In Favor of the FR-S

Say what you will about practicality, economy or space but you're missing the point. The GTI wins in each of these categories but, frankly, it doesn't matter. The single area the FR-S dominates is a three-letter word all enthusiasts understand: fun.

Hands down, you can have more of it in the FR-S thanks to a truly exciting - and sometimes scary - driving experience.

The GTI is safe, predictable and comfortable, where the FR-S is rigid, communicative and twitchy. On a racetrack or the road, the Scion gives driving pleasure. It epitomizes what you want in a sports car.

The FR-S has supportive seats in durable upholstery and a central tacho with integrated shift light. The transmission is direct, the gears short enough to keep the two-liter in its sweet spot. The rear-end is where the power goes and all 200hp is distributed through a stout limited-slip diff.

You can drive it as hard as you like; the brakes don't fade, the water doesn't boil and the oil doesn't burn. It's a punching bag, taking hits like a champ and taunting you for more. It wants to have fun too.

In stock form, the FR-S can be driven on the limit anywhere and can feel like a video game. You want to drift that next turn? Turn off the traction control, turn-in hard and floor it. Counter-steer, giggle, straighten and transition to the next apex. This thing is just awesome.

Now, hop back in the GTI... The equivalent is understeer, an awful trait afflicting FWD cars. Can it be driven quickly and swiftly? Can a less experienced driver go faster? Sure, but that's not the point.

The Scion FR-S is a godsend. The automotive industry has lost sight of fun, affordable, tuneable sports cars. The last one from Germany was the E30 M3 and that was 28 years ago.

Germany currently offers the E9X M3: a V8-powered musclecar that's more than twice the price and weighs 1000 lb more. And there's the GTI: it isn't in the same category, but it's all we've got - a FWD hatchback. I'll take the FR-S and have fun!
- Alex Bernstein

M3 Owner

Having studied transportation design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Steve Eastwood has worked for design studios across the globe. His passion for design goes beyond the automobile, having worked on everything from Alpine Electronics to various tools and even toys. Currently, Steve's an instructor at the Art Center College of Design Public Programs.

His E30 M3 was purchased about five years ago and with each passing year his devotion deepens. He purchased it with a few aftermarket additions, including 16x7.5/8.5" BBS RS with 225/45 BFG KDW rubber all round. The suspension was upgraded before Steve took ownership, and it has a VSR exhaust center section mated to a Stromung muffler. Inside, you'll find mostly the original interior except for Sparco seats.

Under the hood, the original S14 engine is passing 209000 miles and still runs sweetly. Steve intends to keep the car in its current state for as long as he owns it and has no plans to sell, especially since the 2013 Hagerty Price Guide shows M3 values are rising for good examples.

A Balanced View

I'm perhaps the second biggest GTI fan-boy in the United States. I fall right behind Greg Emmerson, who'll come to blows over the superiority of the original hot-hatch to anything else on four-wheels. Ask me how I know.

I won't argue that the GTI is faster in the hands of all but the fastest pro drivers, or that the GTI is immeasurably more usable. I do, however, hold to the assertion that the small, lithe, RWD FR-S is more fun.

While the GTI might match or beat the FR-S in quantitative measurements, it's the touchy-feely things that make the difference. The GTI turns in with authority, chases apexes and, until you overpower the front-wheels with the copious torque, the front-end responds dutifully. The GTI changes direction well, but it's front-axle first with the rear following along.

The FR-S doesn't so much turn-in as rotate. Every saw of the wheel results in a yawing motion, the kind you get from old sports cars and current exotics. The front wheels determine direction while the rears (via your right foot) control the rate of rotation. The FR-S dances around a turn, where the GTI head-butts the apex.

Everything about the FR-S feels lighter and easier. The gear-change is quick, short and accurate. The steering is well balanced and linear. The naturally aspirated flat-four feels equally light in the way it revs. Heel-toe throttle blips between shifts result in perfectly matched downshifts. Spinning the needle past the blinking shift-light fills the cabin with intake howl and nostalgia. This isn't about lap-times, it's about turning a guy in an entry-level car into Sir Stirling Moss.

At the end of the day, I was asked which car I'd take home. "I'll take a four-door DSG GTI Driver's Edition in Candy White please," was my response. Unfortunately, I can't spend everyday at the racetrack; I have a wife and kid who require their own doors. Although 200hp fills the spec boxes on both cars, the extra torque from the GTI's 2.0T makes a difference in daily commuting. For a second car, the FR-S would be the obvious choice. If it's going to be your only car, the GTI is a no-brainer, just don't tell Emmerson I admitted it!
-Mike Febbo

Average Lap Times
1:35.6 1:37.9 1:39.6

2013 Scion FR-S

Layout longitudinal front engine, RWD

Engine 1998cc four-cylinder Boxer 16v, dual variable valve timing, D-4S direct and sequential port injection

Drivetrain six-speed manual transmission with Torsen limited-slip diff

Brakes 11.6" f, 11.4" r, ABS

Wheels & Tires 17x7", 215/45 R17 Michelin Primacy HP

MSRP from $24200 ($25092 inc D&D as tested)


Peak Power 200hp at 7000rpm

Peak Torque 151 lb-ft at 6600rpm

0-60mph 6.2sec*

Top Speed n/a

Weight 2758 lb

Economy 22/30mpg (city/highway)
(*figure from Motor Trend Magazine]

2012 VW GTI

Layout transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

Engine 1984cc four-cylinder 16v, TSI direct injection, turbo, intercooler

Drivetrain six-speed DSG automatic with Tiptronic and Sport mode

Brakes 12.3" f, 10.7" r, ABS

Wheels & Tires 18x7.5", 225/40 R18 Dunlop SP Sport 01 A/S

MSRP from $24200 ($32465 inc D&D as tested)


Peak Power 200hp at 5100rpm

Peak Torque 207 lb-ft at 1700rpm

0-60mph 6.1sec*

Top Speed 130mph

Weight 3160 lb

Economy 24/33mpg (city/highway)
[*figure from Motor Trend Magazine]

1989 BMW M3

Layout longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive

Engine 2302cc four-cylinder 16v

Drivetrain five-speed Getrag manual transmission

Brakes11.2" f & r, ABS

Wheels & Tires 16x7.5" f, 16x8.5" r, BBS RS wheels, 225/45 R16 BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDW tires

MSRP $35295 (as sold in 1989)


Peak Power 192hp at 6750rpm

Peak Torque 170 lb-ft at 4750rpm

0-60mph 6.6sec

Top speed 146mph

Weight 2866 lb

Economy 17/21mpg (city/highway)
[figures from Automobile Magazine]

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