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2012 Nissan Versa; photo by Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase

Are you cheap, or would you describe yourself as frugal? Good question, and one that can also be asked about vehicles at the low end of the price spectrum, where “inexpensive” may imply value, but “cheap” suggests that a car is, well, just that. Not only in price, but maybe in build quality and definitely in its list of standard equipment.

It’s an important distinction — inexpensive versus cheap — even if a low MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price) is all that matters to a certain cadre of budget buyers seeking nothing more than the most basic of personal transportation. If you count yourself part of that group, then there are a few things to keep in mind when you start cruising car ads for low-budget deals on wheels.

Remember that that lowest MSRP is a marketing ploy, with a manufacturer offering a bare-bones car in small numbers just so it can advertise an attractive price. The result is a limited supply of the most basic version of the vehicle.

Carmakers will tell you they build so few because demand is equally low, but a more cynical (read “realistic”) viewpoint suggests that the low price plus an artificially small supply of the base model is a tool to draw shoppers to showrooms. The hope is that when told the loss-leader stripper car is all gone, the buyer will shrug it off and spend a bit more for an up-level model with more features. It’s a situation that suggests, probably accurately, that much of the manufacturer’s profit on a new car comes from the optional extras.

With that in mind, here are the five least-expensive cars in Canada, according to the information available on each manufacturer’s web site. We’ve included the base price, as well as the cost with automatic transmission and air conditioning (the extras we suspect bargain basement buyers choose most often), as well as the destination/freight charge.

The prices listed here are those suggested by the vehicles’ respective manufacturers and don’t include any incentives that might be available. That’s not to discount them, as they are an important tool for driving new vehicle sales. These range from low interest rates for financing or leasing, straight discounts off the MSRP, and cash purchase deals only available to buyers with the means to buy the car outright. Therefore, this list would look much different if it considered incentives; we haven’t included them because of how frequently they tend to change.

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