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I have had a driver’s licence for years but never owned a car. I live in downtown Toronto and always used transit. If I needed a car, I rented one or used a car-share. Now I want my own car, because I don’t want to use public transit with COVID. I want a car that’s comfortable and safe, and it doesn’t need to be big, but I have nowhere to plug in an electric car, so it needs to be gas. Any suggestions? - Martin

Richardson: I’m hearing this a lot these days, that commuters want to forsake the bus or the train for their own protected space in a car.

Gentile: Can you blame them? Nowadays, I’d be reluctant, too. I wouldn’t want to use public transit or take a ride-sharing service such as Uber or Lyft, at least not now. Maybe in a few months. You just never know who is sharing your space and how well it has been cleaned and sanitized.

Richardson: I don’t blame anyone for being concerned. I’m also glad Martin’s told us that he can’t plug in an electric vehicle, because his downtown life would probably be ideally suited to an EV.

Gentile: Downtown life is definitely best for an EV. But Martin can get a cheaper, small gas-powered car; he should even look at used vehicles to save a few bucks.

Richardson: This is a really wide parameter for choice, so let’s start with what Martin does not need. He doesn’t need any kind of driving “fun,” so no zippy engine or manual option. He doesn’t need all-wheel drive. And he doesn’t need anything bigger than a compact car. Reliability would be a must. How about a good old Honda Civic?

A 2015 Honda Civic sedan can usually be had for $12,000-$13,000.Honda/Courtesy of manufacturer

Gentile: You can’t go wrong with a used Honda Civic. It’s reliable, compact, good on gas and has pleasant road manners. And it won’t cost much – he can get into a 2015 model for $12,000-$13,000, according to Car Help Canada.

Richardson: He’d better check insurance rates first. I now own my mother-in-law’s 2009 Civic, and my insurance went up $500 a year when it replaced my more valuable and more powerful Hyundai Tucson. “We get a lot of claims on Civics,” said the insurance agent. Of course they do; there are a lot of Civics on the road.

Gentile: It might be your driving record, too, Mark. I just bought a used 2019 Civic and my insurance went up about $150 compared to my 2001 Honda Accord. But as a young, new male driver, it is a good idea for Martin to double-check insurance rates.

Richardson: I have a spotless record. My 23-year-old son, however, who lives at home, tapped the back of a Prius at the local McDonald’s, and our rates promptly tripled. Auto insurance is the bane of my life and must always be considered before buying a vehicle.

A 2016 Mazda3 can usually be had for around $13,300.Courtesy of manufacturer

Gentile: Point well taken. Another vehicle he might want to consider is a used Mazda3. He can get a 2016 model for about $13,300, according to data collected by Cox Automotive Canada’s Dealertrack portal. It’s small, fuel efficient, affordable, and easy to park in busy downtown areas.

Richardson: That would be a safe buy. People still diss Mazdas because they used to have problems with rust, but those issues were fixed five or six years before the 2016s came out. And they’re really good on gas.

Gentile: I agree. And they’re also fun to drive. What about a Hyundai? They’ve come a long way since their Pony days. A 2017 Elantra would set him back about $14,800, and he’ll still get many newer tech and safety features with it, too.

A 2017 Hyundai Elantra would likely cost around $14,800.Courtesy of manufacturer

Richardson: It’s a long list of potential cars for Martin. All the automakers have compact vehicles that are surprisingly advanced for being three or four years old. The beauty of a used car, other than its cheaper price, is that its reliability is now a matter of record, so he should check the brand ratings from JD Power and compare them to the residual values of Canadian Black Book.

Gentile: That’s a good idea; always do your research when buying used. But I think he’ll be happy with any of the three options we mentioned. My top pick is still the Civic.

The Toyota Corolla is a good alternative to the Honda Civic.Paul Giamou/Handout

Richardson: I can’t recommend a Honda Civic without also suggesting a look at the Toyota Corolla competition, but if Martin finds a vehicle that’s the right price for him, and then researches it through those two websites and some online comments from other owners, he’ll be able to make a sound and safe choice.

Gentile: Good suggestions. And you’re right – the Toyota Corolla is right up there with the Honda Civic. Safe, reliable and great on gas. Lots of affordable options to choose from.

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

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