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Top 5 hatchbacks under $10,000

Cheap to own and to operate, it has a smaller footprint than many cars thanks to the absence of a trunk and it can be fun to drive and to park expertly.
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“It turns on a dime and gives back change.”

This post by a Chevrolet Aveo owner hints at the appeal of this seldom-celebrated hatchback. Cheap to own and to operate, it has a smaller footprint than many cars” thanks to the absence of a trunk” and it can be fun to drive and to park expertly.

Once the saviour of the 1970s fuel crises, the hatchback became saddled with an enduring stigma: Econobox. The common perception was that Americans only drove hatchbacks out of fiscal necessity – even though most of the world, many Canadians included, embraced them.

The hatchback entered the North American lexicon in 1970 when the AMC Gremlin and Chevrolet Vega were introduced to entice young Boomers. They were preceded by Citroën, Renault and Austin models, though few of those managed to cross the ocean.

The front-drive hatchback is enjoying a bit of a renaissance today, fuelled by buck-a-litre gas and a renewed interest in vehicles that tread softly upon this not-so-green earth.

Here are five eminently practical and affordable used hatchbacks for less than $10,000 that would serve any penny-pinching motorist well.

2007 HYUNDAI ACCENT

Growing ever more confident and style-savvy, Hyundai’s new-generation Accent for 2006 was a game changer. Initially offered only as a four-door sedan, the three-door hatchback arrived in the spring of 2006 as an ’07 model.

The Korean-made subcompact traded its frumpy designs for clean European lines and a wheelbase that was 6 cm longer. It was surprisingly spacious inside, and everything was put together with thoughtful precision. Owners did note, however, that the plastic was soft and susceptible to scratches.

Thanks to variable valve timing, the 1.6 L engine gained six horsepower for a total of 110 (torque remained unchanged at 106 lb.-ft.). Front side airbags, head-protecting curtain side airbags and antilock brakes were available on all but the base model.

Zero-to-96 km/h came up in 10 seconds flat with the five-speed manual transmission or a little over 11 seconds with the four-speed automatic. Short gearing helped the Accent keep up with traffic, though that became a liability on the highway where it could get buzzy.

As for problems, a few owners reported that the manual transmission’s clutch can wear prematurely. Other gripes include errant Check Engine lights, short-lived batteries and other electrical bugaboos. Surprisingly, Hyundai’s hatch is retaining its value –— despite a $9,999 special that dealers are selling new.

2004-07 CHEVROLET AVEO/

PONTIAC WAVE/SUZUKI SWIFT+

The Aveo arrived in North American showrooms for 2004 as a five-door hatch or a four-door sedan with a trunk grafted on. Styled in Europe by Italdesign-Giugiaro, built in South Korea by Daewoo and wearing various manufacturers’ badges, it’s a car with a convoluted family tree.
Suffice it to say it was designed to appeal internationally, so at least the seats were raised off the floor with lots of headroom to boot. The rear seat was broad and flat, permitting three adults to sit there in a pinch.

A 1.6 L DOHC four-cylinder was the sole power plant. The iron-block engine, with 103 hp and 107 lb.-ft. of torque, was refined enough, but couldn’t quite deliver the power or the fuel economy of its Japanese competitors. Owners noticed the car was susceptible to crosswinds.

The Aveo came with a rubbery five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. To ease consumers’ fear of subcompacts, GM ensured the Aveo came chock-a-block with safety equipment and other standard kit.

The Aveo and gang have worked well as urban runabouts, with only a few problem areas to watch for. Be prepared for worn timing belts (they are reputed to snap early), alignment problems and a bad ignition interlock that can leave the key jammed.

2007 NISSAN VERSA

The Japanese-market Nissan Tiida was thankfully renamed the Versa for North American consumption when it arrived here in July 2006 as a ’07 model. Assembled in Aguascalientes, Mexico, it was initially offered only as a five-door hatchback (a four-door sedan followed six months later).
Owners cited the expansive cabin that could seat five adults comfortably, an optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) and big-car quiet as the deal-closers that made the Versa stand out from the subcompact crowd.

A DOHC 1.8 L four cylinder making 122 hp and 127 lb.-ft. of torque provided the power. Engineered to be especially compact, the new MR18 motor featured mini spark plugs, narrow bore spacing between the cylinders and a single serpentine drive belt running everything, including the a/c and alternator.

The Versa was the first subcompact to offer a standard six-speed manual transmission. Buyers could also choose between two automatics: a conventional four-speed unit and the CVT. Front side airbags and curtain side airbags were made standard.

A malfunctioning fuel pump can make the Versa hard to start (Nissan has issued a service advisory). Other maladies include frequent brake service, alignment issues, recalcitrant power windows and plastic hubcaps that regularly fly off.

2005-07 FORD FOCUS

Ford’s smallest North American offering was revamped for 2005 with tweaked styling and more power. The Focus came as three- and five-door hatchback called the ZX3 and ZX5, as well as a conventional four-door sedan and wagon.

For a small car assembled in Michigan and Mexico, the European-designed Focus never forgot its French lessons. Suspension travel was long, absorbing bumps with aplomb. There was plenty of body lean during cornering, yet it remained well planted.

The interior was smartly laid out, the tall cabin making room for the biggest of occupants – although some owners found the seating uncomfortable.

The DOHC 2.0 L four made 136 hp and 133 lb.-ft. of torque, a marked improvement over the old motor. Unfortunately, the performance-oriented SVT hatchbacks were replaced by the ZX4 ST sedan, the only model to feature Mazda’s smooth 2.3 L 151-hp four-cylinder.

The most common problem involves faulty ignition switches that won’t allow the key to turn or be removed. Owners are forking out up to $500 for a new switch. The Focus eats brakes, so be prepared for frequent service.

A malfunctioning air conditioner may be traced back to a leaking compressor shaft seal. Other headaches include short-lived alternators, window regulators and automatic transmissions (in small numbers). Fuel economy could be better with the autobox.

2006-07 TOYOTA YARIS

Illustrating Canadians’ love affair with the hatchbck, we received both the three- and five-door hatch versions of the all-new-for-2006 Yaris while Americans made do with the three-door only.
Like the Echo that preceded it, the Yaris offered tall seating, easy entry and exit, and good visibility. Unfortunately, the Echo’s centre-mounted instruments were retained, too – although they’re said to be easier to focus on and can’t be obscured by the steering wheel. At least the backlit Optitron gauges were made brighter.

Base models used a one-piece rear seatback, while only the top-range RS hatchback offered a split rear seat for more cargo flexibility. A long wheelbase ensured there was some legroom between the two rows of seats, though not great.

The all-aluminum DOHC 1.5-L four-cylinder was a sophisticated twin-cam engine equipped with Toyota’s variable valve timing, good for 106 hp and 103 lb.-ft. of torque. Electric rack-and-pinion steering replaced the conventional, power-robbing hydraulic system.

Owners are delighted with the made-in-Japan Yaris; they’re among the most satisfied in our Internet scans. However, a few have had bad luck with the air conditioner (road debris can puncture the condenser), deep snow pulling the engine fairing off the bottom, and interior rattles.

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