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Most of the best-selling passenger cars in Canada are compacts. The sales figures are through August, 2012.
1. Honda Civic $14,990 (2012 base sedan)
For 2012, Honda sells the Civic in sedan, coupe and hatchback form, and there is also a hybrid version. Reliability has long been a strong point. The Civic is roomy for its class, has a big trunk and retains its value very well. Once known for being a sporty compact, the Civic in the last decade, especially, has evolved into a small car for the masses. The two-tiered instrument layout is intended to give the Civic some pizzazz. The 140-horsepower four-cylinder engine is adequate, but is hardly a class-leader in terms of fuel economy and refinement. Of course, the 2013 model is being upgraded in a long list of ways.
2. Hyundai Elantra: $15,949 (2013 base sedan)
The latest version of the Elantra has become a breakout model for Hyundai. The look is swoopy and stylish, and performance from 148-hp four-cylinder is strong. Hyundai sells a coupe and sedan version of the Elantra, while the Elantra GT is the hatchback model that starts at $19,149. The quality story is good. Hyundai has recently said it has been posting incorrect fuel economy numbers for the Elantra and other models, but even adjusted, fuel economy is quite good for this class.
3. Toyota Corolla: $15,450 (2013 base sedan)
The Corolla has an enviable reputation for reliability. Toyota’s careful, conservative approach here has paid off. Buyers are loyal because they get what they expect – steadfast if rather uninteresting transportation. The 132-hp four-cylinder is fairly anemic for this class, but what Toyota has lacked in performance and pizzazz is made up for in discounting and durability. The hatchback version is the Matrix, of course. The styling is hardly breathtaking and the cabin seems pretty old school these days. Updates are coming.
4. Mazda3: $15,995 (2013 base sedan)
The 3 has been one of the world’s most successful cars over the past decade or so. The reasons are simple enough: Mazda’s compact has delivered solid reliability, the drive is reasonably entertaining and the look is attractive inside and out. The most useful body style is the hatchback, known as the Sport model. The most desirable powertrain choice is the fuel-efficient and smooth SkyActiv versions with their all-new automatic and manual options. The 155-hp four-cylinder is excellent and thrifty for your fill-ups. A new body style and more powertrain refinements are not far away.
5. Chevrolet Cruze: $14,995 (2013 base sedan)
The Cruze is safe, efficient, roomy and comfortable to drive. That’s why Chevy has sold about 600,000 around the world so far this year alone. Chevy does not sell a hatchback Cruze; if you want a small hatch from Chevy, you must go for the Sonic. The base engine is a 136-hp four-cylinder and it’s not a class leader, but adequate. A 1.4-litre turbo model has more zip but is also more expensive. The ECO Cruze is thrifty, but you are not likely to recover the added cost with savings at the pump. As an overall small car, the Cruze is quite decent, but not ground-breaking.
6. Ford Focus: $15,999 (2013 base sedan)
The Focus is arguably the best-looking compact car for sale in Canada. It’s also has the sportiest handling and the 2.0-litre direct-injection four-cylinder is rated at a very healthy 160 hp. The cabin here is delicious and you can load up the Focus with all sorts of electronic goodies. Back-seat room, though, is far from best in class. The seats themselves, though, are quite comfy and supportive. The Focus is as safe as any car in its class, but the quality story has been a spotty one. Ford sells both a sedan and a hatchback version, but like too many compacts, the hatchback is a big walk up-market to $19,599 to start.
7. Volkswagen Jetta: $$14,990 (2013 base sedan)
For 2013, VW has lowered the base price by nearly $1,000 from the entry-level 2012 model. That makes the walk to the more desirable diesel model a fairly hefty $9,000 ($23,990). The Jetta is exceptionally roomy and has a very clean design, inside and out. The base gasoline engine, a 140-hp 2.0-litre four, is a sluggish performer; a 170-hp 2.5-litre five-cylinder is an improvement, but still not a world-beating engine. The Jetta is not particularly entertaining to drive, but it’s very well equipped for the price.
8. Hyundai Accent: $13,299 (2013 base sedan)
The Accent, sold as both a sedan and hatchback, boasts a modern gasoline direct injection four-cylinder under the hood (138 hp) and curvy styling that stands out in the subcompact class. This car is surprisingly entertaining to drive for an econobox – and it does not look like an econobox at all. Hyundai offers lots of features and a fairly roomy cabin. The hatchback is barely more expensive than the sedan ($13,699) yet is far more versatile. The Accent, like the Elantra, has been sold since 2010 with inaccurate fuel economy numbers posted, but even at that, this little car is easy on your wallet at fill-ups.
9. Toyota Camry: $23,700 (2012 base sedan)
Here we have an excellent all-around mid-size sedan. The Camry does many things well and can be had with some fairly advanced technologies, such as a text-message reader system. Speaking of technology, there is also a fuel-efficient Camry Hybrid ($26,990) that is so well equipped, it offers a lot of value – and fuel economy with low emissions. The Camry is wonderfully reliable, very safe and solid in every way. The styling isn’t unattractive, either, though newer entries such as the 2013 Ford Fusion are a major step forward in the looks department.
10. Ford Fusion: $22,499 (2013 base sedan)
The 2013 Fusion has been completely reinvented and what you see here is arguably the best-looking four-door car for sale in Canada. This is a really handsome, well-proportioned design, one with just the right amount of detailing and an Aston Martin-like grille up front. No one sells a more technologically advanced mainstream mid-size car. The base engine is a serviceable 2.5-litre four-cylinder (156 hp), but you’ll really want something else under the hood – perhaps the 237-horsepower EcoBoost turbo or the Fusion Hybrid, Canada’s most fuel-efficient mid-size car.