Review and photos by Brendan McAleer
Some time ago, a study was released showing that North Americans currently had more horsepower on average than at any other time in history. This made me sad.
Have you noticed how all the speed limits across the country have doubled over the years along with the tire-smoking capacity of your average V6 family sedan? No? Well, that’s because they haven’t. Our cars have gotten faster, quieter, and more capable, but legal restrictions on them are, if anything, more stringent than in the past. By and large, this is fairly sensible, as the pink squishy thing behind the wheel of most cars is, on average, pretty dang fallible. Exhibit A: your ham-fisted humble author.
2014 Ford Fiesta ST vs. 2014 Scion FR-S. Click image to enlarge
However, we live in a golden age of motoring, and it ain’t about 500+ hp twin-turbo German autobahn annihilators or supercharged muscle cars capable of beating up dedicated track-day cars. I’m not saying these cars are boring, it’s just that the boys in red serge and silly hats take rather a dim view of exercising them to anything near their potential.
No, there is another category of automobile that gets the pulse racing, and it’s better than ever. It’s a class of cars that are forced into modest power by economic restrictions, and end up being better than the heavy hitters because of it. Call them the cheap and cheerful crowd, but don’t call it “driving a slow car fast.”
Here are two best-of-breed examples: the Ford Fiesta ST and the Scion FR-S. On the face of it, these two have nothing in common. One’s a front-driver, the other spins the rear wheels. One’s a four-door econobox, the other’s a dedicated 2+2 sportster. One has a snootful of turbo power, the other relies on a revvy flat-four.
Really, I’d rather drive either one of these things than a leather-lined ICBM of the type put out by BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. However, I’d also happily pick one of them over the other.
Styling and Practicality
Style: just who are we kidding here? Scion’s FR-S looks like an Dragonball-Z reimagining of the Datsun 240SX and the Fiesta ST looks like a microscopic photograph of a dust mite. Neither car is pretty – not exactly.
However, both ride on similar-size 17-inch alloys that won’t break the bank when you burn through the first set of tires, and both provide a modicum of practicality. The FR-S is more a 2+2 than a true four-seater, but it is possible to cram a rear-facing child seat in the back, assuming your front-seat passenger is either very short or a masochist.
It’s got a semi-useable trunk too, and both rear seats fold properly flat. In comparison to other “proper” sports cars, the FR-S works as a practical proposition.
However, when put up against the Fiesta ST, the competition gets a bit tougher. Unlike the Scion, cramming a child seat out back doesn’t require pureeing your front seat passenger in order to make them fit. What’s more, actually getting the kid in and out of the car won’t cause semi-weekly trips to the chiropractor. Wrangling a toddler into a rear-facing child-seat in the FR-S is a feat best left to members of Cirque du Soleil.
Cargo volume is much better in the ST as well, more than double that of the Scion. As a proper hatchback, it’ll easily swallow the new flat-screen TV you can afford if you buy the Ford, which brings us to our next category.
2014 Scion FR-S & 2014 Ford Fiesta ST. Click image to enlarge
Every couple of months, a new column comes out claiming that so-called ‘millennials’ aren’t interested in cars. Horsefeathers and poppy-cock. It’s not that they don’t want to drive, it’s that the job market is tough and the cost of living is high. How shall I explain this in terms that digital natives will understand? Such expenses. Much insurance. So underpaid. Wow.
It’s never been tougher scrape together the cash to buy a car, but it’s never been a better time to buy one. The FR-S and the Fiesta ST both sticker well under $30K, and are within reach as you finally get those student loans under control.
The base cars are a not-inconsiderable $1,500 apart, with the FR-S at $26,450 and the Fiesta ST at $24,999. If you’re completing some level of post-secondary education, Scion will close that gap with a $1000 rebate, and a 0.2 percent reduction in the financing charges.
In both cases, that’s a lot of bang for your buck. However, the Ford currently has a bit of an ace up its sleeve. Finance rates are almost never mentioned in comparison testing because they’re different every single month, with new incentive programs based on volume and how the manufacturer wants their portfolio balanced between leasing and financing.