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Maximum bang for buck

Top value cars for tough times and tight budgets

What better way to ride out the recession than in a new set of wheels. While we’re not trying to sound glib about the whole mess, if you’re one of the lucky ones in a position to buy a new car, truck or crossover, this is probably the best time in decades to go shopping.

Here are Metro Drive’s Top 10 value choices spread over a few categories to help point you in the right direction.

Small Coupe: Chevrolet Cobalt XFE ($15,300)
No one would consider the Chevrolet Cobalt to be a thrilling ride, but General Motors now offers the XFE (or eXtra Fuel Efficient) package standard on any LS model equipped with a five-speed manual transmission. Thus equipped, it gets better highway fuel mileage and more standard power than either the Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla.

Small Sedan: Nissan Versa ($12,498)
Currently one of the least expensive new vehicles in Canada, this entry-level Versa comes only in sedan form with a smaller engine and manual transmission. Not exciting to drive, but good interior space, excellent fuel economy and luxury-car ride make it perfect for around-town shuttling.

Small Hatchback: Toyota Yaris ($13,315)
Only the three-door hatch qualifies for the low price, but a little more than $13,000 gets you Toyota’s evergreen Yaris. Not many niceties come with it, but it will sip fuel and outlast your grandchildren.

Go Anywhere Hatchback: Suzuki SX4 JX AWD ($21,195)
For those itching to have four driven wheels at the best price, Suzuki offers its neat SX4 hatchback. While front-wheel drive models start at $17,000, you need to get a mid-level JX model for the all-wheel-drive option. For that price, you get a smartly styled, spacious, go anywhere vehicle that’s solid and dependable.

Wagon: Volkswagen Jetta Wagon 2.0 TDI ($25,775)

One of the few remaining true station wagons out there, the Jetta can now be optioned with the company’s brand new, ultra-clean, low-emissions turbo-diesel engine. With amazing highway economy numbers and a full-tank range of nearly 1,200 km, you could go for weeks before actually needing to find a fuel station.

Luxury Car: Hyundai Genesis ($37,995)

Just because you can afford to buy a new BMW or Mercedes-Benz doesn’t mean you should. The new Genesis luxury sedan can play with the best of the world for half the price. Powerful V6 means there’s no need to drop the extra coin on the V8 model. Oh, and it’s the 2009 North American and Canadian car of the year, the first time for a Korean automaker.

Minivan: Mazda5 ($20,195)
The six-passenger Mazda5 mini-minivan is the most fuel-efficient of the people-haulers for sale, plus it adds great looks, dual sliding doors and good road-holding abilities to the mix. Both back rows can fold flat for even more cargo-hauling flexibility.

Small SUV: Jeep Patriot Sport 4X4 ($18,845)

The car-based Jeep Patriot will go almost anywhere you need, getting good fuel economy in the process. Interior is much improved versus last year’s, meaning you won’t be embarrassed to take your date out in one.

Pickup: Ford F-150 ($25,699)
While not much has changed externally, the new F-150 has seen thousands of modifications under the skin to help maintain its title as the best pickup truck value on the market. Much like a Swiss Army knife, this one can be built from basic to ridiculous... but even the “contractor special” regular cab short-box model is an impressive achievement.

Things to keep in mind when buying

• If you’re in the market, now is a fantastic time to purchase a new vehicle. With so much uncertainty, dealers are likely to be very flexible on what you can pay. The “window sticker” price won’t reflect what you pay ... For example, the new Ford F-150 has a $4,000 “cash” price rebate offered already, while the Chevrolet Cobalt XFE has $3,100 off.

• Do your research! Figure out what you want to pay, and be prepared to walk away from any negotiation if it’s not what you’re looking for. If you’re not paying cash, try to secure financing through your own bank first as manufacturer-offered lease and finance rates may not be the best.

 
 
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