Used Vehicle Review: Subaru BRZ / Scion FR-S, 2013-2016

Vehicle Type

Owners say they love the fuel mileage, fun-to-drive factor, looks and feel, and the sporty shifter and clutch combination

Rear-wheel drive sports coupe

History/Description

Building on experience making durable and reliable performance cars, Toyota and Subaru teamed up to build an affordable, “back to basics” sports model. Launched in 2012 for model year 2013, the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ gave Canadian shoppers a pair of fun sports car options that were ready to turn in authentic sports car driving dynamics, excellent fuel efficiency, and all of the goodness of a sports-car-from-the-get-go platform.

The resulting twins combined 200 horsepower, rear-wheel drive, a six-speed transmission in the driver’s choice of manual or automatic with paddle shift, and nicely honed driving dynamics, at an affordable price. Today, few-year-old units are available affordably, many of which are covered by remaining factory warranty, too. If you’re after a sensible and attainable world-class sporting experience, the FR-S and BRZ are worth a closer look.

Feature content included navigation, an upscale central media interface, Bluetooth, heated seats, automatic climate control and fold-down rear seats. Push-button start, xenon lighting and sports pedals could also be had.

Fuel mileage figures should see this pair put away between 7.2 and 8.2 litres of fuel in highway and city driving, depending on the transmission selected. The automatic six-speed unit earns the lowest fuel consumption rating. From 2014, minor improvements to cosmetics and interior content helped add more value. Cross-shopping exercises should include the Hyundai Genesis Coupe, Mazda MX-5 and Ford Mustang, depending on shopper preferences.

Note that other than a few minor differences inconsequential to this article, the FR-S and BRZ are mechanically identical – so the advice provided below can be applied to shopping for either model.

Engines

All units were powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder D4S boxer engine. The compact powerplant works best when spinning fast, flaunts a redline of 7,500 rpm, and generates 200 horsepower.

What Owners Like

Owners say they love the fuel mileage, fun-to-drive factor, looks and feel, and the sporty shifter and clutch combination offered by the FR-S and BRZ. Many owners say these machines offer a just-right amount of space and size on board, with a cabin that’s sports-car snug, without being cramped. The centre-mounted tachometer is another favourite feature.

What Owners Dislike

Common gripes include a small trunk opening, tight rear-seat space, and the lack of a central armrest for front-seat occupants. Though the FR-S and BRZ are not meant to be hot-rods, many owners wish for more power, or a higher-output engine option, which was unavailable.

Here are some owner reviews of the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ.

The Test Drive

Approach any used seller confirming that they’ll be willing to let you take the vehicle in question to a dealer mechanic for a full pre-purchase inspection (PPI), ahead of your purchase, or that they’ll be willing to meet you at said dealer for said inspection. A PPI is quick, costs about $100, and can reveal potentially pricey issues the ride you’re considering may be concealing. It’s excellent insurance before buying a car like this one.

Next, bear in mind that the average shopper is best to stick to a unit that hasn’t been modified by its seller in any way, as various modifications can adversely affect the reliability and durability of the vehicle, or even void its warranty. Note that certain non-factory parts or software may black-flag the vehicle’s warranty, even if they’re set back to stock, and sometimes, without the seller knowing. Stick to stock where possible, though upgraded exhaust and intake systems, which are fairly common, should pose no cause for concern.

Then familiarize yourself with this thread in a popular owner forum, which outlines a commonly reported issue with sporadic idle, possibly accompanied by a warning light, check-engine light (CEL), or a violent shaking sensation from the engine at idle. The issue has, in some cases, been addressed with the application of new hardware and software that control the variable-valve-timing system – though owners report varying levels of success in having the problem remedied. If the unit you purchase develops this problem later, perhaps towards the end of its warranty, be sure to have your dealer service manager document it as soon as possible, to speed any applicable warranty claims.

Have the engine control unit (ECU) of any model you’re considering scanned via its on-board diagnostics (OBD) port and a diagnostic tool, whether by a technician, or via a handheld unit brought along for the test drive. Engine trouble codes revealed by this diagnostic procedure can reveal potential issues, including this one, which could reference a bad speed sensor or fuel pump. If you detect a chirping sound from the rear of the vehicle, possibly accompanied by this trouble code, the solution may be to install a revised fuel pump. Note that not all engine trouble codes will cause a CEL to illuminate.

Trouble code P0328, possibly accompanied by limited performance caused by engagement of a protective ‘limp mode’ could reference a bad knock sensor that needs replacement. This issue isn’t massively common, but is worth being aware of.

Owners have reported various noises from the vehicle driveline, including a thump from the rear end when putting the vehicle in gear as it comes to a stop (this is considered normal), and a variety of rattles or light grinding sounds from the transmission / shifter area. Provided the sounds are fairly quiet, and not accompanied by any unwelcome sensations or heavy vibrations / harshness felt through the driveline, most are considered to be normal, and shouldn’t be cause for alarm. If you’re worried, have a technician investigate – but remember that all vehicle drivelines make noises like these, though they’re typically muffled by extensive sound deadening, which is applied more sparingly to sports car models like these.

The number one cause of a non-functional trunk release has a super-easy fix: just click the “Disable” switch, located in the trunk, back into its off position. This switch prevents the trunk from opening via any other method than the physical key, and often gets engaged by accident when loading items into or out of the trunk. If this isn’t the cause of the problem, further investigation is required.

Other checks should include a look for rear taillight condensation, and clunking noises during low-speed, sharp-turning maneuvers, perhaps while turning into a parking space. The latter could indicate a worn-out suspension part, like a bushing, sway-bar link, or ball-joint.

Shoppers are also advised to have a mechanic inspect the front timing chain cover for signs of oil leakage or seepage, especially on earlier models. If any is detected, the solution is often to install revised washers, fasteners and sealant.

Confirm both power windows work as intended, too. If they don’t, they may have been operated while frozen, lost their initialization settings, and need to be reset, which isn’t a big deal.

Finally, a loud popping sound from the rear shelf area may be the result of a bad fit between two metal panels, or a bad spot weld, which allows the metal segments to contact each other and cause noise. The remedy, as per this Technical Service Bulletin (TSB), is for a technician to apply some spray grease between the offending metal panels, and then to squeeze them back together.

The Verdict

In all, the FR-S and BRZ seem free of any serious or worrisome issues so far, with most issues reported by owners being fairly easy to fix, electronic in nature, and easy to detect. Add confidence to your purchase decision with a highly recommended pre-purchase inspection of a non-modified model, and buy confidently.

Just one recall.

Crash Test Ratings

IIHS: Top Safety Pick (2013)
NHTSA: N/A

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