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I may be rowing against the tide, but I am looking for a car, as opposed to an SUV. I am currently driving a 10-year-old hatchback. Time for an upgrade. I have up to $30,000 to spend and am looking for something with good handling (especially in winter) and a sporty appearance. I need room for a couple of car seats and enough space in the trunk for golf clubs (should I ever be so lucky to find time – wishful thinking perhaps). Four doors. The main purpose is a 30-minute daily commute in and back. Our other car is an Outback, which provides the necessary room for weekend trips, so the new car need not be so large. – Chris, Winnipeg

Richardson: Well, first Chris, you should look at what you already know, which is Subaru. You have a relationship with your local dealer thanks to your Outback, and the Impreza is the only compact car to offer all-wheel drive. That will help in a Manitoba winter.

Lightstone: You mean, the only “non-luxury” compact car to offer all-wheel drive. The German makers all do, but Chris isn’t in that price range. He is in Subaru’s price range, though, and the revamped Impreza is a good place to start.

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Richardson: The Impreza is a very capable car, considerably better for its overhaul a couple of years ago. It was the first Subaru to be built on the maker’s new platform, which will underpin almost all its cars, and handles very well for it.

2018 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 4-door.

Lightstone: It’s safer, too, with the best crash test ratings. And if Chris wants to replace his hatch with another hatch, for those golf clubs, that’s a $900 premium for the Impreza hatch version over the sedan. Not too much more on a $20,000 car.

Richardson: The two-litre, four-cylinder Boxer is not an exciting engine – it takes a while to get up to speed. But if its main use is a commuter car, you don’t need an exciting engine. But maybe Chris doesn’t like his Subaru dealer and wants to change manufacturers?

Lightstone: If it’s an “exciting engine with included trunk space and roomy back seat” he’s after, then maybe Chris should look to the Honda Civic hatchback. It’s by far the best-looking Civic body style and the model range falls well into his price range.

2018 Honda Civic Hatchback.

Honda/Handout

Richardson: True – there’s nothing wrong with a Civic as a safe bet. It will be comfortable and reliable and it’s well priced. The hatchback is a fairly new addition to the line, too, and it does look pretty snazzy.

Lightstone: Looks definitely help the Civic Hatchback, but it’s the cargo space (728 litres behind the rear seats) that really drive the practicality home, especially if Chris wants to cart his golf gear around, along with passengers. Beauty of a hatch and all that.

Richardson: He could still fit a couple of golf bags into the trunk of a regular Civic, too, if he really wants a sedan. That’s if he isn’t worried for space because of also having the Outback. But as with most hatches, the Civic Hatchback isn’t really any bigger on the outside – it just feels more spacious because it’s a more practical design.

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Lightstone: Sedans do offer up decent trunk space, but considering the Honda Civic sedan loses about 300 litres when you take away that hatch and the fact that the it looks much better, Chris should at least consider it as a second car. But if you’re so hung up on sedans, Mark – how about the new 2019 Volkswagen Jetta?

2019 Jetta R-Line Volkswagen.

Richardson: Ah, the Jetta. Volkswagen had to pull its socks up last year and stop charging a premium for its European cars – it had always justified the extra money by claiming superior reliability and German engineering, which often wasn’t warranted. That was shot down in a hurry by Dieselgate. Now, they’re good cars and good value again.

Lightstone: I admit, I like the new look of the 2019 Jetta. I like the standard features it now comes with, too, such as Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, heated front seats, alloy wheels and all that good stuff, but it’s still a sedan. And since it only offers 399 litres of cargo space, is it really smart of Chris to move away from a hatch?

Richardson: Sedans have a reputation here for refinement, while coupes are considered sporty. Hatches? They’re thought of as “practical,” which they are, of course, but that’s not too appealing. In Europe, though, “hot hatches” are boy-racer cars.

Lightstone: That’s not the Jetta. Its 1.4-litre TSI engine is okay with 147 horsepower, but Chris is looking for a sporty look and good handling, as well as some reasonable interior space. I just don’t think a $30,000 sedan is going to ever meet all of those needs. So, he should look at the Mazda3 Sport.

2018 Mazda3 Sport.

Richardson: Now there’s good value for money. The Mazda3 Sport starts at just under $20,000 and there’s 572 litres of space under the hatch. That’s a lot better than the 350 litres in the Mazda3 sedan. To my mind, it’s the best looking of the lot, too.

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Lightstone: That’s where you’re wrong, Mark. The Honda Civic Hatchback is much better looking than the Mazda3 Sport. But you’re not wrong about the trunk space. And even though the Honda is more expensive than the Mazda at $21,790 MSRP, I say it’s worth the extra for the overall design. It will come down to Chris’ style preferences, really, and whether he likes the dealer.

Richardson: So, Chris has a couple of buying decisions still to make. Another hatchback or sedan? (Hint, Chris – go for the hatch.) And stick with his Subaru relationship or strike out anew? But the biggest decision of all is reconciling those two child car seats with his golf clubs – that’s a tricky one.

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

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