Best pound-for-pound cars of 2013

We set out to find the Sugar Ray Robinson of cars--the best in Canada, pound for pound. We're ready to crown a champion.


"Pound for pound" is a term boxing enthusiasts use to compare the merit of fighters who, because they belong to different weight classes, would never square off in the ring. It's a mental trick well suited to the judging the relative merits of automobiles.

Sugar Ray Robinson (right), whose fighting trim was less than 150 lbs (think of him as you would this car), could never have defeated the heavyweights of his era or ours, but many regard him as history's greatest fighter, pound for pound. Greater than Mike Tyson (230 lbs). Greater than Lennox Lewis (251 lbs). Greater even than the great Muhammad Ali (210 lbs).

We set out to find the best car in Canada, pound for pound. We prorated Consumer Reports rating against cost for Canada's most popular cars, assigning each a score between 0 and 5.

The 2013 Hyundai Elantra GLS, for example, received above-average scores for quality and safety (80/100), and comes with a sticker price of $21,149. That adds up to a good score--each $1000 you spend on an Elantra GLS buys you 3.78 overall rating points (PfP 3.78). That's considerably better than Hyundai's Tucson GLS, which wins 10 fewer points (70) for $5700 more (PfP 2.60)--but not nearly as good as one of our higher-testing models, Mazda's Mazda3 Sport GX, which 'buys' 77 rating points for only $18,195 (PfP 4.23).


 

THE RESPECTABLE BANTAMWEIGHT: Nissan Versa SV

PRICE AS TESTED: $14,198  OVERALL RATING: 53/100

POUND FOR POUND SCORE
: 3.73
 
HIGHS: Fuel economy, rear seat, trunk

LOWS: Agility, engine noise, front-seat comfort, fit and finish, reliability

TALE OF THE TAPE: Sure, the 53 score shouts mediocrity, but with a nearly four overall rating points, the Nissan punches above its weight. Okay, the interior is unapologetically cheap-looking, its cockpit is noisy and the motor whines when the vehicle accelerates, but it provides decent fuel efficiency and handles capably. If you want to keep your new-car outlay in the teens, however, skip for the Versa for the similarly priced Chevrolet Cruz ($14,995) and its PfP of 4.53.



THE SLUGGISH SUPERHEAVYWEIGHT: 2013 Mercedes-Benz S-Class S550

PRICE AS TESTED: $109,900  OVERALL RATING: 86/100

POUND FOR POUND SCORE: 0.78
 
HIGHS: Acceleration, ride, handling, steering, quietness, interior room, seat comfort, fit and finish

LOWS: Controls, price

TALE OF THE TAPE: The Mercedez-Benz S-Class, with its luxurious styling and exceptional performance, it is obviously a beautiful vehicle. You won’t be thinking about ratings or scores as you glide along the road, roar down hills and nimbly turn corners. S-Class delivers on all of its promises, but the promises don't come cheap. The S-Class ranks in CR's upper flight, but many cars of similar quality of considerably less expensive. Consider that the Toyota Camry scored two full points better (88) than the S-Class for less than a quarter the price ($23,700). It makes wonder whether the "S" stands for "senseless."





THE EARLY-ROUND DIVE: Fisker Karma EcoSport

PRICE AS TESTED: $120,000  OVERALL RATING: 57/100

POUND FOR POUND SCORE
: 0.475
 
HIGHS: Fuel economy, styling, braking, interior material

LOWS: Controls, visibility, cramped interior, engine is noisy when running, long battery recharge times, small trunk, frequent problems

TALE OF THE TAPE:  It looks sexy, as a $120,000 sports car should, but the Karma’s performance doesn’t live up to its price tag. The plug-in hybrid should be lauded for its cutting-edge hybrid technology (6.19 L/100km on battery power alone) but the American-engineered vehicle is a bit of a hot mess. A cramped cabin, horrific touchscreen interface, worrying-lack of visibility and constant malfunctions make this one of the least valuable PfP luxury cars on the market.






THE CHALLENGER:
Honda Civic Sedan LX

PRICE AS TESTED
: $18,940  OVERALL RATING: 63/100

POUND FOR POUND SCORE
: 3.3
 
HIGHS: Fuel economy, crash-test results

LOWS: Ride, road noise, steering feel, fit and finish, braking

TALE OF THE TAPE: Canada’s best-selling car of 2012 manages to post an above-average PfP score even with a lackluster rating from Consumer Reports. The redesigned Civic is selling off of its previous well-regarded record, but this version of Honda’s small car offers floaty steering, a jerky ride and a low-grade interior. Good fuel-mileage saves the Civic from being a complete letdown, but its new design and ho-hum performance make for a ‘blah’ driving experience. If you must own a Civic, go for the SI.







THE UNDISPUTED CHAMPEEN Chevrolet Cruze LS

PRICE AS TESTED: $14,995  OVERALL RATING: 68/100

POUND FOR POUND SCORE: 4.4
 
HIGHS: Ride, quietness, agility, transmission, solid feel, front-seat space, crash-test results.

LOWS: So-so fuel economy, rear-seat space

TALE OF THE TAPE
: The Chevrolet Cruz might not be excellent, but it does nearly everything very well, and with its low-entry pricepoint, the Cruz boasts a dominant PfP rating. It’s a small, fun car that handles well and is responsive to the driver’s commands, has great safety ratings and sports an interior that would feel at home in a more expensive vehicle. The Chevy Cruz’s solid performance combined with its low cost make it an incredibly smart buy.