Believe it or not, the average transaction price for new cars is more than $30,000 these days. That's a lot of money. But just because you're on a budget doesn't mean you have to settle for something boring. What you drive says a lot about you, and your average economy car doesn't say much at all.
Luckily, inexpensive cars have been getting more and more interesting lately. Ever since the VW New Beetle and Mini Cooper brought retro style to a lower price point, automakers have been trying harder to make their entry-level models more funky and fresh. Even if you set a reasonable price limit of $25,000, you can still find plenty of interesting new models that are inexpensive without being cheap. Here are 10 new car picks that stand out from the crowd without breaking the bank:
10. Kia Soul $14,400 Just try to forget about the hamsters. Ridiculous ad campaign notwithstanding, the Kia Soul arrived late to the boxy car party started by the Scion xB and Honda Element in the early 2000s. But the Soul brings its own funky style to the segment. It's cheap, it has tons of room inside because of its square shape, and it has the famous Kia warranty of 10 years or 100,000 miles.
9. Chevy Sonic Base Price: $14,185 GM has struggled with small cars in the past. Look at previous small Chevrolets like the Cavalier and the Aveo and all you see is cheap. The Sonic may be the least expensive car on this list, but it doesn't scream cheap. Chevy hasn't skimped on the details with this one. It looks aggressive, with an in-your-face front grille and cool touches inside like a digital, motorcycle-like gauge cluster. Plus, the Sonic is the most economical of this bunch with up to 40mpg on the highway.
8. Nissan Juke Base Price: $20,280 The Juke's bizarre, bug-like styling is certainly polarizing, especially in this shade of "Atomic Gold," but it's a unique take on the crossover that no one seems to be able to figure out. Is it an SUV? A hatchback? A coupe? Whatever it is, it's fun to drive with a small turbo engine that really zings. Check out the center console inside that is supposedly an imitation of a motorcycle's fuel tank.
7. Jeep Wrangler Base Price: $22,195 The Jeep Wrangler is one of those iconic American images that just sticks around. Not much has really changed since the original Willy's Jeep of World War II, but that's what gives the Wrangler its old school charm. The removable roof and doors make this the perfect summer ride, and Jeep's rough-and-tumble heritage means that this trucklet has more legitimate all-terrain capabilities than anything else on (or off) the road.
6. Mazda MX-5 Base Price: $23,720 Driving with the wind in your hair on a sunny day is a surefire way to feel cool. The Miata is the cheapest full convertible on the market and has a storied history to back it up. Introduced in 1989, the Miata was revolutionary because it combined classic British roadster charm with dependable Japanese reliability. Even though it doesn't have much power, this Mazda is rear-wheel-drive, light, and perfectly balanced. The Miata proves that it's more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.
5. Hyundai Veloster Base Price: $17,600 You might think that this looks like just another impractical sports coupe, but this Hyundai has a trick up its sleeve. On the right side of the car there is a semi-hidden third door allowing easier access to the rear seat. It's more versatile than it looks. Underneath, it's more like an economy car than a sports car, but that means you'll get good mileage and the optional turbo engine adds some zip.
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4. VW Beetle Turbo Base Price: $23,395 This is the new Beetle, not to be confused with the old "New Beetle" or...er...the old Beetle. The only thing working against this VW is the overly cutesy reputation still lingering from its predecessor. Sure, the New Beetle was successful, but this is what the modern-day incarnation of the original VW should have been from the start. Taken on its own, this Beetle looks low and aggressive, with none of the bubble-top stance of the old version. It also comes with the fun turbocharged engine from the GTI or, if you're extra frugal, the efficient TDI diesel engine.
3. Ford Focus ST Base Price: $23,700 The Focus ST is an especially feisty hot hatch with its 252 horsepower turbocharged engine and sharp reflexes. It improves upon the already good-looking Focus 5-door with an aggressive body kit, sporty wheels, and eye-popping colors like this "Tangerine Scream." Watch out with the options on this one, though. Definitely avoid the MyFordTouch multimedia system: it's criticized for its complex interface and slow responses and it adds more than $3,000 to the bottom line. Best to stick with the basics and enjoy the drive.
2. Scion FR-S Base Price: $24,500 Scion created quite a stir when it released the FR-S and its twin, the Subaru BRZ. Created through a collaboration between Toyota and Subaru, these rear-wheel-drive sports cars are made for driving enthusiasts. The press has been going crazy over these two because of their near-perfect handling, light weight, and pure mission for driving enjoyment. It looks sleek too, with a no-frills coke-bottle shape that stands out on the road but isn't too flashy.
1. Fiat 500 Abarth Base Price: $22,000 There really is nothing else like this car in this price range. To get a distinctive Italian flavor in a car, you used to have to step up to the upper echelons of Ferrari and Lamborghini. Thanks to Chrysler's recent merger with the Fiat, though, Fiat has made its triumphant return to the U.S. market with its legendary 500 microcar. The 500's hot Abarth version is zesty on the outside with its scorpion badges and red stripes, but the awesome exhaust note that hisses and pops is by far the best part of the car. It's a sound that rivals exotic cars costing 10 times as much. If you've always pined for a bright red Ferrari but have never had the budget for one, think of this as the next best thing.