When a brand-new ride sips gas, carries a full factory warranty, and meets the latest safety standards for under $18,000, we’ll happily call it a Cheap Car and choose the best with no apology. The 10 cars here are all that — and most deliver a dose of personality, the convenience of wireless connectivity, even a measure of driving fun.
Yes, they’re all pretty small. The largest is the compact-class Nissan Sentra, though the Honda Fit and Kia Soul act big for their britches. But every car here easily accommodates two big adults in front and most have a rear seat that won’t torment grownups. There are sedans with secure trunks and hatchbacks with wagon-like versatility. Skinny tires and soft suspensions mean handling appeal is of the quick-around-town variety. And horsepower averages a modest 122, so speed is relative. But while none is a hybrid, the average combined city/highway fuel-economy rating is a wallet-friendly 31.3 mpg.
Qualifying for our Best Cheap Cars list requires a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $18,000 or less. That includes the automaker’s mandated destination fee; they average around $800. The absolute entry-level versions of fine cars like the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Toyota Corolla, and Mazda 3 have base prices just below our threshold. You’re welcome to seek them out. We’re spotlighting a variety of more accessible cars priced low enough to include such desirable features as automatic transmission and the occasional perk, such as remote engine start. You can certainly shop used cars larger than most on our Cheap Cars list. But for the peace of mind that comes with buying new, here are 10 great choices under $18,000.
These solidly built subcompact four-door sedans and hatchbacks deliver good interior space and above-average cargo room. Better yet, they have great road manners and feel surprisingly refined. You’ll need to make peace with the oddly configured main instrument cluster, though. Sonic’s cheapest choice is the stripper LS model. With the five-speed manual transmission and the 138-horsepower base engine, it begins at $14,995 for the sedan and $15,595 for the hatchback. They rate 30 mpg combined. The six-speed automatic transmission is a bit pricey at $1,250, and fuel economy drops to 28 mpg combined – and you still get rollup windows. That’s why our mainstream sub-$18,000 pick is the next-up LT-grade. At $17,890 for the automatic-transmission sedan, the LT adds to LS models such essentials as power windows and tasty perks like heated power mirrors, Bluetooth, cruise control, and remote engine start. If you’re a little outside the mainstream and can come up with $17,905, we recommend an LS hatchback spiced with a six-speed manual transmission and the optional $700 turbocharged engine. It also has 138 horsepower but more torque than the base four-cylinder. It’s more fuel-efficient, too, at 33 mpg combined with manual transmission.