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After driving Volkswagen Jettas for 25 years, Heather is looking for a change.Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

The lease is about to expire on my 2019 Volkswagen Jetta. The first car I owned was a Jetta purchased in 1998, and since then, I have owned a series of Jettas (and one Golf). I have driven the same car for 25 years. Because of a really poor experience with the local dealership, my next car will not be a Jetta. I don’t need flashy – but I do prefer a newer car for dependability.

I am about the laziest car buyer on the planet – I can’t remember the last time I took a car for a test drive. I mostly do city driving, but love a good road trip. I liked the trunk space in the Jetta. I want a safe, dependable car at the same price point as a Jetta. I don’t get excited about too many bells and whistles. I’d love to go electric, but I don’t think they have come down to my price point yet. – Heather

Mark Richardson: I’d really love to know more about Heather’s “really poor experience with the local dealership,” but that’s just my curiosity. That said, depending on where she lives, she may be able to just go to another Volkswagen dealership for another Jetta. Let’s assume, however, that this isn’t an option and Volkswagens are off the table.

Petrina Gentile: That’s what she said. Too bad, though. That’s a big loss for Volkswagen. You have a car buyer who is loyal to a product, but a horrible experience at a dealership can turn things around. I’ve heard this from so many friends, especially women, who aren’t always treated well at some dealerships.

Richardson: It’s not just a Volkswagen thing, though. Any front-line sales store probably has a similar horror story of a salesperson or customer having a bad day. In any case, which car do you think is closest to a new Jetta? Maybe the Honda Civic? It has slightly more space in the trunk.

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The Honda Civic is top of mind as a potential replacement for Heather.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Gentile: Great minds think alike. Civic is at the top of my list. It’s spacious, affordable, packed with technology, fuel efficient and it’s made in Canada, rolling off the line in Alliston, Ont.

Richardson: There are a lot of compact sedans to choose from, but the Civic is top of my list because it’s at least as good as its competition and it’s made in Canada. Heather probably likes the comparatively firm “European handling” of the Jetta, but the only other European compact sedans are from the more costly premium makers, such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

Gentile: And those are out of her budget. But there are also some Japanese contenders, such as the Mazda3 sedan or Mazda3 Sport hatchback, that Heather might like. Both are peppy and fun to drive.

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Likewise, the Mazda3 comes up quickly as a possibility for Heather.Andrew Holliday Photography 2018/Courtesy of manufacturer

Richardson: I find the Mazdas to be the best handling of the “regular” sedans, without going to a higher-performance version. Their steering and suspension is fairly firm. Some commenters might decry them for rusting prematurely, but Mazda fixed that issue a decade ago.

Gentile: I agree. I really like the hatchback styling and cargo space, too. Not to mention, it’s a very fuel-efficient vehicle.

Richardson: If Heather is looking at the Civic, she really should look at the Corolla as well, which is Toyota’s direct competition in every way. It’s built in Mississippi.

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The Toyota Corolla takes high marks for being practical and reliable with plenty of safety tech.NATHAN LEACH-PROFFER/Courtesy of manufacturer

Gentile: Corolla gets high marks in my books, too. It’s practical, reliable and filled with an abundance of safety technology. But it’s not the most exciting vehicle to drive and slow to accelerate. I prefer the Civic’s ride and handling.

Richardson: I’m impressed that the Corolla includes active cruise control as a standard feature. I use active cruise all the time, where the car slows if necessary to keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front, but it’s often just an option even in more expensive models.

Gentile: That’s true, but it does have a bit less cargo space than some competitors. Another vehicle she should consider is a Hyundai Elantra – it’s stylish, fuel-efficient and loaded with tech features, too.

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The Hyundai Elantra rounds out the top picks that Heather should look at first.David Dewhurst/Courtesy of manufacturer

Richardson: It’s quite sporty now – at least in its looks for the basic model. It really does come down to personal preference for the top half-dozen compact sedans, which also include the Kia Forte. And frankly, for Heather, I think it will come down to how she’s treated at the dealership.

Gentile: Absolutely. But she should definitely start with test-driving the Civic, Corolla and Elantra. Hopefully she’ll get treated with more respect at the dealership, this time around.

Richardson: Also, she should be clear with the salesperson that she has a history with Volkswagen. Brands just love making “conquest” sales, and that might get her a better experience with purchasing her new car.

What car should you buy? Write to Mark and Petrina at and use ‘What car’ as part of your subject line. Emails with different subject lines may not be answered.

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