Tire upgrade gives the Scion FR-S record-setting performance

Consumer Reports News

At our test track, we found an easy recipe for cooking up a homemade supercar without resorting to tuner-shop tweaks that could break the bank or void the warranty.

Here's our recipe:

  • Take one fresh Scion FR-S, available at your local Scion/Toyota dealer for just over $25,000.
  • Remove the stock 17-inch tires and wheels.
  • Install a good set of 18-inch ultra-high-performance summer tires and size-appropriate alloy wheels.
  • Prepare yourself to be stirred, not shaken. You've just turned a fun and agile rear-wheel-drive sports coupe into a superior handling machine that few uncompromising sports cars can match at any price.

Shod with its original rubber, Michelin Primacy HP summer tires in the rather pedestrian P215/45R17 size, our Scion FR-S had turned in a stellar performance at our test track, with sharp, agile handling, great brakes, and excellent fuel economy. Would we screw that up if we pushed the envelope a little farther with a "plus-1" (one-inch larger) tire and wheel upgrade?

As it turns out, no. It seems our top-rated ultra-high-performance summer tires (the hardcore Michelin Pilot Super Sport) mounted on a set of wicked-looking Yoshihara 18x8-inch alloys made a good thing better. Handling, acceleration, and dry-pavement braking all improved noticeably.

The coupe's handling went from excellent to outstanding. One measure of that is the top speed a car can manage through our double-lane-change avoidance maneuver. Our record holder had been the BMW 135i, with a top speed of 58.5 mph. But with its new tires, the FR-S managed a stunning 59.1 mph, putting it in a class of its own and eclipsing its previous best by 2.6 mph—a big difference in this kind of contest.

Braking distances from 60-0 mph dropped nine feet, going from 126 to 117 feet—second only to the record-holding Porsche Boxster at 112 feet.

Best of all, perhaps, is that the FR-S, with its modest 200-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and its tractable six-speed manual transmission, remained easy to drive and completely composed right up to its limits. Our veteran drivers were delighted by the neutral handling, razor-sharp steering response, predictable control, and high levels of grip. There was general agreement that this is absolutely one of the most fun-to-drive cars we've ever pushed around our track.

The tire modification dalliance cost us just over $1,600: about $860 for the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires and $752 for the Yoshihara wheels. A couple of further penalties were minor but real: The FR-S is pretty noisy to begin with, and the 18-inch tires added even more din to the cabin. Fuel economy took a minor hit, too, dropping from a 30 mpg overall to a still-excellent 28.5 mpg.

Our Scion FR-S in stock form garnered an impressive road test score, as did its twin, the Subaru BRZ. Simply bolting-on the 18-inch rubber would have technically bumped the score an incredible five points, just proving how important tires are.

Is it worth the investment? That depends on your priorities and budget, but we find that few cars can lay claim to this level of performance and fun, making this a welcomed upgrade.

If you're looking to make an upgrade for your vehicle, be sure to read our tire buying advice and consult our expansive tire ratings.

Gordon Hard and Gene Petersen

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