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I want a reliable but quirky hatchback. What should I buy?

2013 Mazdaspeed3


I want a quirky-looking small hatchback that's reliable, won't depreciate to nothing in three years and won't cost 30 grand. A Volkswagen GTI is probably the smartest choice – but the Fiat 500C, a slightly used Mini and even the (arguably more practical) Juke (also used) are all on the table. Any suggestions? The Yaris and Fit seem like good value, but they ain't got much soul. At least the Fiat has a personality – but folks tell me I'd be a fool to buy one. – Jason in Edmonton

Vaughan: Yes, Jason, the Volkswagen GTI is "probably the smartest choice." You just said that. You also know that they cost "30 grand." So that's what you're going to have to pay.

Used cars are a crap shoot and the Yaris and Fit are in a different category altogether. So get over it. You're from Alberta. Everybody's rich out there. You want the GTI. Write the cheque.

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Cato: Look Vaughan, it's sad you live in a province running $12-billion deficits. I understand the bitterness. Just remember there is a price Albertans pay for riches and no sales tax: winters cold enough to freeze a vampire and summer skies filled with mosquitos the size of Dreamliners. Both will suck the life out of you. I know; I lived there for five years.

Now Jason, what I don't understand is why you are so all over the map here. As we've said before, the GTI ($30,375) is exceptional but getting dated; a new Golf is already on sale in other parts of the world and we get it next year.

And Fiat? If you're thinking Fiat, get the 500 Abarth (160 horsepower, $24,495) and stay on that Slim-Fast diet; there is no room for any extra Jason inside that tiny little race car.

Vaughan: Alright, here's another choice: the Ford Focus ST, and it does cost less than 30 grand. It's exactly one dollar less than 30 K before all the taxes and other charges.

It has a brilliant 252-horsepower, four-cylinder, direct-injection, turbocharged engine with intercooler. Get the efficient six-speed manual transmission and it will give the GTI a run for the money.

Cato: The Focus ST is not quirky looking. An explosion on four wheels, yes. Quirky, no. If you want quirky, we're back to the Abarth – and the Juke, absolutely. There isn't a quirkier-looking rig sold in Canada.

Nissan sells a crazy Juke NISMO performance edition for $28,478, but you're not that hardcore, Jason. The sports seats alone will squeeze the life out of you.

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So look at the Juke SV ($23,478) – 188 turbocharged horses and all-wheel-drive for those brutal Alberta winters that start in September and end in June. I'm betting you live around White Avenue in Edmonton, near the university. Drive your Juke to this year's neighbourhood Fringe Festival and you'll be at home.

Vaughan: The Mini Cooper S, Cato. Forget the Juke and the aging GTI. At $31,150, the Mini's a little over budget, but that won't worry an Albertan.

With its 181 hp, this Mini is about as sporty as a small car can get. But Minis have grotesque interiors and ride like a skateboard. If Jason wants something for the long term, he should break into that bulging piggy bank and spring for a BMW 1-Series Coupe. The MSRP is over the 30K mark by six thou, but there are serious discounts out there.

This is a car that you'll be delighted to own for years to come. That beautiful inline-six-cylinder, 230-hp engine with a Twin Scroll turbocharger, Valvetronic and High Precision Injection is as smooth a powerplant as you'll ever find.

The whole package has BMW precision through and through.

Cato: What? You've lost the plot here, buddy. Jason has been toying with the notion of a Toyota Yaris or a Honda Fit and you have him doubling down on a $36,000 1-Series. Nuts.

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Forget Vaughan. Jason, I'm going to throw one more contender into this corral: the Mazdaspeed3. At $29,995, it's the right price. The Speed3 is an out-of-the-ordinary design and, man, does it go. Fast. The 2.3-litre four-banger spins up 263 horsepower. It's a screamer. Mazda has tuned things to help you control all that oomph, too. It'll blow your mind.

Vaughan: Let's sum up. The Abarth: first of all, Jason won't be able to find it under the snow drifts when winter hits Edmonton. This is a summertime car for cruising past the Trevi Fountain, not for the road trips to Fort McMurray at 40 below. Jason, you had it right the first time. You know the GTI is the answer, so run along and don't bother us any more.

2013 Nissan Juke Nissan Nissan  

Cato: Ouch. Jason, the GTI is your starting point. Test it back-to-back with the Speed3, then do the Focus ST – though it isn't quirky, just scary fast. Wrap up your tests with the AWD Juke. I'm betting we'll see you in it at the Fringe.



2013 Volkswagen Golf GTI four-door hatchback2013 Nissan Juke SV AWD2013 MazdaSpeed3

Wheelbase (mm)


Length (mm)


Width (mm)


Track, front (mm)



2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged1.6-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged2.3-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged

Output (horsepower/torque)

200/207 lb-ft188/177 lb-ft263/280 lb-ft

Drive system

front-wheel driveall-wheel drivefront-wheel drive


Six-speed manualCVTSix-speed manual

Curb weight (kg)


Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

9.9 city/6.7 highway8.0 city/6.6 highway11.5 city/8.0 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.

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