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2013 Dodge Dart (Chrysler/Chrysler)
2013 Dodge Dart (Chrysler/Chrysler)

Best of the lot

Downsizer should Focus on a Dart or Verano Add to ...

I am downsizing from a Toyota Camry LXE to a compact, but I don't want a ‘basic’ car. What is your opinion of the Ford Focus and the new Dodge Dart? I am not keen on the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla or Mazda3. The Buick Verano looks to be what I want, although it is hardly a compact. – Ken in Toronto

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Vaughan: Kenny, you’ve hit gold. You’re coming out of a bland, reliable Camry and you’re going into my favourite segment. Compacts are where it’s happening. Great cars and even greater discounts.

Cato: Compact cars may be heavenly for you, Vaughan, but not with Canadians in general. Now subcompacts…

Subcompact sales were up 32.2 per cent through the first quarter of this year. Compact sales were up just 4.8 per cent. That despite the fact Vaughan is right to say the compacts out there are very good.

That Dart, for instance, looks swish, has great seats and starts at a reasonable $15,995. Chrysler is spinning up some buzz here.

Vaughan: Well, Cato is the Dart expert, having recently done a big session with the Italian-controlled company. Yes I know it’s an Alfa/Fiat under the skin, but what I think you’ll like is the beautiful interior that chief designer Ralph Gilles and his team put into this car. This ain’t no Punto.

2013 Dodge Dart

Cato: We agree? The Pope just got engaged, I’m sure.

The interior here does not look like a cheapo Son-of-Neon and it’s roomier than a Chevrolet Malibu. I love how the centre stack is canted in a driver-centric way. The exterior design is clean. Outside, there is Dodge’s signature crosshair grille up front, smooth side panes with just the hint of a crease running their length just below the greenhouse, and a tail lit up with 152 LED lights.

Vaughan: Safe to say, Cato is a fan.

Cato: With a caveat: quality, the wild card. The Chrysler types and their Fiat owners say they have mastered their flaws, but the proof waits to be revealed. We do know that all the new stuff from Chrysler is way better than any of the old stuff – and third-party research confirms it.

Vaughan: Ford. Ford’s on a winning streak with their cars. Yes, cars. The world’s greatest pickup truck company has suddenly learned to make terrific cars. Again.

2012 Ford Focus

The Focus is a goofy name – it sounds like an instruction on a camera – but it is stylish, refined and a joy to drive. Too expensive, but Cato knows where the deals are.

Cato: If the driving is your No. 1 priority, I’d say the Focus should be your first choice. This is the European Focus, not that lumpy-ride F-car that went away last year.

Ken, if you’re yippee-kay-yay for quick responses and flat cornering, the Focus is for you. It’s also available in a hatchback, which makes the most sense in a small car. Lots of power – 160 horses – quick steering, good brakes and even the basic five-speed manual gearbox is good. Nice looks and a very well done cabin.

However, a Focus hatch starts at $19,899. That’s 20 Large, plus more if you take a few options off the shelf. The upside: Ford of Canada has been getting its clock cleaned sales-wise this year; Chrysler Canada remains No. 1 overall by sales and that’s a shocker, given Ford has been on top for a couple of years. So…

So if you take Ford Canada’s zero per cent financing, you can deal for a $1,250 factory-to-dealer rebate. If you want your Ford dealer to find you financing for 73-plus months, you can dicker for a $3,500 factory-to-dealer sales sweetener. All of a sudden, the Focus looks pretty good compared to the new Dart on the block.

2012 Buick Verano

Vaughan: Where you blew it, Kenny, was in saying the Verano ($22,595 base) isn’t a compact. Dig a little deeper. It sits on the same platform as the “compact” Chevy Cruze, and I can tell you from long driving experience that the Cruz is a good platform.

GM saved dead-in-the-water Buick and dumped Pontiac instead because the last Chinese emperor had one. No, really. Buicks have major bling in China and GM sells loads of them there.

Therefore, Buick was saved and Pontiac was gassed. GM’s Chinese design studio got to work on them and they are cranking out the best Buicks ever, in my humble opinion.

Cato: First of all, the entry Verano is no stripper, it is as pretty as a sunny spring day in Tuscany and its 180-horsepower, direct-injection four-banger is fine. GM Canada has at least $1,500 in incentives in play, too.

Vaughan: Kenny, you can’t lose here. I’m leaning toward the Buick and that’s something I never thought I would say.

Cato: You’ll like the Dart most because you’re coming from a big Camry, Kenny. Me suggesting a Dodge compact? My Buick moment, Vaughan.

HOW THEY COMPARE



2012 Buick Verano

2012 Ford Focus SE hatchback

2013 Dodge Dart SE

Wheelbase (mm)

2,685

2,649

2,703

Length (mm)

4,671

4,359

4,672

Width (mm)

1,815

1,824

1,830

Track, front (mm)

1,484

1,466

1,465

Engine

2.4-litre four-cylinder

2.0-litre four-cylinder

2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged

Output (horsepower/torque)

180/181 lb-ft

160/146 lb-ft

160/148 lb-ft

Drive system

Front-wheel drive

Front-wheel drive

Front-wheel drive

Transmission

Six-speed automatic

Five-speed manual

Six-speed manual

Curb weight (kg)

1,497

1,310

1,445

Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

9.9 city/6.2 highway

7.8 city/5.5 highway

8.1 city/5.4 highway (est.)

Base price (MSRP)

$22,595

$19,899

$15,995

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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