Americans spend an ever-increasing amount of money on cars. The average transaction price reached $32,169 in January, nearly $800 or 2.6% more than in January 2017.
While budget brands have historically struggled in the US, there are far cheaper ways to travel from point A to point B while getting a whiff of that unmistakable new car smell. Here are the 20 most affordable cars available new in America – and some of them aren’t too bad at all. We start at $18,100 and work our way up to America's cheapest car on sale today, at just $12,110.
Note the price listed reflects the base MSRP provided by each manufacturer. It doesn’t factor in options, the mandatory destination charge or registration fees.
Hyundai Veloster ($18,100)
The Hyundai Veloster provides performance and, above all, style for the price of an economy car. It’s popular among younger buyers, largely because an asymmetrical coupe looks trendier than a bargain-basement econobox as a first car. The current Veloster is living on borrowed time; Hyundai will launch an all-new second-generation model in the coming months.
Jeep Renegade ($17,995)
Jeep makes the most affordable SUV in America. The Italian-bred Renegade shares the bulk of its mechanical components with the Fiat 500X, which starts at $19,995. The base model comes with front-wheel drive, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission. Selecting Jeep’s winter-beating four-wheel drive system adds $2000 to the Renegade’s price.
Ford Focus ($17,860)
Ford’s ever-popular Focus is an example of an honest car at an honest price. There is nothing mind-blowing or jaw-dropping about the base Focus but it provides the comfort, equipment and performance buyers expect for the price. Nothing more, nothing less.
Ford priced the Focus to compete directly against the Chevrolet Cruze Sedan, one of its main rivals. Both cost slightly less than their foreign competitors. The cheapest Honda Civic starts at $18,840 while Volkswagen demands $18,645 for the entry-level Jetta. Shop at Subaru and you’ll pay $18,495 for the added benefit of all-wheel drive.
Chevrolet Cruze ($17,850)
The Chevrolet Cruze is one of America’s favorite compact cars. It comes packed with a generous selection of standard features, it returns better-than-average fuel economy and it delivers a quiet, compliant ride. Chevrolet recently added a turbodiesel engine to the Cruze line-up in a bid to lure former Volkswagen owners into showrooms, though the option adds over $4000 to the bottom line.
Nissan Sentra ($16,990)
My, how you’ve grown! The current-generation Nissan Sentra stretches approximately 14 inches longer than the original model introduced in 1982. It has consequently moved up a notch on the market, happily giving up its entry-level status to the Versa about 10 years ago.
Hyundai Elantra ($16,950)
Recently redesigned, the Elantra reflects Hyundai’s policy of moving upmarket without alienating its buyers. It looks more refined than ever before, and Hyundai went to great lengths to improve the ride quality, but it’s still priced in budget-friendly territory. As a value proposition, it’s difficult to beat.
Kia Forte ($16,800)
The Kia Forte sedan and the Forte5 hatchback compete in America’s crowded compact car segment. Kia, as it has historically done, tries to race ahead of rivals like Chevrolet and Ford by charging less money. The 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty helps the Forte’s case, too.
Kia just introduced an all-new Forte at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show. It’s bigger than the outgoing model yet it returns better fuel economy. The brand hasn’t published pricing information yet.
Kia Soul ($16,200)
We remember a time when the Kia Soul was just another toaster-shaped car. Its rivals included the Nissan Cube and, the then-sultan of automotive boxiness, the Scion xB. Fast forward to a decade after the Soul’s introduction and it’s the last one standing. Its quirky design and its SUV-like stance might have saved it from the chopping block.
Honda Fit ($16,190)
The Honda Fit costs more than nearly every car in its competitive set. It’s also nicely built inside, decent to drive and it offers clever features like a rear bench that folds up to let motorists load bulky items with ease. These attributes help explain the price difference. Honda designed the Fit for people who need a small car for size reasons, not price reasons.
Chevrolet Sonic ($16,020)
With the Sonic, Chevrolet wants to move away from the days when small and cheap often meant unsafe. Even the most basic Sonic - the four-door sedan with a five-speed manual transmission and plastic hubcaps over steel wheels - comes standard with 10 airbags. The Sonic hatchback costs about $2000 more than the sedan.
Toyota Yaris iA ($15,950)
Toyota inherited the Yaris iA after it deep-sixed its youth-focused Scion brand. Its name and positioning loosely suggest it’s a four-door sedan variant of the Yaris hatchback; it’s not. While the iA wears a Toyota-specific front end, step inside and you’ll notice it’s a badge-engineered Mazda 2. That’s not a bad thing. Mazda makes some of the most engaging economy cars on the market.
Toyota Yaris ($15,635)
The catchphrase Toyota used to advertise the Yaris says it all: it’s a car. A small, basic one but a car nonetheless. It’s also a French car. Toyota makes the Yaris in the north of France, near the border with Belgium. The only other French-made new cars sold in the US are the Smart Fortwo, which went electric-only for 2018, and the $3 million Bugatti Chiron.
Nissan Versa Note ($15,600)
Nissan markets the Versa Note as a nicer (and correspondingly more expensive) alternative to the Versa sedan. Its tall body gives it a decent amount of space inside, especially considering its small footprint, and Nissan promises it can achieve 40 mpg on the highway when driven with a light right foot.
Fiat 500 ($14,995)
The Fiat 500 is the cheapest European car in America. At about $15,000 before options and rebates, it costs nearly $9000 less than an entry-level Smart Fortwo. Fiat turbocharged the entire 500 line for the 2018 model year, giving even the base model 135hp under the hood. It’s a 33-percent increase over the naturally-aspirated engine that came standard up until recently.
Fiat peels back the 500’s roof panel and adds a C to the name to deliver a quasi-topless experience. The 500C starts at $16,490, a figure that makes it America’s cheapest convertible. If you can stretch your budget, the $19,995 500 Abarth stands out as the most affordable hot hatch on the market.
Hyundai Accent ($14,995)
Hyundai’s entry-level model is, mercifully, much more palatable than it used to be. The Accent has evolved considerably over the course of five generations and it benefits from all the lessons Hyundai learned about building cars along the way. Like the Kia Rio it shares some parts with, it presents strong arguments in the value department.
Ford Fiesta ($14,115)
Ford briefly sold the original Fiesta in America in the late 1970s. It brought the nameplate back in 2009 to surf the small car wave that swept across the US at the time and positioned it at the very bottom of its line-up. The Fiesta began falling short of expectations when the city car bubble burst. Insiders suggest it’s leaving America again at the end of the 2018 model. We’ll miss it, especially the ST version ($21,195).
Chevrolet Spark ($13,925)
Built in South Korea, the Spark is a direct descendant of the original Daewoo Matiz. Times sure have changed. While driving the Matiz was akin to sitting in a penalty box during a hockey game, the newest Spark feels nicer inside than its size and price suggest. It’s offered with big-car features like a seven-inch touch screen, though buyers seeking more amenities need to venture into the model’s upper trim levels.
Kia Rio ($13,900)
Kia does small cars well. Too well, perhaps. It recently introduced the Stinger in a bid to drop the econobox stigma super-glued to the back of its coat. The Rio stands out from its predecessor with a considerably more upmarket design and, in the upper echelons of the trim hierarchy, features buyers expect to find in the next segment up like a large touch screen on the dashboard.
The entry-level Rio sedan starts at $13,900. Buyers after the Rio hatchback need to set aside $14,200.
Mitsubishi Mirage ($13,395)
The Mirage is the notable exception to Mitsubishi’s move away from sedans and towards SUVs. It doesn’t sell on looks, content or performance. Its main positive attributes are stellar fuel economy (think 36 mpg combined) and a generous warranty, plus the added peace of mind that comes with driving a brand-new car. Plan on spending an extra $1000 for the more spacious Mirage G4 sedan.
Nissan Versa Sedan ($12,110)
The Nissan Versa Sedan is America’s cheapest new car. Though it’s spacious and reasonably efficient, it’s a textbook-perfect case of buyers getting precisely what they pay for. It’s only fair to drive, its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine is fair at best and it offers a relatively short list of creature comforts.
What if I don’t want an economy car?
With few exceptions, every car on this list unabashedly embodies the ‘econobox’ label. If you need something more practical, Nissan undercut all of its rivals by pricing the 2018 Frontier (pictured) at $18,990. It’s the cheapest truck in America. It’s also the oldest, a model that’s a generation behind in terms of styling and technology. We hear a replacement will break cover by the end of the year, though we’re not certain it will slip under the $20,000 threshold.
The Chevrolet Colorado comes in at $20,200, a price which corresponds to a basic, work-spec truck. Toyota charges $25,200 for an entry-level Tacoma, while the Ford F-150 starts at $27,110.
Drivers who want to give up gasoline without breaking the bank have one choice: The Smart Fortwo. The American division of Daimler’s city car brand decided to embrace electricity and stop peddling internal combustion engines. The Fortwo Electric Drive, which starts at $23,900 before government incentives, is America’s cheapest battery-powered model. It can make a single charge last about 80 miles so it doesn’t qualify for the coveted ‘long-range’ label, however.
The Toyota Prius C (pictured - from $20,150) earns the honor of being the most affordable hybrid car in the US. The Yaris-sized hatchback relies on scaled-down Prius technology to return about 48 mpg in the city.