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Hyundai Accent (Hyundai)
Hyundai Accent (Hyundai)

Growing family needs a cheap second car Add to ...

My wife and I are having our third child and, while she’s on maternity leave, we need a second car – likely six to 12 months. I’ll be the only one driving it – likely just to and from work (downtown to Mississauga daily). I immediately thought of something highly fuel-efficient, small and cheap. Budget is $10,000 to $15,000. I was thinking of the Smart fortwo but was surprised how expensive used ones were. Thinking of Kias, Hyundais, etc. Only requirement is A/C. Assuming used is my only option given the budget. Thoughts? – Strahan in Richmond Hill, Ont.

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Cato: Here are half-a-dozen brand-new subcompacts that list for $15,000 or less: Nissan Versa, Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, Kia Rio, Hyundai Accent and Chevrolet Sonic. Strahan, you can have any of these with a full warranty, lots of features, air conditioning and a new car smell – all for $15,000 or less.

And don’t dismiss the warranty part. With three young kids and a daily commute, you have zero time for car repairs. And your wife, at home all day with the kids, will not want to rescue you when your used beater breaks down.

Vaughan: I agree. A good, thrifty family man like Strahan will throw nickels around like manhole covers. So he’ll like the prices of our suggestions and the warranties, too. Let’s start with the Hyundai-Kia conglomerate.

The Hyundai Accent and the Kia Rio are basically the same car dressed up a little differently. They have very advanced four-cylinder engines with gas direct injection and variable valve timing. The transmissions are a six-speed manual or automatic. Great technology in an entry-level car. And neither will give Strahan a heart attack when he fills up.

Cato: Small kids, Strahan. We’ve been there. Even though your runabout will be for work, you will be hauling around toys, and playpens and sports gear and mountains of diapers and oh, lord – You need a hatchback.

Kia Rio

On the Kia side, I’m going to suggest the Rio LX+ hatch at $15,595 to start. The design is modern, the 138-hp engine is frisky and this car is loaded: from air conditioning to floor mats, from fog lights to mud guards, from power windows to keyless entry. The electric steering is a bit numb, but overall a pretty good package.

Hyundai Accent

Except price wise, the Hyundai Accent is better. As Vaughan said, mechanically the Accent and Rio are identical. But let’s say you went for an Accent L hatch ($13,599 base). The Hyundai with the same gear will cost you almost $2,000 less, freight included. Personally, I think the Kia is prettier. In any case, if you’re the kind of frugal shopper Vaughan expects you to be, I’m betting you’ll take the money and go Hyundai.

Vaughan: If it’s a beauty contest, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I’m not choosing one over the other. But I do want Strahan to test drive the Chevy Sonic as well. I took one for a good long drive and was totally impressed with the thing.

Chevy sold the utterly horrible Cavalier compact for something like 21 years and the Aveo subcompact was not much of a car, either. The Cavalier was replaced by the Cobalt, which GM swore up and down would be as good as a Civic or Corolla. It was not. The Cobalt was replaced by the Cruze, which is.

Cato: Is this going somewhere?

Vaughan: Yes. The point I am making is that GM is learning. The Sonic, for instance, has replaced the Aveo and it shows that GM has finally been able to produce a subcompact that is as good as anyone’s.

Chevrolet Sonic

Cato: I like the design, sure. And, as with the Accent and Rio, the Sonic has its roots in South Korea. In this case, we’re talking about GM’s South Korean subsidiary, the former Daewoo, which the General essentially took out of bankruptcy.

The Sonic has the same power as the Accent and Rio, though the engine is slightly larger and I’d argue not quite as smooth. The Sonic is the right size and the LS hatchback I’m suggesting starts at $15,495. Here’s the rub: air conditioning is an extra $1,100. But GM Canada has sales sweeteners in place that will whittle down that price to something below $15,000 if you work it, Strahan.

Vaughan: What can I tell you, Strahan? I like them all. They’re the best in that category at your price, so shop no further. See which dealer you like best and which is most convenient. When cars are pretty equal it’s the service that should seal the deal.

Cato: The best car for pure driving enjoyment among subcompacts is the Ford Fiesta, but the hatch starts at around $16,000, though Ford has incentives. So I ruled out the Fiesta. Looks matter, so my vote is for the Rio. If it’s money, the Accent.


2012 Hyundai Accent L hatchback2012 Chevrolet Sonic LS hatchback2012 Kia Rio LX+ hatchback

Wheelbase (mm)


Length (mm)


Width (mm)


Track, front (mm)



1.6-litre four-cylinder1.8-litre four-cylinder1.6-litre four-cylinnder

Output (horsepower/torque)

138/123 lb-ft138/125 lb-ft138/123 lb-ft

Drive system

Front-wheel driveFront-wheel driveFront-wheel drive


Six-speed manualFive-speed manualSix-speed manual

Curb weight (kg)


Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

6.7 city/4.9 highway7.7 city/5.6 highway6.6 city/4.9 highway

Base price (MSRP)


Source: car manufacturers

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which appears Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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