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My daughter needs a cheap car with a hands-free connection. What are the options?

what care should i buy

Looking for an inexpensive ride with some bells

The Nissan Micra, the cheapest new car in Canada, may be the best choice – if she's willing to forgo most creature comforts

My 21-year-old daughter needs a car for work and she'll be travelling on Highway 401 across Toronto to get to her job. What would be the best car for her for less than $20,000, taking into account the seasons and traffic? Air-conditioning is essential and a hands-free connection is also a must. All other creature comforts are not important. – Richard

Mark Richardson: Despite what the ads let you believe, there are only a handful of cars that can be bought new for less than $20,000 out-the-door, which is after all taxes, freight and PDI is added on. Cars cost money, and if you want an automatic and air-conditioning, that's usually on top of the lowest prices.

Jessica Leeder: We're looking at a small pool here to get both hands-free smartphone integration and air conditioning (which Richard's daughter definitely wants if she sticks with that cross-401 commute each day). Budget forces us to cross the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris off the list. We're left with five real options: the Hyundai Accent (LE Auto), Mitsubishi Mirage ES Automatic (sad face), the Kia Rio LX+ in manual, Chevrolet Spark 1LT, or Mark's personal favourite, the Nissan Micra.

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Hyundai Accent.

Richardson: Yep, I like that Micra. And, as the parent of a 20 year old myself, I like Richard's comment about creature comforts for his kid not being important – I wonder if his daughter agrees? I like the Micra because it's comfortable and reliable and the base edition handles as well as the loaded edition.

Leeder: And it's the cheapest new car in Canada.

Richardson: The base "S" edition lists for $9,988, but that's really just to get you in the store. Few Micra buyers buy that trim, which has a manual transmission, no air-conditioning and manual window winders. And remember, it's not worth much at resale time with no air and a stick. Richard can get the "S" with automatic and air for $13,598, and Nissan's giving a rebate of $1,750, which negates the Freight and PDI. Taxes in, it'll be about $15,500 out the door.

Nissan Micra.

Leeder: You really are a cheapskate, aren't you? That doesn't include the hands-free.

Richardson: Good point, though you can buy a high-quality clip-on Bluetooth speaker for less than $200 at Canadian Tire. Or you can step up to the Micra SV that includes Bluetooth, air-conditioning, power windows and power door locks for $13,998. It's a nicer car, but that's with a stick-shift. Automatic will cost an extra $1,000. Even so, the SV with automatic will be easy to resell and comes in well under budget, including winter tires.

Leeder: Better for Richard to option up. Sure, he can buy his daughter that clip-on speaker. But they can be finicky, need to be charged and take "work" compared to an integrated Bluetooth connection. Can we talk about some other cars now? I know you're not super keen on it, but I like the Chevy Spark for the technology it offers. GM is marketing it as "The Ultimate Mobile Device." The interface is slick.

Chevrolet Spark ACTIV.

Richardson: The last Spark I drove was painted in hot metallic pink. Teenaged girls loved it, but my two boys weren't keen on being seen in it – especially with me behind the wheel. Look, there's nothing wrong with the Spark, except it feels cheap, which it is, of course. It's a fine little car for getting from A to B and it's well connected for smartphone use. It's better than the Mirage, though, which I wouldn't recommend to anyone. Again, the Mirage is a car built to a low-price budget, but is the least appealing of them all.

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Leeder: Consumer Reports agrees. The website rated the Mirage lowest of all available subcompact cars in 2017 and described it with a serious hate-on as "roly-poly", "sluggish" and "drab". In other words: Blech. We're down to the Hyundai and Kia for a third solid option here. Honestly, it's a roll of the dice. Both are decent options, but the Spark's infotainment system is tops for the millennial driver.

Kia Rio LX.

Richardson: Or Richard could just get the Micra, which is the best of all the options. He can go super-cheap, or just fairly cheap. But take my advice, Richard – buy the car you want for her and don't let her start asking for options, or it'll add $5,000 before you know it.

Leeder: Sage parenting advice. You heard it here first.


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