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I’ve recently graduated and have a sizeable loan to pay off. Meantime, I need a new car. My strategy is to lease a compact hatch now, with an eye to trading up inside the same company in two or three years when I should be making a healthy six-figure income – for example, Honda Civic now, Acura TLX later. The trick is to choose the right model now. What do you suggest? – Ted

Richardson: First off, Ted, if you have a sizeable loan, pay it off now and get by with an older car. Then make the lease payments on something newer when you’ve got your debt down.

Lightstone: And then?

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Richardson: Well, this is every car company’s dream: Hook a buyer now with something affordable and satisfying, then keep that person through the entire life cycle of buying cars.

Lightstone: Getting the buyer in the door is half the battle and, if they’re already talking to you because they’re driving one of your cars, you don’t want to let them go.

Richardson: For an automaker, the only thing better than a lifetime buyer is a “conquest” sale, where they pull a buyer away from another car company. A conquest is a battle and these guys are all sticking it to each other to win drivers.

Lightstone: So who’s winning?

Hyundai Veloster.

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Richardson: They’ve all been doing well, although Hyundai’s sales slipped last year. This year, though, it has the new Veloster on the fleet with a turbo option and I’d certainly suggest Ted considers it. Less than $30,000 for a redesigned hot hatch with 201 horsepower will keep him happy on his way to the top.

Lightstone: When Ted starts making his six-figure salary and wants a jump in luxury, I don’t think he’ll be at the right life stage to appreciate or want to drive a Genesis, if he’s to stay in the automaker’s family tree.

Richardson: Who knows what Genesis will be selling in a few years from now? But I have driven the new Veloster and its dynamics are very much improved from before. It has an all-new chassis and the same engine as the peppy Hyundai Elantra GT.

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Lightstone: I like the Elantra, but I’m more likely to suggest the Kona to Ted. I know it’s brand new and could see some growing pains in its first generation, but it has that same 1.6-litre turbo engine and it’s $1,600 cheaper. That gets him more interior space with a nicer interior design and a higher ride height.

Richardson: The Kona? The Kona? Ted’s a young guy with testosterone and aspirations – he’s never going to be happy with a sub-compact hatch that doesn’t have at least a few go-faster stripes. I think what he really wants is a Volkswagen GTI, but maybe scaled back from that, like the Golf. He can move up to the GTI, or an Audi A3, once he’s making those big bucks.

Honda Civic Coupe.

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Lightstone: Then really his best choice is the Honda Civic. He can start with the manual Coupe model for around $22,000, then move up to the Coupe Si or even the Type R when he’s making the big-boy dollars, but still young at heart.

Richardson: My mother-in-law drives a Honda Civic, but you’re right that the Coupe model does have some cred. Not a lot without accessories, but enough to save some money.

Lightstone: Then the Coupe Si is a true step up for an extra $10,000 or so. It’s a performance step, though, not luxurious like the TLX, but I think that’s what Ted is really looking for.

Mazda3 Sport.

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Richardson: We’re assuming Ted is impressed with performance because he’s recently graduated, but it could be he just wants a nicer car without having to change dealerships. Maybe, if he’s the thrifty type who’s not bothered about performance, he’d be best to just trade up to a better trim level of whatever he chooses now. Like leasing a base Mazda3 Sport for $19,900 now, but trading up to the $25,100 Mazda3 Sport GT in a few years.

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Lightstone: That would be a safe bet, wouldn’t it?

Richardson: Yes, and we’re talking a lot of money here, even for one of the least expensive cars around. The safe bet is always the best bet for a recent graduate. Once he’s a little more secure than just a few years into a career – that’s when he can start to splurge.

What car should you buy? Write to Mark and Miranda at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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