If you’ve seen the new edition of Le Guide de l’auto and leafed through its 678 pages, you already know that the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ were crowned Cars of the Year. These two new coupes share the title because they’re practically identical twins born of a joint project of the Japanese manufacturer Subaru and the giant Toyota. With 16% of Subaru’s shares, Toyota is the most important partner in this equation.
This is not a true head-to-head comparison. For that, we would have had to drive mechanically comparable versions of the new Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S coupes at the same time on the same roads. Our objective was simply to learn more about our two winners, explore their ride and measure their performances in a familiar setting. After driving the Scion FR-S equipped with a manual gearbox whose performances are outlined in the 2013 Guide de l’auto, I took the wheel of a BRZ coupe with an automatic transmission.
Consider this more of a complementary match-up than a competitive one. These back-to-back test drives took place on familiar roads and helped us gather the first acceleration and braking numbers for these new sport coupes whose size and mechanics, save a few very small exceptions, are virtually identical.
Basically, Subaru’s engineers were entirely responsible for the technical development of both coupes, while Toyota’s stylists and designers took care of the exterior look and passenger compartment design. But perhaps you already knew that: after all, these two new models were very eagerly anticipated to say the least.
This initiative represents a first sport coupe for Subaru – note that it only comes with rear-wheel drive – and a return to the segment for Toyota. Now, that’s something to get excited about, especially since the BRZ coupe and the Scion FR-S, as it will be known in North America (it will be called the Toyota GT86 elsewhere on the planet) are going to be offered at a very good price.
Thus, they were abundantly described, analyzed and contemplated since the very first studies, the confirmation that production models were on the way, and their progressive unveilings in showrooms and on the Web. We also analyzed and dissected the Subaru BRZ in a review following the official launch last May, where you’ll find the essentials on its technical design and its ride on the road and the track.
The BRZ and FR-S look a lot alike at first glance, but their front grilles and side air vents are different. From the back, you can only tell them apart by their brand and version logos. From the side, the FR-S coupe bears the Scion emblem at the top of the front fender, while the BRZ settles for the black slots of a phony air extractor. Nothing detracts from the pure and unpretentious silhouette of both coupes. The chiselled spoiler looks like a relic from the 1980s and , unfortunately, it’s included in Subaru’s Sport-tech package – but Scion was wise enough to make it a separate option.
This article isn’t like the dozens of others that attempt to establish which of the two coupes is better or more attractive. What would be the point of that? The differences between the BRZ and FR-S are literally in the accessories, and hinge on small details in how the equipment is presented. These differences no impact on the fact that they are two wonderfully executed cars that are a joy to drive at any pace.
Both offer sculpted sport seats that are just firm enough, a superb if not perfect steering wheel and a surprisingly high quality ride on the traitorous cracks and bumps of local roads. With that in mind, you still feel and hear the surface when you’re on board, as is often the case with such a rigid body. But then again, isn’t that the idea with sports cars? Within reason, of course...
It was also a great pleasure to discover the BRZ’s impeccably fine and precise steering without that strange vagueness that we detected during the first test drive. And yet, it featured the same Michelin Primacy tires, which may not have the grip of true sport tires, but won’t fall apart after a few laps on the track either. For week-end racers interested in the BRZ/FR-S duo, this is an important point.
The Scion FR-S offers a rare level of pleasure with its exceptional balance. When we pushed its limits on the road, this Toyota coupe demonstrated optimum finesse and agility (though it remains to be seen how it performs on the track). And this is only the very first version! That just goes to show how sound the basic design of this new series really is. Even better things are sure to come.
Despite a rating of 100 horses per litre (still exceptional for a naturally-aspirated engine), there’s no chance that the BRZ/FR-S tandem’s four-cylinder flat engine will liquefy the rear tires. Even with only 1,255 kilos to move, its 200 horses at 7,000 rpm and 151 lbs-ft of torque at 6,400 rpm wouldn’t be able to do it, unless you have an unhealthy obsession with burnouts.
On our usual straightaway, the Scion FR-S armed with the six-speed manual gearbox went from 0-100 km/hr in 7.29 seconds and devoured the quarter-mile in 15.31 seconds with a top speed of 150.1 km/hr. We recorded our best times when we disengaged the clutch sharply at a constant speed of about 4,700 rpm. The stick shift clearance is short and the selection is precise and fast. Shifting directly from 3rd to 4th gear is a joy, but you’ll need to be more deliberate in your movements to shift into 5th without sticking in the previous gear.
With the six-speed automatic, the BRZ coupe recorded a 8.66-second 0-100 km/hr time, managed the quarter-mile in 16.42 seconds and reached a maximum speed of 146.4 km/hr. It also stopped a metre shorter on average at a speed of 100 km/hr for the six usual braking tests with a distance of 39.22 m versus 40.20 metres for the FR-S. These distances will undoubtedly be shorter with the sport tires and stronger brakes that are sure to be included on more powerful future versions.
Pick a colour, any colour
To be honest, the presentation and finish of the passenger compartment are what really separates these twins from one another. The FR-S is available in seven colours, including the Firestorm red of our test car or flamboyant Hot Lava orange. Sure, our test BRZ was elegant in the Sterling Silver Metallic, but it was also too discrete. In fact, it’s even subdued in World Rally Blue Pearl, the naughtiest of the four colours currently available. At the very least, it should come in the Tangerine Orange of the new XV Crosstrek.
I know what you’re going to say: it’s a question of taste. Be that as it may, I greatly preferred the black satin finish of the FR-S’ dashboard to the BRZ’s silver, shiny, smooth and almost blinding surface. I also find the Scion coupe’s gauges, including the rpm counter’s background that changes from white to gold and the numbers go from black to white when you turn on the headlights. The gauges in the BRZ are uniformly bathed in an orangey red light.
I easily figured out the touch screen’s controls in the FR-S. Linking my modest cell phone only took a minute. Although the screen isn’t great, its graphics are nicer and its blends much better overall in the FR-S. Frankly, the touch screen clashes in the BRZ.
In complete contrast, the BRZ’s interface had me swearing like a longshoreman. For example, I accidentally turned off the radio when trying to adjust the volume. And I never did figure out how to link my telephone or use the navigation system. However, both systems come from Pioneer. It’s just that Scion/Toyota chose a better model and integrated it better.
Subaru Canada had the bad idea of adding this undesirable navigation system to the BRZ’s standard equipment, a coupe designed above all for the pure pleasure of driving. The result is that its current base price is $27,295, while you can get an FR-S without a navigation system for $25,990. It’s high time that Subaru Canada corrects the situation and offers a comparable base version.
You can get an excellent portable navigation system or the latest smart phone for the difference in price between the current base models and put the rest toward sport or snow tires, because you’ll want to drive these coupes year-round and as often as possible. Given their centre of gravity that is just a few millimetres higher than that of a Ferrari 458, as well as their exceptional balance, delightfully keen and tactile steering, and efficient anti-slip differential, BRZ and FR-S will be awesome on snowy roads.
Until then, we’re looking forward to comparing them to each another and to their rivals, on the road and on a circuit. Any time is a good time to drive one of these two revelations, as they are re-launching the affordable coupe and sports car category, just as the Miata once did for roadsters. And we know what happened next.