Farewell Scion FRS: Ownership Review
Updated: Oct 25, 2020
Just a few days ago I said goodbye to my trusty 2013 Scion FRS, it was loaded on to a Carvana hauler after a quick inspection and money was sent to my bank account. The idea of parting ways with my low mileage ZN6 had been shifting through my mind, I barely drove it, in about 4 years I logged less than 30,000 miles and with life in general happening it looked like all of the modifications I wanted to make and the track days I wanted to attend wouldn't happen anytime soon. I'm sure like many of you reading now, modifying a vehicle or spending needlessly is far from what we would call important however I have luckily been able to spend money to get my AE86 closer to the finish line; it's my forever car. The FRS is as close as you could get to the fulcrum of fun to drive and analog, it's a mix of yesterday's ability to repair and diagnose a simple car with some of today's most sought after amenities added in; overall the FRS/86 is attainable in every which way. I am however seeking a new experience, one that borrows from nostalgic times in some other cars I have owned with the added twist of it being a Japanese Domestic Market vehicle, right hand drive, 25 years old, and something I've never owned...a turbocharged vehicle. In an essence I'm trading reliability in a new vehicle for possibly having to wrench once in a while when things get worn out or die due to age, but I'm okay with that; the FRS or 86 is a car I may revisit in the future. I wanted to share some points of my ownership experience, the things I loved about the car, things I didn't love as much, and some modification recommendations. I wish everyone could drive this car to be perfectly honest, you may have an idea of it being some sort of new-age drift car or just a stance meet model, but please try to see it through my lens, as a streetable fun car meant for some track days, autocross events, and spirited runs to and from the grocery store...and also as a potent daily driver.
What I Loved:
Handling: this car handles so sublimely; it can perform that function like a car at a much higher price point while also managing to feel direct and controllable.
Interior space: It is a true 2+2 in that you can comfortably fit people of different sizes up front and smaller people out back. My son and his rear facing seat fit perfectly fine behind the passenger and if you’re swapping wheels at the track you can fit a full set of tire-on wheels with the seats folded down.
Transmission: Hands down the FRS/86 has one of the best transmissions/shifter feel you can experience in a car today or in recent memory. The shifts are direct, the gearing always feels right, and the car comes with a manual to begin with...a dying vehicular feature.
Looks: The FRS/86 is a good-looking car, nothing really stands out negatively in terms of proportion or anything else, the lights, bumpers, window shapes, all lend themselves to a handsome car. Regardless if you get a base model zenki, kouki, or some sort of TRD special edition; every version looks good.
Weight: The weight of every car continues to rise but the Scion FRS/Toyota 86 weights under 3,000lbs and you can feel it, it’s nimble and has a beautiful sense of balance when driven perfectly. The turn in and rotation on this car will allow you to shine when dipping your toe in motorsports related activities...if you pay attention.
Basic: This car is basic, it doesn’t overcomplicate things, I never counted but snooping around I didn’t find 32 computer modules scattered about, I changed my own oil, replaced my own parts, and inside the car your control inputs are just classic knobs and dials.
Affordable: Buying an FRS is affordable, modding it can be affordable, and maintenance is affordable. Those of us who are reasonable can get a lot out of these vehicles if we just do basic maintenance and try not to aim for dyno day winning horsepower figures; it’s a Toyota/Subaru product so nothing will break the bank unless you break the car.
Reliability: Sure, I did not spend 10 years with my FRS, I didn’t log 100,000 miles, but this thing never left me stranded, I drove it to and from track days without any hiccups. If you want to have fun in a sports car that you just need to maintain at a basic level, buy an FRS/86.
What I Didn't Love So Much:
Power: Ok, I have gone fast in this car...allegedly, I have also heard of a certain FRS that has beaten GTIs, SIs, and Veloster Turbos in stock form, but at 200 flywheel horsepower the FRS and 86 are in serious need of an extra 20-30 horsepower to close the gap with some of its rear drive contemporaries. I’m not saying the car is slow, but when you can purchase a V6 Camry with almost 300hp it doesn’t help having an actual sports car that could use the extra ponies in straight line acceleration.
Clutch Release Point: While I love the FRS transmission and shifter, I’m not a complete fan of the clutch release point, like in many other cars it’s too high for my personal preference, yes this can be remedied with some adjustments but I’m not a fan. Basically, you engage/disengage the clutch at the very top of the pedal’s motion, you can get used to it after a while but quick shifts are hard to do unless you’re willing to do fast stabs at the left pedal.
Tires: The stock tires that come equipped on the FRS are not performance oriented in any way, they are the same factory installed tire as the Prius. While you can get great gas mileage from an FRS/86, this is a sports car and you’re really missing out on what this car has to offer until you purchase some performance summer or all-season tires.
Engine: We all know this is a joint project with Subaru but the flat four FA20 isn’t exactly the most exhilarating powertrain to operate, it revs slow, doesn’t have the powerband ceiling of Toyota’s old Yamaha designed 4 cylinders, and can be a pain to work on if you’re only used to inline motors. The boxer’s layout and weight does help the balance of the car but there’s something to say when so many people have discarded just the engine to swap in everything from the 2JZ, 1UZ, 3SGTE, and powerplants from other brands to make up for whatever you may feel this platform is lacking.
Image: The Scion FRS/Toyota 86 has a bad reputation to those in and outside of the car scene. Most people will ask if you drift, why don’t you install a widebody kit, tell you about how this car needs 400 horsepower, and all while turning back to see their own untastefully modified example. The FRS is the Honda Civic of today’s era, some are fast, some look cool, but too many have cheap or unsightly modifications performed on them that make other people label you as a vape toting, EDM listening, entitled millennial...sure I will continue to drive what I like but the culture of FRS/86 owners is varied and more of the serious owners should share their knowledge with others to change the negative image.
The same things to look out for when buying any used car apply here but with some caveats. Check maintenance records, these cars were never very expensive in relativity to the average new purchase price for a car and with that many more were produced and possibly not cared for enough. Owners of FRS/86's are told to use 0w20 oil, make sure records are kept for these oil changes when possible as are major services like timing chain, spark plugs, water pump, and clutch or it could cost you time doing it yourself or money at a shop. Ask to see if the differential and transmission have had their fluid changed, in the manual it will be noted as a service required at around 40k miles, if the person did anything motorsports related it should happen a bit more often. Their is a recall for the valve springs/seats for early FRS models, check to see if this was performed as it can save you time later down the road, any Toyota dealership should be able to perform this repair for free. Now we get into what to check because of enthusiast ownership numbers being so high, first start on the outside and make sure that your paint matches if accidents are or aren't reported, check probably locations for body filler, and check to see that you don't have zip ties or fender quick releases installed as there's no excuse to use these things when a dealer has clips new and usually in stock, it's a sign of poor car care. Check to see that any body mods are secured properly as are wheels and tires, do the wheels have a stretch? How does the tread wear look and has the owners encountered any issues? How are the wheels attached? Spacers? Aftermarket lugs? Original wheel studs, replacement, upgraded? These are all things that ensure safety and prevent nagging issues when you drive off of the lot or away from someone's garage. Speaking of wheels, are they in good condition and balanced? Do you have road rash on any of the wheels? You don't need to always buy immaculate examples of any car but take into consideration the price you're about to pay. Along with wheels check the suspension as best you can, a test drive will tell you alot but a car that's lowered can tell you a story if you see rolled fenders, chunks of tire missing, a story about replacing front end parts, and ultimately if it doesn't suit your style of driving you may not be willing to approach every driveway at an angle. Check under the hood, the FRS/86 doesn't have a sea of plastic covering things so you can get a good idea if and what was done, try to get receipts for any upgrades, ask about tuning if it had taken place, and for the brands and models of exhaust components, you want good fitment so you're not on a lift the next week with a welder. Lastly, see if the car fits you, if you like the driving characteristics, while I think anyone who wants a sports car will be hard pressed to find something as pure as an FRS/86 outside of a Miata, you may want more in certain places and that could require investing a lot of money with no return if you plan on selling later down the line.
Tires: Get better tires, it is the first mod you should do outside of a driver mod (IE: autocross event, track day, etc).
Brakes: You don’t need a big brake kit upgrade in most instances, for serious track day people it is appropriate but for the average person a set of stainless lines, upgraded pads, and rotors should do the job along with racing fluid, it’ll eliminate most brake fade If done properly.
Tuning tablet: Get rid of the torque dip and add a few ponies with an OpenFlash Tablet, whether your car is bone stock or has some bolt-ons, it’s the best $500 or so you can spend to change your car’s acceleration.
Wheels: The biggest visual change you will make with any car are the wheels, select your style, price range, and of course browse forum topics to get an idea of the perfect size for your personal ride. Personally, if you’re staying with a lower power level I wouldn’t go larger than 17 inch wheels. Wheels that are 17 x 9 with the right offset are as wide as you can go without modifying suspension components or body panels, take into consideration what you will plan on doing with the car and existing modifications.
Wheel studs/lug nuts: Change them, get rid of the OEM units and go with some ARP long wheel studs and lightweight lug nuts. This will continue the progression of freeing up some unspring weight at each corner while also providing you with the ability to go with a wider wheel or hit a rumble strip at a race track without losing a wheel...it happens.
Shifter: The stock shifter is great, but it can be greater if you upgrade to a Kart Boy, TRD, or ISP short shifter, pair that with a weighted shift knob that fits your taste for notchy perfection.
Suspension: You can go crazy here, first figure out what you want out of your FRS/86, check to see what others are doing to avoid buying the wrong parts, and then pick what works for you. Companies like Fortune Auto have very good coil overs at affordable prices with real engineering behind their kits, they can answer questions and align you with the product that fits your goal. Changing suspension geometry can ride the fence of black magic and science, stay away from parts that are so adjustable you may never get back to where you started, go with what Is tried and true and don’t fear saying no to the most race car appropriate parts, adding noise and vibration to your car’s cabin can make you hate life.
Exhaust: With so many options and Youtube videos out there it’s hard to choose what you want your FRS/86 to sound like. If you’re going with a supercharger kit you can pretty much buy your favorite headers and exhaust and not have to change it, a turbo will mean you need a manifold so choose wisely the first time around. Some exhausts can be very obnoxious and loud so check your local city ordinances to make sure you don’t get pulled over, my personal favorite are the Titanium Tomei Expreme items which have a variety of sizes and sound profiles while moving a single outlet muffler.
Power: Bolt ons can take you pretty car if you’re ok with not making too much power but adding responsiveness, but for those looking to get useable horsepower should research whether a supercharger or a turbocharger is right for them. I can’t say which is better on a stock motor, but logic says that a supercharger may require less maintenance and offers less opportunity for errors to occur. Regardless of what forced induction method you go with do not forget to upgrade your ECU or tuning software, so you get the most from the added boost. Staying naturally aspirated is an option but recommending high compression pistons and four camshafts isn’t financially responsible when trying to be faster than the next guy, go with what rings true for this platform.