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2014 Fiat 500L

I look forward to reading your articles every week. Now that I've got you properly buttered up, here's my question: I presently drive a Smart car. I'm thinking of an upgrade to a compact-sized SUV-type vehicle – a slightly larger car so that I can shop at Home Depot and IKEA without needing delivery. My main criteria for my next vehicle are not the usual things that car guys look for, like power and speed. The important things for me are visibility, economy (price less than $30,000 and operation) and the cool factor. I'm thinking of the Kia Soul or maybe the upcoming Fiat 500L, and rejecting the Honda CR-V because of its ugly rear profile. What are your suggestions? – James in Toronto.

Cato: James has figured out that he can rent a Smart by the minute through Car2Go, so why buy one? I am, in fact, in favour of keeping my Smart drives to a few minutes at a time – exclusively in the city, of course.

The small SUV thing makes much more sense. And Jim has so many from which to choose, all less than $30,000. Canadians, hundreds of thousands of them each year, are turning from station wagons to smallish, tallish SUVs like the CR-V and Ford Escape – and also to an emerging group of little hatchbacks like the Chevrolet Trax, Buick Encore, Kia Soul and Fiat 500L.

Little rigs like the 500L have been bouncing over the cobblestones of crowded, old European cities for some time. We're catching on here as our cities get more grid-locked.

Vaughan: Is there such a thing as too many choices? You could spend weeks going around checking them all – which would be a good idea.

But let me jump in on Jimmy's Kia Soul suggestion. Two words: not yet. There's a new Soul coming that is a vast improvement over the current one. Designer Peter Schreyer, who single-handedly put Kia design on the map, arrived at Kia just as the first-generation Soul was going out the door and didn't get much input into it.

But the new one has his fingerprints all over it. So wait for it, although Kia dealers will be discounting any of the old ones they have left to unload them.

2013 Mini Cooper Countryman S ALL4 BMW BMW  

Cato: Vaughan, Jimmy has been driving a Smart car and shops at IKEA. I'll be bold and suggest that rich design has not been a priority in his life. Yes, the 2014 Soul is an excellent design and I'd wait for it. But today's 2013 Soul is super-functional, starts at less than $17,000, is being offered with fat discounts to clear dealer lots and, if Jimmy is willing to spend something in the low-$20,000s, he's going to get a loaded version of the soon-to-expire 2013 Soul.

Or the little Encore, which like its cousin, the Trax, is a wee hatchback with four doors, a tall stance and a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-banger (138 horsepower/148 lb-ft torque). How small is it? Well, it's bigger than a breadbox and has fold-down rear seats for Home Depoting. The basic front-drive Trax starts at $18,495.

The 500L? A tall version of the Fiat 500 with two more doors and 42 per cent more cabin space. Fiat touts the car's "Loft" interior with glass from the A- to D-pillars. Slick. The engine is a 1.4-litre MultiAir Turbo at 160 hp. So it's fast. And, at $19,995 to start, it fits Jimmy's budget. If I were Jimmy, this one would be near the top of my list.

But at the top I might slot in the 181-hp Mini Cooper Countryman S with all-wheel-drive. It bangs into the upper floor of Jimmy's budget, at $29,900, but don't forget that Mini is sweetening the deal with a couple grand in discounts.

The Countryman is slick and functional, although it's a shame Mini Canada doesn't make the turbocharged engine available in the front-drive model.

2013 Mercedes-Benz B250 Mercedes-Benz Mercedes-Benz  

Vaughan: Here's another one. It starts 500 bucks over 30 grand, but I'm sure you could shave that off if you're stubborn enough. It's the Mercedes B-Class. Jimmy, you're in a Mercedes product now with that Smart. Trade it in and move up.

The B-Class is worth the dough because it's a refined, yet practical, little car that might put a big smile on your face. It is loaded with comfort and safety technology.

You don't need to buy one single option: 208-hp, beautiful seven-speed automatic, decent fuel economy. You have to try it out.

Cato: Well, if our man Jim can find a leftover 2013 B, the price is $29,900 minus any lot-clearing incentives. I agree; worth a look. But it's No. 3 on my list. First the Countryman, then the Fiat, then the Merc.

Vaughan: Ah, Cato. You are mistaken. Everybody loved the 500 when it came out because it was so cute. Well the 500L is its lardy sister. Nope. It's time for Jimmy to move up from Smart to the B-Class. Read his requirements; it's a perfect match.

 2014 Fiat 500L Pop2013 Mini Cooper Countryman S ALL42013 Mercedes-Benz B250

Wheelbase (mm):


Length (mm):


Width (mm):


Height (mm)



1.4-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged1.6-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged

Output (horsepower/torque)

160/184 lb-ft181/177 lb-ft208/258 lb-ft

Drive system:

front-wheel driveall-wheel drivefront-wheel drive


Six-speed manualSix-speed manualSeven-speed automatic

Curb weight (kg)


Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

8.0 city/6.0 highway8.1 city/6.4 highway7.9 city/5.3 highway

Base price


Source: car manufacturers

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

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