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2012 Mini Cooper JCW Edition (BMW)
2012 Mini Cooper JCW Edition (BMW)

Best of the Lot

Where are all the small, interesting cars? Add to ...

Hi Messrs. Cato, Vaughan: I drive an Infiniti G35X – an excellent car in all respects of driving dynamics except fuel economy. I travel about 40 km each way for my commute to work in mostly dense traffic and park in Toronto where parking spots are getting smaller and rarer every day. I am looking to trade in for a smaller, fuel-efficient car, but do not want to completely morph into a numb/detached, texting stereotype of a commuter. Driving dynamics are important for me – steering feel, nimbleness, braking and acceleration. A few options that I have been looking into are Mini Cooper S, VW GTI and Subaru WRX. Am I missing something even more interesting? – Jim in Burlington, Ont.

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Cato: Jim wants the kind of car a lot of premium manufacturers don't offer in Canada.

Perhaps an Audi A1, not offered in Canada. Or a BMW M135i, also not sold in Canada. Not yet, at least. At least BMW and Audi, to name two, have this sort of small, sporty, upscale, well-branded pocket rocket.

But where’s this sort of Cadillac? Where’s the Lincoln? The Lexus? The Acura? The Infiniti? Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing. Jim, there’s nothing there for you from these car companies. And those car companies are missing out on growing sales and loyal consumers.

 

Vaughan: No this, no that, no the other. Cato, focus on the positive. Don’t tell him what he can’t have. There’s lots of little pocket-rockets out there even beyond his list.

I’m going to start with one that’s pretty well fallen off the radar, but is a fine little car. And it’s a Volvo of all things. I feel sorry for all the Volvo dealers who went out and built magnificent showrooms just before the company got pushed over a cliff by Ford and was sold to the Chinese.

Anyway, the Volvo C30 might be just the thing for Jimmy. It’s not for nothing that Volvo earned its terrific reputation in the past. Did you know that about 40 years ago Volvo was the top premium brand in Canada?

2012 Volvo C30 T5 R-Design

 

Cato: Forty years ago, you were doing cartwheels and hand stands. Forty years ago, you were willing to go skiing in minus-40 weather. Forty years ago – The world has changed mightily.

But Jim, the Vaughanster is onto something. I like the C30 T5 R-Design model, which at $38,800 seems a little pricy until you factor in the discounts – at least $3,500 in cash-back money that Jimmy should be able to combine with zero per cent financing for five years.

I know, the C30 will eventually be phased out, but it’s a stylish sleeper – in T5 form – with a 227-horsepower turbocharged motor.

 

Vaughan: If Volvo had a clue about marketing, the C30 would have done something.

 

Cato: Of course. It's the car a modern day Simon Templar would drive. You won’t know this, Vaughan, but Roger Moore, later to play James Bond in the movies, starred on TV as The Saint. That was the 1960s and The Saint drove a sexy Volvo P1800 – the inspiration for the C30.

2012 VW Golf GTi
 

 

Vaughan: Let’s go back to Jimmy’s list. Of the three, the WRX ($33,395) is the best-handling of the bunch, but it's a Subaru, so the styling takes a back seat to the engineering. It may be too much of a rally car for the daily commute.

I’ve always liked the look of a Cooper S and the John Cooper Works edition ($38,400) – a real high-performance version with a 181-hp turbo four – is a blast to drive. But the interior is class-leading ugly and it rides like a skateboard.

The VeeDub GTI ($29,375) has a cult-like following. It is the real deal with performance and comfort. Every edition of the GTI gets better and better – and more and more expensive.

 

Cato: First, I want to scratch the WRX off the list. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a fan, a big fan. But the Subie is about the same size as Jim’s Infiniti. Going to a four-door hatchback is not downsizing, Jimmy.

Then there’s the John Cooper Works. You are soooo wrong about the interior, Vaughan. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The Mini’s interior is innovative and interesting and a little whimsical. I think Jim will like the tight ride and quick handling, even though like these others – excepting the WRX – we’re talking about a front-driver.

The GTI is the real deal in pocket rockets and it’s priced oh, so right. And I’ve seen factory discounts as rich as $2,000. Oh, and BMW/Mini Canada has at least $1,000 in play on the JWC, too.

And we’ve not even discussed the Audi A3 2.0T Progressive ($34,100).

 

Vaughan: Good call. Jimmy would be perfectly happy in the A3. And same for the GTI. It all depends how much you’re prepared to pay.

But first I’d visit a long-suffering Volvo dealer and put in a rock-bottom offer on a C30.

 

Cato: Nope. Jim wants to go small and that means a Mini.

HOW THEY COMPARE

 

2012 Volvo C30 T5 R-Design

2012 Mini Cooper John Cooper Words Edition

2012 Volkswagen Golf GTI two-door hatchback

Wheelbase (mm)

2,640

2,467

2,578

Length (mm)

4,266

3,734

4,213

Width (mm)

1,782

1,683

1,779

Track, front (mm)

1,447

1,384

1,469

Engine

2.5-litre five-cylinder, turbocharged

1.6-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged

2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged

Output (horsepower/torque)

227/236 lb-ft

208/192 lb-ft

200/207 lb-ft

Drive system

front-wheel drive

front-wheel drivefront-wheel drive

Transmission

six-speed manual

six-speed manual

six-speed manual

Curb weight (kg)

1,470

1,225

1,376

Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

10.2 city/6.8 highway

8.2 city/6.0 highway

9.9 city/6.7 highway

Base price (MSRP)

$38,800

$38,400

$29,375

Source: car manufacturers

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which airs 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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