We’re pretty familiar with Hyundai’s Genesis Coupe in its various forms. It’s a car we always look forward to driving, whether with a turbo four or V-6, R-Spec or standard. The rear-drive Korean two-door has managed to impress us since the first time we drove it. Recently, after waiting patiently, we had the chance to sample the new Scion FR-S, and were quite impressed with its driving experience. Since then, we’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to put it up against the competition. So, when we got the opportunity to pit the two cars against each other, we were thrilled. Even more exciting was that, by some twist of fate, we were able to take loan of the Scion’s twin, the Subaru BRZ, which the two companies developed collaboratively. Let the games begin.
The differences between Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S we drove for this comparison were minimal. The interiors look slightly different, and there are minor details on the outside that differ between the two (for instance, we really dig the “86” badges on either side of the Scion). The one remarkable dynamic difference between the Scion and the Subaru can be found in the feel through the suspension. The FR-S is a bit stiffer in the rear, and the chassis moves around a bit more depending on the shape of the road beneath it. For fast driving on the right kinds of road for sporty motoring, this gives it the slight advantage of feeling a bit more connected. In real-world driving, though, the Subaru feels more stable over rougher roads, even if it is a bit more numb.
And that translates, by an even smaller proportion, to the steering feel. Because there’s more motion transmitting between the road and the car itself, the FR-S is just a fraction more tactile in its handling. It sacrifices a few grains of comfort, especially in regular, day-to-day driving, for that tiny bit of communication. Would we even notice this if we didn’t have the chance to drive the cars back to back? We doubt it, and we found ourselves doubting the perceived differences to a point, knowing we were looking so hard for any possible change between the two cars.
Beyond that, it isn’t very helpful, realistically, to point out the difference between these kissing cousins. They are so similar dynamically, we imagine purchasing decision having more to do with personal preference than with one of these two cars actually being “better” than the other. The little bit of stiffness doesn’t change much but for in the mind of the driver. Granted, that can be no small thing, and we predict a never-ending debate over these two cars among the automotive community—perpetually entertaining, but perhaps a bit irrelevant here. So, on to the other competition.
The Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T R-Spec is a larger car, and this is especially apparent on the inside. The rear of the Genny is actually large enough to accommodate two grown humans, though head and legroom are at a premium. We wouldn’t dare try to put somebody in the rear of the Subaru or the Scion. There is just no place for legs, especially if the driver or passenger is pushing six feet tall (six-foot Editorial Assistant James "volunteered" to demonstrate what we meant. Doesn't he look happy?). There’s a lot more livability in the cabin of the Hyundai. The interior of the Genesis Coupe is definitely the more premium place to spend time. The materials feel better to the touch, and instruments and switchgear have a nicer look to them.
On the other hand, the interiors of the Japanese coupes are an exercise in simplicity. There’s really nothing there that doesn’t need to be there. Were it not for the large, flat swaths of plastic, it would look fairly neat and clean. As they stand, though, the twins’ insides seem to be something that the driver should just ignore rather than try to enjoy, whereas the Genesis appears to have had some thought put into the actual layout. The BRZ and FR-S, aside from the nicely shaped and supportive front seats, simply lack any interior architecture.
From the outside, though, looks become a bit more subjective. The shape of the Subaru and Scion is really nice, with some elegantly sculpted sheetmetal. The car is compact, low, and looks like it can cut through the air like the wing of a plane. The front end (slightly modified from BRZ to FR-S) is sharp and aggressive, and the roof sweeps back over the cabin and blends into the car’s short rear end. Nothing looks out of place, and the various parts of the car blend to make a cohesive whole.
The Genesis Coupe looks similar in shape, but just a bit bloated compared to the others. The character lines seem to be less purposeful, and various crease and curves break up an otherwise smooth design. The R-Spec also features some fake venting on the hoods that really doesn’t belong. Still, it is an aggressive design, with a bit more musculature to it than that of the Subaru or Scion, especially surrounding the wheels. Like we said, it’s up to the beholder, but we tend to gravitate to the no-frills exterior design of the Japanese duo.
The first obvious and glaring contrast between the BRZ/FR-S and the Genesis Coupe is the turbocharged power of the Hyundai’s 2.0T. The naturally aspirated boxers offer 200 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. That doesn’t sound like a lot, especially compared to the Hyundai’s 274 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque. We must keep in mind, though, that the Scion and Subaru weigh about 600 pounds less than the Genesis Coupe 2.0T. While that is no insignificant weight difference, the difference in power is more than enough to get the Hyundai moving faster than the FR-S/BRZ.
And that difference in speed is visceral, too. The Scion and the Subaru, with their shared naturally aspirated engine, deliver their power very smoothly and linearly. While there is no real “moment” when progressing through the power band, it is kind of nice to not have to rely on a sweet spot in the revs, or wait for a buildup of pressure before things start happening. Plus, revving to the 7400-rpm redline takes a bit of time, and allows for easily timed upshifts without bouncing off the limiter. One can really make the most of this power by wringing out the normally aspirated motor. It’s a bit loud, especially in those high reaches, but it’s nicely informative, and we like the confident growl of the flat-four making the climb.
The Genesis Coupe definitely offers a more peaky delivery of power. As the turbo spools up, the 2.0T turns on the afterburners, and things begin to happen a lot more quickly. Thrill seekers will appreciate being pushed back in their seats as the turbo motor hits its stride and slingshots forward. It’s a good feeling, and it is definitely one of healthy speed. Sonically, it sounds higher-pitched, and the hiss of the turbo adds another layer of complexity to the engine’s sound. It’s a truly generous motor, and we think it’ll be what wins most people to Hyundai’s side.
The shifting experience is inextricable from that of the motor, especially since all the cars we tested used six-speed manual transmissions to swap the gears. In the FR-S and BRZ, it is a nicely tactile experience. The shifter feels very solid, and the throw is nice and short. It lands in each gate with palpability and precision. It’s a fun transmission to work very fast, and a really great tool to match the rest of the Scion/Subaru driving dynamics.
In the Genesis, the shifter looks nice and comes to hand nicely. It also doesn’t have too long of a throw. It’s a bit lifeless when going through the gears, though, and doesn’t offer the same level of feedback as its rivals. The problem is in its vague feel when moving from gear to gear. There’s not a huge issue in practice—you might miss an upchange here and there—the real complaint is that it doesn’t feel very good to use.
The steering in the Genesis isn’t as telepathic as that in the Japanese cars. On center, there’s some vibration in the steering wheel corresponding to the road surface. As soon as we input any steering angle, though, that feeling went away. The weight was light, and didn’t change as we turned it more. It feels very electronic, and a bit vague, though responses to inputs are natural and appropriate.
In both the FR-S and BRZ, the steering is very direct and responsive. The fairly small wheel feels pliant in hand, and the weight of the steering is light enough to make turning fast and easy, but with enough heft to still feel substantial. As one dials in more steering angle, the feedback comes through to the driver’s hands, communicating the amount of grip on offer. It’s a really good setup, and it works to showcase the cars’ handling prowess. It also feels utterly natural, which is a massive complement in this world of EPAS fakery.
In the corners, the FR-S/BRZ feels very balanced and light on its feet. Though it may not have the lateral grip that the Genesis does, it doesn’t fight its own weight when turning. It turns in sharply, and rotates happily, and responds quite well to throttle input through the turn. This car’s balance is something that is quickly becoming known as legendary, and we think that’s totally appropriate. What the Scion and Subaru lack in straight-line power, they almost make it up in the amount of speed they can carry from corner to corner. It all adds up to a huge amount of confidence, and a truly colossal amount of fun.
The Genesis coupe, though, is also wonderfully entertaining in the handling department. Entering the turn is a fun challenge, as entry speed is more important in this faster vehicle. The brakes do a really good job of hauling down speed, then the trick is judging the correct amount of steering input to dial in as quickly as possible. The heavier vehicle, it does struggle against its own weight a bit through the turn. Slamming on the power on exit feels fantastic, especially when timed perfectly and in the engine’s sweet spot. It’s not quite as easily fluid as the Scion or the Subaru, but it is still quite rousing, and very rewarding when done correctly.
Essentially, a lot of what this comparison comes down to is how you, as a driver, get your kicks. If you’re the type of person who needs power and outright speed, the Genesis Coupe 2.0T R-Spec will probably win your dollars. And, it still won’t let you down in other aspects of driving, especially when it comes to livability. If you draw pleasure from magical, telepathic handling, and from the challenge of keeping momentum, you’ll likely prefer either the Subaru BRZ or the Scion FR-S (and which of those you’d prefer likely depends own your suspension philosophy or brand loyalty).
There’s an interesting side note to be made here, too, about even getting your hands on one of these coupes right now. In a fairly unscientific manner (we spent about a half an hour on dealer’s websites) we researched the price and availability of all three of our test cars in the Metro Detroit area. The results were disappointing, if not completely unpredictable. For starters, forget about the BRZ (at least if you’re a Red Wings fan) in the near future—we couldn’t find a single example at any dealership in Southeast Michigan. The FR-S faired a bit better, with two manual-transmission-equipped examples available in Ann Arbor. Of course, each of the Scions we sourced carried price tags over $26,000, mitigating the pricing advantage that they are supposed to carry. And, while there are a fair few Genesis Coupes scattered about the Motor City, not one of them was both a manual-trans car, and with the R-Spec trim level. We could find either, but not both together, on any one car. Long story short: if you want the perfect example of any of these coupes, you’re going to have to order and wait.
We can’t put this comparison to rest without some straightforward, honest opinion. Sure, there will be those who disagree, and whom we’ll never convince otherwise, but we feel compelled to call the Scion/Subaru formula the better driver’s car.
Really, though, the FR-S and BRZ stand in a class by themselves. The closest car we can offer in comparison is the Mazda RX-8, which is going the way of its own ancestors. These Japanese cars share super balanced rear-wheel-drive handling in tiny coupe form that just can’t be found anywhere else in the price range. We’re glad that Subaru and Scion have decided to create this car, as it takes the place of the RX-8 as the most impressive handlers short of the Lotus Elise, for money that most drivers can afford. If you’re looking for the best, affordable way to stitch together corners in a new car, you’ve got these AE86 Toyota Corolla descendants to choose from. That’s something to be thankful for.