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car review

After spending much of the last decade in a downtown condo, my partner and I are moving into a more residential area, and now that we finally have our own garage, we’re on the hunt for our first car. We’re looking for something with lots of cargo space that can manage Canadian winters, but is still small enough to navigate city streets – like a five-seater crossover or small SUV – in the $25,000 to $35,000 range. We also want to find something that’s good on gas, maybe even a hybrid if we can afford it. At the same time we’re hearing it’s a bad time to buy used, because prices have never been higher, and a bad time to buy new, because we might have to wait six months or longer to get behind the wheel. – Jared, Toronto

Mark Richardson: Jared’s right. To paraphrase Canada’s auto dealers, there’s never been a worse time to buy a car, new or used.

Petrina Gentile: That’s true. Because of the global chip shortage, we’re seeing a trickle-down effect in the used car market, too, with inflated prices. According to Canadian Black Book, used car prices were up an average 34 per cent compared to 2021.

Richardson: Oh, it’s a great time to sell a car. A friend of mine is selling her truck now and will drive her dad’s SUV until her electric car is delivered in a year’s time. Most of us don’t have that luxury.

Gentile: Let’s hope her electric car arrives in a year. Electric vehicles use more chips than gas-powered vehicles, so the wait may be longer than a year.

Richardson: But in the meantime, what would we suggest for Jared? Let me start with the Mazda CX-30. Lots of usable cargo space without being too big, and the base model starts at $26,350. That brings it in at about $32,000, after freight and taxes.

The 2021 Mazda CX-30 base model starts at $26,

Gentile: That’s a good choice. It drives well, has a spiffy turbocharged engine, a nice interior and lots of safety and convenience technology including all-wheel-drive.

Richardson: You’re getting ahead of yourself, I’m afraid. A CX-30 with the spiffy turbocharged engine that makes 250 horsepower costs almost $40,000. The basic CX-30 with 155 horsepower still has most of the safety and convenience features, though I’m not sure Jared needs all-wheel drive.

Gentile: He probably doesn’t need it, but it’s nice to have that extra security, especially on winter road trips.

Richardson: For where he lives, he needs decent traction control on a front-wheel-drive car. He doesn’t need to waste weight and money on the extra technology of all-wheel drive, unless he drives frequently on country roads in winter. He’ll probably like it, but he doesn’t really need it.

The 2021 Subaru Crosstrek starts at $23,995.Brendan McAleer/The Globe and Mail

Gentile: Another vehicle he should consider is the Subaru Crosstrek – it’s even less expensive than the CX-30. It starts at $23,995, but that’s for the six-speed manual transmission. But even if Jared moves up to the CVT, it’s $26,195 and still in his price range.

Richardson: That’s about the same out the door as the CX-30.

Gentile: So you don’t think Crosstrek is a good option for Jared?

Richardson: It’s a very good option for him, with even more cargo room than the Mazda. I don’t remember the last time I heard a Subaru owner complain about their car. You get a lot of what you want with a Crosstrek, though you don’t get a lot extra, aside from the all-wheel drive, without paying another $4,000 or so. I think it feels like a pretty basic vehicle.

Gentile: It does. But if he goes with the CVT, it comes with Subaru’s Eyesight driver assistance technology, which includes adaptive cruise control and lane centring assist – all useful technology to keep him safer on the road.

Richardson: That used to be an expensive option on Subarus, but not any more and it works very well, if the weather’s okay. Not so much in the rain or snow.

Gentile: You shouldn’t use cruise control in the rain or snow, anyway.

The 2021 Kia Niro hybrid starts at $26,995.Courtesy of manufacturer

Richardson: Jared asked about a hybrid. Smaller vehicles don’t benefit so well from a hybrid motor because they’re already quite fuel-efficient, and most makers don’t offer them. There is the Kia Niro hybrid, though, which starts at $26,995 and is very roomy inside. It’ll cost less than $33,000 after taxes.

Gentile: It’s one of the cheapest hybrids you can get on the market and it’s pretty fuel efficient, which comes in handy with high gas prices. It’s also available as a plug-in hybrid, but that starts at $36,505, and it’s over Jared’s budget. I think he’s better off with the Mazda or Subaru rather than the Kia.

Richardson: Why? What’s wrong with the Kia? It’s roomy, it’s the right price, and it’s even a hybrid. What’s not to like?

Gentile: It’s not that I don’t like it, but I prefer the Mazda or Subaru. Inside, they look better and besides, Niro doesn’t come in all-wheel drive.

Richardson: Which, probably, he doesn’t really need. The issue with the Niro is that it feels low-rent, with plenty of cheap-seeming hard plastic in the cabin. Much like the Subaru. Everything’s a bit of a compromise at this price.

Gentile: I think the Mazda CX-30 is more elevated in its interior design. I think it’ll be the perfect addition to Jared’s new garage.

Richardson: I agree. But if he wants more space, consider the Subaru, and if he wants a hybrid, for slightly better fuel consumption in the city, then the Kia Niro is the way to go.

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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