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Buying used: I want a small car for $10,000. Is a Smart car a good choice?

buying used

I want an affordable, compact vehicle. Is a Smart car a good choice?

If you're looking for cheap, small and practical, the Chevrolet Spark may be a smarter option

I'm retiring and getting rid of my minivan and I want a really small car that's easy to park on the street. I think the Smart car's a good idea but I've never actually been in one. Is there no back seat at all? I have a few friends who say they're not fans. I do want something that's no more than a couple years old and would like something around $10,000. – Terri, St. Albert, Alta.

Your friends aren't fans of the Smart Fortwo? If you've got more than one friend, it's not a fan of them either.

When it says for two, it's not kidding. That's the reason Car2go – owned by Daimler AG – has added hundreds of Mercedes-Benz sedans and CUVs to its fleet. There are times when you need a carry more than just one pal and some groceries.

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If you're looking for a similarly-sized car with a back seat, there's another micro compact, the Scion iQ ($12,575 for a 2015) that technically seats four.

"It is an exaggeration for Toyota to pitch this as a four-seater, but it does have two seats for normal-sized people and enough room in the back for a child or shopping bags or whatever," Globe Drive says.

There are bigger small cars, like the Fiat 500 and Chevy Spark, that can fit more than two people.

Still worried about squeezing into spots on the street? The 500 is longer than the Smart car (355 cm versus 269 cm), but it's not a '79 Eldorado – it's still pretty easy to park. Same with the Spark, at 367 cm.

2015 Smart Fortwo Second generation: 2007-2014

Smart Fortwo

  • Average price for base: $10,369 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Engine: 1.0-litre three cylinder
  • Transmission/drive: Five-speed automated manual/rear-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 6.8 city, 6.2 highway; premium fuel

The Fortwo is not really for driving – it's for parking.

"At slightly less than 9 feet in length, this two-passenger microcar's entire mission is to allow its owner to squeeze it into all those curbside spots that are too small for even the stubbiest of subcompacts," review site Edmunds says "Unfortunately, that's about where the Fortwo's appeal ends."

The 70-hp engine struggles to push the little car up hills and on the highway, it's rough – the chintzy rearview mirror will be shaking along with you.

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Consumer Reports doesn't have reliability data for the Fortwo, but it says the car is the one of its lowest rated for performance.

"It has a harsh ride, clumsy handling, and an automated manual transmission that has the worst shift quality we've experienced," it says. "It changes gear slowly, causing the car to pause and heave, rocking occupants fore and aft."

The 2015 Fortwo had one recall to replace a defective steering bolt.

2015 Chevrolet Spark 1LT

Chevrolet Spark

  • First generation: 2013-2015
  • Average price for base: $9,825 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Engine: 1.2-litre four-cylinder
  • Transmission/drive: Five-speed manual, CVT/front-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.5 city, 6.0 highway (manual), 7.7 city, 6.1 highway (automatic); regular fuel

If you're looking for cheap, small and practical, the Spark may be a smarter choice than the Smart car.

"The base version of the Spark costs far less than similar-sized minicars like the 2015 Fiat 500 or 2015 Scion iQ, and its four-door design offers more practicality," Edmunds says. "On the other hand, the Chevy lacks the Fiat's fab styling and the supreme parking ease of the even smaller Scion."

Why's it more practical? It holds more people and stuff – but it's still smaller than an even more practical Honda Fit.

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The Spark is "not too tight up front, or in the rear, where two adults will actually fit – although not in what you'd call comfort," Globe Drive says. "With the 60/40-split rear seatback up, there's 323 litres of grocery-bag room under the hatch and, with it folded, a useful 884 litres."

The Spark does get more expensive in higher trims.

Consumer Reports doesn't have reliability information on the Spark, but it does have strong opinions.

"This Korean-built subcompact was a motorcycle-inspired, touch-screen-focused, Wi-Fi-enabled, candy-store-coloured mini car," Consumer Reports says. "Also obvious was the lack of focus on driving fun or fuel efficiency for a car that was already dated by the time it hit the U.S. market."

The 2015 Spark had four recalls, including a fix to a hood latch that could corrode and not close properly.

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