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The Globe and Mail

Hear, hear! Make some noise for these quiet small cars

Gentlemen: My wife and I are looking for a new vehicle. It has to be small for ease of parking, and quiet. Problem: it seems that in cars, noise is inversely proportional to size. Manufacturers seem to assume that all small-car buyers are motivated solely by price and gas savings, with the exception of the young bucks (of all ages) who want fast and flashy. So, speak, oh car gurus: which car or small-ish cars combine low noise levels with a tight turning circle, good all-round visibility, reliability, and ease of entry and exit. Price is secondary, and "styling" does not count. (So far as we are concerned the best vehicle would be one modelled on the London taxi, or the 1970s Austin.) We shall treat your recommendations like the Gospel. – Andrzej in Toronto

Vaughan: As usual, the letter is better written than the response that follows it, but I think Andy got it wrong about small cars not being quiet. There's the odd exception, but small cars today are so much more refined than they were a few years ago. That's how manufacturers justify jacking up the prices.

For example, the Ford Fiesta. I rented one last summer in England. (It's a "world car" you know, so basically the same everywhere). Great handling, just the right size for narrow English lanes and impossibly tight parking spaces and quietly comfortable even at motorway speeds (which are higher than Ontario's tortoise-like limits).

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Cato: Yes, and Canadians are catching on. DesRosiers Automotive Consultants reports that sales of cars like the Fiesta – subcompacts – are up 27.3 per cent this year. I believe the Fiesta to be the best-handling car in its class.

I wish, however, that Ford of Canada had a hatchback version selling for less than $15,999. But no. Why not? The Fiesta is assembled in low-cost Mexico, after all.

And then there's the Hyundai Accent, the only subcompact to crack the list of Top 10 best-selling cars in Canada.

Vaughan: That's a perfect little car for me and you don't pay extra for the hatchback. I'm impressed that Hyundai puts its latest gas direct engine into its smallest, cheapest model – $13,599. The Accent is loaded with good technology way beyond its price. The styling is modern, yet without going overboard like the mid-size Hyundai Sonata – with all those swoops and creases. Is the Accent quiet? Yup.

Kia Rio Kia Kia  

Cato: Obviously, Andrej has other options, so let me run through a few. Toyota reinvented the Yaris late last year and, at $14,890 for the four-door hatchback, the base price makes sense. It is a bit noisy and unrefined compared to the Accent and the Fiesta, though. Dead reliable, but like Nissan's Mexico-made Versa, not the silent type.

Now the Accent has a close cousin called the Kia Rio, Kia being part of the sprawling Hyundai Group. Mechanically, the Kia and the Hyundai are identical, right down to that direct injection engine with its healthy 138 horsepower.

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Personally, I prefer the looks of the Rio5 as we call it. Kia has nailed the design side of things lately; Peter Schreyer, the German designer Kia hired to lead design, knows how to build a following and get attention with sharp-looking cars.

Chevrolet Sonic General Motors GM General Motors  

Vaughan: Cato, you've left out a car that surprised me – the Chevrolet Sonic ($15,495 for the base four-door hatchback).

Cato: I was getting there. The Sonic is No. 2 in sales of subcompacts in the U.S. market.

Can you believe it? Clever marketing has helped, but so has the fact the Sonic looks great and has 138 horsepower under the hood.

I know Andrzej said styling doesn't count, but it does, of course.

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Now the Sonic is not like a library at highway speeds, but it's okay and plenty versatile with the hatchback. And let me say something about London taxis: they are very noisy. Any one of these cars we're talking about is superior on that front. They all drive like sports cars compared to a London cab, too.

Vaughan: Speaking of London and England, my drive in the Fiesta sold me. That's my choice.

Cato: The Rio five-door is cheaper, more powerful and better equipped. A no-brainer, in other words.


2012 Kia Rio LX hatchback2012 Ford Fiesta SE hatchback2012 Chevrolet Sonic LS hatchback

Wheelbase (mm)


Length (mm)


Width (mm)


Track, front (mm)



1.6-litre four-cylinder1.6-litre four-cylinder1.8-litre four-cylinder

Output (horsepower/torque)

138/123 lb-ft120/112 lb-ft138/125 lb-ft

Drive system

front-wheel drivefront-wheel drivefront-wheel drive


Six-speed manualfive-speed manualfive-speed manual

Curb weight (kg)


Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

6.6 city/4.9 highway6.9 city/5.1 highway7.7 city/5.6 highway

Base price (MSRP)


Source: car manufacturers

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.

You can e-mail Cato & Vaughan here:

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