This Might Be a Problem


Woke up today with a pretty busy calendar. Started off nice and early checking out a new location of my favorite coffee shop and getting a free quad shot decaf latte (don’t judge). Also in the day was lunch. And between coffee and lunch there was a Scion FR-S test drive.

And I went.

I want to start by saying that I think this car **should** be cross shopped with the JCW MINIs. It might be crossed shopped with the MCSs too. And I think both cars will lose.

I arrived at the parking lot where the test drive was being held. 2 Yokohama trucks where there providing support, there were some tent set up for shade while drivers waited and there were 3 Scions ready to be driven. These were all equipped with an automatic transmission (more shortly), TRD lowering springs, TRD exhaust and, as you might expect, Yokohama tires. All of this kit was to provide a favorable driving experience on the day’s course, which we are all familiar with. A make-shift AutoX course, larger than any of the MINI test drive tracks ever have been too.

I was signed up, had my time and signed the waiver. Took some pictures and chatted with some of the others that were there waiting their turn. Mostly enthusiasts too. Not Scion enthusiasts mind you, car enthusiasts. A few AutoX guys, another MINI owners and some kids that were bummed because they were too young to drive. We we’re upset about the lack of manual gear box and that we aren’t able to disable traction control or turn on the sport button.

My turn comes up. A short explination of the gearbox and I’m on my way. And it was ok. I was flumoxed by that damned gear box (a 6-speed auto with paddle shifters and dynamic rev management), but I liked it’s handling, power and brakes.

I got a 2nd run and I was more comfortable. The gear box made some sense (matches revs when downshifting, holds the gear for a really long time) and I was able to fly around the course that was setup. By my third run, it’s like I already owned the car and probably ran 10 seconds faster than the prior lap. I was able to get the rear end to rotate just enough without triggering the traction control and really get on the brakes when needed.

About the gear box. This is the automatic transmission that MINI needs to have. For a slushbox, it was pretty decent. The paddles made sense (one to upshift, one to downshift) and they worked as you would expect. The rev matching was a nice touch too. And it would really hold the gear, just like driving a standard transmission. I was told the performance was still better with the standard as expected, but for an auto, this definitely didn’t suck.

For those that don’t know, the Scion FR-S is the latest Scion, sharing with Subaru (as the BRZ) and with Toyota as something else in Japan. Essentially, short of a bit of kit on the Subbie, they are all identical. Rear drive, 200hp boxer engine. 2+2 seating, but the rear seats really shouldn’t be there. You get the idea. Oh, and this car was engineered and built for the enthusiast.

For example, under the hood they have created a system that pipes the intake sound into the cockpit, giving you a better feeling for what the car is doing just by listening to the motor. And, the door handles were intentially mounted a little more forward than you would expect to accomodate a roll cage. And you can fit your set of track wheels and tires in the boot with the rears seats folded flat. And, and, and.

Oh yea, base price is $24,996 with the standard transmission, $26,055 with the 6-speed automatic.

You can’t order one like you can in a MINI. You can pick the color, transmission and if you want the upgraded stereo system (that I was told isn’t that great). That’s it. No leather, no nav (unless you get the Subbie), no sunroof. I would imagine that when you are at the dealer you could peruse through the TRD catalog and find some nice enhancements (I would recommend the springs and exhaust).

A car built for the enthusiast. And, if I’m honest, I liked it. A lot.

This car vs. a JCW is going to be a tough sell. They aren’t being cross shopped because the MINI is a premium product where as the Scion is not and is also normally driven by lads that can’t manage to keep their ball caps on the correct way or wear their trousers correctly. But, if I were in the market for a new car, I would look very serious at the Scion FR-S. Great handling, great power and it’s exactly what I expect it to be, nothing more, nothing less. And, with a base price that is $5,000 less than a JCW, that would just about seal the deal. Sure it’s not as nice as the MINI, but that’s not what this car is about. It’s a car built for the enthusiast.

This car was nicer than I expected. The doors closed with a solid thud as opposed to the tinny click of the other models. The interior was lacking in the expected rental car feel. The sport seats were super comfortable and really did a great job holding me in place. And it was completely tossable, just like the MINI. Give this car a larger rear sway bar to knock out the little bit of understeer that it has (or turn off traction control) and you’re ready for the track or AutoX.

I’m not the only one that liked this car. Stella got to drive one a few months ago and was completely smitten by it. You guys know that there is no way I could own one, but don’t be surprised to see me report if one gets parked in the garage.

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  1. DB, MINI should lie awake sweating puddles in fear of this car!

    This proves the point I’ve felt since the R56 came out, and Gabe’s talk of the F56.

    Quit relying on “premium brand” to sell the car. Don’t allow cafe numbers to steal the enthusiasts heart.

    I would also remove the “Cooper” from everything but the hard top and its convertible variant(F56 and F57). MINI Clubman, MINI Countryman, MINI Coupè, and MINI Roadster can all stand on their names. They do not need the “Cooper” badge on the rear.

    1. Oh yea, I forgot to mention the FR-S gets almost the same MPG as the JCW. A reported 34. I don’t know what the Monroni on the JCW says, but I think it’s close to that.

  2. There is nothing particularly distinguishing about the exterior look of this car. It just blends in with most of the others in its class. To wit: note that you made it all the way through your blog post without even mentioning this aspect. Despite all of the positives, this inability to stimulate passion will be its major shortcoming.

  3. Fwd vs rwd is a huge issue in areas in the USA where we get that stuff that white stuff that falls from the sky in the winter. I don’t see it being shopped THAT much. Also, the average owner of any vehicle does not modify it from
    Stock. It should be compared stock to stock.

    Nice post DB!

  4. “normally driven by lads that can’t manage to keep their ball caps on the correct way” :) :)

    When MINI first came, it was absolutely an enthusiasts car with it’s harsh suspension and noisy ride … it’s been watered down to improve sales, and the price has gone higher and higher, now we see the result – there’s space below for a new enthusiasts car.

    I’d love a five year ahead crystal ball to see where MINI will be …

  5. @Gary – True, but at the same time I don’t think it’s a bad looking car. In fact, I think it’s the best looking Scion out there. I didn’t mention the look of the car not because I didn’t notice, but because I was more focused on other things.

    @Neal – Sure sure. I would be curious to see how the FR-S handles the snow with it’s rear drive. I’m betting the traction control is pretty aggressive in bad weather.

    @Ian. Seriously, right?

  6. I think I’d prefer the Subie version, and I might consider it for my next car. By then I’ll know if I’m just putting myself in the company of a bunch of said baseball cap wearers. If so, that may be enough to keep me away. Much prefer the broad range of buyers for the Mini and the anonymity that comes with it. You can enjoy your enthusiast focus without being typecast (by insurance companies and police too!).

  7. Funny but just a few years ago not too many MINI owners would have ever thought they might change, now I’ve moved on to an ABARTH as have some others and I know a few who are seriously looking elsewhere. Thought I’d die with a MINI.

    This would not be a car I’d look at though, I’m sure it’s a fun car. Never in to that Z car-ish look.

  8. I’m with you, db. I REALLY like this car. I didn’t think I would notice them driving around, but they catch my eye every time. I don’t know if I would fit (6’7″), but I feel compelled to check it out. I prefer the look of the Scion over the Subaru…a little less busy. If I were in the market for a new car…I really think I would consider this, and I, like the person above, thought I would die with a MINI.

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