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Second Look: 2015 Scion FR-S Manual vs Automatic

Scion FR-S Automatic & Manual

In the realm of car enthusiast who like rear-wheel drive two-door coupes, they’ll all say the same lie, they love their little manual sports car, but in reality, it’s a hard thing to love because we can’t afford a second car that will make our lives a little more comfortable. If we dig deep into in the badging of our two sampled 2015 Scion FR-S’s, the targeted age group won’t exceed the mid 30’s – which means this little RWD two door sports coupe will be someone’s daily driver and weekend cruiser.

On the market today, there aren’t many sports cars on the road that are affordable, fun to drive and easy to live with. So we’re here to find out if the Scion FR-S is…

The last time we drove an FR-S, we put it through its paces on the track – however, in this real world, not everyone can afford $200 track days every weekend and going through more tires than paychecks. Now, we’re here to expand our research a little deeper by looking at two FR-S’s, the six-speed manual and the six-speed automatic to see which is easier to live with but also provides the most entertainment.

Starting us off, these two FR-S aren’t exactly the same (minus the obvious transmission difference.) Sure they both have the optioned Fog Lights ($495) that enhances its appearance, and the convenient yet odd Center Armrest ($249), and they even have the optional 6.1-inch Touch Screen BeSpoke Audio with Navigation System ($1199.) However, the FR-S manual seen here in ticket me, Firestorm Red paint incorporates some TRD performance upgrades including the TRD Air Filter ($75), the TRD Rear Sway Bar Set ($550) for better agility and the TRD Exhaust System ($1100) to annoy your neighbors. The sassy, sizzling Hot Lava orange FR-S automatic here, only carries stock performance.

If we pop open the hood on both FR-S’s we’ll find the same 2.0-liter Boxer flat four-cylinder engine from Subaru with 200-horsepower and 151lb-ft of torque. They are both rear-wheel drive and ride on the same 17-inch wheels wrapped in skinny little Prius tires.

Even when we talk numbers, both FR-S’s weigh around 2800lbs, give or take a few cheeseburgers (the manual is lighter by about 50lbs.) In the sprint to 60 mph, the six-speed manual carries a 1.7 second lead at 6.3 seconds verses the automatics 8.0 second time frame. Eventually the auto will catch up as they are both limited to a top speed of 125 mph (drag limited.) They even received the same 31 mpg average between mixed highway and city driving as they both drank the expensive premium fuel Kool-Aid.

In terms of drivability – both FR-S’s practically behave in the same manner. They are both light, cowered down, smirk making machines. Having a light center of gravity and a TORSEN Limited Slip Differential, they feel direct, see a corner, attack it, and it eats right up – the steering has a great heaviness to it which means it’s easy to drive, whether you’re parking or hitting a corner at 50 mph. The perforated leather steering wheel itself has a nice feel – it has thick grab points and allows you to feel every corner giving an exceptional precision and lively feel in its operation. Turn on the VSC SPORT and the whole car acts like a puppy on wood floors – it just becomes a complete laugh as you can slide it around corners – even at a low 20 mph – but its easy to manage, easy to control and makes you feel like an expert driver.

If you look close enough, the FR-S can be practical… sort of. Sure the suspension will make you jiggle all the time and climbing in n’ out is always annoying, especially in tight parking spaces, but you get used to it… eventually… not really. The interior is surprisingly well suited – the sport designed seats are rather comfortable and hold you snug in the bends – the design is simple and because there really aren’t any features, there’s less to break. It’s also handsome inside using a mish mosh of different materials, faux leather with red stitching and faux silver carbon fiber trimmings.

There are major sacrifices to having a small sports car. The trunk space is small and the rear seat always becomes a joke until your friend is pissed they have to sit there. There is also no interior storage space for anything and that $250 center armrest blocks the cup colder.

But let’s get to the real differences between these two FR-S’s, their transmissions.

Starting with the six-speed manual. Because there is no low end torque, the FR-S feels quite slow when you first set off. With the TRD Exhaust fitted to our manual tester, its makes a lot more noise and a bit more growl but it’s just for show – you never feel like you’re really using all 200-horsepower. The gear changes are quite good – the ratios are short and close together but not difficult to find – the clutch has a nice weight to it not feeling to light or too heavy. It’s the kind of transmission that’s easy to learn if you don’t know how to drive one.

In first gear, the manual has a little bit of a rough start, causing that feeling of no power, but once we pass second, the FR-S becomes a completely different animal. The real magic happens pass 3500 rpms when the torque comes in – the FR-S feels like a little rocket ready to take off and because it rev’s to 7400 rpms, it will rev all day long on a twisty mountain road. Even with a slow start, the FR-S gives a raw sense of control – the whole car feels like an old school sports car that gives the driver a sense of satisfaction – man and machine – we don’t see that anymore these days.

Having the rear TRD sway bar, the chassis feels more rigid than the automatic giving us confidence in it maneuverability. We feel the urge to tackle a corner faster and harder and when coming out the other end its much easier to control.

Unfortunately that’s where the six-speed automatic comes in.

Once you take out the 3rd pedal, you basically lose all respect from your buddies and pay an extra $1100 over the base $24,900 starting price. Having the automatic means you’re no longer in control and the car does all the work for you. However, this doesn’t make the automatic a bad transmission because we actually find it rather good.

From the moment we took delivery of the automatic we wanted it to be a sloppy, terrible system that would make us park it for the next 6 days and forget it existed. But surprisingly we find this autobox to be a rather pleasant experience. Somehow, the delivery of power feels a lot more effectively than the manual – it feels we are using more of the power we have on tap. Acceleration is still the same and first gear still has that same little hiccup we found in the manual – but the gear changes are super sharp and very responsive – it works almost like a dual-clutch system in its responsiveness. Using the steering wheel paddle shifters, up-shifts are instantaneous and when you need to down shift a couple gears, bam, the gear is ready for you with rev-matching.

Now where the automatic starts to show its upper hand is how it responds to being a daily driver – the tranny is very fluid in its gear changes, so when shifting at 2500 rpms, there really isn’t any major loss in torque or power – it manages to use the power efficiently without sacrificing too much driving pleasure. Even with the automatic, it’s much quieter – at 75 mph the auto manages to use a much lower revolutions at 2500 rpms verses the manual which drones at 3500-4000 revolution at higher speeds.

The downside to the automatic is that it loses its rawness – the manual is a drama queen – it’s loud and annoying and when it’s barely pushed to its limits the tires squeal and slides about. The automatic is much more civilized – there is no drama, it doesn’t slide around like the manual and therefore seems more like a cruiser than a performance driven car.

Since its launch in 2013, the FR-S is starting to become old news – it still looks good and is hell of fun to drive but it’s starting to lose the attention of their audience. Scion has made subtle changes to the FR-S for 2015, but their so small they’re not even worth mentioning.

At the end of the day, it comes down to what you want out of your sports car – the manual is a lot of fun but after two year, we have a feeling we’ll see a “For Sale” sign in the back window. The automatic is much calmer, easier to live with and is likely to be in your garage a lot longer. But the sacrifice of entertainment verses civilized is ultimately your choice.

Price (As Tested – Automatic):
2015 Scion FR-S Automatic $26,000
Destination: $770
Featured Options:
Center Armrest: $249
Fog Lights: $495
BeSpoke Audio/Navigation: $1,199
Grand Total: $28,713
Price (As Tested – Manual):
2015 Scion FR-S Manual $24,900
Destination: $770
Featured Options:
TRD Air Filter: $75
Center Armrest: $249
Fog Lights: $495
TRD Rear Sway Bar Set: $550
TRD Exhaust System: $1,100
BeSpoke Audio/Navigation: $1,199
Grand Total: $29,338




  1. Good review and great pics. I was lucky enough to test drive a manual FR-S last year and found it great fun round the canyons at legal speeds. The downer was the freeway especially when over taking, need to go old school and row the gears (even more than in my 2005 NB Miata). While I like the idea of the new ecoboost premium Mustang (power, good interior), think I would miss the handling of the FR-S in the canyons. 32k for that base V8 Stang is compelling especially if not really going near canyons.

    • Should add, the part about turning off some of the nannies sounded great fun – makes the $550 for the sway bar sound a good investment.

      • That torque peak is a killer – works great when you pushing the limits but anything below that 3000 mark and its a lot of clever gear changing. If there was some planned track usage – the sway bar is definitely worth the investment.

        Stick around for a couple of months, we have a Mustang EcoBoost coming something at the end of October. 🙂

  2. Sadly agree about the torque issue. Too many reports of a torque dip in the 3000 to 4000 area, though to be honest I am not sure I would notice that. A lot of after market fun available, but the cost of some of the power mods pushes you up nearer $30k and of course jeopardizes your warranty on a new car. Still though a lot to be said for driving a slow car fast.
    Look forward to the Ecoboost review.

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