LAS VEGAS – The Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ sports coupes are joined at the hip by a platform-sharing agreement signed by Toyota and Fuji Heavy Industries. The BRZ was a blast to drive last December. Ditto for the FR-S tested here more recently.

True, the rear-wheel-drive coupe is no pocket rocket, getting to 60 mph (97 km/h) from standstill in roughly 7 seconds. Toyota just announced its new RAV4 EV can do that.

But the FR-S is sublimely toss-able and ready-to-run, while still being mild-mannered for everyday use.

The FR-S should do better than the BRZ because it sits under the Scion umbrella, which offers a more expansive dealer network and Sunbelt sales slant.

But with an almost unusable back seat and limited cargo room, both cars will see narrow appeal to all but the most gear-headed portion of the American car-buying public.

By now the story is well-known: Subaru and Toyota wanted to collaborate on an iconic vehicle. What better than an affordable, RWD sports car tapping both auto makers’ engineering expertise? And sharing development costs would soften the blow for both OEMs if FR-S/BRZ demand plunges, as sports car sales are wont to do.

Minus some stylistic differences (the BRZ has a larger grille opening), softer springs and stiffer dampers, the FR-S and BRZ, both on sale this spring in the U.S., are identical.

The powertrain and chassis essentially are all Subaru, while the No.1 Japanese auto maker helmed design.

The FR-S, which is sold overseas as the Toyota 86 and built by Subaru in Japan, uses the same new “FA” naturally aspirated 2.0L H-4 boxer engine as does the BRZ, as well as MacPherson-strut front and double-wishbone rear suspensions and electric power steering.

However, Toyota did lend its direct- and sequential port fuel-injection system, D-4S, for the joint project. The belt-and-suspenders approach to fuel delivery has pluses and minuses: It adds 10 hp (to 200), but it needs premium fuel.

The FR-S follows the same equation as the BRZ: lightweight + low center of gravity = fling-able and fun.

The manual-equipped FR-S weighs 4 lbs. (1.8 kg) less than the BRZ; an automatic FR-S also is a smidge lighter than its Subaru twin.

Both the manual and automatic FR-S transmissions have six speeds and are sourced from Aisin. As with the BRZ, the automatic in the FR-S has the same manual-like notchy shift feel as the short-throw 6MT.

Despite being a sports car, the FR-S is civilized, almost sedate, in typical day-to-day driving.

Its steering is amply assisted, direct and with enough heft to support the mission of a sports car.

The ride is not overly harsh. Bumps taken at high speed jostle occupants only slightly, and the low-revving engine is quiet, with the tachometer staying below 3,000 rpm at 70-80 mph (113-129 km/h).

But aggressive driving is another matter. The peak 200 hp doesn’t arrive until 7,000 rpm, and it takes 6,400 rpm to reach the modest torque limit of 151 lb.-ft. (205 Nm). So pushing the FR-S hard is a bit like poking a caged Rottweiler with a sharp stick.

It howls, and often sounds good doing so, thanks to a narrow rubber tube that pipes sound from the air intake into the cabin near the passenger footwell. The FR-S has a moderately deep exhaust tone but never will be mistaken for a V-8 Mustang.

Equipped with an automatic, the car manages a respectable 26.7 mpg (8.8 L/100 km) over 63.4 miles (102 km) of mixed driving that errs toward higher speeds.

EPA-estimated average combined fuel economy for the automatic FR-S is 28 mpg (8.4 L/100 km), while the manual model is rated at 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km). The automatic outperforms Scion’s front-wheel-drive ’12 tC, which is heavier than the FR-S, produces 20 hp less and gets 26 mpg (9.0 L/100 km) combined with either transmission.

The automatic-equipped FR-S comes with paddle shifters, but they are unnecessary because the transmission is intelligent enough to hold gears longer during aggressive driving.

The main weakness is the same as with the BRZ: the interior.

Wouldn’t it be great if car buyers never had passengers or things to haul and could base their purchases on driving characteristics, alone?

That way no one would care that the back seats of the FR-S, like the BRZ, basically are unusable except to stash a few duffle bags.

For years, sport coupes have come to market with unusable back seats, but some auto makers have responded with clever, more-comfortable packaging, such as the Mazda RX-8 and, more recently, the Hyundai Veloster. The challenge with the FR-S is its low seating position and dramatic, tapered roof line, which limits space behind the front seats.

Other faults of pre-production models here are no true center console (cupholders can be removed for storage, though); misaligned carbon-fiber-look trim pieces above the glove box; cheap-looking fabric separating the rear seats; and an orange peel-plagued upper instrument panel.

But Toyota spared no expense on the FR-S’ front seats. They are well-bolstered and supportive, not to mention stylish, befitting a sleek sportster.

Also worthwhile is the optional Pioneer BeSpoke infotainment system, which has a 5.8-in. (14.7-cm) liquid crystal display. It can search points-of-interest via spoken commands and provide verbal turn-by-turn directions or display them.

Scion has high hopes for the FR-S, predicting 10,000-20,000 sales annually. The lower number seems easily doable, as a RWD sports car fits a youth brand so perfectly, and the starting price, $24,200 for manual models and $25,300 for an automatics, is right on.

But 20,000 units is ambitious given the useless rear seat and, despite a snow mode and traction control, a light rear end.

Still, just by its existence the FR-S brings more credibility to Scion. Hopefully the car will stick around long enough, with plentiful variants, such as rumored convertible and turbocharged models, to have the same impact on Scion as the cars that inspired it, the Sports 800, AE86 Corolla/Corolla GT-S and 2000GT, had on Toyota.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com

 

’13 Scion FR-S
Vehicle type Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive 2-door sport coupe
Engine 2.0L horizontally opposed DOHC 4-cyl., aluminum block, head
Power (SAE net) 200 hp @ 7,000 rpm (7,400 rpm redline)
Torque 151 lb.-ft. (205 Nm) @ 6,400-6,600 rpm
Bore x stroke (mm) 86 x 86
Compression ratio 12.5:1
Transmission 6-speed manual
Wheelbase 101.2 ins. (257 cm)
Overall length 166.7 ins. (424 cm)
Overall width 69.9 ins. (176 cm)
Overall height 50.6 ins. (129 cm)
Curb weight 2,758 lbs. (1,251 kg)
Base price $24,200, plus $730 destination and handling
Fuel economy 22/30 mpg (10.7/7.8 L/100 km) city/highway
Competition Subaru BRZ, Mazda MX-5 Miata, Mini Cooper S, Hyundai Genesis Coupe, Honda Civic Si
Pros Cons
Fun, of course Cramped
Light on its tires Not terribly fast
Front seats supportive Cheaper materials