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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 ...

Power: The base engine is a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder mated to either a five -speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. At 158 horsepower, the xB is rated at 9.5 litres/100 km city/7.2 highway.

Safety: A Top Safety Pick - boxy as it is, the xB has impressive roof strength. In IIHS testing, the xB's roof withstood a force equal to 6.8 times its vehicle weight, well above the U.S. federal standard of 1.5 times. It also has advanced airbags, traction control, antilock brakes and brake assist, pretensioning seatbealts and an ignition disable/panic alarm anti-theft system.

Quality: Scion the brand is ranked below average in the VDS, though the parent Toyota brand is well above average.

Resale value: Scion only went on sale in Canada last fall, so the brand has no resale value history in this country.

Bottom line: The xB trades on what some consider its funky look. Whatever you think of the design, this is a very useful shape - fuel-efficient, safe and well-equipped, too.

2011 Dodge Caliber

Base price: $14,595

The big picture: Well, the Caliber is cheap. With a starting price less than $15,000 and with at least another $2,000 in Chrysler Canada cash discounts on the table, the Caliber is one of the most affordable buys in the marketplace, period.

Power: The base engine is a 158-hp four-cylinder, one of the more powerful engines in this group. Fuel economy is 11.5 city/6.1 highway.

Safety: Dual front airbags and overhead curtain bags are standard on the base model, as is a driver knee airbag and an ignition disable anti-theft system. The Caliber is not a Top Safety Pick.

Quality: The Dodge brand is ranked near the very bottom in the VDS.

Resale value: CBB says the 48-month residual value for the Dodge brand is 33.7 per cent, 7.4 per cent below the 41.1 per cent industry average.

Bottom line: The four-cylinder engine is a bit coarse and the packaging is not as efficient as the best of these wagons. But the Caliber is cheap.

2011 Hyundai Elantra Touring

Base price: $14,999

The big picture: The Elantra Touring is one of the most useful and affordable cars for sale in Canada. The base price starts at less than $15,000, but Hyundai Canada has another $3,000 cash incentive in play, too.

Power: The 136-hp, 2.0-litre four-cylinder is just fine for most grocery-getting chores. Not outstanding, but good enough. Fuel economy is 8.9 city/6.4 highway.

Safety: While not a Top Safety Pick, the base version of the Elantra Touring does come with front airbags and an ignition disable anti-theft system.

Quality: The Hyundai brand has been ranked solidly above average in the VDS for some time now.

Resale value: CBB says the 48-month residual value for the Hyundai brand is 35 per cent, 6.1 per cent below the 41.1 per cent industry average.

Bottom line: The design is a little homely rather than funky. On the plus side, Hyundai has finished the interior very nicely, paying attention to details such as material quality. There is less hard plastic inside the Elantra Touring than in certain rival models, such as the Matrix.

2011 Kia Soul

Base price: $15,995

The big picture: We like cash incentives, such as the $2,000 Kia Canada has on the Soul. Meanwhile, as boxy styling goes, the Soul is pretty hip - if that's possible. Pricier models have great sound systems, too.

Power: The 1.6-litre four-banger (122 hp) means the base Soul is on the underpowered side. If you want more power, you'll need to spend more money. Fuel economy is 7.7 city/6.3 highway.

Safety: A Top Safety Pick, this South Korean compact has front airbags plus side curtain airbags, side impact door beams, front and rear crumple zones, antilock brakes, traction control and an impact-absorbing steering column.

Quality: The Kia brand is ranked below average in the VDS.

Resale value: CBB says the 48-month residual value for the Kia brand is 38.5 per cent, 2.6 per cent below the 41.1 per cent industry average.

Bottom line: The Soul has a compelling design and the pricing is certainly attractive. The base engine is weak, however, though fuel economy is decent.

2011 Mazda3 Sport

Base price: $17,495

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