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2012 VW Golf (Volkswagen)
2012 VW Golf (Volkswagen)

Best of the lot

Urban cowgirl seeks fun city-to-stable car Add to ...

The idea of car shopping makes me want to curl up on the couch with a blanket, a bucket of Ben and Jerry’s Half-Baked and a bus pass. I need a car that can handle the simple city drive to and from work, but I also need a car that can take me (once a week) to a very urban stable. Yes, a stable. That also means that once a week I need to lug a saddle and a small box of stuff around. It almost seems unfair that I can’t find anything cool that can meet all my needs. I have been saving since my first part-time job, and I need help choosing something that will be fun to drive but can handle the occasional bump in the road (literally). Here's what I have wanted in the recent past: Dodge Caliber, Jeep Compass, Jeep Patriot, Hyundai Veloster (and I am so in love, but is it worth it?). I'm all over the map! – Defeatedly yours, Cassandra

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Vaughan: Cassie, don’t feel defeated. You’ve contacted the All Knowing Ones and we’re here to help. First of all, the Caliber, Compass and Patriot are all the same vehicle with a different body on top and none of them would make our recommended list.

As for the Veloster, there’s barely enough room for a bridle let alone a saddle, at least if you ride Western. Forget the Ben and Jerry’s – you need a hatchback.

Cato: Cass, as you can see, the way to soothe Vaughan’s savage breast – yes, Shakespeare wrote “breast,” not beast, as the Rick Santorums of the world have it – is to stoke his ego. He is over the moon, whispering to me as I write this: “Mazda2, Honda Fit, Volkswagen Golf.” The god-thing has made my world a better place. Thank you.

Vaughan: Now Cass, ignore everything Cato just said, except the cars themselves.

You were shopping in the bargain basement for Calibers and the like, but Cato has pointed you to two very economical and functional city cars and the German gold standard of hatchbacks that costs a little more.

There is no doubt that the Veedub is my favourite of the three, but it will cost you $21,475 for the least-expensive four-door hatchback version. It’s the most comfortable, quiet and highway-capable car of the three. The price isn’t that far off the others as long as you don’t allow the sales people to load you up with options. Repeat after me: manual transmission and never a sunroof.

Cato: Cass, you have brought out Vaughan’s paternalistic – ah, “fatherly” – side. Yes, he obviously has one. He’s right about the Golf except for one key point – it’s too expensive, even if the seats are fantastic and the drive is outstanding in the group of three. Also, the Golf plays in a bigger class than the other two.

I urge you to have a look at the Mazda2. The starter 2 lists for more than $7,000 less than the base Golf: $14,095. I know size matters, but $7,000 will pay for a lot of saddles. The 2 is a cute little runabout and will cut around corners like a barrel horse. It is easy on gas, safe enough and pretty reliable. A little noisy above 90 km/h.

2012 Mazda2

Vaughan: That’s my second choice.

Cato: See how agreeable Vaughan is? You’re magic, Cass!

Vaughan: The 2 is basically the same car as the Ford Fiesta but with a smaller engine and the hatchback is much less expensive that the Ford. It’s lots of fun to drive although a little on the underpowered side. But as long as you don’t plan to tow a horse trailer with it, I think you should be fine. They’re not selling too well, so there will be some great deals on them.

Cato: Small cars across the board aren’t selling well. No matter where you finally choose to saddle up, you’ll get a good price, Cass. But be warned: the profit margins on grocery-getter Mazdas and Hondas are slim. I mean skinny as a new-born colt. Worse, until Mazda and Honda start building 2s and Fits somewhere other than Japan, neither stands to profit much here. The yen is just too over-valued.

Vaughan: But the Fit is now to be built in China. It has some great features about it and is remarkably safe for such a small car. Its functional design lets you get far more usable interior space than you would expect. Same rules though – skip the options that drive up the price.

2012 Honda Fit

Cato: The Fit is functional and as exciting as a pair of work boots. Get the Mazda2, Cass – it’s stylish and fun and cheaper than the other two.

Vaughan: If you want to spend the extra, go Golf. If you want a cheaper hatch that’s still fun to drive, go with Cato’s recommendation. If its function over form, it’s the Fit.

See that’s better than hiding under a blanket with a bus pass.

HOW THEY COMPARE



2012 Volkswagen Golf 2.5L Trendline four-door hatchback

2012 Mazda2 GX four-door hatchback

2012 Honda Fit DX four-door hatchback

Wheelbase (mm)

2,578

2,489

2,500

Length (mm)

4,201

2,950

4,105

Width (mm)

1,786

1,694

1,695

Track, front (mm)

1,480

1,476

1,525

Engine

2.5-litre five-cylinder

1.5-litre four-cylinder

1.5-litre four-cylinder

Output (horsepower/torque)

170/177 lb-ft

100/98 lb-ft

117/106 lb-ft

Drive system

Front-wheel drive

Front-wheel drive

Front-wheel drive

Transmission

Five-speed manual

Five-speed manual

Five-speed manual

Curb weight (kg)

1,376

1,043

1,116

Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

9.9 city/6.2 highway

6.8 city/5.6 highway

71. city/5.7 highway

Base price (MSRP)

$21,475

$14,095

$14,480

Source: car manufacturers

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.

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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