And whether you’ve just seen your first 2013 Subaru BRZ or 2013 Scion FR-S on the street and merely want to know more, or you already know the basic back story of these two cars—that they were conceived together by Toyota and Subaru, with Subaru contributing much of the engineering and building them—you’re probably still left wondering how close these two models are. What really is the difference?
And the answer is, aside from some some very minor badging, pricing, and equipment differences, and slightly different interior trim, and very subtle differences in tuning, not very much—not very much at all.
The standard-feature list has a few differences, with the Subaru BRZ including voice-activated navigation and Bluetooth hands-free calling plus Bluetooth audio. Those items cost extra on the Scion. But the base BRZ Premium totals $26,265 while the Scion FR-S starts at $24,955.
Slightly different pricing, trims
The BRZ gets a relatively small lip spoiler at the back of the trunklid, and perhaps the most noticeable difference between the two is that at the rear of the front fender the Scion gets a horizontally opposed engine schematic with ’86’ in the middle while the Subaru gets twin horizontal vents. Look at them right up next to each other and the lower front fascia and air intake are a bit different, too. Even the wheels are exactly the same, though, with only a small, likely inexpensive center hub different.
Inside, we tended to like the textured dash insert of the Scion FR-S to the (and potentially more scratch-prone) sea of smooth matte-metallic plastic of the BR-Z; the base FR-S seats had what we thought is a coarser but more aesthetically pleasing upholstery, too.
Beyond that, we recommend perusing the feature and option lists for both cars, in our review and pricing pages. And see Nelson Ireson's Compare Cars post on how the two models match up.
But we still were curious about the subtle, behind-the-wheel differences between these two models, and a few weeks ago we had the chance to drive both briefly back to back, and play around with them a bit at low speed.
Scion a little harsher, more active
Once moving, a colleague and I both noted that the FR-S has somewhat stronger bump harshness—especially in back, it seemed—and it more easily loses traction either flying around a corner quickly or going into the accelerator over choppy pavement. At the same time, that made it a little more fun, but it also seemed to let just a little more road noise into the cabin. Although a Subaru official told me that the spring rates are actually different between the two cars (a tad softer for the Subie), they feel relatively close.
What it amounts to is that you may hear road noise just a slight bit more in the Scion, and you might hear the engine a bit more in the Subaru. In the Subaru, it feels as if there might be a little more engine noise, but it's likely the psychological effect of a little less road coarseness entering the cabin.
Both cars have the same Michelin Primacy HP tires—without a whole lot of grip, which makes it fun and keeps it dynamically quite safe—with the exact same steering gear and even the same tuning for the electric power steering system.
What this amounts to is that while we feel the Subaru BRZ may be faster in a lot of imperfect-surface situations, the FR-S is more fun to provoke—and perhaps actually faster on a smooth, tight autocross course or for someone who knows how to trail-brake. You do have to resort to provocation in getting the tail out, but the Scion felt a little easier to do so, as well as a little more nervous, while the Subaru seemed more settled. And of either in stock form, the Subie is the one I'd rather have at high speed.
Very subtle relative to what the aftermarket will do
Keep in mind, these differences are very subtle, and with either of these models, the aftermarket is already blossoming. If you're heading to the track, consider either of these models a canvas; but if you're going to keep it stock, those minor differences are worth paying attention to.