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Super subcompacts leave you spoiled for choice

2013 Hyundai Accent L hatchback


Hello Jeremy: Love the work you and Michael Vaughan do on Car Business and in the paper. Most entertaining and informative. Really appreciate the candidness. Hope both of you continue for a long time. Wondering what each of you think of the 2013 Hyundai Accent hatchback? – Bill in Muskoka, Ont.

Cato: For the record, I do not know Bill and I did not pay him to write this letter.

Vaughan: Bill, you have no idea how hard I have to work to make Cato presentable on TV. I prop him up, ask him softball questions and then edit out his blunders. Oh, the burden I bear.

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Cato: Yes, yes, as Michael tells both of the people who will listen, he's a genius and all that's left for him is the Nobel Peace Prize.

But to the question, and it is so apropos. Small cars, subcompacts like the Accent, flew off dealer lots in 2012 – sales up nearly 17 per cent year-over-year, and the Accent finished 2012 as Canada's eighth-best-selling car.

Vaughan: Bill, you have quite a range of choices in small cars and there's nowhere else in the market where you get so much car for so little money. Subcompacts used to be cheap, flimsy little rust-buckets; now they're packed with technology, are as comfortable and quiet as larger cars, and come with long warranties. If you want value for money, shop here.

Cato: The Accent, Chevrolet Spark, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Kia Rio hatchback, Mazda2, Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris ... Bill, you don't need to limit yourself to the Accent.

Vaughan: No, but that is the car he's interested in buying, so perhaps we should provide some answers rather than a laundry list of competitors.

Cato: Of course, we need to give Bill context and comparisons. But I want to go back to the matter of value.

With pump prices surging to an all-time high in 2012, what buyers like Bill want is fuel economy. Did you see what USA Today reported last week? The American Automobile Association says the national average price of a gallon of gas in the U.S. was $3.60 last year – the highest average in history. We pay much more than that in Canada. Small-car sales? A love of Accent? It's the gas prices, stupid.

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Vaughan: Another Cato rant. On and on and on. We can edit most of that out of the TV show – and do – but here Cato gets more leeway because, well, he's a "print" guy.

Let me say this about the Accent: I have heard Hyundai dealers complain they can't get enough Accents from the factory and they're missing sales opportunities. That means they won't haggle on price. So maybe you should walk across the street to the Kia dealer to see what deal you can get on the Rio five-door ($14,195 base). It's the same car as the Accent, but with Peter Schreyer styling. And the five-door, which is really a hatchback, is the way to go. More functional and looks better, too.

Cato: Yes, but the Accent is cheaper; it starts at $13,699. Same direct injection engine (138 horsepower), same chassis, essentially the same fuel economy, and identical five-year/100,000-km bumper-to-bumper warranties.

But the car I like most in this cluster is Ford's Fiesta ($13,999 base). It's a sweet-handling little ride, even if some have slapped the car for having a dual-clutch transmission with rocky shift quality. This runabout is quick and nimble and interesting to drive. Ford dealers are dealing, too; they can because the Fiesta is built in low-wage Mexico.

2013 Ford Fiesta S hatchback Ford Ford  

Vaughan: The Fiesta is a terrific little car. But Bill, wait until next year when it will be available with a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder engine. It delivers an amazing 126 horsepower and fantastic fuel economy. I've driven it and it was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.

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Cato: The Fiesta, in fact, is more refined than the Mazda2.

Vaughan: I like the Mazda2 but I've always found it underpowered. Likewise, the Toyota Yaris hatchback. There's deals galore available on both cars, so they might be worth checking out. But in a comparison, the Accent or Rio is a better car.

Cato: I mentioned the Spark. It's loaded with gizmos, including a useful on-board navigation system. But it's not very entertaining to drive, Bill.

Vaughan: I wouldn't want to drive to Vancouver in a Spark, but as a city car it's fine. Comfortable and surprisingly roomy. I generally prefer a standard transmission in a small car, but I found the automatic works best with the limited-horsepower Spark.

Cato: Fiesta, Bill. Take one for a test drive.

2013 Kia Rio LX Hatchback Kia Kia  

Vaughan: I'm leaning toward the Rio five-door; I think you'll get a better deal.

And Bill, I will continue to do my utmost to improve Cato's television performance.




2013 Ford Fiesta S hatchback2013 Hyundai Accent L hatchback2013 Kia Rio LX hatchback

Wheelbase (mm)


Length (mm)


Width (mm)


Track, front (mm)



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

Output (horsepower/torque)

120/112 lb-ft138/123 lb-ft138/123 lb-ft

Drive system

Front-wheel driveFront-wheel driveFront-wheel drive


Five-speed manualSix-speed manualSix-speed manual

Curb weight (kg)


Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

6.9 city/5.1 highway7.1 city/5.3 highway6.9 city/5.3 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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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More


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