Sebring track day is coming up in late June) and I’ve been impressed by it every time.
•I think it’s a good-looking car. It’s squat, wide and close to the ground. In that way, it reminds me of the Cayman. Although, truth be told, I never thought my 987 Cayman was a beautiful car. It was purposeful, in a kind of “it looks like this because it has to” sort of way. But compared to the new 981 version, the 987’s rear three-quarters view just looks like kind of a mess. I have no such qualms about the FR-S. Especially now that it’s lowered and on a proper wheel/tire combo, I love the way it looks, and often catch myself looking back at it in parking lots.
•It gets the little stuff right. For example, the shifter and clutch feel combination feels very properly judged. The driving position is excellent, as are the seats. It’s easy to heel-toe. It’s not fast, but the gearing helps it at least feel entertaining.
•Could it handle more power? Absolutely. I think natural aspiration fits the car’s character really well, though, to the point where I’d trade 300 turbocharged ponies for 250 n/a ones. Since Toyota or Subaru don’t appear ready to install that much power on their own, it’s up to the aftermarket to fill the void. Adding 30-40 horsepower by way of a tune, header and full exhaust might be in the cards for mine next, although there’s certainly a trade-off to be made in terms of noise levels and, if the motor pops for some strange reason, your warranty not being honored thanks to the tune. I’m wrestling with inner demons over those two points right now. I have a feeling power will win out.
•Far more akin to an economy car than a fancy-pants sports car like the Cayman, the usual descriptors that could be levelled at a Yaris could also be levelled at the FR-S: buzzy, tinny, loud, cheap…on and on. Stones ping against the underbody and in the wheel wells, you feel every bump in the road, and the interior, while tightly assembled, is made of low-grade plastics and has few amenities. The sound system, for example, can barely overpower the wind and tire roar. But none of it really bothers me. As an entry-level, back-to-basics sports car, you can’t expect much more than the “twins” provide. Want more sound deadening and creature comforts? Okay, but it’ll cost you – not only literally, but also in the form of weight. What you might end up with is something like a 370Z or Genesis coupe, which are more refined and luxurious (some would say) but far heavier and less direct/communicative than the FR-S/BRZ.
•The ride-and-handling balance, even in stock form, leans a lot heavier toward “handling” than “ride”. While it’s a fairly stiff-legged car straight out of the box, I went and ruined everything by fitting much stiffer HKS coilovers and cranking down the ride height. While it now looks great and goes like stink around corners, street livability has definitely suffered. Since this isn’t my commuter, I’m okay with it – but if I suddenly had only this car to drive each day, I’d probably find a more street-friendly suspension setup. This isn’t really a ding against the car, more so its owner. Of course, lower and stiffer wasn’t quite enough, so a full corner balancing and aggressive camber and toe settings were also mandatory. Again, the benefits will be tangible through cones or around a track, but on the street, it hunts out ruts and grooved pavement like a bloodhound hunts fox p!ss.
What’s gone wrong?
Nothing, thankfully. In only 6,000 miles, there hasn’t been much time for anything to go wrong, but nevertheless, the car’s been very reliable. I’ve done one oil change myself and the aforementioned suspension upgrades, but other than that, I haven’t touched it. It has yet to visit the dealership for anything and I hope to keep it that way.
I'd make the decision to buy it all over again if I had to; if my situation remains the same and I can own something less practical for while, I might flip this for an AP2 S2000 in the winter, although the jury's still out on that decision. I may decide to keep it. Or do a few power mods and see how much better I like the car then. It's an enjoyable sports car and anyone who paints it with the brush of "being underpowered" without ever driving one in anger is really doing themselves a disservice.
One year ago:
SAM_2454-3 by raregreen91, on Flickr
SAM_2455-4 by raregreen91, on Flickr
SAM_2457-6 by raregreen91, on Flickr
SAM_2458-7 by raregreen91, on Flickr
Wide-1 by raregreen91, on Flickr
Compared to stock:
Side by side-2 by raregreen91, on Flickr
image by raregreen91, on Flickr
On the setup pad:
image_3 by raregreen91, on Flickr
image_2 by raregreen91, on Flickr
Rolling past 5k:
image_4 by raregreen91, on Flickr
SAM_3999 by raregreen91, on Flickr
SAM_3998 by raregreen91, on Flickr
SAM_3995 by raregreen91, on Flickr
SAM_3994 by raregreen91, on Flickr
SAM_3990 by raregreen91, on Flickr