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2013 Volkswagen Golf (Volkswagen)
2013 Volkswagen Golf (Volkswagen)

Buying Used

I want a macho hatchback for less than $15,000, what should I get? Add to ...

I’m looking for newer hatchbacks for less than $15,000, but I want something macho. What can I get? – Josh, Edmonton.

Even if you plastered them with Hello Kitty stickers, there are a few powerful, practical hatchbacks that exude testosterone.

And hatchbacks make sense – and they don’t have to be subcompact econoboxes such as the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris and Ford Fiesta. They can be fast and fun.

Volkswagen’s Golf and the Mazda3 lead the pack, but there are other competitors, such as the Subaru Impreza ($14,954 for a 2012), Ford Focus ($10,710) and Kia Forte ($10,105).

Here’s how the Golf and Mazda3 stack up.

2012 Volkswagen Golf four-door hatchback

  • Sixth generation: 2010-2014
  • Average price for base: $14,239 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Transmission/drive: Five-speed manual, six-speed automatic/front-wheel drive
  • Engine: 2.5-litre five-cylinder
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.3 city, 7.4 highway (manual); 10.4 city, 7.8 highway (automatic)

For its sixth generation, Rabbit season was over and it was Golf season once again. Volkswagen abandoned the idea of renaming the Golf – tried in the hatch’s first and fifth generations – for Canada and the United States.

Whatever the name, it’s an upscale sports hatch – even if you don’t spend an extra $5,000 or so (based on the average Canadian Black Book used price) for the 200-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder 2012 GTI.

“Thanks to the five-cylinder powerplant, the Golf is as much a sports hatch as it is an econobox,” then-Globe Drive contributor Ted Laturnus said in 2012. “It gives the car a muscularity and athleticism most other comparable rivals simply don’t have.”

There was also the 2.0-litre turbodiesel TDI – after Dieselgate, VW dealers aren’t selling new or certified preowned versions, but they can sell used ones.

“We favour the 2.5 gasoline engine for any Golf destined to accumulate most of its kilometres in urban driving,” Globe Drive’s Dan Proudfoot said. “This car is simply nicer in stop-and-go traffic.”

Edmunds said the Golf cost more new – $25,250 for the base in Canada – than most competitors, except maybe the Focus, but it praised the spacious, luxurious interior – with a roomier backseat than the Mazda3.

Consumer Reports gave the 2012 Golf average predicted used-car reliability. It praised the ride, handling, transmission, turning circle and crash-test results. It complained about the rough-sounding engine and the gas version’s fuel economy.

In Canada, the 2012 Golf was part of the Takata recall for potentially explosive driver-side air bags.

2012 Mazda3 Sport GS-SKY four-door hatchback

  • Second generation: 2009-2014
  • Average price for base: $13,124 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Transmission/drive: six-speed manual, six-speed automatic/front-wheel drive
  • Engine: 2.0-litre four cylinder
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.8 city, 6.2 highway (manual); 8.3 city, 6.0 highway (automatic)

Sure, SkyActiv might sound like the name of a sports body spray for flight attendants, but for 2012, the direct-injected 155-horsepower engine and new transmissions pumped some new life into Mazda’s popular, but dated, 3.

“The SkyActiv way is all about squeezing fuel economy out of all Mazda models with the traditional internal combustion engine,” then-Globe Drive contributor Jeremy Cato said. “This is an entertaining little car, especially the version with a slick-shifting manual gearbox.”

With an original base price of $20,195, the Sport GS-SKY was pricier than the $15,795 base with a 148-hp four-banger.

“If you have the coin, the SKY version of the Mazda3 is the one you’ll want,” Cato said. “This is a responsive and affordable sport compact with good cornering grip, tight steering and a generally responsive chassis for a car at this price.”

For the 2012 refresh, the Mazda3 lost its “fish-mouth” front grille, but the interior was still unchanged.

“While that makes the car feel dated from the inside, the design is attractive and functional,” Cato said. “The seats are as supportive as any in this class and better than many, too.”

Mazda also offered a 263-hp, 2.3-litre hot hatch, the MazdaSpeed3, but the average price for a 2012 is $18,588, about $11,000 less than it cost new.

Consumer Reports gave the 2012 Mazda3 excellent predicted used-car reliability but complained about “conspicuous road noise that drones on the highway.”

In Canada, there was a recall for more than 183,000 Mazda hatchbacks to fix a door stay, which keeps the hatch open, that could potentially corrode and break off.

Send your used-car questions to globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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