Day One: Street Test
Fourth Place – 2014 Scion FR-S
Yet another surprise, the Scion FR-S finishes outside of the top three. A perennial favorite around the AutoGuide.com offices, many expected the rear-wheel drive coupe would clean up during the street portion of the shootout. With power being sent to the “fun” wheels, precise steering and the willingness to rotate quicker than a kid on a playground roundabout, what’s not to like?
For starters there’s the drivetrain. With 200 HP coming from a 2.0-liter engine, the FR-S suffers from the same issue the Civic Si does; not enough grunt to keep up with the turbos. Worse yet, with only 151 lb-ft of torque, the Scion barely has more twist than the diminutive MX-5. But it’s not just the engine that makes the car feel lethargic. The transmission carries just as much blame. With tall gearing, the FR-S is noticeably slower in a straight line than all other vehicles in this comparison. During quarter mile testing, the FR-S finished dead last, even behind the Civic Si and the quick shifting MX-5 Club.
When the Road Bends, the Fun Begins
The FR-S corners much flatter and with greater urgency than the MX-5 though. On a nice smooth piece of asphalt, the FR-S is an absolute joy to drive and the power inadequacies begin to be forgotten. The driving position is arguably the best in the test and the driver’s seat is a perfect balance of comfort and support.
SEE ALSO: 2015 Scion FR-S Review
The downside to this handling ability is a rough suspension that gets upset on broken roads. As well, the FR-S is the second least practical vehicle in this test, equipped with a rear seat best used for storage and not humans.
Second through fourth place are separated by a mere point and on any given day the order could easily be reversed. The FR-S is still a favorite around our office and with a bump in power or better gearing, it could go from a very good car to a great one.
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, 200 HP, 151 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive, Torsen (gear-type) LSD
Fuel Economy Ratings: 22 MPG City, 30 MPG Highway
Fuel Economy Observed: 35.6 MPG
Price: $25,470 after destination charges
Third Place – 2015 Subaru WRX
Barley missing out on a second place finish is the only car in this shootout to arrive as a sedan and, more importantly, equipped with all-wheel drive. Spending the better part of the last twenty years perfecting the street legal, affordable rally car, Subaru has released an all-new WRX for 2015. Sticking to the successful formula of all-wheel drive, quick responses and a turbocharged engine, the 2015 model sees the introduction of an all-new 2.0-liter four-cylinder that delivers 268 HP and 258 lb-ft of torque.
Packing the most power in this shootout, we expected the WRX to be fast; but not this fast. It utterly destroys all the other cars in a straight line with a power band that begins low and never falters until redline is reached. Everyone who took a spin in the WRX couldn’t believe how much thrust is available in the WRX and we began to question if the 2.0-liter turbo may be underrated as to not step on the toes of its bigger brother, the STI.
All-Weather Smile Machine
But power is only part of a car’s fun-to-drive equation. Thankfully, Subaru spent a lot of time improving the WRX’s driving dynamics for 2015. The steering now has much greater feel and is more precise than before. The suspension is also more balanced than in the previous model as the WRX is more willing to rotate through a corner, fully taking advantage of the all-wheel drive system. Although it is still susceptible to lose front end grip when pushed too hard, it is a more willing dance partner than last year’s model.
SEE ALSO: 2015 Subaru WRX Review
Inside the WRX is spacious and comfortable, offering nearly the same level of practicality of the larger hatchbacks. The front seats are not overly supportive, but are very comfortable and the WRX’s suspension set-up is quite livable.
Always an entertaining car to drive, the WRX has upped its game for 2015. It may not be the most engaging car here, but it always feels the fastest and when roads conditions deteriorate, the all-wheel drive Subie only gets better.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, 268 HP, 258 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Drivetrain: All-wheel drive, viscous-coupling locking center differential, electronic front differential
Fuel Economy Ratings: 21 MPG City, 28 MPG Highway
Fuel Economy Observed: 31.0 MPG
Price: $27,090 after destination charges