It feels like we’re coming to the end of an era of cheap new cars in America. The Kia Rio is as good as dead, the Hyundai Accent has been AWOL for years, and you can forget about American automakers selling compact cars. When Kelley Blue Book is spitting out an average non-luxury car transaction price of $44,700 in June, it’s a sure sign that an affordability window is closing. However, all hope is not lost if you want one of the cheapest new cars on the market.
Thankfully, a few options for truly inexpensive new cars still exist, and I happen to have driven variants of all of them. Here’s a rundown of the six cheapest new cars in America, with pros, cons, and judgment on whether or not they’re actually good. After all, we at The Autopian love cheap new cars, and sometimes there’s nothing like a warranty’s peace of mind.
Nissan Versa S – $17,075
Let’s start at the bottom of the automotive ladder. The 2023 Nissan Versa S is the cheapest new car in America with a price tag of $17,075, including a $1,095 freight charge. That’s a weird sentence for me to write, but I guess everything’s expensive now. Remember when you could buy some of the cheapest new cars for less than $15,000?
On the plus side, the base Versa still includes a row-your-own five-speed manual transmission. Take that, CVT fears! Add in reasonable fuel economy figures of 27 mpg city, 35 mpg highway, and 30 mpg combined, along with acres of headroom and plenty of cabin space for four people, and the Versa doesn’t look so bad. Oh, and it’s the cheapest new car in America by a substantial margin, and a penny saved is a penny earned.
So, the Versa S is much cheaper than its competition, so what’s the catch? Well, there are a few areas where you might crave more. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are nowhere to be found on this base trim, and split-folding rear seats are out of the question entirely. In addition, the Versa isn’t exactly a paragon of refinement. As you’d probably expect, the Versa dances around a fair bit on high bridges, and the cabin noise, vibration and harshness will transport you back to a simpler time. Sure, some of these concerns can be brushed aside given the $17,075 price tag, but if you’re willing to spend a bit more money, your options open up substantially.
Mitsubishi Mirage ES – $18,110
At $18,110, including a $1,095 freight charge, the Mirage isn’t as cheap as it used to be. However, the Mirage is exceedingly economical, comes with a great warranty, and should be sticking around for at least one more model year.
It’s a bummer that the manual transmission has been discontinued, but the continuously variable transmission has its perks. Not only does it make getting outstanding mileage ludicrously easy, reliability of the CVT seems excellent. It’s the same JATCO JF015E found in many small Nissans, just ridiculously understressed, and evidence of a big car longevity mindset in something small and cheap. Making up for the lack of engagement from the CVT is one of the greatest handbrakes on any current production car. Do with that information what you will. Oh, and freeway ride quality is surprisingly excellent, so this little car is ready for some serious miles.
So, are there any downsides to the Mirage? Well, it’s not exactly what you’d call quick, and the weird 165/65R14 tire size means few replacement options are out there. However, if you’re looking for something cheap to run for the long haul, a ten-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and EPA fuel economy ratings of 36 city, 43 highway, and 39 combined make the Mirage a safe bet.
Kia Forte LX – $20,815
Are we really crossing the $20,000 mark already? Yep, the cheap new car segment in America is moving upmarket, with options below 20 grand rapidly disappearing. However, it often feels like you get what you pay for. Not only is the Forte substantially more mature than the two prior picks, it’s also substantially more expensive. We’re talking about a car that costs $20,815 including a $1,125 freight charge.
Road and engine noise is well-hushed, and the cabin features a remarkable amount of space to stretch out in. The dashboard itself looks and feels more expensive than in other cheap cars, with tightly-grained satin plastics and a fetching set of turbine-like air vents. The Forte feels every penny of $20,815, with nothing anachronistic, uncouth, or spiteful in its body.
The standard 147-horsepower two-liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine never feels underpowered, the CVT rides the torque band in civil driving, and if you ask the car really nicely, it’ll top 40 mpg on the highway according to the EPA fuel economy estimates. Sure, the Forte might not be the most joyous cheap new car on the market, but it’s an entirely credible Corolla competitor for exceedingly reasonable money.
Hyundai Venue SE – $20,985
Oh hey, the first crossover on this list. Yes, just as the two-row crossover is killing the family sedan, the tiny crossover is killing the cheapest new cars on the market. Hyundai’s dinkiest offering is effectively an Accent replacement, although if I were an Accent owner, I wouldn’t feel much need to trade up. At $20,985 including a steep $1,335 freight charge, the Venue is probably best to skip over.
Sure, the Venue makes a great first impression. After all, this is a cheap crossover with an abundance of standard equipment. We’re talking wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, alloy wheels, projector headrests, and an armrest. You might laugh at that last one, but it makes a bigger difference than you’d expect. On paper, the Venue has a lot going for it, but things are a different story out on the road.
The biggest issue with the Venue is high-speed roadholding over choppy freeway surfaces. Even in a straight line, the suspension is doing its best pogo stick impression as the car bobs up and down severely. Combine that with weirdly fast steering and a cabin louder than a local punk show, and you get a rather tiring commuter car. Secondly, build quality on the one I drove was somewhat suspect. Sure, it was an early model and press cars get beaten on hard, but the panel inside the hatch shouldn’t have fallen off. The Venue may be cheap, but it’s easy to tell why.
Kia Soul LX – $21,315
Still want a new crossover on the cheap? No worries, you aren’t out of luck. Spend a little bit more money than you would on the Hyundai Venue, and you could ease yourself into a Kia Soul LX. This tall hatchback starts at a reasonable $21,315 including a rather strong $1,325 freight charge, and it feels substantially more mature than the slightly cheaper Venue.
Sure, you don’t get standard alloy wheels, but the Soul’s a more refined, more potent, more comfortable cheap crossover. It gets down the highway with minimal fuss thanks to the same two-liter engine found in the Forte, features some seriously funky interior shapes and textures including air vents that look like speakers, and comes with a fancy digital instrument cluster. How about them apples?
Oh, and did I mention that fuel economy is nearly a match for the Venue? Highway fuel economy is bang-on at 33 mpg, but a two-mpg-lower city fuel consumption rating of 27 mpg drags the combined rating down from 32 to 31 mpg. For all the added refinement, a single MPG combined hit is no hardship.
Chevrolet Trax LS – $21,495
The Kia Soul is a solid daily driver, but have you seen what an extra $180 can get you? The base model 2024 Chevrolet Trax starts at $21,495 including a $1,095 freight charge, and this thing’s a whole lot of car for the money. If you haven’t read my first drive of Chevrolet’s new entry-level vehicle, I urge you to do so, but here are the CliffsNotes.
The new Trax offers tons of usable torque around town, a reassuring six-speed conventional automatic transmission, enjoyable handling, and a whopping 54.1 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded. Wireless Apple CarPlay works flawlessly, the air-conditioning is excellent, the dashboard’s full of interesting textures, and the stereo’s way better than you’d expect.
If there’s a downside to the Trax, it’s that everyone knows what a bargain it is. Finding an entry-level one in stock is properly tricky, but at least General Motors still lets you order a vehicle. If you get lucky locally or are willing to wait, this front-wheel-drive barely-a-crossover represents outstanding value among this set of the cheapest new cars.
So there we are, the six cheapest cheap new cars in America. If I had to put my money on one, it would probably be either the Mitsubishi Mirage or the Chevrolet Trax. GM’s new baby is a cohesive and compelling package, but there’s something so nice about a car that costs very little to run and comes with warranty for ages. Are any of these jumping off the page for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
(Photo credits: Nissan, Mitsubishi, Kia, Hyundai, Thomas Hundal)
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