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11 of the best inexpensive cars in Canada

Sticker prices on cheapest cars will still give you mandatory safety items

Published: May 22, 2019, 10:30 PM
Updated: May 31, 2019, 3:44 AM

2017 Mitsubishi Mirage G4

That alluring new-car smell often draws buyers at this time of year, especially college graduates who are starting their first job and need reliable wheels to get to work. We’ve scoured the manufacturers’ websites to find 11 of the most affordable new 2019 models, all of which start at less than $20,000 in Canada, at least before taxes.

11 expensive new cars to purchase

The good news is you can still find at least one 2019 model that retails for under $10,000 – as long as you’re happy rowing a manual gearbox and winding your windows by hand. That’s because the loss-leader sticker prices affixed to the cheapest cars will give you all the mandatory safety equipment – including a rear-view camera – but won’t get you luxuries like an automatic transmission and air conditioning for that sum.

That’s why we’ve ranked Canada’s most inexpensive wheels using two prices: the manufacturer’s suggested retail price with the non-negotiable delivery charges added, and the lowest MSRP for the same model equipped with an automatic and air – because 95% of the population buy their cars this way (remember, you’ll be flayed mercilessly at trade-in time if you don’t).

Hyundai Elantra ($18,331/$20,031)

2019 Hyundai Elantra

The Hyundai Elantra is not the cheapest car on our list, but its value proposition is off the charts. No wonder Canada’s streets are teeming with shiny new Elantras, the lone compact car that swims with the econobox fishes. A low starting price makes it an irresistible bargain, yet the Elantra is anything but a poverty buy. Refreshed for 2019, the base model offers a 147-hp 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine tied to a 6-speed manual transmission, or optionally with a 6-speed conventional automatic tranny.

Air conditioning comes standard, along with heated front seats, Bluetooth capability and steering-wheel-mounted controls. Like all Hyundai and Kia models, the Elantra boasts a comprehensive 5-year/100,000-km factory warranty. On the downside, the drowsy engine is underwhelming, but at least the sharpened steering and the brakes are good, and the Elantra is a quiet and comfortable highway cruiser. It drives more expensive than it is, and that’s hardly faint praise.

Toyota Yaris Sedan ($18,315/$19,420)

2019 Toyota Yaris sedan

When is a Toyota not a Toyota? When it contracts out its small car projects to rival Mazda. In this case it’s not a bad idea, given that the Yaris Sedan is actually the redesigned Mazda2 that was never intended for Canada. Toyota seized the opportunity to slap a Yaris badge on this Mexico-built car and the econobox segment is better for it. Mazda DNA makes for a fun-driving little sedan that features a more attractive interior and thoughtful ergonomics than Toyota would have expended the effort to provide.

All models come with a 106-hp 1.5-litre 4-cylinder engine that works with the standard 6-speed manual transmission or optional 6-speed automatic. Mercifully, Mazda does not futz around with CVTs. Buyers get the formal look of a sedan but lose the utility of the hatch; the 60/40-split folding rear seats improve cargo space, but they don’t fold flat. The Mazda-sourced sedan has a nicer audio interface with a 7-inch display, push-button start and air conditioning standard.

Ford Fiesta ($17,613/$21,024)

2019 Ford Fiesta sedan

As you know Ford is getting out of the car business to concentrate on profitable truck and SUV sales. The Fiesta, re-introduced here for 2011, will be no more after this year. While praised for its refinement and grown-up features in such a small package, it earned a reputation for its “Powershift” 6-speed sequential gearbox that emulates an automatic. The dual-clutch transmission shifts gears rapidly, but the unreliable mechanism is known to shudder and hesitate.

Ford and supplier Getrag have introduced numerous fixes to improve the gearbox, and complaints have declined in recent years. But so have Fiesta sales. If you can manage a stick, the manual-transmission Fiesta is a snappy ride with its 120-hp 1.6-litre DOHC 4-cylinder engine. The pricing shown here is for the less popular sedan, but we have a hunch dealers will part with their hatchbacks for similar money. With Mexican production set to cease, the Fiesta is a depreciation disaster and hence its low standing in our rankings.

Toyota Yaris Hatchback ($17,310/$19,735)

2018 Toyota Yaris hatchback

Toyota makes an entry-level hatchback – in France – that it’s happy to sell in Canada, but not at a loss-leader price. If you want the Toyota squiggle on your grille and the associated sterling reliability, you have to pay for the privilege. The base-model Yaris hatch actually has just two doors instead of the more common four (at extra cost), though it provides a 6.1-inch audio touchscreen, heated front seats and power windows standard.

The Yaris surprises by providing Toyota’s Safety Sense C suite of active safety systems, including pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and automatic high beams. Since it’s primarily tuned for the European market, the hatchback’s ride and handling are better than the segment average, although the optional automatic transmission is an outdated 4-speed unit that saps the energy out of the modest 106-hp 1.5-L-litre 4-cylinder engine. C’est dommage.

Honda Fit ($17,276/$22,076)

2018 Honda Fit

Rather than produce a cheap mini, Honda aimed to redefine what a subcompact car can do. By locating the fuel tank under the front seats, engineers carved out lots of cabin space for five in what is a very small footprint. The clever 60/40-split rear bench folds down to the floor, or the seat bottoms fold up to reveal a floor-to-ceiling cargo hold. The US government (NHTSA) gave the Fit mostly five stars in crash testing, while the insurance industry awarded it an IIHS Top Safety Pick in 2015.

The Fit’s 1.5-litre 4-cylinder engine produces 130 hp with the standard 6-speed manual transmission and 128 hp with the optional CVT automatic. The Fit is no penalty box; in addition to its impressive roominess, great utility and frugal fuel economy, it’s a fun car to drive with its quick steering and nimble handling. But you pay for the privilege. The stripped DX model costs more than $17,000 and Honda charges an enormous premium of almost $5,000 for a Fit with automatic and air.

Nissan Versa Note ($16,495/$17,795)

2017 Nissan Versa Note

Nissan has made a major play as a source of affordable cars, a low-margin segment other manufacturers are only too happy to cede. While its Micra made headlines as Canada’s cheapest car, the Versa Note is a considerably roomier and more attractive hatchback that appears to offer an equally compelling value proposition. For one thing, air conditioning comes standard in even the base S model, so buyers need only spring for the CVT automatic to get what they need.

On the other hand, the Note’s meagre 109-hp 1.6-litre 4-cylinder engine, droning continuously variable transmission (CVT) and uninspiring handling conspire to make it a pretty bland driving appliance that’s got little of the Honda Fit’s verve. Too bad the manual gearbox has five forward gears and not six. At least buyers get a 7-inch colour touchscreen, 60/40 split-folding rear seats and crisp electroluminescent gauges. All in all, the Versa Note is a decent buy in an attractive wrapper, but a dull driver.

Kia Rio ($16,469/$19,569)

2018 Kia Rio

The recently redesigned Kia Rio is the quintessential subcompact car from South Korea. It’s been around long enough to have established a decent reputation with Canadian car shoppers, who know it’s cheap to keep and pretty durable. What seals the deal for many shoppers is the fact that the Rio – like every Kia and Hyundai model – comes standard with a comprehensive 5-year/100,000-km warranty. For first-time car buyers, the extra two years of coverage provides enormous peace of mind.

Pricing shown here is for the 4-door sedan; the 4-door hatchback can be had for a very reasonable $200 upcharge. Note that every Rio hue – except black – is a “premium” colour that adds $200 to the invoice. Base cars feature heated front seats and steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity and a 5-inch audio display with rear-view camera. All Rios are motivated by a 130-hp, direct-injected 1.6-litre 4-cylinder working through a 6-speed manual or optional automatic transmission.

Hyundai Accent ($16,231/$19,081)

2019 Hyundai Accent

It’s no secret that South Korean compatriots Kia and Hyundai share automotive platforms and components to save costs. That means the Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio are kissing cousins, but in a good way. At Hyundai, the Accent 4-door hatchback is priced considerably lower than the formal Accent sedan, so it’s our pick here. Snappily redesigned last year, it’s got a good look and just enough chrome bits to make it look more expensive than it actually is. And like the Kia, the Accent enjoys the same 5-year factory warranty standard.

The Accent offers the usual bevy of standard equipment, but noteworthy here is the extra level of finish Hyundai provides in the form of body-colour door handles and mirrors, and a sporty rear spoiler – items other manufacturers often charge extra for in a base model. The Accent uses the same powertrain as the Rio, which provides decent power in a lightweight package. Buyers like the car’s comfortable ride and exceptionally quiet cabin at this modest price point.

Nissan Micra ($12,185/$15,345)

2019 Nissan Micra

The Nissan Micra made headlines in 2014 when it was re-introduced in Canada (but not in the US) at the head-turning price of $9,998 – the lowest MSRP of any car sold here in years. The Micra came in just one form: a subcompact 4-door hatchback powered by a competent 1.6-litre DOHC 4 cylinder making 109 horsepower directed through a 5-speed manual gearbox or a conventional, if outdated, 4-speed automatic. Remarkably, Nissan resisted the temptation to slip in a CVT autobox.

The Micra is an old design, one whose development costs have been amortized over nine years, which helps keep the price low (Europe gets a sleek new Micra that’s actually handsome). Buyers of the base model do get a Bluetooth-enabled audio system, a 60/40 split-folding rear bench and a tilt steering wheel, but no armrest for the driver. Still, what other manufacturer encourages you to take their littlest car racing as Nissan does with its popular Micra Cup weekend series?

Mitsubishi Mirage ($11,599/$16,899)

Mitsubishi Mirage

Mitsubishi’s Mirage is a relative newcomer to Canada’s minicar segment and is basically what it appears to be: an inexpensive hatchback suited to city commuting and little else. While the sticker price is very attractive, the Mirage lacks the refinement and the zip of any of its nearest competitors and loses demerits for that. It comes with the smallest engine in the segment: a lumpy 1.2-litre 3-cylinder that produces a measly 78 horsepower working through a 5-speed manual or CVT automatic. The base model rides on skinny 14-inch tires that squirm and squeal at the slightest provocation.

Critics largely agree the Mirage is a mirthless vehicle. What it does have going for it is the most efficient (non-hybrid) fuel efficiency numbers in the business, and a standard warranty that includes five years of bumper-to-bumper coverage and a 10-year/160,000-km limited powertrain warranty. The base model comes with Bluetooth connectivity, power front windows and a rear-view camera. For those who want a proper car with a trunk, the Mirage G4 sedan starts at $16,199 with air conditioning and Apple CarPlay.

Chevrolet Spark ($11,595/$15,995)

2019 Chevrolet Spark

There are two reasons for the Chevrolet Spark topping our list as the most inexpensive car in Canada. First, the Spark is built in South Korea by GM Korea, formerly Daewoo Motors, where labour and component costs are low. Secondly, small cars are cheaper to build and ship, and this one is so small you have to step out of the car to change your mind (couldn’t resist!). Yet while shorter than a Mini, its tall profile pays dividends inside and it still provides four doors for easy entry.

Powered by an underwhelming 98-hp 1.4-litre 4-cylinder engine, the Spark is slow, but commendably stable at highway speeds thanks to a well-sorted suspension. It works through a 5-speed manual transmission or CVT automatic supplied by Nissan’s Jatco division. The rigid unibody is backed up with 10 air bags to keep occupants safe, and there’s a third-generation MyLink infotainment system to keep everybody occupied. Budget motoring doesn’t get any cheaper than this.