My father is looking for a new car. Since 1987, he has owned three BMW 3-Series in a row, each for eight-plus years. Really amazing cars, “perfect” in their class, I think. The other night he said he was looking at new cars, and mentioned he would be interested in “the nice VW” in a diesel, or maybe a Toyota Prius. And he wondered how to compare their fuel efficiency for his driving (80 per cent city, the rest longer trips). First, I was amazed and impressed that he is “thinking green,” but also curious about what is available and what might be the best fit for his interest to improve fuel economy, still get enough “nice car” and perhaps address his desire for safer winter driving (he's also curious about all-wheel drive, although there are fuel economy disadvantages). – Kevin in Toronto
Cato: Let's play car company executive. No, let's play BMW executive. Here we have a gentleman who has owned the “perfect” 3-Series for 25 years and just like that – whammo! – he's ready to move on to some “nice VW” diesel or perhaps a Prius hybrid, or some other thrifty, AWD winter warrior. How do you plan for this sort of customer?
Efficient Dynamics, the phrase BMW uses to describe its green-cars-without-compromise initiative, hasn't hit home with Kev's dad. He's moving on. He's not buying in. Loyalty? Done. Plan for that, BMW.
Vaughan: It's about time Kev's dad showed a little imagination. The same car, year after year after year. Even I'd draw the line at 20 years of BMWs. And because he's been so blinkered, so narrow in his vision, Kev's dad is confused.
Cato: Okay, time to be car exec. I need to plan for a world of possibilities – diesels, hybrids, fuel-efficient gas engines and some with all-wheel-drive. No wonder even the world's biggest car companies are entering into alliances with other car companies, just to manage the cost of developing all these different options for buyers like Kevin's dad.
Vaughan: And we need to answer Kevin. The obvious diesel choice is the VW Golf TDI, the well-equipped Highline version ($29,395). Nice as it is, a front-wheel-drive Golf is a step down from a rear-drive BMW 3, plus the obvious image thing.
There's also a difference in everything else – the handling, the response of the brakes, the preciseness of the steering. I'm a diesel fan, but I'm not sure a diesel is the best choice for a man who does 80 per cent of his driving in the city. Diesels shine brightest on the highway.
Cato: So I'm going to suggest the Lexus CT 200h hybrid ($30,950). This Lexus is a nice step up from the Prius, though the under-hood hardware is essentially the same – four-cylinder engine paired with an electric traction motor. Total horsepower: 134.
Vaughan: Unlike the Prius, which looks like the ideal Vancouver taxi it has become, the CT looks better. Lexus still hasn't had the big styling revolution it keeps talking about, but this is much better-looking than the Prius.
It's also better equipped, more along the lines of Daddyo's 3-Series. I think the cabin is well done and that mouse-like controller on the centre console works better than the generally over-complicated controllers favoured by the Germans.
Cato: For a third option, I want to steer Big Poppy to this new Mazda CX-5, the GT version with all-wheel drive ($32,495). Kevin, I want your old man to have a look at the first all-new Mazda to fully embrace what Mazda calls its SkyActiv technology.
Vaughan: That's what we hear from every Mazda exec, time after time. They are relentlessly on-message with SkyActiv – lightweight platforms with new gasoline and diesel powertrains that boost power and fuel economy, not to mention stop-start, regenerative braking, gram-by-gram weight savings on every component and aerodynamic designs.
Cato: I won't kid Pops; the CX-5 crossover is not a 3-Series. But it's pretty good, better than dad's first or second 3 for sure. And, as Mazda is wont to say, it offers the “best highway fuel economy of any SUV sold in Canada – including hybrids.” I'm putting the CX-5 out there as a thinking-outside-the-box alternative.
Vaughan: I've driven it. The engine at 155 hp is not overly powerful, but it's stronger than the numbers suggest. And thanks to some fancy engine plumbing, the power comes on without any knocking or hesitation. The new automatic transmission is superb, too – upshifts are smooth and downshifts are rev-matched. I enjoy driving it, although the styling is pretty ordinary.
Cato: Of the three, the Lexus is the logical step for Pops – and it's thousands cheaper than the cheapest new 3-Series.
Vaughan: If the old boy wants to show some green, he gets that hybrid logo on the side of the CT to impress Junior. For once, I agree with Cato.
HOW THEY COMPARE
2013 Mazda CX-5 GT
2012 Lexus CT 200h
2012 Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI Highline
Track, front (mm)
1.8-litre four-cylinder and electric motor in hybrid drive system
2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbodiesel
134 hp combined hybrid output
Curb weight (kg)
Fuel economy (litres/100 km)
8.0 city/6.4 highway
4.5 city/4.8 highway
6.7 city/4.6 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.