EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 9, 2012

New Scion sports car captures youth

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — The FR-S changes everything for Scion. Bold, daring, quick and defiantly youthful, the new model lifts the entire Scion brand, and sets it down in a shinier, more prominent spot in the auto world.

Introduced in June, the 2013 Scion FR-S is a low-slung, rear-wheel-drive sports car that overflows with zest and acrobatic exuberance. Its body is sleek and snarky, embodying coiled and compact power like the stance of a welterweight fighter. Its cockpit elevates the business of driving, with scooped and supportive front seats that face gauges, switchgear and controls laid out for rapid engagement. The car’s mechanicals are set up to encourage that engagement, by acting with quick-snap agility.

Best of all, the new FR-S wears a price within reach of hip, energetic young drivers who gain most from the car’s racy character. When equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, the new little Scion starts at $24,930. With a six-speed automatic, the price hops to $26,030. Both versions use a flat, horizontal four-cylinder engine that puts out 100 horsepower per each of its two liters, an impressive measure of engine ability that makes the FR-S spritely and energetic.

This new little sports car is a joint development between Toyota, parent of the Scion brand, and Subaru. Low-to-the-ground, horizontal engines are a Subaru specialty. They promote stable, agile road handling, by pushing a car’s weight closer to the pavement, much as an athlete crouches when he’s ready for action. Subaru sells a version of the joint-project car called the BRZ. But the Subaru BRZ is configured for easier cruising, with a softer suspension. The more rigid slinging beneath the Scion FR-S gives it more aggressive road manners.

But for all of its thrilling road qualities, the affordable price of the FR-S is the ingredient that lifts Scion’s stature the most. It puts the right kind of driver behind the wheel and onto the roads, where he’s seen and envied by his fashion-conscious peers.

At Rockingham Toyota Scion Honda in Salem, N.H., drivers ranging into their 50s are buying the new model. But most action comes from a younger set, said Zack Mangold, sales manager at the dealership. He sees a lot of buyers in their 20s and 30s lining up to get the car. They’re helping to make the FR-S the hottest property on the auto scene today.

“The FR-S was the fastest turning car in the entire industry last month,” Mangold said. That means it is selling at a faster rate than any other car you can buy. At Rockingham, “we have a few on the ground, but a lot of them are being special ordered,” he noted.

Largely on the strength of the FR-S, Scion sales more than doubled in August from the same month last year.

“The FR-S is creating a lot of excitement,” Mangold said. “It’s a great performance vehicle that is launching Scion to a whole new level in the industry.”

The Scion brand has been around since 2003. It was established by Toyota to sell innovative, feature-rich, small and affordable cars that appeal to young drivers. The brand aimed to be edgy, attracting youth with offbeat, full-of-life attitude as much as with accessible prices. Currently Scion sells the xB “urban utility vehicle,” and the xD “urban subcompact.” The Scion iQ is a quirky micro-car that wholly lives up to the label. The tC, Scion’s top seller, is a sporty two-door coupe that young enthusiasts customize to create objects of self-expression.

Scion doesn’t sell vast quantities of cars. Through August, the brand has sold about 50,000 new cars across America. That is less than a third of the 164,000 Prius hybrid cars alone that Toyota has sold in the U.S. so far this year. It is only about a quarter of the nearly 200,000 Corollas and fewer than one fifth of the 280,000 Camry sedans Toyota dealers have moved in the first eight months.

But then, Toyota never planned to sell tons of Scions. Rather than flood the roadways, the company aimed from the outset to restrict the number of Scions available, thereby creating an exclusive image for the brand. It offers Scions though about 1,000 of its full-line Toyota dealers, including Rockingham in Salem. They follow a set-price, no-haggle approach, and they angle to make Scion a lifestyle expression as much as a transportation tool.

Rather than selling a lot, Toyota’s goal is to sell Scions to just the right people: young trendsetters admired and imitated by their peers. The overarching ambition for Scion is to make Toyota cool for young people, making them fans of Toyota and, the company hopes, life-long customers for the auto maker.

The soft spot in that strategy is that Scions are so practical, so appealing and so well priced that sensible old folks like ‘em too. Toyota promotes car-industry statistics showing that its buyers are the youngest of any auto brand in the United States. That must be true. And certainly the sporty tC coupe skews Scion’s popularity heavily toward youthful drivers. But it’s also not unusual to see white-haired seniors scooting around in, say, the sleekly boxed Scion xB due to its easy, inviting entry and the comfort of its upright seating.

But now the FR-S arrives to super-charge the youth appeal that the tC upholds. It can’t fail.

I spent last week test-driving an FR-S. I loved every aspect of the car. I loved the spunk and bounding energy of its fast-revving engine. I loved its light, nimble agility. I loved my commanding, affirmative perch inside the driver’s seat.

My only misgiving came when I approached or exited the swift FR-S. I felt a twinge of embarrassment, like I was wearing skinny jeans that are just too tight for a 50-something guy.

The 2013 Scion FR-S is a car for flamboyant youth. People of my generation do better in high-priced luxury sports cars from BMW, Porsche, and even the Chevy Corvette. Those models announce status and pampering excess. The FR-S is lean, like a skateboard.

Sure, it will attract driving enthusiasts of all ages, as Zack Mangold sees at Rockingham Toyota Scion. After all, the FR-S is an exhilarating, first-rate sports car. Its tight, low-riding cockpit and its front-engine, rear-drive set-up are essential ingredients that grab genuine motor addicts, whatever their age.

But at $25,000, the FR-S will pull in enough millennial hipsters to make it exactly the right car for Scion. Toyota is cool.

2013 Scion FR-S Vehicle type: 2- door, 4-passenger, rear-wheel-drive sports car Price range: $24,930 to $26,030 (plus options) Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 2 years/25,000 miles free scheduled maintenance; 2 years roadside assistance Engine: 2.0-liter H4 Power: 200 horsepower at 7,000 rpm; 151 lb.-ft. torque at 6,400 rpm Base transmission: 6-speed manual Fuel economy: 22 mpg city; 30 mpg highway Wheelbase: 101 inches Length: 167 inches Width: 70 inches Height: 51 inches Weight: 2,758 pounds Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons Turning circle: 35.4 ft.