I once drove a Ferrari around the Nurburgring. For a person who loves all things automotive this is like a pilgrimage to Mecca; a Hajj for the auto aficionado. Or akin to lusting over a Hollywood starlet, then meeting her in person and having her say ‘sure I'll go on a date with you and fix you breakfast in the morning'.
Of all the accomplishments in my life, whether it be fathering children, surviving combat or saving the world from Dr. No, this feat far and away surpasses them. When the Lord finally calls me home, I want the obituary to say nothing more than ‘He drove a Ferrari'.
It was part of a media event put on by the famous automaker on a bright sunny day. The gods had smiled, the weather for driving anything was perfect much less being turned loose in a Ferrari F430 on a proper racetrack (cue the chorus of angels singing from on high). My passenger was a representative from Ferrari, to me a Cardinal from the Vatican; he was of course Italian, a young man who looked like he stepped from the pages of GQ. His hair was perfect and he even smelled good. In broken English he pointed out the features in the car, rattled off the specs, made sure I understood the nuances of the machine. I listened politely and patiently, nodding at what I felt were the appropriate times. When he showed me the radio, I gently asked him how to tune it. I then found a station playing some rock music, looked over at his holiness and politely told him to shut up and hold on.
For the next 30 minutes or so I was in Heaven; I had found Nirvana. From a smoke filled burnout start to the inevitable heart wrenching finish, I become lost in the perfect driving machine. The time spent racing over the pavement, desecrated by spray painted graffiti, was the happiest of my -up until that point worthless - life. I had touched the face of God, made love to Marilyn Monroe, became a better man.
To this day while I sometimes can't remember why I walked into the room, I can remember every single second of that drive on that perfect day in Germany.
Since then I have yet to find anything that could even come close to matching the Ferrari. I have driven Corvettes, Shelby Mustangs and even a NASCAR stock car. None gave me the same feeling of being one with the road, of being in a machine built expressly for a driver.
That was until recently when I climbed into the 2013 Scion FR-S. When I sat down, there was a momentary flashback; for a second I was back in the F430. Now before the purists throw up their arms, send the Italian army to invade my quiet piece of suburbia and shoot me for trying to compare a Ferrari to something built in Japan, I'm talking about a feeling. The feeling one gets when they know they are in a car that's built only for a driver. Because while the FR-S is far from being the Italian perfection of motoring, there is no doubt this, like a Ferrari, is a driver's car. It's like a fighter pilot in a jet; you don't really climb in so much as put it on.
That feeling is reinforced when you take to the road as well. The 2.0-liter boxer engine makes a lot of power for its small size, 200 horsepower, but also has only 151 lb-ft of torque. There will be no smoke filled burnouts from a stop light. But oh boy is this car fun. The power to weight ratio makes this one of the most pleasurable cars to drive you'll ever own. You will feel every bit of pavement, smile as the engine sings when you press the throttle and the car holds tight to every curve as you turn the steering wheel.
If you are looking for luxury or to even carry more than one passenger, then move along there is nothing to see here; the backseats are mostly useless and used for things such as extra storage not for hauling people. The interior is simple with only those gauges needed to drive; the placement tells the story with the RPM gauge front and center. There's no sat-nav, no luxurious appointments like leather seats or fancy climate control. In fact anything resembling anything remotely considered luxurious here seems almost an afterthought. In short, it's all business.
That business is one purpose; to drive. And that's something this car does very well. There is enough power to zip through traffic with a grin. Even the paddle shifters in the FR-S actually mean something. I've driven other cars, looked at the paddle shifters and wondered ‘why'. In the FR-S they only add to the great driving experience. ‘Tap', downshift, pass five or six cars blocking the left lane; ‘tap', upshift, to leave them behind. The engineers have done a great job with this car, and at $26,000 it's an affordable choice for anyone who enjoys simply driving. Someone who smiles at the thought of twisting roads, who wants to leave traffic behind, who loves the sound of a proper engine as much as a live performance of the Who when you step on the throttle.
I've tested more luxurious cars, even ones with more power (The Lexus 350 comes to mind), but none have been as much pure fun to drive as the FR-S. Except of course for a Ferrari F430; however this is the real world and most of us could never afford even the insurance on a Ferrari much less afford to have one parked in our driveway for use as a daily driver. The FR-S however is very affordable and for someone looking for a no-nonsense sports car it is the perfect choice. This to me is indeed a poor man's Ferrari, one that can be put to everyday use.
I hated to end my week with the FR-S. Before I climbed out for the last time I swore I could detect a hint of the cologne of a good looking young Italian guy who once survived a ride with a crazy American around the Nurburgring in Germany.