For enthusiasts on a budget, the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST makes an excellent choice. So does the Scion FR-S. The Fiesta ST and the FR-S both earned All-Stars nods in 2014, and both can be had for less than $26,000. With the recent arrival of a Scion FR-S at our office, we took the Fiesta ST and the FR-S on some of our favorite back roads to find out if one could bring a smile to our face more than the other.

Even though they’re comparably priced, these two cars sit at opposite ends of the performance spectrum. While the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST is a turbocharged, front-drive, four-door hatchback, the 2014 Scion FR-S is a naturally aspirated, rear-drive, two-door sports coupe. The Scion was designed from the outset to be a purebred, purpose-built sports car, while the Fiesta ST is an economy hatchback sharpened into a zesty corner-carving tool.

As soon as you sit in the Scion FR-S, it’s immediately obvious that you’re in a real driver’s car. The relationship of the pedals, the steering wheel, and the driver’s seat is just about perfect. You can tell that the FR-S was designed by someone with a passion for driving, making it easy to connect with the car from the get-go.

The Fiesta ST, on the other hand, doesn’t feel nearly as intuitive. We never really found a comfortable driving position in the awkwardly high seats, and the pedal box is oddly arranged. Even the intense bolstering of the aggressive Recaro seats can’t mask the feeling that you’re sitting in a pedestrian subcompact with some extra performance bits tacked on.

On the road, the predictability and communicative nature of the FR-S mean that it never takes you by surprise. The Scion always tells you what it’s doing through the steering rack, making for a rewarding experience. It’s easy to tell exactly where the car’s limits are, and the overall balance of the chassis is something that the front-wheel-drive Fiesta simply can’t match.

You might have more fun in the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST, though. It feels edgier, with exciting, punchy power delivery and tight handling that goad you to push harder and test its limits. The car turns in sharply with a surprising amount of front-end grip, the brakes grab hard, and the engine’s accessible torque curve means you can squirt out of corners. Pushing this car on your favorite curvy roads makes it clear that Ford did a lot more than just slap on some sticky tires and stiffen the shocks.

We’ve been extolling the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST’s virtues for months now. The first few months of our Four Seasons test have also showed it to be a remarkably usable car. It’s livable on longer road trips, and there’s enough space in the back to make it practical enough to be your only car. We didn’t find the same kind of usability during our yearlong test of the Scion FR-S’ twin, the Subaru BRZ. The back seats are useless, the trunk capacity is limited, and it’s not exactly pleasant for a highway cruise.

So while the 2014 Scion FR-S might be an ideal weekend toy thanks to its pure sports-car feel and fluid driving dynamics, we’d be much happier spending our money on the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST. Its fun-per-dollar index is impossible to beat, and it boasts all the day-to-day practicality of a hatchback to boot. Halfway into our yearlong Four Seasons test, we haven’t lost much enthusiasm for this sensational sport compact, and we’re excited to spend six more months with the Fiesta ST.

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