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Nissan Cube (Nissan)
Nissan Cube (Nissan)

The battle of the boxes

The little wagons that say you're a Canadian Add to ...

They are the little wagons, the useful and often completely square runabouts with four doors and a hatch at the rear designed to make loading so easy. Yes, they all carry piles of stuff and for the most part they sell for around $20,000 out the door.

All in all, we're talking the "All-Canadian" ride. Functional, affordable and fuel-efficient, the little wagons as we'll call them do many things and that's why they typically appeal to 40-something buyers.

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The newest of the bunch is the 2011 Scion xB. This box on wheels is based on the compact Toyota Corolla/Matrix platform, but unlike the Toyota models, the xB is about nothing else but utility and space. In some ways, like the Nissan Cube, it is the anti-car.

Scion, of course, is Toyota's so-called youth brand and a recent Power Information Network (PIN) report shows the xB is "attracting a considerably younger typical buyer (40 years old) in comparison to all the other models in this competitive set except the Mazda3 Sport.

Competitive set? That's jargon for rival models and there are a bunch of them: Dodge Caliber, Hyundai Elantra Touring, Kia Soul, Mazda3 Sport, the Cube, the Matrix and the four-door Volkswagen Golf hatchback.

For the record, VW makes a pure Golf wagon, but to keep all these models on an equal footing, we'll focus here on the four-door Golf hatchback - which is also the only one in the bunch offered with both a diesel and gasoline engine. A huge chunk of VW buyers go for the diesel, which explains why the Golf here has the highest transaction price, according to PIN data: $26,567.

At the other end of the pricing spectrum, PIN data says the Elantra Touring has an average transaction price of $19,411.

You would think little wagons might appeal to moms - and at the risk of being labelled sexist, to women in general - and that appears to be the case. More than half of buyers for all these save two - the Golf and the xB - are women.

Given that Scion's marketing efforts seem to be aimed at young men who like to socialize at night and frequently live in their parents' basements, it's not a big surprise that nearly 60 per cent of xB buyers are men and the average age of the xB buyer is a youngish 40 - which is the youngest average age of the bunch. By contrast, the average Caliber buyer is 51.

The Caliber is the oldest design on our list of eight little wagons. That helps explain why the Caliber's "turn rate," the number of days a Caliber typically sits on a dealer lot, is a whopping 154 days, according to PIN data. Fifty days is about average, which means the Caliber is moving off lots at a snail's pace - especially compared to the xB with its 17-day turn rate and the Golf hatchback at 27 days.

We mention turn rate because in many cases, slow-selling models - those with a very high turn rate number such as the Caliber - are offered with big discounts. We found at least $2,000 in sales sweeteners on the Caliber, not including any discounts a buyer might squeeze out of the dealer's margin.

Discounting aside - and there is plenty of it in the marketplace right now - those looking at buying a small wagon will find a choice of eight competitive models.

HOW WE RATED THEM

  • Safety: We've noted which model-year cars received "good" ratings in all four categories by the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) - front and side impact, roof crush strength and rear crash/head restraint. Those with "good" ratings all around receive a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS.
  • Resale value: We've indicated 48-month resale value on a percentage basis, based on figures from the Canadian Black Book.
  • Quality: We've included the brand rating from the most recent J.D. Power and Associates' three-year Vehicle Dependability Study.

2011 SCION xB

Base price: $18,270

The big picture: The xB is a thoroughly practical, completely comfortable wagon. The cabin is comfortable and roomy, with particularly excellent headroom. Boxes can be that. Obviously the xB is not aimed at a driving enthusiast crowd. Instead, it is design as a social ride with plenty of back seat and cargo space.

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