Hi, Michael and Jeremy: I read your column with interest as I intend to purchase a new vehicle within the next two years. I have always owned Buicks and I currently drive a 2006 Allure. I love the comfort and stability on the highway as I drive to and from Toronto every other week. Also, I love the smooth ride! However, I turn 70 next year. I intend to sell my house in London, Ont., and downsize to a miniature condo in Toronto (to be near my grandkids). I would like a smaller car to navigate the busy streets of Toronto. I would give up the brand loyalty if my new dream car could incorporate the following features: a smaller car for fuel efficiency, possibly an EV or plug-in hybrid; as many safety features as possible, such as a crash avoidance system; comfort, like heated seats (such a joy in our winters!); a great sound system, and a really jazzy design that doesn't scream functionality and celebrates being a senior! Price range $25,000-$30,000, zero per cent financing for 72 months. Any suggestions to help me in my selection would be greatly appreciated. – Sheila
Cato: Sheila, you're 70 going on 17. I mean that in a good way. Loads of spirit, and energy. You're gonna love the downtown lifestyle. Very smart move.
Here's another one: add some European flare to your life. And to do so, you don't need to abandon Buick, either. Go test drive a 2012 Buick Regal.
This is no Buick in any historical sense; it's a well-engineered Opel from Germany, via the Oshawa assembly line now spitting them out. European Car of the Year in 2009, in fact. Base price: $30,085.
Vaughan: Cato's right, plus you can get a Regal with eAssist, which is GM's mild hybrid system. It has a 2.4-litre, Ecotec, direct-injected, four-cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic transmission.
Sheila, the eAssist system fits your environmental bent. It uses power stored in a lithium-ion battery to provide some electrified boost and improve fuel-economy. I've driven it and it's a great system. I'm sure it will impress your grandchildren, to show them you've gone green.
Cato: Whoa, Vaughan. The eAssist option adds $4,250 to the sticker.
Vaughan: Sheila is tough enough to dicker for a better price.
Cato: So fight for that $1,000 factory rebate, Sheila; you can also combine it with 3 per cent financing. That puts the Regal well below $30,000. The same offer holds for the pricier and greener Regal with eAssist.
Now here's another option and I think it's an ideal choice for a young senior like you, Sheila: the Ford Fiesta. Stylish, incredibly fuel-efficient, entertaining to drive – and the hatchback starts at $15,999, though Ford of Canada has at least $1,000 in cash incentives for you to claim from your dealer.
Vaughan: And, Sheila, you can get all kinds of customized stuff put on your Fiesta: polished mesh grille, a rear lip spoiler and there's even a body kit. You can be just like the little old lady from Pasadena.
Cato: Of course, you have other options in small cars. The Hyundai Accent is pretty cute, for instance. But in this class I am partial to the Fiesta, and it is also a past European Car of the Year. European flare, Sheila.
A third option plays into your new downtown lifestyle, Sheila: the Nissan Leaf electric car. The Leaf is strictly battery-powered and clean as they come in mass-produced vehicles. A full charge should get you 160 km or so, but once that's gone, you need to plug into the grid.
Vaughan: Sheila, if you're just driving around Toronto and not doing the trip back and forth to London, the Leaf could be for you. It is a beautiful car to drive.
If you thought your Buick was smooth, wait until you try this one with a silent electric motor. This one will totally impress your grandchildren.
Cato: Fits your budget, too. The official Leaf price is $38,395, but then you can deduct the $8,500 provincial subsidy in Ontario. By the way, if you buy a $41,545 Volt in Ontario – we're talking General Motors' extended-range electric car – Ontario has an $8,230 handout for you. In Ontario, the full subsidy can be applied to a three-year lease, further reducing the monthly payment.
Vaughan is right when he says the Leaf – and the Volt for that matter – are smooth, quiet and zippy enough in traffic. Inside, you'll find just enough whiz-bang gizmos and readouts to entertain early adopters and grandkids, too. I'm talking screens that provide all kinds of information and graphics that show the flow of power from the engine to the battery to the wheels and motors.
Vaughan: Sheila, I think you'll probably stick with Buick and the Regal won't disappoint you.
Cato: Go Leaf, Sheila. You're moving downtown and shaking up your life. You don't need a lot of driving range, so an EV works. And grandma, this car puts you on the cutting edge of alternative fuel cars. For you, an EV makes sense.
HOW THEY COMPARE
2012 Buick Regal eAssist
2012 Ford Fiesta SE hatchback
2012 Nissan LEAF SV
Track, front (mm)
electric traction motor
Curb weight (kg)
Fuel economy (litres/100 km)
8.3 city/5.4 highway
6.9 city/5.1 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.