By James Raia
Six years ago, a small number of new car buyers in the United States could still find one vehicle with a sticker price of less than $10,000 – a 2014 Chevrolet Spark. Considering all available rebates, including a military personnel discount and several other incentives, the base model Spark slipped in a few dollars less than five figures.
With the average price of a new vehicle now steadily advancing toward $40,000, only about a dozen new cars are available for less than half that amount.
Despite the price increase, cheap new cars include substantially improved safety and standard features lists. Nearly every car among the cheapest car list includes air conditioning, stability control, ABS, a back-up camera and a touchscreen infotainment system.
The safety of tiny, inexpensive vehicles is subject to discussion. But competition among sub-compacts, similar to other segments, is intense. Towing small cars with RVs provides convenience and varies according to manufacturer guidelines.
The 2020 Chevrolet Spark remains the country’s lowest-price new vehicle, priced at $14,095. It features a 1.4-liter, incline four-cylinder engine with 98 horsepower and a five-speed manual transmission. An automatic transmission is also available.
Consumer Reports gives the car a mixed assessment:
“Urban dwellers will appreciate the Spark’s small dimensions when looking for a parking space,” the editors write. “But this rudimentary, bare-bones runabout doesn’t offer much else. Handling is very responsive, but the overly sensitive steering makes the Spark a bit too darty at highway speeds and the ride is unyieldingly stiff.”
The Spark’s standard manual transmission is rated at 33 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving. The manual transmission averages one mpg less. The Spark’s recent refresh gave the cheap little machine a good dose of credibility. It now includes a 7.0-inch infotainment screen (with Android and Apple pairings), integrated daytime running lamps, tire pressure monitoring and 15-inch wheels.
Here’s the list of the country’s top-10 cheapest 2020 cars (including destination fees) and a brief comment about each vehicle:
1. Chevrolet Spark ($14,095). It has an impressive standard features list and cool styling. But like its rivals, freeway driving may not be advantageous to motoring confidence.
2. Mitsubishi Mirage ($14,990). It’s oh-so-slow. But the Mirage gets great gas mileage for a gas-only car – 43 mpg on the highway. Sales up 10 percent in 2019.
3. Nissan Versa Sedan S ($15,655). It has terrific tech features for the price range.
4. Hyundai Accent Sedan SE ($16,250). With an optional continuously variable transmission, the Accent gets 41 mpg on the highway and has the carmaker’s 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
5. Toyota Yaris Sedan L ($16,605). Another tiny machine with lots of technology, including a 7-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth connectivity.
6. Kia Rio Sedan LX ($16,815). It’s available as a sedan or hatchback with 1.6-liter, 120 horsepower engine and a 41 mpg rating on the highway. It’s also lots of fun to drive.
7. Honda Fit LX ($17,145). It will soon be available in its fourth generation in the U.S. and has been as versatile as any sub-compact. It has a 1.5-liter engine, 130 horsepower and a standard six-speed manual transmission. The second-row “Magic Seat” maximizes cargo space.
8. Chevrolet Sonic LS Sedan ($17,595). It has 10 standard airbags, a 60/40 rear folding seat and LED daytime running lamps. OnStar is standard, as is a 7.0-inch touchscreen featuring Bluetooth and 4G WiFi hotspot capabilities.
9. Hyundai Venue SE ($18,470). The newest vehicle to the cheapest car list, the Venue is equipped with a 2-liter, 147 horsepower engine and a continuously variable transmission. It has safety features not available on some far more costly cars.
10. Kia Soul LX, GT ($18,610). How nice. The Soul is available in two models, priced the same and both with 1.6-liter four-cylinder, 122 horsepower engines.
James Raia, a syndicated columnist in Sacramento, California, publishes a free weekly automotive podcast and electronic newsletter. Sign-ups are available on www.theweeklydriver.com. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.