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I'll apologize first; I'm sure you must hate these questions. If you're busy, please ignore. We're going to buy a new car, and want something with good fuel economy. (It costs $80 to go to my parents' cottage or $200 to visit my mother-in-law in our Acura MDX.) The opposite of our premium gas-guzzling pig of an SUV might be the (Toyota) Prius. Do you think it's worth considering? We went to a dealership on the weekend and I was reminded how much I hate car dealerships. I'm now trying to shop by e-mail, which is going fairly well. It's not a sexy car, but right now finding something with a trunk with room for a stroller is more important. Cheers. – Danielle in Halifax

Vaughan: Cato, have you noticed how polite people are in Halifax? Danielle is, for sure. Remember the guy in Lac Brome, Que., who said he wasn't really interested in our opinions, but wondered what "you geniuses" thought anyway? I can see why Danielle's not enjoying some dealerships. She's too nice for them.

Cato: Two quick thoughts: First, why are people from Halifax so much more friendly and polite than people on the opposite coast, in Vancouver, which is my town? What's the matter with Vancouverites?

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And second, when I look at Danielle's letter it perfectly illustrates the difference between men and women car shoppers: women aren't interested in the gamesmanship of car buying; they hate it. Danielle certainly does. On top of that, women do their research and are pragmatic in their vehicle choices. Danielle to a "T."

Vaughan: I applaud both Danielle's good manners and her search for a more fuel-efficient car – and there are lots of them out there these days. If it's a Prius she wants, then the Prius c ($20,950) is likely the one for her. Plenty of room for a stroller and it's the least expensive hybrid you can buy.

2012 Toyota Prius Toyota Toyota

Unfortunately, any hybrid is best in stop-and-go conditions and not on long highway drives. I remember how hard the little gas engine in the Prius c had to work, and how loud it was, when trying to go up long hills.

Cato: Prius c? The gasoline-electric combination here produces a pokey 99 hp versus 134 for the regular Prius. If D wants to join Hybrid Nation, the regular Prius is a better choice ($25,999) – bigger, more refined, more powerful.

2013 Nissan Altima Nissan Nissan Nissan

Or forget hybrids entirely. She has a young family, so I'd say the 2013 Nissan Altima ($23,698) is worth a long look. It's been completely reinvented. Most importantly, this new 182-horsepower Altima will offer best-in-class fuel economy figures of 5.0 litres/100 km on the highway when it hits showrooms this summer. We're talking about the most fuel efficient vehicle in the whole Nissan lineup, other than the fully-electric Nissan Leaf.

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Vaughan: This new one is a gem. It doesn't look much different than the old one, but it is improved and refined in every way. It's gotta be if Nissan expects the Altima to out sell Toyota's Camry and Honda's Accord in Canada. One of the things I'm most impressed with in the Altima, besides the fuel economy, is the optional rear collision warning system. It would be hard to back into anything accidentally with this thing on.

Cato: Stroller alert. Or a kid's scooter or tricycle. Remember, safety sells, especially with women, and the rear collision thingy would make sense to a new mum like D.

Now if the Altima doesn't appeal, she can dump the gas guzzler for the 2013 Dodge Dart. It's as big as the current Chevy Malibu, very pretty and the 160-horsepower four-banger is decently thrifty at the pump. All with a base price of $15,995.

2013 Dodge Dart Chrysler Chrysler  

Vaughan: Well you're the Dart expert, Cato, having driven it fairly extensively. All I can say is that I really like the interior and I'm not much impressed with the exterior. Isn't this thing supposed to be based on an Alfa Romeo? It sure doesn't look like one. It looks rather boring.

Cato: Are we talking about the same car? The Dart looks great. But if D, like you, isn't hot about the Dart's design – and if the Altima doesn't fit – then she should wait until the fall. A big bunch of new models with spectacular fuel economy are coming. I mean SPECTACULAR. Ford will have a new Fusion, Honda a new Accord and Chevrolet a new Malibu. Every one of them will meet or beat this new Altima as a fuel-sipper, mark my words.

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Vaughan: And new diesels coming next year. There's a bunch of manufacturers coming with clean diesels in a whole range of vehicles from the largest to the smallest. That's what I'm waiting for. And if courteous Danielle wants the very best fuel economy plus great highway driving, that's what she'll wait for, too.

Cato: Whether it's now or later, I'm betting that she'll politely grind her dealer for the right price.

HOW THEY COMPARE



2012 Toyota Prius2013 Nissan Altima 2.52013 Dodge Dart SE

Wheelbase (mm)

2,7002,7762,702

Length (mm)

4,4804,8644,671

Width (mm)

1,7451,8291,829

Track, front (mm)

1,4901,4711,466

Engine

1.8-litre four-cylinder/hybrid electric motor2.5-litre four-cylinder2.0-litre four-cylinder

Output (horsepower/torque)

134 hp combined182/180 lb-ft160/148 lb-ft

Drive system

Front-wheel driveFront-wheel driveFront-wheel drive

Transmission

Continuously variable or CVTContinuously variable or CVTSix-speed manual

Curb weight (kg)

1,3801,4101,445

Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

3.7 city/4.0 highway8.7 city/6.0 highway7.4 city/4.9 highway

Base price (MSRP)

$25,995$23,698$15,995

Source: car manufacturers

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

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