Canadian fans of compact cars have a lot of choice. Little sedans and hatchbacks are big sellers here, so used-car lots across Ontario are loaded with them. These small cars have also undergone a recent revolution in refinement. Even if you’re looking for cheap transportation in a roughly 10-year-old compact, you’re going to get a reasonably comfortable car if you shop carefully.
In order to narrow our look at the segment, we have scanned sales statistics for the 2017 calendar year. We found the cars that sold in excess of 20,000 units nationwide. Here are the six vehicles that meet our criteria, presented in descending order of sales.
The Honda Civic has been Canada’s best-selling car model for several years, thanks to strong reliability and thrifty fuel economy. Honda has dealers as far north as Kenora and Timmins, so there are likely to be used examples even in the more sparsely populated parts of the province. If you try to shop local, note that Honda builds the Civic in the southwestern Ontario town of Alliston.
- Some examples of the eighth-generation Civic (sold from 2006 through 2011) left the factory with cracked engine blocks. By now, most of these cars will have been repaired. We still would not buy one without an inspection by a trusted mechanic.
- In the following generation (2012-2015), the sporty Si model generated complaints of excessive oil consumption. A Honda dealer can tell you whether the car you’re looking has the new pistons and rings Honda installed as a fix.
- The latest generation is not immune to engine flaws. The 2016 model’s optional turbocharged engine in some cases allowed gasoline to leak into the engine oil and dilute it. This situation can lead to engine damage if left unchecked.
- In older models, also watch for air conditioning and heater fan failures.
Few cars can boast a reputation for reliability as strong as that of the Toyota Corolla sedan. Still, there are a few issues to be aware of.
- In some 10th-generation Corolla models (sold from 2009 through 2013), the 1.8L engine may have been manufactured with faulty intake manifold gaskets. This can cause poor performance and a “check engine” warning.
- In some 2009 and 2010 cars with that same 1.8L engine, a faulty camshaft timing gear will cause a loud rattle at startup.
- Some 2009–2013 Corolla models used a more powerful 2.4L engine. In certain examples, the cylinder head bolts can fail and allow radiator coolant to leak into the engine oil.
- In 2014 and newer Corolla sedans and the Scion iM (later Corolla iM) hatchback, new software is the fix for an erratic engine idle and transmission performance in automatic cars.
- Most used Corollas you come across are at the company’s factory in Cambridge, Ontario.
The Elantra sedan that arrived in 2011 brought a lot of style to the compact class. The Elantra Touring was a station-wagon variant available through 2012. Hyundai replaced the touring model with the smaller the Elantra GT hatchback in 2013.
- Owners complain of suspension and brake components that wear quickly and need replacement sooner than expected.
- A faulty transmission-fluid sensor will cause rough shifting from the automatic. If you experience any weird behaviour during your test drive, have the car checked before you buy.
- In some cases, the idling engine generates notable vibrations with the transmission in gear. The cause could be a faulty component in the variable valve-timing system or out-of-date control software.
- If the engine takes a long time to start, the first thing to check is the fuel pump.
Mazda redesigned its compact sedan and hatchback into a second generation for 2010, and a third-generation model arrived in 2014. This Mazda provides good looks and fun driving feel. The Mazda3 has also proven quite reliable.
- At the launch of the second-generation model in 2010, owners of manual transmission cars complained of shifting problems, probably related to faulty clutch components. There have been clutch complaints in third-generation cars as well. Ensure the stickshift moves smoothly between gears and without any ugly crunching or grinding sounds.
- Note any clunking or squealing sounds: fast-wearing suspension and brake parts are one of the Mazda3’s weak points.
- A leaky thermostat housing can cause coolant to leak leaving the car with low coolant.
- More efficient SkyActiv models, introduced as an option in 2012 and standard from 2014, use high-compression engines sensitive to proper maintenance. Look for service records proving the oil and other fluids were changed according to Mazda’s schedule. Have the car checked out before you buy and make a tune-up your first priority, post-purchase.
- A final note: Starting in 2015, Mazda changed its three-year bumper-to-bumper and five-year powertrain warranties. They now allow for an unlimited number of kilometres during those times. If your budget allows, it may be worth looking for one of these late-model cars with some coverage remaining.
In 2011, Chevrolet introduced the Cruze as a replacement for the Cobalt. Designed for both North America and Europe, the Cruze boasts nice handling and a sophisticated driving feel.
- One common issue is steering described as “notchy” or “sticky” as the wheel is turned side-to-side. This could be caused by a bad electric power-steering motor. Another possibility is a faulty bushing that supports the shaft that runs between the steering wheel and the steering system itself.
- The 1.4L turbo engine has a coolant pump prone to leakage. If the coolant level is low, this is the first thing to check. That, or a faulty or leaky cooling system pressure cap and reservoir, could be the source of a hot coolant smell in the cabin.
- Another issue to sniff out is that of mildew, which can build up in the Cruze’s climate control system.
- The Cruze’s optional 1.4L turbo engine requires a religious dedication to maintenance. If the car you’re considering doesn’t come with service records, do not buy it without a thumbs-up from a trusted technician.
- Chevrolet redesigned the Cruze into a second generation in 2016. Common complaints from owners of this newer design include engine overheating due to thermostat failures and keyless entry quirks, including push-button starter problems.
- According to Consumer Reports, the Cruze’s reliability improved dramatically in 2015, a year before the redesign.
Volkswagen’s compact hatchback has historically offered class-leading refinement and comfort in the class. However, many of VW’s competitors have caught up in that regard in recent years.
- The emissions-cheating diesel-fueled TDI models are desirable for their performance and economy, but a high-pressure fuel pump is failure-prone. An expensive repair generated complaints among Golf owners even before that cheat made headlines in 2015.
- Volkswagen offered diesel cars and high-performance Golf GTI models with a dual-clutch automatic transmission. Watch for a phenomenon called “false neutral,” where the transmission acts like it’s in neutral even when the shifter is in the drive position. This transmission is also more expensive to maintain than the traditional automatic offered with the Golf regular-grade gas engines.
- The GTI’s 2.0L turbo four-cylinder is a fun engine to drive, but also brings the greatest potential for reliability troubles. Carbon buildup on the engine’s intake valves can affect performance and cause potentially damaging misfires, and water pump leaks are common.
- Later models were offered with 1.4L and 1.8L turbo four-cylinders, which nicely balance performance and economy.