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What's the best car for a long daily commute?

J.P. Moczulski/j.p. moczulski The Globe and Mail

Jeremy and Michael: I'm certain you get thousands of requests for advice and unfortunately I'm no exception. Help. I've hit a brick wall on deciding which car is right for my needs. I need to replace my 3-Series BMW with a more fuel-efficient vehicle; my daily commute will take me from Toronto to Hamilton.

I've narrowed it down to three vehicles: the new Ford Focus SEL, the Honda Fit and the Volkswagen Golf TDI wagon. I've driven all three cars and liked them.

The Focus surprised me with its handling and ride, but the lack of a sixth gear disappoints. The Fit also surprised me with its willingness and a nimble roundabout feel to it, but it revved quite high on the highway (no sixth gear). It was a little too noisy. The Golf wagon TDI drove great, lots of power, and I'm told is great on gas. The VW will take a while to recoup the added cost, though. Any help from your vast knowledge of these vehicles would very much appreciated. – Paul in Toronto

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Cato: We get plenty of letters, Paul; few are as generous and respectful as yours. My friend Vaughan here can be a little testy with some writers. Even he must appreciate your courtesy.

Vaughan: Cato, you're not selling used cars. Just answer his question. In fact, he answered his own question, but I'll jolly him along for a little while to show how sensitive I am toward our readers.

Paul, you find yourself facing one of the nastier commutes and I feel your pain. I have navigated the Toronto-to-Hamilton drive often myself and it's awful – taxing, exhausting and utterly devoid of even a single redeeming quality.

Cato: Oh great. After channelling Don Rickles all his life, now Vaughan thinks he's Dr. Phil.

Watch, he'll probably say, "Paul, you seem dazed and confused because you vehicle choices seem a little, well, shall we say all over the map."

Vaughan: They are all over the map. This guy doesn't know the difference between his – oh, wait, sorry. I meant to say, Paul your suggestions are a trifle inconsistent.

The Fit is a Japanese subcompact best known for its abundant storage space. It's the least powerful of this trio, but highly fuel-efficient as far as gas-engined cars go. The Focus is a new compact from Ford. It is much bigger and more costly car than the Fit and has a good engine and decent fuel economy.

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However, Paul – may I call you Paul – the Golf TDI is a very different kind of vehicle. You'll be spending plenty of time on the highway where a diesel does its best work and you have expressed how satisfied you were with its test drive. It seems to me you've found your answer.

Cato: I'm not sure that the new obsequious Vaughan is any improvement over the old obnoxious one.

But Dr. Phil here has failed fully to appreciate your needs, Paul. First, are you sure you want to jump out of a nimble, fun-to-drive BMW 3-Series and into a station wagon? At the very least, consider the four-door hatchback version of the Golf.

Vaughan: Well, there you are. My friend Jeremy – may I call you Jeremy – has suggested something of value. I agree with him, Paul; go for the Golf five-door with a diesel. You'll love it and 10 years from now, when you have 300,000 kilometres on the clicker, it will still be turning over smoothly and saving you money at the pump. Nice work, Jeremy.

Cato: Hang on, here. Let's just put some numbers in play. The Focus Paul likes lists for $22,399 and Ford of Canada surely has some discounting at work, which will lower that price – the Recycle Your Ride program, for instance, is worth $1,000-$3,000 to any Ford buyer, depending on what you buy.

That SEL Focus is pretty well equipped and a treat to drive. The manual gearbox is slightly disappointing, I agree, but it does the job well enough. The engine is great, the chassis responsive and the styling inside and out is outstanding.

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Paul, are you willing to pay at least $3,000 more for the least expensive Golf TDI four-door hatch, which lists for $25,425? Important question. I will say that VW Canada, when last I checked, had at least a $1,000 factory incentive in play, however.

Vaughan: And Paul, neither wise Jeremy nor I see the Honda Fit in this race at all. It's a city runabout and not a highway commuter car. As you observantly noted, Paul, it is too noisy. You'd need the Sport version for the highway and it's $18,780 and not really in tune with your well-expressed needs.

Cato: At the risk of hurting Vaughan's feelings, focus on the Focus, Paul.

Vaughan: Cato, put a sock in it. Paul, get the diesel. You've already told us it's the car for you.



2011 Honda Fit Sport

2012 Volkswagen Golf Comfortline TDI four-door hatchback

2012 Ford Focus SEL four-door hatchback

Wheelbase (mm)




Length (mm)




Width (mm)




Height (mm)





1.5-litre four-cylinder

2.0-litre four-cylinder, diesel, turbocharged

2.0-litre four-cylinder

Output (horsepower/torque)

117/106 lb-ft

140/236172 lb-ft

160/146 lb-ft

Drive system

Front-wheel drive

Front-wheel drive

Front-wheel drive


Five-speed manual

Six-speed manual

Five-speed manual

Curb weight (kg)




Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

7.1 city/5.7 highway

6.7 city/4.6 highway

7.8 city/5.5 highway

Base price (MSRP)




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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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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