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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 ...

The big picture: The Mazda3 is arguably the best-looking and most entertaining car in this bunch. The cabin is handsome and functional, too. There are many reasons why the Mazda3 has been one of the best-selling cars in Canada for the better part of a decade.

Power: The 148-hp four-cylinder engine is strong for this class and fuel economy is 8.1 city/5.9 highway.

Safety: The 3 is a Top Safety Pick and the base model comes standard with antilock braking, traction control, front, side and overhead air bags and an ignition disable anti-theft system.

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

Resale value: CBB says the 48-month residual value for the Mazda brand is 46.9 per cent, 5.8 per cent above 41.1 per cent industry average.

Bottom line: Not as boxy as, say, the Cube and the xB, the Mazda3 Sport trades on pure drivability, a nice cabin and a stylish look.

2010 Nissan Cube

Base price: $17,398

The big picture: Among the boxiest cars sold in the world, the Cube has a kind of nerdy appeal, right down to the refrigerator-style door at the rear. The interior will hold the goods from a 20-something's apartment.

Power: The 122-hp, four-cylinder engine is barely enough to motivate the Cube adequately. Fuel economy is 8.1 city/6.6 highway.

Safety: A Top Safety Pick, the Cube's list of standard safety features includes six airbags, active head restraints, traction control, antilock brakes and an ignition disable anti-theft system.

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

Resale value: CBB says the 48-month residual value for the Nissan brand is 45.2 per cent, 4.1 per cent above the 41.1 per cent industry average.

Bottom line: The Cube should have cult status among the anti-car set, yet it's struggled to catch on with buyers in a big way. The design is immensely practical, though - and there is an odd appeal to this square car.

2011 Toyota Matrix

Base price: $16,715

The big picture: Sold in both front- and all-wheel-drive configuration, the Matrix is a familiar little hatchback to Canadians - routinely appearing among the top 10 best-selling cars in Canada. It is solid and reliable overall.

Power: The 1.8-litre, four cylinder engine provides 132 hp. Fuel economy is 7.8 city/6.2 highway.

Safety: Standard gear on the base model includes antilock braking, traction control, front, side and overhead air bags and an ignition disable anti-theft system. The Matrix is not a Top Safety Pick, though Corolla on which it is based has earned that rating.

Quality: The Toyota brand is ranked near the top of the VDS.

Resale value: CBB says the 48-month residual value for the Toyota brand is 46.8 per cent, 5.7 per cent above the 41.1 per cent industry average.

Bottom line: Tried and true, the Matrix does the things you'd expect of a strong-selling Toyota hatchback. The AWD version adds an all-weather dimension.

2011 Volkswagen Golf four-door hatchback

Base price: $21,475

The big picture: The Golf four-door hatchback is a very handsome car competing against many pure boxes. The Golf is refined, even the cheapest one, and it has the best seats of any car in this group.

Power: There is a diesel option available with the Golf, but the base gas engine is a 2.5-litre five-cylinder rated at 170 hp. Fuel economy is 9.9 city/6.2 highway.

Safety: Top Safety Pick, the four-door Golf hatchback has a base model with anti-lock braking, traction control, front, side and overhead airbags and an ignition disable anti-theft system.

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

Resale value: CBB says the 48-month residual value for the VW brand is 49.6 per cent, 8.5 per cent above the 41.1 per cent industry average.

Bottom line: The Golf has been a strong seller in Canada since its recent redesign. This is a refined car, one with stylish rather than purely square looks, great seats and handy road manners.

Correction: The Volkswagen Golf hatchback has a base 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine. An earlier online version of this story contained incorrect information.

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