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Active couple needs affordable, roomy ride

I'm 27, my girlfriend is 26. We aren't the One Per Cent, but we live comfortably. We make about $60,000 each, and we live in a condo in downtown Vancouver. We have two cars at the moment (a 2003 Subaru Impreza and a 2002 Ford Focus). We are looking to consolidate vehicles and purchase a new car in the next three months, one that doesn't look and drive like we just got out of college, but doesn't put us into the Audi-BMW-Lexus range. We're both avid skiers and campers, so extra space is important, but we are hoping to steer clear of an SUV. Fuel economy is important as my girlfriend will be driving to and from work (90-100 km/week). Any suggestions? – Peter in Vancouver

Vaughan: I will get to the car question, but isn't it interesting, Cato, that right off the top Pete says he and his partner state emphatically that they're not part of the One Per Cent? The massive concentration of wealth in the hands of a few is such a powerfully negative symbol today; it draws thousands of people onto the streets to protest just about everything.

Cato: Surprised by this? Go on, recite the list of credit default swap wizards and collateralized debt obligation geniuses who went to jail for taking the global economy to the edge of Armageddon in 2008/2009. You can't. None did or will. And they're still at it and everyone knows it. Pete and his girlfriend are part of the Zeitgeist.

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Vaughan: Well, I'd say Peter and girlfriend may be working their way up the top decile, but they don't have to worry about protesters occupying their condo yet. The real One Per Centers take in about 25 per cent of a nation's income and own 40 per cent of the accumulated wealth.

Cato: Or as economist Paul Krugman points out, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office reports that "between 1979 and 2005 the inflation-adjusted, after-tax income of Americans in the middle of the income distribution rose 21 per cent. The equivalent number for the richest 0.1 per cent rose 400 per cent." Pete and Co. may not be consciously aware of this, but they see and feel that the richest thousandth per cent of the population has been getting disproportionately richer since just about the time Ronald Reagan became U.S. president.

Vaughan: Well, there seems to be enough left over that Peter and friend can shop modestly among a great range of choices in compact and subcompact land. There's terrific technology going into small cars now. They've all got names for it: Nissan calls it Puredrive and Mazda calls it SkyActiv, for instance.

Cato: Don't forget about EcoBoost from Ford, and on and on.

Vaughan: I'd send Pete and pal over to Mazda first to check out the deals on the current Mazda3 with the SkyActiv goodies.

Cato: The Mazda3 GS-SKY with the auto gearbox is $21,395 and Mazda Canada is offering zero per cent financing for up to four years. The powertrain is the story here. That four-cylinder engine is strong and very fuel-efficient. The automatic is perhaps the best in its class. If Pete and Co. want to shift for themselves, the new 2012 manual gearbox here is really slick.

I know the body style and the cabin are a little dated but, at least for 2012, Mazda cleaned up that front end. Great little hatch with room for all the gear.

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Vaughan: A Volkswagen Golf is the poor man's Audi and, as Pete and friend have fallen tragically short of the One Per Cent, we'd better steer him down-market to the Peoples' Car. It's still expensive, but you get a lot.

Go for the five-door Highline with the 2.0 TDI Clean Diesel ($25,425). It's a four-cylinder, long-lasting diesel with turbocharged direct injection and a six-speed manual. Great for long commutes and the sea-to-sky Whistler drive.

Cato: And VW has something for you, Pete: a $1,000 factory-to-dealer rebate. Personally, I'd take the Mazda and save thousands up front, but Vaughan is right to say the diesel will last longer than your love of the Golf itself and you'll save on fuel. Great seats, by the way.

Have a look at the Kia Rio5, too. This one's a bit smaller, but it's likely big enough for Pete. Late last year Kia introduced a new 2012 hatchback Rio and it's a winner – $16,995 gets you a very well loaded and versatile car.

Vaughan: This is Kia's version of the Hyundai Accent, one of my very favourite subcompacts. The 138-horsepower engine is completely modern and sophisticated stuff.

Cato: If you've been living with Subarus and Fords, you might have missed the sea change at Kia and its sister brand, Hyundai. Have a look. The quality, styling and technology are all there. Still, for you, Pete, I like that Mazda as a total package.

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Vaughan: Tough, tough decision. If I feel that I, too, might break into the top decile, it would be the VeeDub diesel.


2012 Kia Rio EX hatchback

2012 Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TDI Comfortline hatchback

2012 Mazda3 Sport GS-SKY hatchback

Wheelbase (mm)




Length (mm)




Width (mm)




Track, front (mm)





1.6-litre four-cylinder

2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged diesel

2.0-litre four-cylinder

Output (horsepower/torque)

138/123 lb-ft

140/236 lb-ft

155/148 lb-ft

Drive system

Front-wheel drive

Front-wheel drive

Front-wheel drive


Six-speed manual

Six-speed manual

Six-speed automatic

Curb weight (kg)




Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

6.6 city/4.9 highway

6.7 city/4.6 highway

7.6 city/5.1 highway

Base price (MSRP)




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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