The 2013-2016 Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ were landmark cars for the enthusiast community, arriving at a time when car lovers were mourning the loss of lightweight, rear-wheel-drive options that were inexpensive enough for young buyers to consider. The FR-S also marked Toyota's first return to the enthusiast space (through its youth-oriented Scion brand) after abandoning the MR2 Spyder and Supra nameplates years before. For Subaru, the BRZ was a significant departure from its rugged, all-wheel-drive approach to practical transportation, and a refreshing one for many enthusiasts.
These coupes are now starting to become genuinely affordable options for buyers who either want a fun, entry-level enthusiast car that offers enough practicality for day-to-day life or a reasonably priced second car for track, autocross or drift events. Or, for that matter, even just some weekend driving.
Why the FR-S and BRZ?
The real question is, "Why not?" And the answer is pretty simple: Power. The Scion FR-S and BRZ are excellent enthusiast cars. They're lightweight, rear-wheel drive, and an absolute blast on a curved road, but straight-line monsters they are not. Both offered just under 200 horsepower with no significant power upgrades from the factory. If you're used to the V8 power of a Ford Mustang GT or Chevrolet Camaro SS, the FR-S and BRZ probably aren't for you.
But if you like fun, lightweight performance cars with lots of potential for modification and personalization, these are great choices. Both have proven to have at least average or better reliability, too, which is good news for those who want something inexpensive and dependable.
Subaru or Scion? What options do I want?
The answer to the first question is pretty simple: It doesn't really matter. If you have a preference for the styling of either model or the colors offered, there's really no other compelling reason to pick one over the other. Both the Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S were eventually offered with some version of a performance package that adds stickier summer tires and a track-tuned suspension, but keep in mind that these cars were meant to be tuner canvases. If you find a car with the right color and transmission but the wrong suspension options, the aftermarket offers diverse solutions for basically any budget.
Both were offered with either automatic or manual transmissions, and while the former is functional, the most rewarding way to drive one of these coupes is with a manual gearbox. Just about everything with these cars comes down to taste. Want better sound? Navigation? They're out there. Whether they're worth the premium is entirely up to you.
You should also know that the Scion brand no longer exists, and the FR-S received a small makeover and was rebadged as the Toyota 86 for the 2017 model year.
The most important thing to look out for, especially when shopping the earlier years or models that may have been neglected, is a valve spring recall campaign that was conducted fairly early in these cars' production run. A valve spring failure will leave you by the side of the road, so make sure you know the status of the vehicle you're considering when you make the purchase. If the seller can't confirm whether the recall was already performed, contact your local dealer; they can run the car's VIN and tell you.
Availability and listings
The two things that make the Toyobaru twins desirable as new-car purchases make them great used buys too: They're affordable and plentiful, and apart from a few things to look out for in early years (namely the valve spring recall we pointed out above), both models have proven to be reliable and dependable used buys.
Prices for these (especially some of the limited editions) can be all over the map, but at the time of publication (March of 2021), Kelley Blue Book values for early FR-S and BRZ models are hovering in the $10,000-15,000 range. Beware of suspiciously low prices, as affordable, rear-wheel-drive cars with enthusiast credentials will inevitably fall into the hands of inexperienced drivers who might have dinged them up a bit. Make sure you check their accident histories.
Our used vehicle listings can be helpful to find a good deal near you. Narrow the offerings down by a radius around your ZIP code, and pay attention to the deal rating on each listing to see how a vehicle compares with others in a similar area.
What else to consider
The Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ occupy a somewhat unique space. They're hardtop 2+2 coupes with small, four-cylinder, naturally aspirated engines, which makes them anomalies in the enthusiast market. Most other 2+2s (we already mentioned the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro) are larger and offered with bigger, more powerful engines. Even the turbo-four variants of the American pony cars are significantly larger than the twins, so you're paying a heavy price for that extra power.
Another commonly considered alternative is the Mazda MX-5 Miata. It's smaller (seating just two), has even less power and there's no fixed roof available, but Mazda's little roadster is stupendously reliable and offers even more aftermarket support than either the Scion or Subaru. You might also consider some front- or all-wheel-drive alternatives, such as the Ford Fiesta ST, Volkswagen GTI or even Subaru's own WRX. All offer similar power (or more, in some cases) compared to either the FR-S or BRZ, plus significantly more practicality — if that's important to you.