Challenger SXT, Scion FRS
Patrick Rall's picture

Which to Buy: 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT or 2015 Scion FR-S

The 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT and the 2015 Scion FR-S are two very different cars, but with very similar prices and the fact that they are both sporty two-door cars, someone looking to spend around $27,000 on a fun daily driver could find themselves considering these two cars – which we examiner side-by-side today.
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While the Dodge Challenger models that we know best pack a big, powerful Hemi V8 and a price tag well over $30,000, the entry level Challenger SXT can get you into the brawny Mopar muscle car with Pentastar V6 power for just $26,990. On the other hand, the 2015 Scion FR-S really comes in only one form, with the quick-revving 4-cylinder Boxer engine borrowed from Subaru helping to make this svelte Scion a real blast to drive. They are both sporty, rear wheel drive, 2-door cars and while they achieve their own fun-to-drive factor in very different ways, the fact that they are priced so similarly puts these two sporty cars in direct competition with each other.

Today, after having spent some time in the 2015 Challenger SXT and the Scion FR-S, we look at how these two cars compare to each other and which buyers should buy which car when looking to spend $27k for a sporty, rear-drive, two-door coupe.

Exterior and the Cabin
You don’t need to be an expert to look at the 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT and the 2015 Scion FR-S and instantly recognize that these are two very different cars. Although they are both rear wheel drive, 2-door sporty coupes, they have vastly different exterior designs. The Challenger is big and bold, with a wide stance and hard lines across the top of the body, bolstering the muscle car feel. The FR-S is very low to the ground, with flowing, curvy body lines and a much smaller footprint relative to the Challenger. It could be argued that the Challenger is a muscle car while the FR-S is a Japanese sports car, but semantics aside, the Challenger is a much bigger car than the Scion and if appearance is one of your key concerns in making your purchase, the difference between the two should make your decision very simple based on your tastes.

challenger sxt front

To some, the larger size of the Challenger SXT might be a downfall when being compared to the Scion FR-S, but with that bigger overall form comes vastly more interior space. The Challenger’s cabin offers plenty of seating space in every direction for even a very tall driver and front passenger, while the low slung roofline of the FR-S could make things a little cramped for a very tall driver. The Challenger also offers a great deal more shoulder, leg and elbow room than the FR-S, but the Dodge doesn’t offer that tight, cockpit feel that you get with the Scion. Sure, it is a little tight in the FR-S, but in every way, the driver’s position in the Scion provides the feel of a proper sports car and for those who want that “wrapped around you” feel, the FR-S is a dream come true. At just under 6 feet tall, I was just as comfortable in the Scion as I was in the Dodge in terms of space and where the Challenger’s seats were more plush and comfortable for daily driving, the race-inspired seats of the FR-S are far better to grip the backside during stints of spirited driving – again supporting the race-ready design of the sporty Scion.

frs hot lava front

Where there is a massive difference between these two sporty rear drive coupes is in the back seat, as the Dodge Challenger has one that will actually comfortably seat two adults with two adults comfortably seated up front. I have driven a Dodge Challenger with four adults in the car and everyone was comfortable. On the other hand, the back seat of the Scion FR-S is more of a formality. It technically has a back seat, but if you have the front seats adjusted to comfortably seat a pair of 6 foot tall adults, the back of the front seats are almost touching the front of the back seats. The back seat is even a little tight for small kids, as there is really no leg room with the front seats adjusted where I like them so in putting my kid in the back seat, the front passenger had to move her seat fairly close to the dash. If you never use your back seat for people, the FR-S is just fine, but if you drive with four adults or even two adults and two middle school aged kids with any regularity, the Challenger is the far more reasonable option.

The Drivetrains
The 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT is powered by the 3.6L Pentastar V6, which delivers 305 horsepower and 268lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission. The 2015 Scion FR-S is powered by 2.0L Boxer 4-cylinder engine that sends 200 horsepower and 151lb-ft of torque via a standard manual transmission, but for this comparison, I drove the FR-S with the 6-speed automatic gearbox. The Challenger has a massive advantage in both horsepower and torque, but the FR-S weighs over a thousand pounds less, so basic acceleration figures are much closer than you might think. Mind you, while the weight difference allows the FR-S to keep the race with the Challenger SXT someone close, the Mopar muscle car’s extra power leads to a very clear advantage in straight line acceleration. Whether you are launching from a stop or accelerating hard through the mid-range, the Challenger provides far better performance than the Scion.

challenger sxt side

One place where the smaller engine and lightweight construction pays off for the Scion is in fuel economy, where the FR-S offers 25mpg around town, 34mpg on the highway and 28mpg combined. The Challenger SXT is the most efficient V6 muscle car on the market, but with fuel economy figures of 19mpg around town, 30 on the highway and 23 combined, the big Mopar falls a little short of the curvy Japanese coupe at the pump.

frs hot lava side

Finally, while the 8-speed automatic transmission in the 2015 Challenger SXT is an impressive unit that does a great job of delivering a proper performance car feel while still maintaining excellent fuel economy figures, the 6-speed automatic transmission in the Scion FR-S is a thing of beauty. With the help of the paddle wheel mounted shift paddles, the FR-S allows you to carefully select your gear shifts during stints of spirited driving, including rev-matching downshifts which help you prepare for sharp turns with pinpoint precision. There is really nothing to complain about with the Challenger’s 8-speed auto, but the automatic transmission in the FR-S combined with the paddles is one of the best self-shifting packages in the US market. The ability to shift to accurately really bolsters the sports car feel of the FR-S and in doing so, it makes the Scion an even better car to attack a road course.

Handling and Ride Quality
While the difference in engines between the Challenger SXT and the Scion FR-S are different, handling and ride quality is where these two $27,000, rear wheel drive, two-door coupes are totally different beasts.

The Challenger is bigger and heavier than the Scion and the suspension is the least aggressive of all of the 2015 Challenger trimlines. The 2015 Challenger SXT offers much better handling than prior base models and there is a handling package that you can add that really makes a beautiful difference, but we are talking about cars available for the base price. In base form, the Challenger SXT offers the a very smooth, quiet ride in almost any driving situation. Whether you are making a half hour commute to work or a 4 hour drive to visit family, the Dodge muscle car offers an impressive ride quality while still allowing you some cornering fun, although the base suspension and the hefty curb weight make this more of a cruiser than a road racer. This is, after all, a muscle car – which are known far more for their straight line capabilities.

challenger sxt rear

On the other hand, the Scion FR-S has a chassis and suspension setup that has been tuned to perform and feel like a proper sports car. The suspension is wonderfully rigid, giving the driver a crystal clear picture of the road surface when blasting around a canyon road or a tight race track. I would go so far as to say that the FR-S has one of the most aggressive stock suspension setups I have experienced – especially in this price range. That affords the Scion incredible cornering capabilities whether you are talking about a tight turn or a longer, high speed turn. The FR-S handles like it is on a rail and for someone who wants a sports car feel, this car is a dream come true. The downfall to this amazing suspension setup is that it is very stiff and as virtue of such, you feel every little bump and imperfection in the road. Ride quality clearly took a back seat to performance and while that yields a car that is among my favorite to drive down a twisty road, the FR-S is the kind of car that your mother will comply beats her up when she goes for a ride with you. Mind you, I think that the ride quality is a fair trade for the stunning cornering characteristics, but those who are less concerned with agility will likely find fault with the rough ride.

frs hot lava rear

So, while the Challenger SXT is by no means unpleasant to throw through some corners, the track tuned suspension and chassis of the FR-S give it a massive advantage in handling capabilities so if you are really concerned with cornering, you will likely find the Scion to be the more enjoyable car. However, if you want a car that offers a superior ride quality with slightly more typical muscle car handling, you will surely find the Challenger the more enjoyable of the two – especially when you tie in the higher power levels.

Which Should You Buy?
If you are looking to spend around $27,000 on a new rear wheel drive, two-door sporty car and you are considering the 2015 Dodge Challenger SXT against the 2015 Scion FR-S, you have to look at what aspects of your new car matter to you the most. The Challenger has more space, more power, better acceleration and a smoother ride. The FR-S is more fuel efficient and it handles considerably better than the Challenger (and most other affordable cars sold in America).

challenger sxt low angle

If you want a car that offers a smoother ride for every day driving, very real seating space for four adults with tons of room in the truck, the acceleration forces of 305 horsepower with fuel economy figures that can reach 30mpg and the unmistakable styling that you can only get with an American muscle car, the Dodge Challenger SXT is the better choice for you.

frs hot lava low front

If you want a rear wheel drive, 2-door coupe that really delivers the purist sports car feel that will handle the toughest corners at speed while also being one of the most fuel friendly sporty cars sold in America, the Scion FR-S is the better choice for you.


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Comments

Neither. The V6 Mustang, frequently overlooked because of its sexier EcoBoost and GT brothers, is in the same price class as the Dodge and Scion and seems to bridge the gap between them nicely.
The mustang does combine the useless rear seat of the scion with the enormous weight of the challenger so it does sort of bridge the gap between the two
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