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Top 5 fuel sippers for under $10,000

For some guidance, here are five of the most economical used cars at the pumps for under $10,000:

Let’s assume you’re interested in a used car because you want to save money compared to buying new. Now let’s throw the double-whammy cost benefit of outstanding fuel economy into the equation.

For some guidance, here are five of the most economical used cars at the pumps for under $10,000:

5. 2002-2003 Mini Cooper

Based on its German engineering and European hot-hatch driving characteristics, it’s understandable if you think the modern Mini is all about having fun behind the wheel. Yet the car is also a champ at the pumps. Now on the market for over eight years, used versions have finally fallen under the $10k threshold.

If a bit cramped in the back for passengers and cargo space, the front-wheel-drive, 2+2 hatchback offers plenty of room for two in the front. Its driving position and ergonomics are similar to a contemporary BMW 3-series. And the Mini comes standard with big car safety features like electronic stability and traction control and brake force distribution.

You can find the higher performing Cooper S models within our budget. But the non-supercharged, regular 118 hp Cooper is more economical, rated at 8.3 L100 km city, 5.9 L hwy. (34/48 mpg)

PRICING: First year 2002 Mini Coopers with 160,000 km are in the $6,700 to $8,675 range; 2003 models with 140,000 km can go as high as $9,325

4. 2003-2004 VW Golf/Jetta Wagon/New Beetle TDI

There are several good reasons why VW’s small diesel cars are some of the most desirable used vehicles out there.

First off, these front-wheel-dive cars post hybrid-like ratings of 6.2 L/100 km city, 4.6 L hwy. (46/61 mpg). With diesel versions of the three- and five-door hatchback Golf, New Beetle coupe and Jetta wagon, there’s a body style to meet most everyone’s needs.

Plus there’s the Teutonic firmness of a German engineered car that the American and Asian automakers are still trying to get a handle on.

Admittedly, these VW diesels aren’t hot rods: a five-passenger Jetta wagon will take more than 11 seconds to get from zero to 100 km, about the same as a 2004 Toyota Prius. But that’s about all the similarity you’ll find between the two fuel sippers on the road. When it comes to steering, handling and braking, the Jetta feels like a grownup car, unlike the quirky characteristics of the Toyota.

PRICING: 2003 Jetta TDI wagons with 140,000 km sell between $7,300 and $9,225; 2004 New Beetle TDIs with 120,000 km are in the $7,925 to $9,900 range.

3. 2003-2005 Honda Civic Hybrid

With gasoline-electric hybrid cars now on sale for over the past decade, these fuel sippers are now popping up on the used-car market. And my first example is the Honda Civic Hybrid, introduced as a 2003 model.

Like Honda’s first hybrid, the original Insight, the front-wheel-drive hybrid Civic’s electric motor “assists” the 1.3-litre gas four-cylinder. Combined, you get 93 hp and 105 lb.-ft. of torque, and miserly 4.9 L 100 km city, 4.6 L hwy. (57/61 mpg) ratings.

Perhaps the best part of the compact, five-door hybrid sedan is that, well, it’s a Civic.

That means, a roomy and well thought out cabin for five, excellent build quality, and road manners like a real car. Even with its continuously-variable transmission, acceleration to 100 km/h is about one second quicker than a Jetta TDI or Prius.

Just note: Like any used hybrid, check on the life of the battery pack. Replacement costs can be in the thousands of dollars.

PRICING: 2003 Honda Civic Hybrids with 140,000 km can sell between $5,400 and $7,200; newer 2005 models with 100,000 km are in the $7,950 to $9,925 range.

2. 2004 Toyota Prius

While the first-generation Prius hybrid sedan went in sale in Japan in 1997, and eventually made its way to Canada four years later, it’s the second-generation, 2004 hatchback, that’s gone on to become the most popular and most recognizable hybrid vehicle in the world. And as a used car, its one of the most fuel-efficient four-door, five-passenger vehicles you can buy.

The Prius’s extremely aerodynamic shape, 1.5-litre gas and electric motor that combine for 76 hp and matched to a CVT result in miserly 4.0 L/100 km city, 4.2 hwy. (71/67 mpg) ratings. The compromise is a shape that screams “I’m saving the planet!” and driving characteristics (grabby brakes, droning transmission, sloppy handling) that are a “love it or hate it” proposition.

For 2004 models, there’s still two more years left on the battery pack warranty, depending on the vehicle’s mileage. But its eventual replacement cost is something that could be used to knock the price down when negotiating.

PRICING: A typical 2004 Prius with 120,000 km is worth between $8,925 and $11,175

1. 2001-2005 Honda Insight

As the ultimate pre-owned fuel sipper, the first-generation, two-seat Insight sits at the top of my list. Sure, its limited seating and cargo space may not make it practical for most buyers. But as parsimonious commuter car, the Honda hybrid makes a lot of sense.

The Insight preceded the Civic Hybrid as the first Honda to use the similar Integrated Motor Assist hybrid powertrain, but with 1.0-litre gas four, and a maximum 76 hp and 91 lb.-ft. Yet unlike the Civic and Prius, the Insight is available with a five-sped manual gearbox.

Once again, pricing needs to be taken into account because of the possible bill for a battery replacement. In the end, though, it’s hard to argue with the Insight’s fuel consumption ratings of 3.9 L/100 km city, 3.0 L hwy. (72/94 mpg). And despite going on sale over a decade a go, its hyper-aerodynamic shape will give people the impression you are driving the future.

PRICING: 2001 Insights with 180,000 km can be had between $5,575 and $7,475; 2005 models with 100,000 km are in the $9,475 to $11,675 range.

All pricing sourced from VMR Canada.

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