By Emme Hall.
I’ll be honest with you. I have a penchant for small, RWD sports cars. Aside from a Jeep and a Volkswagen Thing, I’ve only driven corner carvers. I currently schmooze a 2001 Mazda Miata around town. So when the Scion FR-S debuted this year, I was excited, yet also worried. Would this new, affordable, sexy little car replace my Miata as Most Perfect Car Ever? Read on as I break down the 2013 Mazda Miata Club and the 2013 Scion FRS 10 Series and see which one comes out on top.
The Miata is never going to wow you with spec numbers. The 2.0L 4 cylinder engine knocks out a mere 167 horses at 7000 and 140 lb/ft of torque at 5000 rpm. It should be noted that you lose 9 horsepower in the automatic, which only supports my argument that the Miata should not be offered in an automatic. Ever. The 6 speed manual allows you to drive it as it should be driven: high revs all around, downshifting into corners and frankly having a blast. But you pay a price for those revs in terms of fuel economy. EPA ratings are 21 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, 24 mpg combined in the manual, while the automatic is rated at 21/28/23. Not disastrous numbers but I’ve certainly seen better. You’ll get from 0-60 in a lengthy 6.9 seconds, but the MX-5 Miata has never been about flat out speed. It’s a corner carving convertible, not a dragster.
The FR-S comes to us with a 2.0L flat 4 cylinder boxer engine, knocking out 200 horsepower and 151 lb/ft of torque. Power is sent to the rear wheels through either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters and rev-matched downshifts. Like the Mazda MX-5 Miata, it wants to hang out in the high rev zone, but it comes back with slightly better EPA numbers: 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined for the manual and 25/34/28 for the automatic. A manual FR-S can reach 60 mph from a dead stop in 6.5 seconds. Again, like the Miata, this is not meant to peel off the line in a frenzy of smoking tires, although you can do that if you want. This is a car about nuanced driving; entering corners fast, hitting that apex, and accelerating out…maybe with a little understeer thrown in for fun.
Standard features on the Miata Club include 17” wheels with high performance tires, black cloth convertible top with a glass rear window, steering wheel mounted audio and cruise controls, air conditioning, power accessories, and some unique interior trim. The Suspension package is must, which brings on sport tuned suspension, Bilstein shocks, and a limited slip differential.
The 2013 Scion FR-S 10 Series has a few more standard features than the Miata, most notably Bluetooth and a 6.1” touchscreen. Also standard are 17” wheels with summer or all season tires, power accessories, air conditioning, cruise control, iPod integration, xenon headlights, illuminated exterior badges, front LED running lights, and interestingly enough a solar-powered illuminated shift knob (automatic transmission only). A mechanical limited slip differential is also standard.
The Mazda MX-5 Miata is a light weight (2480 lbs) RWD car with hydraulic power steering and a short throw shifter. These all combine to make the Miata one heck of a good time. The sport tuned Bilsteins keep the ride stiff, so if you’re looking for comfort along rough roads this is not the ride for you. Steering is crisp and responsive with excellent road feel that starts on the heavier side and weights up nicely with speed. Let’s hope Mazda doesn’t succumb to electric power steering in future models for the sake of a small gain in mpg. Traction control and sticky summer tires keep you pretty well planted on canyon roads, although you can disable it if you’d like to learn what understeer is all about.
The 2758 pound Scion FR-S is equally at home in the canyons. To enjoy it to its fullest extent, turn the traction control off, buckle up, and head off to your local twisty road. There you will find a car that is well balanced, communicative (even with the electric power steering), and precise. The FR-S wants to step out just a bit, but it’s so gradual that you know its coming and can make slight changes to your steering and throttle to mitigate it…or enhance it, whichever you prefer. The 6 speed manual is a joy to shift and the ride, while stiff enough to keep you confident while winding it up, is compliant enough for daily driving.
The 2013 Mazda Miata Club starts at $26,705, while the 2013 FR-S 10 Series is slightly more, starting at $27,425. This is a tough one here, folks. Both cars are excellent daily drivers and will kill it at a Sports Car Club of America autocross event. Both are affordable, worry free, and come with a manual handbrake for maximum hoonage. But I have to say, the Miata wins my heart with the convertible. Word on the street is there will be a convertible FR-S (or at least of its almost-twin, the Subaru BRZ) in the next few years. If that happens I might change my tune.