Quickies: Opposing Scions

2013 Scion xD
2013 Scion xD. All photos by Randy Stern

Opposites do attract.

At the Twin Cities Auto Show, I partook in the annual Ride and Drive event featuring one brand only – Scion. Not sure why they were selected, since other brands activated similar drive experiences at other auto shows similar to the one in Minneapolis.

Not complaining about Scion's appearance – just making a point.

The star attraction for drivers at the show is the FR-S sports car. They had two available to drive – both automatics. They also featured the rest of the lineup for those considering anything else other than the FR-S.

In this case, there are two Quickies to parse out: The FR-S (of course) and another Scion – the xD.

First, the xD. I have driven this before as part of HourCar's share rental fleet back in 2010. It was a mixed bag then – with good performance from the 1.8litre engine, automatic gearbox and a solid ride. Everything else was puzzling.

To say that nothing has changed is a perfect description for the xD. Scion's compact hatch soldiers on with minimal change from the original model.

It is disappointing, considering that it could do better. The prior model – the xA – was a lively little subcompact that acted as a prelude to the Toyota Yaris. It is sad to think that today's Yaris and the Prius c are better choices than the xD it shares showroom space with.

The xD's styling is not even attractive. It is somewhat functional, but not enough to sir the soul. Some might say that it tried too hard to be the xB, but was given a different nose and not much behind the rear seat to give its bigger brother any credence. The seats were big, but very uncomfortable. The instrumentation and overall ergonomics were dubious and the rear seat configuration was a bit questionable.

Where the xD redeems itself is in the chassis and subframe. Again, the ride is solid – almost thud-like. Performance from the 128HP 1.8litre engine is well suited for city driving and commuting. The transmission is an old tried-and-true four-speed automatic, perhaps selected to keep the price at a competitive $17,800.

Before even considering the xD, try everything else in its class. Seriously.

2013 Scion FR-S

We can forget about the xD, as something more important was driven – the FR-S. The Scion badge appears on Toyota's version of the collaborative sports car effort with Subaru for this market. Perhaps it is a good move, considering how important Toyota wants to build up the Scion brand. If it was a Toyota, it would have more scrutiny and comparisons beyond just the heritage with the famed Corolla AE86s of the 1980s. Being a Scion gives the sports coupe a chance to right its own history here in North America.

Having driven the Subaru twin – the BRZ – briefly in October, I was expecting more of the same. Alas, it was not the case. Given the drive loop around the Convention Center and a smidgen of downtown Minneapolis, the FR-S proved one of my complaints about the BRZ wrong. Even with 150lb-ft of torque, there is still more than ample power for city driving. First gear was a bit long to kick over at times on the automatic gearbox, but the FR-S was well suited for the downtown grind while informing you that you could go faster and let the boxer engine sing to its 200HP apex.

The FR-S offers the same snug seating for its driver and front passenger, great rear-drive excitement and a true sports car experience. One thing I would change is the elimination of the standard Pioneer audio system faceplate. It continues to be a gremlin for Toyota/Scion offerings in this market.

It leads to a bigger question: Scion or Subaru. That is a tough one. For warranty service, the FR-S has more access to dealers than the BRZ. Subie's warranty looks better on paper. I would simply flip a coin, but the FR-S makes sense if it means upgrading to the BeSpoke premium audio system.

Do not get me wrong – Scion is not going away any time soon. Not with the FR-S firmly planted in its lineup. Right now, the only way to enjoy the nine-year old "youth oriented" brand is its best product – that rear-drive, boxer-engined sports car that is a few heritage points short of being called a "Celica."

DISCLAIMER: Vehicles provided by Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

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