Lulled into stupor by your in-car DVD player and automatic butt massagers, you may not have noticed, but cars have gotten really, really boring in the last two decades. Sure, they're faster than ever — a 2011 Toyota Camry makes 21 more horsepower than a 1991 Porsche 911 — they're safer than ever and they're more luxurious than ever. But all the above have removed the whole purpose of cars: The driving itself. But change could now be on the horizon. Could a new product from the most beige of automakers forever restore the driver to his rightful place?
And I really do mean cars have gotten boring. Even equipped with a weekly rotation of the newest, most exciting cars on the planet and regular jaunts around the world to drive them on race tracks, I left as Jalopnik's road test editor last year, departing for the more involved climes of motorcycles. There simply wasn't a car on the market that was any longer capable of holding my interest; not when I could swap my driving shoes for a leather suit and actually be allowed to control a fast vehicle using only skill and physical inputs.
Don't believe me? Go bounce off the top speed governor of a CTS-V on the road. Rather than some feat of ridiculous human prowess, you just mash the pedal and point away from trees. Go drive an SLS AMG around Laguna Seca or, rather, sit along for the ride while the automatic transmission and undefeatable stability control do it for you. Hell, you can set lap records in a Porsche 911 GT3 RS all day long without really trying.
But that all changed a week ago when I walked into the reveal of the Scion FR-S here in Hollywood. The car in front of me wasn't about bullshit numbers that translate into very little experience. It wasn't about features and it wasn't about image. It's not designed to perfectly accentuate Mr. Bluetooth Earpiece's striped shirt or make Sally Homemaker feel rugged. Unlike literally every other car on the market in 2011, it's made to do one thing and one thing only. It's made to be driven.
There's been some bitching in Jalop circles that the Scion FR-S/Toyota GT 86 and its Subaru BRZ cousin don't make headline-grabbing power figures. To them, I say, who cares? I've driven the most powerful cars on the planet and been bored to tears doing so. The problem is, that with ridiculous power, comes ridiculous liability.
No automaker is free to allow mere mortals to exploit a 556 HP luxury car without intervention. And I'm not talking about just the electronic kind. Chassis on those cars are tuned for safety, not driver involvement. Stability at high speeds, not agility in tight corners. The hugely wide and extremely low-profile tires needed to put that power to the road grip like hell, but utterly refuse to slide in a controllable manner. Where's the fun when you only have two choices on the menu: grip or spin?
In fact, the whole concept that speed somehow correlates with what we want to do as drivers is completely erroneous. I'm not in this to read some number off a dashboard, I drive cars and ride bikes to develop new skills, then practice them. I drive to participate in a landscape and, occasionally, to scare myself.
The best driver's car I've ever owned was a BMW that weighed 2,813 Lbs and made 167 HP. The Scionotabaru weighs 2,689 Lbs and makes 197 HP. That's plenty for me. That I'll be able to drive it without playing into the ideas that our midwestern and southern readers probably have about me and my skinny jeans and that I'll be able to carry luggage and occasionally some buddies in the back seats just makes it that much better.
To put those numbers in perspective, a current BMW M3 weighs 3,704 Lbs. Over 1,000 more than the Subionta. Where's the fun in that?
That the GT 86/86/FR-S/BRZ was able to get down to such a svelte weight without the use of exotic materials is indicative of its appeal. It doesn't need a carbon fiber roof or magnesium wheels or drillium pedals in order to perform. Which means you'll be able to make it perform for just $24,000. That's less than a VW Golf TDI. You can afford this car. You can afford to crash this car and you can afford to repair it. That means you can afford to really, really drive it. Hard. You can afford to modify it. You'll probably be able to do the maintenance yourself, in your driveway.
When I walked into that FR-S unveil I saw a car that was small, a car that was practical, a car that was unassuming, a car that was RWD, has a manual transmission, a light weight and perfect weight distribution. I saw a car that I wanted, badly. For the first time in a long time.
I'm planning on buying a BRZ. How about you?