This blog entry isn’t like most will be. It’s less about suspension geometry, performance driving, and tuning, and more about the process of buying the car and first impressions. If you don’t care about that stuff, then here are the cliff notes: For an enthusiast’s car, the FR-S appears to be an amazing daily driver – which likely means on the track, it’s a step above a butter knife as far as aggression goes. Long term goal will be to turn this into more of a prison shank on lapping days, which you won’t have to wear ear plugs and complain of spine compression when you drive it on the street.
Since the beginning of the year, my wife has been accusing me of “nesting” in the garage. I had been planning on the arrival of a new toy, even though I didn’t know exactly what it would be or when I would get it. I insulated the space, put in new GFI electrical circuits, dry walled, taped, mudded, sanded, and painted over the period of a month. I won’t detail the process, but I learned a lot. Mostly, that next time, I’m paying someone to do it. I then purchased new shelving units to organize all my tools, track side equipment, plus the stuff normal people keep in their garage that is always in the way when you have a car spread out in pieces across the floor. I then decided on the FR-S. I was pregnant with anticipation – only thing missing was the crib mobile to hang next to the garage door opener.
On Friday, I got a call from Jeff Chang, my sales rep at Longo Toyota. He said my allocation was on a truck, headed to Longo Scion in El Monte, and I could pick it up the following day. This is a lot sooner than I was expecting, and I hadn’t really made final preparations to become an owner. I spent the next couple hours putting lipstick on the pig of a trade in I have – a 2004 Chevy Tahoe. I hate this truck, yet I have owned it longer than any other car I’ve ever had. It has towed race cars around the country for me for almost 5 years. It burns petrol so inefficiently that every time I start it, dinosaurs cry. It’s never had any major issues, so in reality, after 130,000mi, it’s likely the most reliable car I’ve ever owned. It’s like the smelly, ugly dog that is extremely loyal, even if you wish it would just run away. At the end of the day, I decided that the FR-S, while a daily driver for now, will likely require a tow vehicle at some point, and if the car is used for part development, I’ll need something else to drive. So while my neighbors are likely happy that the Tahoe they stare at out their windows has had its annual bath, unfortunately, it’s not being shoved off a cliff – its sticking around.
I wasn’t planning on talking about my purchase experience, but after dealing with Jeff and the folks at Longo, I thought I needed to. I drove by 7 dealers to get to Longo. I did so because I was doing business with someone who is an enthusiast, knows his product, and deals with his customers in a straight forward, honest manner. He also happens to work for the dealer in SoCal that is getting the most FR-S’. I got what I asked for with no surprises. Jeff communicated with me throughout the entire process; he was a good steward of both of our time. Jeff has more deposits for cars than most dealers get in their annual allocation of FR-S. (North of 30 I believe) This means he knew everything about the car, including details on available interest rates, lease terms, and likely lead times on colors. He gave me all the information I needed to make intelligent decisions on how to pay for the car, and moved me through the process. If anyone in Southern California is considering putting a car on order, I would encourage you to contact him. Jeff is a professional, and you’ll leave very satisfied. Jeffrey.Chang@longoscion.com
During delivery, Jeff pointed out that this car does have some of the minor issues I have heard about from others – the trunk lid gaps aren’t exactly even, the tail lights apparently get condensation inside them when washed, and the tow hook bumper plug appears to be a different shade of white than the rest of the car. None of these are a huge deal, and I don’t think I would have noticed if Jeff hadn’t proactively shown these things to me.
The stock seats have great lateral support. They would be comfortable for long drives. I wonder how the material will wear overtime. It seems like a cheaper felt. I admittedly haven’t been in many cloth interior cars recently, so maybe it will be fine. The stereo appears to be something out of the 90’s and looks like the head unit from my old Supra. But I was pleasantly surprised that while it may look retro, it has all the modern features we’ve become accustomed to. It has bluetooth for hands free as well as to stream music from your iPhone or similar device wirelessly. It also can activate the hands free features of your phone directly from the head unit. The steering wheel has no controls on it, which is a plus to me, and it moves on a 2 dimensional plane. The overall wheel diameter is relatively small and the grip is thick and feels good in your hands. I got the seat setup, and then the steering wheel moved far enough forward and down so I had the eerie feeling I was in my racing simulator in my office. I really appreciate how minimalist the rest of the interior is. It has everything I want, and nothing else – with the minor exception of a built in garage door opener. I thought all cars had these now days. Kind of a bummer the FR-S doesn’t. The traction control isn’t my speed. I wish there was a way for it to be defeated by default, instead of having to turn it off every time you get in the car. I guess that is a reminder of how I should be driving, not how this car wants to be driven.
I’m a lot more domesticated now than I used to be. Before purchasing, I was curious if I would actually be able to take my 2 racecar-drivers-to-be for a ride in the backseat. A full size human wouldn’t fit back there. And actually, it is a challenge to even get the car seat through the door opening. The rear seats do have anchors to properly attach kid seats, but if you have big people in the front seats, your kids can’t have legs. I did however use it this weekend with the 2 kids, and the seating position for those in the front is a little unnatural, and I didn’t let the kids have their shoes on, but we were able to manage for 20 mile rides. For perspective, I’m 6’1” and 175 lbs and my wife is 5’6” and slim.
In the next couple days, I am hoping to make some decisions about running gear for the car. There has already been a car posted with 17×9” Rotas with a 245/40/17 Hankook RS3 fitted. On stock suspension, there appears to still be a little room for a wider wheel. And while I am very conscious of unsprung rotating mass, I’ve usually found that the more rubber you can put on the ground the faster the car will be around the track. I am betting that a 17×9.5” wheel can be run with a 255/40/17 tire on all four corners as long as a coilover with a smaller diameter spring is used.
The problem is that the bolt pattern of 5×100 makes wheels hard to come by. In a 9 or 9.5” wide wheel, the only options I can find are heavy, or cost over 10% of the value of the car. The car will be on a lift this week as we consider our options to potentially swap the car to 5×114 bolt pattern. If we can make this happen simply, we’ll have better choice of wheels. But then, we’ll also have to address brake rotors. (Does anyone else see the slippery slope of no return approaching fast?) I think we could use STi rotors, and STi brake calipers will fit. It looks like even though the calipers if unchanged would have the bleeder valve on the bottom, there is a simple plug to be replaced with a bleeder that would correct this problem and make this a relatively easy swap. My understanding is the front hubs are unique to this car and not shared with any other chassis. The rear ones are supposedly shared with 2008+ STi’s. Or maybe I’ll do the smart thing and just find a good compromise of the wheels that are available and avoid some of these complications. More to come here for sure.
Realistically, the next stop is track brake pads, a quick suspension nut and bolt, and then let’s put the thing on track stock. I would like to find a well priced data acquisition device so I can get people that are interested quantifiable data on performance and the effect of future modifications. All of my experience up to this point has been with Motec and AIM stuff. If anyone reading has ideas on the data acquisition or the wheel bolt pattern conundrum, let me know.