The FR-S and BRZ are the offspring of a partnership between Subaru and Toyota (Scion is a sub-brand of Toyota). Normally competitors, they put their heads (and wallets) together to produce a pair of lightweight, affordable, rear-wheel drive sports coupes. As a result, both cars share plenty of DNA from either side.
Subaru's contribution to the project was mostly on the engineering side, developing the drivetrain and the chassis. Their touch is apparent when you look at the engine that powers both the FR-S and the BRZ: a 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder that outputs 151 pounds-feet of torque. "Boxer" refers to the configuration of the engine pistons which instead of pointing up and down or aligning in a "V" like most engines, lay flat and push straight outwards, horizontally. Subaru are experts at this type of engine — a boxer rests in the engine bay of every vehicle in their lineup. Toyota handled most of the design elements but also sourced the engine's fuel injection system.
Simply put, these two are the best affordable sports cars to come around in quite a while and are easily the most fun you can have behind the wheel for around $25,000. While they don't have the most power or the quickest acceleration, they are extremely light, incredibly well balanced, and a joy to toss around in the bends. And they get pretty good gas mileage considering, topping out at 25 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway (with the automatic).
Thanks to their unique style of development, the FR-S and the BRZ have a lot in common. And by "a lot" we mean they're almost identical. But if you look closely, slight differences can be found and they just might tilt you in favor of one or the other.
Starting with the exteriors, although it's hard to see at first glance there are a few ways to tell these two apart. Just don't try to do it from the back or side. The two cars have essentially the same profile and are virtually indistinguishable from the rear, with identical taillights and matching dual exhausts. It's easiest to tell the two cars apart from the front where each gets a unique front bumper and a few design quirks along the vents next to the hood. The FR-S has more aggressive forward styling, with a jutting lower jaw and upward sloping side vents that house the trapezoidal fog lights, giving it a perpetual scowl. The BRZ distinguishes itself with features like standard HID headlights that are ringed by LEDs and an available rear spoiler, two features that are absent from the FR-S.
Where the bigger differences lie is in the interior. The BRZ offers more in the way of standard features, including standard navigation system and push button start — two features that aren't available on the FR-S even as options. Keep in mind that the BRZ does have a higher price tag, checking in at about $1,200 more than the FR-S. But we think the inclusion of these features, as well as the aforementioned HIDs, make it well worth the markup.
The real question, though, between these two is "how do they drive?" Although they are nearly identical mechanically, they do differ in their suspension tuning. The FR-S has a stiffer suspension than the BRZ which makes it feel a touch unbalanced under hard cornering and more prone to oversteer. Depending on who you are, that might be preferable, but it makes the FR-S sharper, more on edge, while the BRZ is the slightly more confident and stable car, and easier to drive near or at the limit.
When it comes down to it there isn't much to separating these two road warriors, they're even built in the same factory! In the end what will tip you one way or the other is whether or not you think the BRZ's extra features are worth the difference in price (we do), and if you want a more compliant or a stiffer suspension. If price is your biggest consideration however and you don't really need the navigation system, then the Scion is a great choice. The FR-S will also be easier to find as Scion is bringing 10,000 of them over to sell this year, while Subaru is only importing 6,000 BRZs.
You can't go wrong with either of these competitors; we had to really split hairs to find the differences. Just know that whichever one you do choose, whether it ends up being the 2013 Subaru BRZ or the 2013 Scion FR-S, it's bound to put a smile on your face. Now stop reading, get out there, and find a nice canyon to carve.