Ah to be young again. AutoGuide’s nationally recognized, board-certified Oracles remember their youth vividly… it was terrible. People often say age is just a number and you’re only as old as you feel, unfortunately they were born wearing elastic-waist jeans and Science Olympiad fanny packs. Gingivitis arrived when they were in middle school.
The Oracles may be human versions of Grumpy Cat but that doesn’t prevent them from doling out the best automotive advice on the Cyb3rw3bz. Their careful guidance is so coveted, so sought after, they’ve attracted some unwanted attention, or so they think. They’re convinced the federal government is watching their every move.
When they’re not installing blackout curtains or cowering in their survival bunkers the Oracles do find time to help others; it’s their job after all. This week faithful reader Tony is in need of some automotive guidance so to speak.
According to his electronic-mail correspondence he and an unnamed male sibling are looking for a new vehicle. They want something quick, fun and functional, but still affordable. They’re looking for something to really get their “blood pumping.” Initially the Oracles suggested Madame Genevieve’s burlesque house but since Tony and his bro probably aren’t from the late 1800s they retracted that recommendation. These young guys are looking for a little automotive action.
For the Oracles all this talk of youth brings up some not-so-fond memories, of band camp, and scalding fondue, of summers at their uncle’s cabin as well as chains and a water heater painted with a clown face… Putting the past behind them, here are their recommendations for Tony and company.
Suggestion #1: 2013 Scion FR-S – $25,255
When it comes to practical and entertaining the Oracles were really pushing for the Plymouth Sundance; it’s one of their favorite vehicles ever built, but unfortunately Ask AutoGuide only applies to cars that are in production. When reminded of this technicality they collectively shouted “POPPYCOCK!” But not even out-of-vogue phrases projected at louder-than-appreciated volumes are enough to change the rules; they still lament the fact that Chrysler let such a magnificent car die.
Back on track their first recommendation is the 2013 Scion FR-S. This alphabetically named vehicle is a thoroughly modern take on the traditional sports car. It’s light on its feet, rear-wheel drive and affordable, plus the legendary quality of Toyota and Subaru are baked right in, like carrots and peas in a chicken pot-pie. When considering the fun-to-money ratio Scion’s FR-S is hard to beat. Base price for the car is a little more than $25,000, including ancillary charges.
In a lot of ways this little coupe is like buying filet mignon for the price of Jimmy Dean Maple Links. It delivers Porsche-grade driving dynamics in a stylish package just about anyone with a part-time job could afford. Would you like fries with that? Of course, and some extra ketchup!
The FR-S is powered by a 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder engine that puts out 200 horsepower. That’s not a lot by today’s standards but it is enough to move this little car right along. It can be matched to one of two six-speed transmissions, a proper manual or a pursuer-grade automatic.
Of course the driver-shifted gearbox is the only way to go for maximum fun. Part of what makes this seemingly overmatched combination so enjoyable is that you really have to wring the powerplant’s neck to extract the best performance; it’s like squeezing the water out of a brick of cheese. The FR-S is the sort of car that has to be kept on the verge of boiling over, but that’s ok because it enjoys the abuse and you’ll love dishing it out.
SEE ALSO: 2013 Scion FR-S Review
As with anything in life there are a couple minor downsides to Scion’s sporty coupe. First, the FR-S isn’t all that quick. It’s got a tremendous chassis and world-class driving dynamics but the average minivan is probably faster in a straight line. Also, it’s not that practical. Tony and his significant sibling are looking for function to go with their fun, and that’s something the driver-focused FR-S just can’t deliver. Lastly, the fuel economy isn’t terribly good. The car only stickers at 22 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on the highway for the manual.
Suggestion #2: 2013 Ford Focus ST – $24,495
When it comes to practicality the 2013 Focus ST brings all the boys to the yard by drinking the Scion’s milkshake, for breakfast… or whatever the kids are saying these days. This enthusiastic Ford is only offered as a hatchback, which means it has more interior space than the typical Manhattan apartment. It’s designed to haul lots of crap, and haul it does.
The ST offers nearly 45 cubic feet of volume in its cargo hold, enough room for several crates of used books, a dedicated set of wheels and tires for winter driving or even a two-year supply of sauerkraut for the average Polish immigrant family. The Oracles say all food should be packaged in vacuum-sealed bags.
Of course the FocuST hauls more than just boxes of junk and stinky food; you can add ass to that list as well, which may or may not reek like kraut. Another area where this car tops the Scion FR-S is in the engine department. The Ford is also powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, but this one is not working alone, it has a helper monkey of sorts in the form of a turbocharger. This highly evolved automotive primate helps the Focus ST’s powerplant deliver 252 horsepower with a truck-like 270 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers imbue this hot-hatch with brisk acceleration at just about any speed. A six-speed manual transmission is the only gearbox offered.
Aside from brute power this car can also dance. Thanks to a willing chassis it’s more fun to throw around than your spouse on your wedding night (we’re talking about dancing, of course). Ford engineers exhaustively tuned the car’s suspension and sprinkled some other magic dust on the undercarriage to make it feel a little bit like a rear-wheel drive vehicle. The magic works, but some of the dust might have been the chief engineer’s dandruff, because ultimately it’s still a front-driver.
SEE ALSO: 2013 Ford Focus ST Review
With significantly more power and a curb weight that’s nearly 500 pounds greater you’d think the Focus would swill fuel like Ted Kennedy attacking an open bar, but you’d be wrong. According to the EPA this Ford is actually slightly more efficient than the Scion. It should be able to go 23 miles on a gallon of fuel in urban conditions and up to 32 on the highway. Of course if you call on the services of the engine’s simian assistant you mileage will drop faster than a ballistic missile on final approach.
What’s not to like? Well, the styling isn’t for everyone. The Focus ST’s front end looks like a whale shark’s mouthparts, gaping and billowy. It’s probably a filter feeder as well, gobbling up flocks of monarch butterflies and other insects as it tools around. Does the intercooler still work when it’s caked in dead bugs?
SEE ALSO: Focus ST Handling Secrets Revealed
Base price for the ST is about $24,500, slightly less than the Scion. One standout feature is Ford’s Tangerine Scream Tri-Coat paint job, the car’s signature color. It’s a $595 option and is sure to attract more attention than a “free candy” mural painted on the side of an ’87 Econoline van. Still this car is a great choice that checks all the right boxes.
Suggestion #3: 2013 Hyundai Veloster – $22,895
So far the options presented by the paranoid and anxious Oracles have cost around 25 grand. Both the Scion FR-S and Focus ST, while far from pricey, aren’t exactly pocket change, either. If Tony and his brother are looking to save a little scratch without sacrificing fun or function they should also consider what’s behind door No. 3.
If there were an award for “Most Asymmetrical Car” Hyundai’s Veloster Turbo would sweep the podium. Throwing equilibrium a curveball it features an odd number of doors. There are two access portals on the passenger-side of the vehicle but only one elongated entrance for the driver. How’s that for funky?
Landing somewhere between the cavernous Focus and cramped FR-S, Hyundai’s Veloster Turbo offers up nearly 35 cubic feet of maximum storage space, but like a sketchy payday-advance loan there’s a catch. Isn’t there always? The car’s glass-covered hatch is designed to crack skulls, literally. Don’t slam the trunk lid if there are passengers in the back seat. Anyone parked in the rear that’s taller than an atypically stunted little person is liable to have their skulls bashed in by the glazing. Headroom is severely constrained and the rear window actually extends above the passengers’ noggins. The car should come with avalanche warning stickers.
Behind Hyundai’s increasingly prominent hexagonal grille is a mini version of the Focus’ EcoBoost engine. The Veloster is powered by a 1.6-liter turbo four that belts out a respectable 201 horsepower with nearly as much torque. Driving dynamics aren’t the best, however, and compared to other hot hatches it’s at the bottom when it comes to handling.
It’s an attractive little package and it’s pretty thrifty as well. Fuel economy is 24 city, 35 highway, the best in this comparison.
And just like the Scion drivers have a choice of transmission. A six-speed manual is standard fare while an automatic unit with an identical gear count is $1,000 extra.
SEE ALSO: Hyundai Veloster Turbo Review
As usual pricing is Hyundai’s biggest advantage. Out the door the Veloster Turbo’s base MSRP is just $22,895, including shipping and handling charges. That’s appreciably less than the competition, and the difference is a good amount to invest in a Roth IRA for retirement.
Counting the tallies Hyundai’s Veloster Turbo is a tidy, stylish little vehicle. It offers a blend of performance and utility that falls somewhere between the FR-S and Focus. You could call it Goldilocks, but don’t; why would it cavort with porridge-eating anthropomorphic bears?
So far the Oracles have presented a handful of competent cars for Tony and his bro-man to ruminate on, but of course there are others worth touching on, if only briefly. Here are some vehicles worthy of dishonorable mention.
The Volkswagen GTI is perhaps the quintessential hot hatchback; it essentially invented the segment back in the early 1980s. Today it offers a luxurious interior and a lot of other niceties but with only 200 horsepower on tap it’s not all that fast. The sensei has been surpasses by his students.
There’s also the Mazdaspeed3. We don’t want to spoil anything, but the AutoGuide crew recently did a comparison with the Focus ST and after you watch it, you’ll understand why it’s on the dishonor list.
On paper the Subaru Impreza WRX makes a compelling argument, but in practice things fall apart (not to be confused with Nigerian author Chinua Achebe’s novel of the same title). It delivers a 265-horsepower knee to the groin along with permanent all-wheel drive, but the fuel economy is nothing to boast about and the interior is about as inviting as an airplane restroom.
Also worth mentioning is the Honda Civic Si. This car was once a benchmark in the sport-compact class. In years past they featured screaming VTEC engines and lightweight bodies, a formidable combination. Unfortunately that’s no longer the case. The car is a textbook example of how Honda has lost its way. The current Si should really be called the SiGH. This car is but a shadow of its former self. What does it tell you when Honda’s sporty offering isn’t even one of the finalists?
DOLLARS TO DOUGHNUTS
The Focus ST is a great all-around option that does everything well. It’s swift, practical and thrifty. If you can get past the styling it’s a great choice, but it’s also front-wheel drive. If Tony’s really after driving fun a car that pushes from behind is better than one that pulls from the front.
The Hyundai Veloster Turbo makes nearly as compelling an argument as the Ford, and it’s a couple grand cheaper. What it lacks in performance it makes up for in value. But Tony is looking for fun, not a Corolla.
Once again the Scion FR-S takes home gold. Late last year it won AutoGuide’s 2013 Car of the Year Award and on top of that Features Editor Sami Haj-Assaad decided to take one home. What does that tell you when a member of our staff buys one?
SEE ALSO: AutoGuide 2013 Car of the Year
As always, good luck Tony in your quest for a new car and thanks again for taking the time to Ask AutoGuide.
If you need a little assistance shopping for your next vehicle feel free to do the same. Send a short message to ask@AutoGuide.com. Let us know the basics of what you’re looking for. How many seats do you need? What size of vehicle do you want? How much are you willing to spend? With some of those fundamentals out of the way we’ll get busy to come up with two or three must-see vehicles that you’ll have to put on your test-drive list.