It’s easy to be amazingly cheap. A 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage starts at just $13,805, peanuts for a new car these days. But the underpowered hatchback is cramped, crude, and incredibly ugly.
The trick is to be amazing and cheap. So presented here alphabetically are 12 easily affordable new cars with road manners that won’t bore you, styling that won’t make you barf, and some upscale features you might not expect.
None has a base price over $20,000. Better yet, nine are compact-class cars, such as the Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra, so they seat four adults, don’t feel featherweight, and offer engines with some guts. One even comes with all-wheel drive. The three smaller entries are very special subcompacts, picked because they’re terrific cars by most any measure. Think the all-new 2015 Honda Fit.
As for our at $20K ceiling, it’s a sweet $700 below today’s average transaction price for a compact-class car. And the base prices we site include the manufacturer’s destination and delivery fees, which average about $800. We’ve analyzed each car’s model line and chosen the trim level that gets you amazing without exceeding our price cap. We’re confident that with a little haggling and exploiting frequent factory incentives, you can beat many of these base prices or even move up in the model line.
You can of course get a pretty good used car for twenty grand. In fact, a dozen of the finest are described in our 12 Best Used Cars. But there’s a lot to be said for a new-car warranty, all the latest safety features, and cutting-edge connectivity. Not to mention that new-car smell.
Body type: four-door sedan.
Base price: $18,345.
Engine: 138-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder.
EPA ratings (city-highway combined): 30 mpg manual transmission, 27 mpg automatic.
This is a conservatively handsome compact that soaks up bumps and keeps out wind and road noise better than some larger cars. It’s Chevy’s best-selling car and the 2015 model gets a facelift, with a new grille and front bumper that strengthens its family resemblance to the midsize Malibu. The interior is touched-up as well, with improved cupholders and more conveniently placed trunk-release and door-lock switches.
The LS is the base trim level but comes with such standard features as Bluetooth hands-free phone linking, a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio and steering-wheel controls, cruise control, power windows and keyless entry. The security of GM’s OnStar assistance system is included, as well, though Chevy’s laudable MyLink infotainment interface isn’t offer at this price level. The engine is a smooth runner with sufficient power to get you into the fast lane and keep you there. It’s most enjoyable with the six-speed manual transmission, though the six-speed automatic is well-matched as a $1,185 option.
Road manners are pleasing, with a confident, composed bearing in town, around curves, and on the Interstate. Front-seat space is quiet good. The rear seat itself is comfortable, but knee room is tight for the long of leg and modest door openings mean some ankle twisting getting in and out.
This is the final season for a Cruze design that debuted for model-year 2011. Look for healthy factory incentives and enticing dealer discounts as the ‘15 model year winds down and Chevy prepares to launch the all-new 2016 Cruze. It’ll have different styling and be based on a lighter, global platform that’ll also underpin the next-generation Buick Verano premium compact and the Chevy Equinox compact crossover.