The start of a new year usually brings with it resolutions of various sorts. According to statisticbrain.com, the top three most popular resolutions are lose weight, get organized, and spend less, save more.
In the midst of stories about multimillion-dollar hypercars and collectors paying the price of a mansion for a barn find, it’s easy to forget that mass-production and economies have scale have made it possible to buy a car for less than one year of minimum wage — That’s $14,500, or $7.25 per hour, 40 hours per week, for 50 weeks per year. Notably, taxes and delivery fees may not be included in the prices mentioned and may push total cost over that amount.
Several companies are focused on producing cars for this market segment and, luckily for anyone who is looking, they are a far cry from the cheap cars that were on the market when Hyundai appeared on the scene in the late ’80s with the universally panned Excel. Let’s look at six of your best options.
1. Chevrolet Sonic
The Chevrolet Sonic offers a fairly standard option if you want to break into the sub-$15,000 price bracket. That being said, the options are fairly minimal if you want to achieve that price; you’ll get keyless entry, an auxiliary music jack, optional 4G LTE mobile hotspot, and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. You won’t get much else. The handling of this vehicle is fairly agile, but the curb weight of nearly 1.5 tons make it a bit sluggish during acceleration. A base MSRP of $14,345 means that it is the first vehicle that we encounter that costs less than one year of minimum wage pay. With Chevy’s commitment to new technology, you can rest assured that the Sonic will continue to get updated as long as it stays in the lineup.
2. Kia Rio
If you are looking for a more traditional small car choice, the Kia Rio is a good option. Although it’s a fairly spartan appointment, you’ll get Sirius XM radio capability, a six-way adjustable driver’s seat, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, and air conditioning. There are many other option boxes available, but you’ll have to stay away from them if you want to stay close to the MSRP of $14,165. The interior is of nice quality for a car in this price bracket, and you’ll have a chance to enjoy it during the 8.5-second zero-60 mile-per-hour run. Despite some lackluster steering and handling, you do get 138 horsepower under the hood to play with.
3. Ford Fiesta
Ever since Ford released the current generation of the Fiesta, it has inspired hope that a large automaker can produce a fun small car. Nimble handling and a 120-horsepower engine make it a delight to drive, and the high-quality interior leads occupants to think they are in a car that costs quite a bit more. Even the tech side of things is reasonable with touchscreen LCD system controls, SYNC technology, and Blind Spot Monitoring side mirrors. My guess is that most of the readers of this site will probably find it hard to resist the allure of the ST version, but if you are able to stick to the S trim, you will be able to find models starting at $14,090.
4. Mitsubishi Mirage
I can’t count the number of times that I have thought to myself, “Gee, you know what would make my life better? If I had a car that looked like a character from a Pixar movie.” My dreams have been answered thanks to the Mitsubishi Mirage, and starts at a hair under $13,000. Personality is not the main focus with this car, despite color options like Plasma Purple. Like its price would suggest, this car features very little, like a 74 horsepower, three-cylinder engine will get you where you need to go, but that’s about it. That gets bumped to 78 horsepower for 2017 (pictured), though pricing on that model hasn’t been made available.
5. Chevrolet Spark
The Chevy Spark is the Bowtie’s answer to the city car. Designed to inject the maximum amount of personality into a small space, the Spark is full of marketing to appeal to the modern youthful buyer. This includes a color palette with options like Salsa, Lemonade, and Grape Ice. It also can serve as a mobile WiFi hotspot (if you have a data plan for it) and received an IIHS Top Safety Pick thanks to 10 airbags. With little more than the horsepower from one cylinder of the Corvette ZO6 (98), it’s not exactly speedy, but with prices starting at $12,660, one shouldn’t be expecting Ludicrous Speed.
6. Nissan Versa
The winner on this list is the Nissan Versa S. For less than $12,000, you can get a car with Bluetooth, speed-sensitive electric steering, and a variable-valve-timing dual-overhead cam engine. Not bad. They even go on to highlight all of the storage included in the Versa, such as the glovebox and cupholders. Clearly, luxury abounds; at this price point, cars tend to be a bit like IKEA furniture: The materials aren’t great, and you have the sense that a lot of glue went into the assembly. But, if you are looking for the cheapest new car on four wheels, your search ends here.
Honorable mention: Smart Pure Coupe
The Smart line of cars has always attracted a fair amount of mockery. It’s hard to take a vehicle seriously that is roughly 100 inches long that has a three-cylinder turbocharged engine with a displacement of less than a liter. But Smart has done a pretty good job of bringing some style back to their vehicles, and if you can get past their ridiculous naming scheme, you will be rewarded with a car that has a surprisingly spacious cabin, nimble handling, and an ability to make even the narrowest city street feel like a wide country road. If you find yourself regularly parking in tight quarters and want to do it in style, the Smart Pure Coupe is a very capable choice. All of this can be yours for prices starting at $14,650, which slightly exceeds our stated price limit, but is close enough to merit a look.
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