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The BMW 1-Series hatchback with a diesel engine is not available in Canada (BMW)
The BMW 1-Series hatchback with a diesel engine is not available in Canada (BMW)

Best of the lot

Want a compact diesel car? Move to Europe Add to ...

Dear Jeremy and Michael

I read with interest an article about the possibility of a greater number of diesel-engined compact cars coming to Canada. Having recently experienced renting compact four- and five-door hatchbacks in Europe, I’m particularly interested in these particular configurations and whether there are plans afoot to import them to Canada.

The one I liked best was the BMW 1-Series hatchback with a diesel engine. It is a delight to drive as well as being surprisingly spacious. This was followed by the chance to drive a Mercedes B-Series hatchback, also with diesel, that was quite nice, as well. I am not interested in a Volkswagen diesel. Any chance we’ll see some of these European diesels? – Bill in Toronto

Vaughan: Hello, Billy. Great question and the answer is no. Please write again soon.

Cato: Subtle as a sledgehammer, Vaughan. Bill is probably our last reader and you’ve slapped him verbally. How about a little respect here? Lord, why do I even bother?

Vaughan: Cato, listen. He put his finger on the one car for which I might open my dusty, cob-webbed wallet. The BMW 1-Series diesel hatchback, which you might recall we drove in Berlin, is a gem of a car.

Will it come to Canada? When hell freezes over. The Bavarians realize the price tag would be so high that cheapskates – er, I mean value investors like me – would never pony up.

Cato: Yes, you’re a cheapskate, but if BMW Canada had the will, the company could find a way to price properly the 1-Series four-door hatchback. There are buyers willing to pay a reasonable premium for the performance, the convenience, the reliability and the longevity of a quality-made, diesel-powered Bimmer.

Vaughan: Listen for a moment. The Germans are hiding behind a cheap euro. Who wants to buy the shared currency used by Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, etc.? If the Germans were charging Deutsche mark prices for their cars, they would be totally out of reach. That’s what is happening to the Japan-based manufacturers with the yen. As a flight-to-safety currency, the yen has gone through the roof.

Cato: Listen yourself, Mr. IMF. The Brits get the same 1-Series hatchback you and Bill covet. The diesel BMW 116d starts at ₤19,240 or about $30,700 converted into loonies. Cars are absurdly overpriced in Britain, so BMW Canada should easily be able to sell a 1-Series diesel hatch for around $26,000-$27,000 and still make money.

But no. That’s not what BMW Canada does. Instead, if you want a Euro hatch of the sort Bill craves, then BMW’s offering here is the Mini Cooper Countryman ($27,850 to start).

Mini is positioning this one as an SUV, and you can get it with all-wheel drive – for $34,400 to start. Our man Bill would do just fine with the front-driver, except the only engine there is not a diesel, but an anemic 1.6-litre gasoline four-banger. Do you think that’s a very satisfactory solution for our man, Bill? I don’t.

Vaughan: Never. The Mini rides along the road like a skateboard – yes, it also corners like a skateboard, which is amazing – but it’s too uncomfortable to me. Plus it has the worst interior, with that kitchen clock in the middle. No to the gas-burning Mini.

Cato: You are so off base about the clock and the ride is not nearly as awful as you’re suggesting.

What’s a non-starter is the base Countryman’s 121-horsepower engine.

Here’s my advice to Bill: test drive a 2012 Subaru Impreza four-door hatch, the 2.0i Sport ($24,795): 148 hp, a new, snazzy interior, very good road manners, great reliability and resale value, safe and less than 25 Gs. As close to a Euro ride as you’ll get here, Bill.

Vaughan: Now Cato, you’re getting somewhere.

Subaru, like the late, great Rodney Dangerfield, gets no respect. The Impreza, for the dough with AWD, is a value proposition. Unfortunately, Toyota now owns 20 per cent of Subaru and that’s probably a recipe for disaster. Big companies and little companies never get along. Tom Kennedy taught me that.

Cato: Tom Kennedy, CTV newsreader/reporter, or Tom Kennedy the game show host?

For Bill, another option is the Mercedes-Benz B-Class wagon. At least wait for the new version coming next year. But honestly, Bill doesn’t seem like a minivan guy.

Vaughan: Well, the B-Class with a diesel would suit the bill, but as Cato wisely points out you’ll never see it here. However Cato, you recently travelled to Hiroshima to see what Mazda is up to. I think there’s a Mazda – while gas-powered not diesel – that Billy might like.

Cato: The Mazda3 GS-Sky ($19,995). Not a diesel, but Bill, you’ll like the fuel-efficient and responsive gas engine here and the manual gearbox, all-new, is slick. This Mazda might surprise you as a Euro-wannabe.

Vaughan: You know me. I’d take a diesel if they were available at a reasonable cost. That’s why I keep driving my 11-year-old one. As for you, Billy, you have to move to Europe.

*****

HOW THEY COMPARE



2012 Mazda3 GS-SKY

2012 Subaru Impreza Sport 2.0i

2012 Mini Cooper Countryman

Wheelbase (mm)

2,640

2,645

2,595

Length (mm)

4,505

4,415

4,108

Width (mm)

1,755

1,740

1,789

Height (mm)

1,470

1,465

1,561

Engine

2.0-litre four-cylinder

2.0-litre four-cylinder

1.6-litre four-cylinder

Output (horsepower/torque)

155/148 lb-ft

148/145 lb-ft

121/114 lb-ft

Drive system

Front-wheel drive

All-wheel drive

Front-wheel drive

Transmission

Six-speed manual

Five-speed manual

Six-speed manual

Curb weight (kg)

1,318

1,320

1,340

Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

7.6 city/5.1 highway

8.3 city/5.9 highway

7.3 city/5.6 highway

Base price (MSRP)

$19,995

$24,795

$27,850

Source: car manufacturers

Send your automotive questions to Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan at globedrive@globeandmail.com

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

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