Here we match up a pair of vehicles that are uncannily similar in many ways except one: price. We wanted to see what you get for the extra dough—just prestige? Higher insurance premiums? A better valet spot? We want to know if the pricier Cayman justifies its MSRP or if the FR-S delivers similar performance and appeal. Because in the car market, as in life, there's a lot of entitlement going on.
Second place: 2013 Scion FR-S
It’s so unfair. We love this car, but management doesn’t allow ties for first in a two-car comparison [or any comparison—Ed.]. Perhaps you can understand that.
The FR-S is just a bowl of ice cream with a stick shift. No car since the original Mazda Miata has made an empty cloverleaf as enjoyable or an end-run around loafing traffic as fun. You don’t even need to go fast. The 200-hp FR-S is low and small and makes 60 mph feel like Mach 1.7, so it may be just the cure for a spotty driving record.
Reasons to not buy a sports car get eliminated one by one in the FR-S. Everybody seems to fit in the manfully bolstered bucket seats, and the rear seatback folds to extend cargo space. We got 21 mpg even though the days were hot, the driving was hard, and there was plenty of idling for photography. All that interior noise and ride harshness you expect as payment for your fun is absent. The FR-S is quieter than the Cayman and doesn’t slam or crash on the rough stuff.
Some credit goes to the narrow, fuel-economy-minded Michelin Primacy tires. They serve the FR-S driver admirably around town even if they get slippery at the extremes. Putting power down on a drag strip and holding the line through a hairpin, in other words. Were you able to launch the FR-S closer to its lofty 6400-rpm torque peak without the tires losing traction, the 0-to-60-mph time (6.4 seconds) would undoubtedly be quicker.
The 200 horsepower seems adequate until you take the FR-S on mountain roads. Trying to keep up with the Cayman, we ran for a full 30 minutes across a high ridge with the engine yowling in third gear at 6000 rpm. Well, at least you know it is durable. But it’s not a mezzo-soprano at that speed, more like a mezzo-econo.
There’s really nothing wrong with the FR-S except that it suffers from the curse of affordability. It seems a teeny bit dowdy inside compared with the top-spec BRZ. The rotary knobs are ordinary, and the radio looks ill fitting and out of place, as if it’s just passing through from some other vehicle. Nor is the Pioneer unit very easy to operate.
To point out flaws in handling seems highly unsportsmanlike, considering the car it was driven against, but there are some. Those skinny tires squeal and squirm when pressed, and it’s the rear that breaks grip first. Think twice, maybe three times, before switching off the stability control, as it’s very easy to get sideways in an FR-S. The damping is also a bit loose—that great ride, remember—allowing the body to pogo a bit as you set up for your hero’s appointment with the apex. One test driver called the FR-S “spastic.”
More kindly, the FR-S is a full-employment opportunity for aftermarket tuners, who will be happy to make it as whistlingly boosted and rock-rigid unbearable as your wallet will allow. In the meantime, you have a fantastic everyday sports car. Glass more than half-full, we’d say.