Buying a new car on a budget can be a challenge, and you should prepare for some compromises. The trick is getting the right balance of value and quality for your money, without accepting one or more significant sacrifices that you may later regret. The good news is recent tests show there are several great cars available new for under $18,000.
When looking at a car
priced in the teens, it is natural to focus on the marketed base prices. After
all, you're looking for a bargain and seeing "starting at $13K" can
be enticing. Do understand that these cars tend to be very barebones at their
starting price, being outfitted with manual transmissions and few frills. Often
this rock-bottom price is simply a come-on to lure you to the showroom; you'd
be very lucky to find even one of these
price-leading models in dealers' inventories.
If you're looking for a frugal new car, give these a close look:
Chevrolet Sonic 1.8 LT
Base MSRP price range: $14,185 - $21,470
The Sonic uses a standard 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. Up-level trims offer a modestly quicker and more fuel-efficient 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder mated to a somewhat balky six-speed manual. Handling is fairly nimble and the ride is relatively composed for this class, with excellent braking performance. The sedan has a huge trunk and a better view out, but the hatchback version has better cargo versatility. Both versions offer a relatively quiet cabin, but the rear seats are cramped. Options such as heated seats, a sunroof, and remote start are usually not found in this class. First year reliability has been average.
Honda Fit -
Base MSRP price range: $15,425 - $19,790
The subcompact Fit four-door hatchback offers easy cabin access and very good visibility. It has an amazing amount of interior room and various seat-folding arrangements. While not overly powerful, it feels responsive, with a smooth and willing engine, and agile handling. Fuel economy is an excellent 33 mpg overall for the manual and 30 mpg for the automatic. Although the ride is a bit choppy, it is supple enough.
Hyundai Accent GLS -
Base MSRP price range: $14,545 - $17,095
Hyundai's entry-level model is available as a sedan or hatchback. It is a basic-yet-sensible subcompact. The sedan, with the very smooth and responsive automatic transmission, attained 31 mpg overall; 32 mpg for the stick-shift hatchback. Though the front cabin is roomy enough, the rear is a bit cramped, which is on par for this class. Handling is fairly responsive, but the ride is rather jittery. Noise levels are elevated but not offensive. Standard safety gear includes six air bags and active front head restraints. The controls are straightforward. First year reliability has been average.
Kia Rio EX sedan -
Base MSRP price range: $13,600 - $17,900
The Rio comes as a sedan or hatchback and is a corporate cousin of the Hyundai Accent. It's powered by a 138-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. It uses direct-injection technology and has a six-speed automatic, an unusual feature for the subcompact class. Fuel economy of 29 mpg overall with the hatchback in automatic isn't stellar for the class. The sedan version returned 30 mpg. The Rio feels solid when compared with some other subcompacts. The stiff ride and noisy cabin are normal among small cars. Higher trim models offer amenities such as heated seats and a rear-view camera, but they get pricey for this class. First-year reliability has been above average.
Base MSRP price range: $14,720 - $17,050
The Mazda2 is a subcompact hatchback that is powered by a 100-hp, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. The standard manual transmission shifts slickly, but the optional four-speed automatic saps some zip. Handling is quite nimble and the ride is tolerable, but the cabin lets in too much road and engine noise. Rear-seat room is relatively good. It is related to the Ford Fiesta. In exchange for a lower price over its mechanical relative, the Mazda2 gives up some refinement and comfort. Reliability has been above average.
Scion xD -
Base MSRP price range: $15,745 - $16,545
At its core, the boxy xD is reliable, utilitarian, and inexpensive transportation. It rides with short, jumpy motions, and it feels jittery on the highway. Its 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine delivers adequate performance but is miserly with fuel. We averaged 29 mpg overall with the automatic and 34 with the manual. The cabin is noisy, and the driving position is awkward. The front seats are comfortable enough. The rear has plenty of room for a subcompact car, and cabin access is easy thanks to its tall stance.
This article was written by Consumer Reports News. It was published in Founders FCU Transaction Newsletter (April 2013).