My first days with an FRS
A time spent with Scion FRS and the people who made it all happen.
One day in the fall of 2007, I had a call from one of my dear contacts that, Mr.Haraguchi, the designer who worked in the team for the creation of the AE86 in the 80’s, was here to see me in Los Angeles, and that he had a team of engineers working on a new concept. They had asked if I can set aside a few hours for a coffee and chat in Orange County, CA.
It isn’t a usual thing at all for me to receive such invitation and while I have met Mr.Haraguchi on a few occasions, I have never really had his personal invitation for anything specific to see me. So on that week, I had notified and called upon a few colleagues from Club4AG, who among them served as core of what we were doing at the time.
At the time of this meet, at Starbucks Coffee in Irvine, CA, we were introduced to a team of engineers, some very young and talented, and headed by a man named Mr.Tetsuya Tada. Mr.Haraguchi introduced Mr.Tada as the man who will be the head of a new design team, who will be bringing back sports cars to Toyota. There wasn’t a clear notion, or even an attempt at the concept of what it was to be. All they knew was they wanted a sub-Y2, 000,000 Japanese Yen car, that weighed as little as possible, and had all the soul of what a true sports car fan might want. On this first meeting, there were 3 young engineers, all of whom, in their 20’s with credentials, seemingly qualified them as rocket scientists, with minds and mathematical qualifications to probably fly the Shuttle. To me, engineering a complex modern car seemed to be something they did while eating breakfast.
But Tada expressed to me, that they had not a clear understanding of what makes a car carry a soul among fans and proud owners. I was told to not only provide them with reasons why I love the AE86, and all its traits, and also, a larger picture of why a Mustang continues to sell using an archaic platform. Also relavent questions like, "why a Porsche 911 still has a deep fan base with very little styling changes since the 50’s 356 Coupe. Why does a BMW sedan continue to carry a notion of the best sports sedan, despite the classic conservative look (at the time pre-Bangle design era)? Why do Harley Davidson owners ride thousands of miles to meet once a year in the middle of North America to party? "
All of this, were never really a very rooted culture or agenda at Toyota for any continual basis, he explained. And that Tada was adamant that before a single line was drawn on the canvas, he wanted to make absolutely sure, that the team of designers understood what this car will have to carry. The sprit, the soul, ghost of glory, heritage, and matter of intrinsic, from visual, audio, and tactile, as well as from a numerical and dynamic standpoint, something very clear and defined, had to be integrated in the design.
To prove his point, the rental car he had driven from the Airport for the duration of his stay in Southern California, was a Mustang HERTZ GT500. And his calendar included a packed-busy schedule of everything from VW meets, to Import car shows, Solo2 Autocross, to Cars and Coffee meets.
Immediately after this meeting, I was secretly asked to put an anonymous poll in our forum of Club4AG community, requesting a wish list of what would define the next 2+2 compact sub $20,000 sports car. Needless to say, the community spoke. Much bickering, ranting, explaining, telling stories, dreaming, listing, I mean, the folks simply started to speak with huge passion for their own definition of what their affordable sports car would be.
Tada-san never really revealed to me whether he was following the thread, but for every occasion, and a chance he had, back in LA until 2009, for two years, we kept in contact, and kept assuring me that the project is alive. I can imagine the huge obstacles the project faced from the start, as what we were talking about was something which every other car-maker in the world has basically given up on, by late 2000’s. SUV was the craze of the decade, and even Porsche in this duration, had released a popular Cayanne SUV.
From any common investment and sales standpoint, a heavy R&D for a car that yields not any premium price, nor a huge expected volume could hardly stand a chance against the funding and product planning departments in a large firm. We all knew this, and yet, the project moved forth in secrecy for a few years, and while short rumors and tales were floating about, no one really expected anything until 2009, when TOYOTA released the FT86 concept car, and marketed this unfinished concept for all the world to see in video game called Gran Turismo 5.
BAM! The tone was set, and intent became VERY obvious at this point. Soon a dedicated website popped up. Then the news of its recently acquired partner, Subaru, was to take a majority stake at provision of the hardware components and assembly of this vehicle. The rest is history and anyone can Google and find every minute detail and discussion on the FT86 siblings, and Tada-san, and his team from Subaru and Toyota are racking up mentions and credited in every article, and in frequently treated as celebrities in automotive journalism today. I won’t write about how this car was received in the media, as that is something anyone can find in any media as of April 25th, 2012 in any of the popular press releases.
Here below, I will just concentrate on my own impression, biased from a AE86 enthusiast that I am, and from the Sunday racer motorsport geek with many years of passion. I wanted to just be raw and unbiased from any relations to the firm that is Subaru or Toyota, and would like to share the “soul, passion, and intrinsic” as I originally asked Mr. Tada in 2007, and how this came to become a real, moving, driving car, at the promised Y2,000,000 Yen mark. (Yes, the Japanese pricing target has been met, and only the exchange rates with US Dollar, had pushed the price point in the USA by round up figure I imagine, of $4200 to $24,200 MSRP) as in the form of the 2012 Scion FRS.
Fast Forward to April 18th, 2012. After months of very rapid news, flowing at 100mph on the web, and few brief contact with Toyota and Scion staff in various departments fortunately allowing me a peak here and there… The day I waited since the fall of 07 is finally here.
A day when I can really be allowed to test drive the car on the stages that count the most. Autocross sampler stage, a wet skidpad, and full blown raceway, rented exclusively for this end. And another day of driving through twisted canyon roads, city traffic of Las Vegas, and through day and night of mundane scenarios. The temperature was nearly 95F, and very dry, each day of the 2 day experience and we had a chance to see the car perform in the most ideal scenario for endurance typical to Southern California’s Sunday racing enthusiasts.
The first day started with a dinner and meet, and here I was once again reunited with my favorite man by now, Mr.Tada. Also thankful as ever, in more recent terms, were the officials and executives of Scion USA, Scion Racing, and other staff from many parts of what makes TOYOTA hum as a brand of global dominance and utter undisputed quality. And more importantly to me, a generosity and passion, all of the staff who had touched the SCION FRS, who kept me in the loop of all this busy planning and spectacular events of recent.
It was here, where I was really allowed to meet and talk freely of all the details of things I had been doing up to this day.
The driving experience…
On the morning of the main event day, I had rolled out of bed at 5am, and mentally went over what was to become of today, my expectations, my passion, excitement, and fears, joys, scrutiny, all coming together to push my emotions in every direction even before I left the hotel room at the Red Rock Resort. I sat on the bed, held my hand up to the invisible steering wheel, and made sure my eyes worked, and my butt mounted human G-Sensors all worked. I imagined the best track outing day and the best lap of one day long ago in my past, in my AE86 and sat like a Tibetian monk, meditating to the point where I remember every sense, sounds, pressures, and touch of how that AE86 reacted to my inputs, and vice versa. Then I thought of the many days in 2001~2007 when I taught drifting in the Drift Day open track, and how I gained muscle memory for drifting at low speeds to teach new drifters, the very foundation of car control. Then the long drives I took in the AE86 with friends, a long noisy yet delightful days I spent in the AE86 for two decades. I was virtual racing in my mind for 20 minutes, and I headed out for a walk. Faintly in the distance, I saw the canyon roads along the giant red rocks turn purple in the morning light. Finally, it dawned on me.
Today was the day, when the beloved AE86 will pass the torch to a new era of “86” with the FRS. The AE86 will never go away, and it will never be replaced by anything. It is a classic we enthusiasts named “Hachiroku.” It is a name that is not a property of Toyota, but of the fans who coveted them for nearly, the last 3 decades.
Boldly enough, the Scion FRS sports a “86” badge on its flank….
Marketing officials from Japan and USA both gave me similar reasons on why the 86 graces the product name of the car in Japan, and as a badge of association to the past in the USA. But they know damn well by now, through serious heat and debate on the internet, that this car “BETTER” live up to the name. A name we as enthusiasts invented long ago, and in an era when folks at TOYOTA only knew and referred to as low-volume-odd variations of a COROLLA. Whatever reasons the marketing folks had, this BETTER have a darn good explanation and be backed by the car’s character…
After a very neat breakfast, and a series of speeches by the awesome VP of Scion, Jack Hollis, and getting a dose of his truly satisfying pep-talk speech style, and the heavily accented English, but extremely sincere and passionate speech by the creator, Mr.Tada himself… We were escorted down to the front valet area of the Red Rock. There, as if it was magic, where I only saw RV’s and shuttle busses for retired rich folks just the day before, was clear of all cars. There sat a fleet of nine, Scion FRS in all colors, and transmission combinations, brightly reflecting the morning sunlight and beaming it off to us in a collaborative greeting of colors and light.
Promptly and sincerely, as in the tradition of the best Japanese hospitality, each of the journalists were assigned with a car. Go Taira of FT86Club.com forums, sought to have me as a driving buddy, for the 65 mile drive to the raceway. Both having a funky name, the others started to call us the “Go-Moto.”
Go is an enthusiastic Subaru Impreza owner, and himself a passionate tuner and driver. Still young in his 20’s, but with roots in Okinawa, where last breed of the hardest core canyon racers had taught him the real “86,” as something he’s never experienced deeply, but respected. Fine luck! This was the perfect partner for the day. I have had no previous attachment to the modern Subaru flat four, and that was where his knowledge could come in handy.
Out of manner and respect, and me having seniority of “senpai,” he kindly insisted that I take the helm first, and set out on the drive. Gratefully and respectfully, I accepted.
I rolled my butt end into the very low, and firmly bolstered seat bottom, and swung my legs into the cabin floor. This ritual is almost reminiscent of the 2000GT and Sports 800, both of which are totally similar in seat height in relation to the ground. It is also similar to a race-prepared AE86, with low mount full buckets and suspension so low, that the muffler pipes have to be rerouted under the differential housing to clear. Totally satisfying so far to the seasoned AE86 driver like me… Yes, 1 point for FRS.
Grabbing the seat slider bar in front of the seat, and adjusting it to get my feet well situated, I move my hand to the side lever to adjust the rake of recline. Arms straight forward and wrist to touch 10 and 2 o’clock. This is my habit on getting a rough estimate of where rear seatback should come. A bit tight for street driving in casual manner, but this was a serious drive, I opted for the Defcon 5 mode position. I find a second lever forward of the recliner, and paddling it, I found that it can move the seat up and down, ah, a Nice touch. Not all of us are the same torso height you know. I chose the middle height, I think, that naturally put the mirrors and cluster view and can be seen through the spokes of the wheel. I then realized, with the pushed back, pod side mirror view ,and the triangular support sub-window glass, mounted fore of the door, the view totally resembles the Lexus LFA! That is until you look again and it has none of the suede wrapped center console, or the exotic billet alloy controls, reminding you that this is not a $400,000 car. Close enough though! I’m excited, and yes, another point for the FRS.
The FRS has no option it seems for the convenient TOYOTA SMART KEY, and Tada san did explain, that such devices only complicate the matters for tuners, and 3rdparty custom workers. I've kind of gotten used to the Lexus and Prius at home with lots of convenience, but Tada san has a point, so I gave him another score. The traditional key it is.
Ignition switch to the engine by twisting the key was something even the LFA keeps, so why not? I give it a firm twist. And HELLO!! The Subaru sourced, Toyota re-mastered, FA20 (opps, the 4UGSE) engine turns fast and smooth, and wakes to a silent morning idle. How docile, but where is the noise and shaking of the AE86? Half point minus! But that is a bit extreme to be asking, and something I can fix myself later with a straight pipe and loopy cams? With my toes all curled up around the smallish gas pedal (damn you lawyers! ), I try squeezing the throttle, and "vroom" she goes. Go, with a big grin, turns to me, and we both smile like kids at the entrance to Toys 'R Us.
I do it again, and we giggle and smile… and again and again, like dumb 10 year olds, but each time, our comments becoming more mature. “Nice huh?” Go blurts out of his excited face, and “yes” I reply… The morning drive car was with the paddle shift automatic, so I was sort of skeptical and in my head, all sensors turned on, and that evil judge of scrutiny was in full alert.
Familiar with any other Scion, the tri-dial climate control is really simple to use. Perhaps lacking the luxury factor, but it works fine, and for this outing, I could care less if it was not even there! Hell, none of my AE86’s had AC and some not even heaters or fans! Once I set all the equipment carefully to not interrupt me later in the drive, I dropped my hand to the shift lever, and lowered the side brake lever. As posted in my previous writing, the shifter and brake lever is right smack in the middle of your natural arm travel from the wheel. It is as perfect as it gets. And many of you who changed knobs or wheel, or replaced seats in your car, know how slightest change in placement can be felt and seem awkward. But the FRS, the body does indeed become one with the car. 10 points here!
Paddles on the rear of the wheel are attached to the wheel, not the column. So it does chase your hand in normal drives and is really a joy to use. It’s a one-way paddle and works only in “pull” direction. It is arranged so that it’s left for up shift, and right for down—easy enough. There is a +/- gate on the shift lever for manual controls at the shifter as well, and both work at any time, so you can switch to either operation. (Toyota still has a weird habit of putting the up shift in aft, and down in forward direction, which is reverse of any video games or other semi-auto controls on other cars, but again, it’s a single electrical pin underneath, and we don’t leave such things unchanged in our quest for custom! Something to do already! How fun when I get mine!) No point deduction here.
Ok long enough of random talk, we set off out of the hotel entrance, and off we go!
We hit a sleeping policeman, that annoying bump in the road to slow cars down a alleyway or parking lot… The FRS soaks it with firm bump in the butt, but with no unexpected harshness. Go commented that it was “soft and compliant” as we rolled over them gently on the way out to the main road. I agree.
Our first destination was the canyons of Red Rock State Park, just adjacent to the Hotel it was named after, and that is where we are to get out scenic drive for photography, and a taste of tight, narrow mountain pass.
Entering the canyon and swinging the car side to side gently and firmly, the immediate sense of how fast the car reacts to the inputs became apparent. You’ve heard it a million times by now, and yes, the extremely rigid chassis and low center of gravity allows the car to shift vectors quickly and precisely, and more importantly, with softer compliant suspension and with predictability. It's a flavoring approach the German cars had for a while, and Toyota has recently matched any German feel this time. The recent drive in the 2013 GS350 also gave me a similar thought.
It feels good, almost too good to be true in this aspect. It darts around as you feed steering with precision and tracks over irregularities in the road very safely, pinned with very compliant suspension, just giving you enough roll and pitch to change the contact patch pressure, no more, no less. The balance of the car isn’t designed for superior cornering speed it seemed, but more for the proper predictable FUN balance, where driver has the most flexibility in making his intent become a dynamic reality, given skills and learning. But the threshold is so high in the FRS chassis that it can keep teaching you, and be upgraded I suppose for a long time to come.
The “Eco” tires are no news, and the Prius sport option tires in 17” variety are the stock shoes, with 620 treadwear!! But deceptively enough and somewhat brilliantly, it does add character to the car. Tada san didn't lose a battle with the finance, and product planning lords of the firm. This was intentional he said, to give the FT86 siblings, the classic feel of 80's technology-level grip, and to provide true driving fun, at sane, mortal speeds.
The rolling resistance is reduced by design on this class of tire, by increasing the sidewall stiffness and tire deformation. What this translates to a sports car like this, is that the steering and cornering "response" is rather high, and motions are more immediate like a sport tire. Sure, the sheer grip level is significantly lower but if you love the AE86, the easy, safe, antics you can pull off at slow grip tire of the right design is joy! I really didn’t think to see this as a cool thing, but I am a believer here. If you compare numbers with your geeky buddy or with body-builder Joe the Muscle head, go buy a Mustang or a GTR… This is not for you. This is more for Skater Bob, the half-pipe trick guy, and aspiring race car driver in the making.
The brakes are firm, and the pedal stroke to braking pressure ratio, and balance is exemplary. It is again, very precise and firm. Toyota has been pretty excellent here the past several years on most of the cars. The ABS just keeps improving as well. And like most modern 2010 era cars, this one grinds speed off surely over the road while giving you a strong feedback and controllability. As much as these ECO tires can give it, even while loaded to one side, or in a unstable posture of uneven suspension loads, it works. If not overly tenacious due to tire, it is predictable, and therefore fun, and to the driver, a sense of safety margin.
Engine? Read on, I’ll save that music talk for later when we get this out on the track a few paragraphs later…
Missing a couple of stops due to having way too much pleasure, I swap seats with Go, my partner in the drive, and we head down the mountains to the long 40 mile stretch of desert highway. Straight as an arrow and at a cruise speed of 60-80mph. The automatic transmission has gradually taller gears starting from 3rd to 6th, and the 6th gear in relation to the manual, does have much taller gear. I’m not going to go back to read the Press Release to check on ratio. I just want to get your head away from specs and charts and read what I have to say. So you go find it on the web, or on my website Club4AG for details on geek figures.
All I want to mention here is that it has a seemingly pleasant note from the engine at cruise, and is just as comfy for two as any standard midsize passenger car in Camry class. OK, I’ll be fair, it feels a lot quieter than a xB or xD, and on par with the tC on cabin noise, but distinctly different. Conversations are easily held in the cabin at 80mph pushing through strong desert with head wind. Because the resonation from the engine is of the deeper low note, the rated decibel is rather high, but never really obtrusive to the ears or the passenger's conversational atmosphere. Wind noise is almost non-existent at 60mph, and noticeable at 80mph around the rather large, pod shaped side mirrors, but again, not annoying like some cars. There is a slight tire noise too, but no more than typical in a Prius, obviously. The neat tricks in the minute details of the body and claddings of this car, contributes to neat, calculated flow of air, and resulting in the very quiet cabin space at high speeds. The little vortex generator bump on the rear light assembly, the drooping roof center, the coke bottle tuck in the front fenders, the wheel flare crease line, the rear diffuser bottom, tucked wiper blades and washer nipple… List goes on and on… Mr.Tada also mentioned that because of this, there are very little sound deadening materials used on the FRS, and as such, allowed for even more weight reduction.
“Are you ready for the track?” I said to Go, upon reaching the Spring Mountain Motor Resort. "YEAH~~"
Scion USA was generous enough to rent out this really expensive motor sports park for the duration of our sampling. It's like wine country in Napa, but for uber-car geeks!
Phase 1: The Skid Pad
Phase one of the FRS-tasting, was on the testing tarmac area. There was a small skidpad made with pylons, and having a sprinkler-soaked standing water condition. Our instructor for the area was Ken Gushi, my former Drift Day student who kept sneaking into our venue at age 14, now a seasoned pro-drifter in formula D -- a full decade later! How interesting!
Ken took each one of us in his passenger seat, in the manual transmission FRS, and demonstrated the slow, graceful water-dance. One by one till my turn came up.
When I got in the seat however, Ken got a bit tense? I don’t know what went though his mind, but suddenly with me in the passenger’s seat, he spun out 5 times on the wet 10mph drift. I guess I made him nervous being the old fart of a teacher I was a decade earlier, but at the same time, even when he did pull off a nice counter steer picture shot, I can see his hands and feet were very busy. “Oh dang, he said, you’re making me nervous!” he said, but in truth, his lack of ability to fully tame the FRS on this area on water was making me crap in my pants!
Anyway, so after all the drivers got the chance to ‘feel’ the rhythm of the dance, I strapped in to go at it myself.
For “antics mode” you press the TRC button and hold it there for 5 seconds. The FRS cluster will display “TRC OFF” and “VSC OFF” which indicates that any intervention of the electronic nanny is off and she’s now on vacation.
On the try pavement, it was as joyous as any go-kart just 2 hours before, how can this be any different on wet? I climbed in and casually kicked the clutch pedal expecting some display of rooster tail and slip and slide. Slip in slide? I did… As soon as I reached an angle I liked to hold, it was difficult to hold it there. Combination of big variances in water depth, my lack of time with FRS, and sheer lack of speedy precision resulted in the FRS spanking my butt for my unseasoned and abrupt controls. Drifting an RV in snow seemed easier, (I say this from experience too…) So after spinning the car 4 of 7 attempts on holding the drift in a figure 8 pattern, I stopped and went through the 22 year list of tricks in my bags of holding a car sideways. OK, I did the braking drift, driveline shock, natural yaw moment induced, the amateur classic of side-brake basics, what gives?
Then I thought about the time I tried in a NSX… Can this car be THAT balanced where it just can’t push enough weight around and over to initiate so easily? Is the car that good? Is the threshold of balance so thin in this particular case where simple depth of water and surface change can upset the balance?
Then I set out again, not minding the AE86-ness much, and being as delicate and fine toed with my shoes as the old NSX mode. Success! The answers to the previous questions were, YES, YES, and YES. The FRS is so well balanced on the four tires, and making the low-grip Eco tires do so much work, that upsetting the car at only 10mph, and with hydro-planing depth affected the contact patch a LOT more than the usual car we are accustomed to do it with. Front and rear just has to be very evenly poised, and accurate triggers for driver-induced fish-tails are pretty difficult at such low grip due to the sheer greatness of the chassis and balance.
But you know what? This is a sign… It is a sign that I should be REALLY happy, as this car just totally required 100% of my concentration already. And to be totally proficient at this trick, I would need another 10 years of fun-filled practice with a teacher like FRS! 25 points!! On the skidpad, this is a same caliber car as a Lotus Elise S2! At 1/3 the price tag!
Lesson 2: (note I changed the term from Phase to Lesson…ha-ha) The Autocross (Gymkhana)
The second portion of the FRS sample drive was on a small 30 second autocross track. This was not a timed autocross, so that we can concentrate on absorbing the car, rather than getting preoccupied with driver ego-ism with the random guy next to you in the waiting chair. The track looped around the outer perimeter of the course with occasional and well placed slalom, then a series of switch-backs that required 1st gear on each of the hairpins.
Here, the available cars were all Automatics, with paddles. We were given unlimited time and laps on this track during this session.
I adjusted the seats as usual, and twisted the seatbelt a few times to lock in the waste belt, so the retractor can’t pull loose. It's an old auto-crosser trick. Then again I decided to go with the ALL OFF, mode. TRC off for 5 seconds, all the lights come up warning me “You are on your OWN buddy!” And off I went.
My GOD, the FRS handles like a dream here. By the second sweeping corner I can predict the tire scrub angle and end up neutral steering the car out of the corners on a gradual 4 wheel zero counter drift. The Eco tires do not grip aggressively and speeds aren't astonishing, but the engine torque was just enough to push the car out of every turn with enthusiasm, and at each braking point, the FRS will tuck it’s nose, making full use of the front tire, inside and out very precisely, allowing the user to make split second decision on what to do with the rear. Dive deeper to swing it out under throttle? Or hold the cornering speed with patience to seek the next apex clipping point? You choose, the FRS will follow. The difficulty exhibited on the wet skidpad was non-existent here, and the car had enough available grip to use the suspension well, and transfer the weight as driver saw necessary for any braking or cornering maneuver.
Just a note on the AT paddle shift: In the case of the AT box car, the ALL OFF mode also requires you to shift manually by paddle. And but usually in a less sporty car with paddle, the AT shifts are lazy, untimely, unpredictable, and prohibitive for downshifting. Not so with the FRS! The shifts happen precisely, the engagement is positive, the downshifting is allowed and performed to a 6500rpm flip-blip throttle simulated heel and toe. It’s as nice a feeling as the Ferrari 360 or a Gallardo. Honestly… Despite the more maintenance free, torque converter platform design, the new FRS AT transmission defies all previous notions, and it is actually usable in venues like this. It truly is a "sports" automatic. 2-3 gears are a notch taller than in the MT and after spending a lot of time, a seasoned driver will definitely get a slightly faster lap. But off the bat, and with most average sports car Sunday Racer, I think the AT will prove to be quicker most of the time with much less work, so that he or she can totally concentrate on the road.
Since I had the time with this area, I also tried the VSC ON, TRC ON, and in the Sports Mode. This is the safe-mode sports transmission and VSC programming, where transmission will shift on its own, and the VSC will intervene in a slightly less strict manner than in normal AT mode. In this mode, the transmission missed the timing for the deepest tightest 1st gear, but in all other wider corners, it did everything I would have done. Gear changes occur at peak torque and higher rpm hold, and downshifts occur as you dive into an apex. Quite impressive I thought…. And for those who like to blast around in more hazardous areas like snow, rain or in the canyons, this might be the most safe and fun way to haul around. It won’t keep you from crashing the car, as that is done by stupidity and driver, but if you are responsible and mannerly, the car will help you stay safe and still provide that margin for fun. Nice huh? If you have $20K left in payments, and want to not see your car being peeled off the walls by Frank Scotto Towing Company and 911 calls huh?
25 points here as well!
Lesson 3: The raceway.
With half the day left on the raceway, we moved on to the race track, the real home of the FRS for most of us. Spring Mountain Motor Resort’s main raceway track is a 3.4 mile race course with a diverse combination of flat wide straights, medium speed basic corners, low speed reducing radius infield corners, with undulations and elevation change, that challenge a driver and tax the specification of any car attempting to cover it with speed. We had our FRS on the Medium 2.3 mile configuration that included all the elevation changes and tighter corners but cutting the long section short so that we can use the car up to bottom of 4th gear. It was a fine selection for the FRS as higher speeds will only complicate matters, and increase the risks unnecessarily in a 200hp class production trim, street tire cars.
The FRS here was available in Manual and Auto, and we drove both for my tests. Our friend, Mr.Tada was available in the paddock area to discuss any matters. But for the most of the afternoon, all he was getting were smiles and complements, a pat in the back or firm handshake and permanent grin on people’s faces.
First car out for me was the Automatic. Again, the car showed brilliant balance, and form. The long sweepers with a hump before the apex is normally a pretty scary thing, but the FRS gently compressed the body on the ground, then floated past the laterally loaded peak of the hump, and as soon as the tires had enough weight back on it, the steering wheel and butt gradually communicated that the tires are ready to load up once again. So if the driver has the timing correctly, he can very easily choose a tighter line as the car dips, and float the car outwards over the peak, and back to the correct line… any adjustments almost not needing wheel correction, but light lift or depress of the throttle.
Entering the reducing radius was as easy and stable as choosing your preferred braking point, jabbing the big brake pedal, and letting the ABS do all the work, while you load up the front outside tire. To initiate the roll in toward the apex, you'd just lift the brake pressure progressively as you need to adjust the line, and feed the appropriate steering inputs. A mildly tuned AE86 was very similar to this in a sense, except without the ABS part. But the AE86’s brakes were so poor at limits that with modern high grip tires, it was almost like having ABS as it would refuse to lock in all but the most idiotic of driver inputs. So the feeling to a seasoned driver would be similar here. Light weight, manageable and optimized balance for fun factor, the transfer of momentum and weights atop the 4 contact patch is easily learned in a car like this, yet to be perfect on the raceway, will require the most talented of drivers. There are no AWD, turbocharged torque, or Active Yaw Controls to help you look good. It’s all you man!
Paddle shifter worked precisely as needed here as well. There was no need for dropping into the finicky 1st gear timing that we had in the autocross. Even the fully automatic SPORT mode, carried possibly similar lap times, as it also seemed to just ‘know’ when to be in what gear, and with where it needed to shift, not being scary one bit. This mode does intervene if there is too much steering input (driver error) for the speed carried into a corner, and when your yaw rate is about to rock your tail loose, it will intervene with throttle control and help stabilize the car before it lets you have your horses again. The Manual mode in the Auto Transmission does allow all the fun though; with no electronic intervention aside from rev limiter at redline.
The Standard manual transmission was next. I went into the course with much more familiarity this time, after several laps in the AT car. The manual transmission’s shorter 3rd gear was noticeable as the rev limit was reached 50 feet short of where the AT shifted. So the use of 4th was a bit of a mismatch on this raceway, as it had to happen right at the base of the high speed hump loaded laterally. That’s not the car’s fault, it wasn’t designed exclusively for this track. But fears aside, as I got a bit braver to shove it out of the exit at wider line and higher rate. The lower 4th ratio did shine on the last bit of the straight, making me reach about 5mph higher top speed at 101mph by indicator before I had to jump on the brakes. Still not on the top of 4th by any means, but just a tad earlier and longer in use on the fastest section. In the infield though, the manual proved to be very busy as gears were very close compared to an old car like the AE86 with only 3 usable speeds on a track like this. Each change happened quickly, up and down and kept the driver sweating in aerobic exercise the clutch and shifter required. Don’t get me wrong though, that is what a great sports car is supposed to do. It is supposed to be mechanically sound, and is up to the driver, once again, to be able to coax the most out of it.
Just like the AE86, no wide gapped transmission, no jetfighter afterburners, and no computer cheating. You need to grab the clutch pedal with your toes, and operate it smoothly in and out of each gear, and do this all while the car is being loaded side to side and fore and aft, slipping and sliding, and changing vectors quickly on every move. It is a BLAST if you can do it. And if you can’t, then you aspire and respect the drivers who can, and the FRS will teach you step by step, possibly, over the long and satisfying ownership years. 90 points!!!!
I went over 100 points total? OK fine. So I like it that much…
OK, as promised, the engine noises…
The flat four from Toyota/Subaru collaboration in the FRS, is named 4UGSE for those in Scion Camp, and FA20(NA) in Subaru BRZ camp. They are identical I am told and I shall believe the man who oversaw the creation of it. Under load, there is a faint sign that is a Subaru flat four, but the throttle response and cabin noises in regular driving, sounds far more appealing than the traditional Subaru FB or the EJ. The mid-range noises are actually more similar to a 3T-GTE, and under mild load, sound really familiar to a 4A-Gist who remember the TVIS. I would imagine a Subaru owner/fan will get the most surprise out of this note, as it is more different than that, and similar to an inline 4. The intake chamber, cleverly has a resonator for the interior, and while the engine on the outside is whisper quiet when it needs to be, the cabin is still filled with music of the fine tuned responsive band. Yes a band, because the term orchestra, is what I used for the LFA’s V10, and this sure sound like fewer members, but just as talented are each player in the engine music.
I suppose I should write about the trim and interior, exterior styling, or little bits and pieces, if this was any other car, but you know, this is not. The FRS is a driver’s car, and as such, all the other elements just become a matter of preference to people. If the looks or the numbers are so important that it makes you decide not to buy the siblings in the form of a FRS or BRZ, I have no words for you. Except that you are missing out on the best sports car platform offered for sale, new, in 2012, specifically for the driving pleasure. And if you choose otherwise, then you must be less of a driving enthusiast, and more of something else.
Going back to my story of what happened in 2007, and sharing the passion of the builders through various stages of completion, Mr.Noda of Subaru, Chief Tada of Toyota, and Scion’s boss Jack Hollis, and every single person I have met in their teams over the last few years. All I can put into words at this time is “Thank you so much, and keep the spirit alive please, so that you can keep building these cars into the future, and keep revising them for the better one thing at a time.”
My FRS will be Pearl White, automatic paddle equipped. Why automatic?
I chose this because I wanted to teach my kids, how fun it will be to learn to drive on the raceway with shortest learning curve, and when they are ready, I will buy another, with a manual to teach them further, and build a much more customized one at that.
This, because to me I think, this car will stay with me for the next 25 years, just as the AE86 had from the day it came out, the day I bought one several years later, and the two decades I have enjoyed it.
Does it deserve the "Hachiroku" name?
YES, I think so.
Because I can refer to either AE86 or the FT86, in the same old phrase ---
"You don't know how to drive, till you master the Hachiroku... "
Photo contributions, Go Taira, Photographer, and Toyota Motor Corporation.