Single and thrifty? Here are 5 recommended compact cars for you, ranging from $16,479 to $21,175

Single and Thrifty?  Here are the best cars from $16,479 – $21,175

The 2013 Honda Civic LX is one of our top picks.  Crisp handling, a better interior and more rear leg room than the Mazda3, it's a highly recommended car that's thrifty and fun to drive

The 2013 Honda Civic LX is one of our top picks. Crisp handling, a better interior and more rear leg room than the Mazda3, it’s a highly recommended car that’s thrifty and fun to drive

The compact car segment is my favourite.  Compact cars are roomy enough for most folks, fuel efficient, and fun to drive.  Prices are affordable and they have sufficient power to easily handle a cross-country tour.  Compacts are the top-selling passenger cars in Canada.

Daughter Jenn has been hounding me for months to write an article on the cars I’d recommend to her friends.  Typical of this thirty-something demographic is they require low initial cost, low maintenance and long term reliability.  In short, big bang for the buck.  My ‘spin’ is they also should be fun to drive.

At the time of publication (October 28th), this is one of the best times of year to buy a new 2013 model year car.  Manufacturers have already shipped their new 2014s, and dealers are eager to clear their inventory of ‘old’ 2013s.

We’ve selected base model cars WITH air-conditioning and automatic transmissions and provided manufacturers’ MSRP.  “Litres per year” (estimated) and fuel economy ratings are from Natural Resources Canada’s official ratings.  Paying slightly more for a car with AC and automatic transmission will pay off when it comes time to sell the vehicle.  A true ‘stripper’ with no AC and a manual transmission will be a challenge to sell on the pre-owned market.

Here are our top five choices for the single and thrifty buyer:

Year Make Model, Engine, Transmission, Litres per Year, L/100 km City/Hwy, MSRP

The Mazda3 GX is the top pick for driving enthusiasts and is undoubtedly the best handling car of this group.  Light, agile and surprisingly nimble, Mazda has honed their cars to be “Japan’s BMW.”  (The same car in 5-door wagon/hatchback Sport variant is $19,700.)  The Honda Civic is regularly the bestselling passenger car in Canada.  When it’s not, it’s the Mazda3.

The Honda Civic LX comes a very close second in handling to the mighty Mazda3 and is still a worthy ‘driver’s’ car.  The Civic has a superior interior design, a slightly better fit and finish, and it offers more legroom for rear seat passengers than the Mazda3.  The Honda Civic is regularly the top selling passenger in Canada, and it is manufactured in Alliston, ON.

The Volkswagen Golf is the priciest and classiest of our top five picks.  The price may be a stretch for those on a tight budget, but the German hatchback is a cut above the competition when it comes to affordable elegance.  The Golf has the best instrumentation and dash design, and it’s the only hatchback of the group, making it the most versatile cargo hauler.  And while it is the thirstiest of the group, it communicates better to the driver than the Asian compact cars.  Expect the Golf to be the most expensive of the group to maintain over the long term.

(Toyota has already removed pricing for 2013 models from their website.  We obtained this price from a local dealership’s online new vehicle inventory.)

Toyota Corollas are the easiest cars to recommend to anybody.  They have a reputation for bulletproof reliability.  The Corolla is the best choice for those who want basic transportation with minimal involvement in the nasty business of dealing with auto service shops.  This is the car I tell Ingrid to buy if she ever needs a new car and I’m not around to do it.  The Toyota Corolla is manufactured in Cambridge, ON.

The Hyundai Accent is the dark horse of the group.  Typical of Hyundai, the Accent is loaded with standard features, making it THE choice if the absolute, lowest cost is paramount.  For the price, heated front seats, automatic climate control, power door locks and cruise control all are standard equipment.  The Accent, like the Corolla, don’t have the same fun-to-drive factor as the Mazda3, Honda Civic and VW Golf.

Final buying advice

Cars are like a good pair of shoes.  There is no one ‘best’ choice.  Any of these five choices will be good.  It’s a matter of personal choice.

  1. Drive the car.  Choose the car that ‘fits’ you the best.  Check seating position, sight lines, and ease of operating all the controls like AC, audio, rear window defroster.  If you have to struggle to operate basic controls (like resetting the tripmeter or operating the audio system), another car may be a better choice.
  2. Don’t buy on price alone.  It’s better to find the vehicle you like and select the dealership that has the most number or most recent Customer Service Awards from the manufacturer.  Good after sales service is more important than paying a few hundred dollars less and ending up with a miserable Service Department.
  3. Don’t buy ‘extras.’  Dealerships make large profits on interior ‘anti-stain’ upholstery treatments, exterior paint treatments, undercoating, tinting windows and clear plastic coatings to protect the front of the car.  If you really want ‘rock guard’ coating to protect the paint or tinted windows, go to an aftermarket specialist.


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