2010 Mazda3Enlarge Photo
If you’re looking for a new set of wheels despite the recession, you’re in for a surprise. New cars can be far more expensive than you recall from your last trip to the showroom. According to figures from Comerica Bank, which compiles an annual study on affordability, the average new car sold in America cost $28,715 last year–hardly affordable for lots of shoppers who need reliable, safe, and inexpensive new cars.
Which cars sit at the bottom of the pricing ladder? It may be surprising that there are dozens of cars below the $16,000 price mark. Some well-styled cars, with plenty of room and strong five-star ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), too.
TheCarConnection.com has researched 16 great choices for cars less than $16,000. Of these 2009 models, some are far less expensive—one notably checking in at a hair under $10,000:
What is it? The latest edition of Mazda’s compact sedan and five-door hatchback.
Price range: $15,040 and up
The 2010 Mazda3 is only the latest in a string of enthusiast-appealing compacts. With a choice of either frugal or sporting four-cylinder engines, unusually good handling for a small car, and a base price just under the $16,000 mark, the newest Mazda sits nearly atop TheCarConnection.com’s small-car rankings. It earns an overall score of 8.4, with highlights in styling and features.
* Expressive exterior style
* Quality of interior
* Excellent performance
* Smooth, quiet engines
* Luxury features in an economy car
* Some options only available with larger engine
* Unimpressive fuel economy with larger engine
* Tiny nav screen with driver-only controls
2009 Chevrolet AveoEnlarge Photo
What is it? The smallest Chevrolet you can buy—that is, until the GM brand introduces its 2011 Chevrolet Spark subcompact.
Price range: $11,000 and up
The Chevrolet Aveo follows the pattern of many small cars in the sub-$16,000 class. It’s offered as a five-door hatchback or as a four-door sedan. Made in South Korea, the Aveo is something of an oddity—it trades the sometimes cartoonish small-car styling for conventional looks, down to the faux-wood interior of some models. It’s comfortable and has decent safety gear, but TheCarConnection.com’s editors were let down by the lack of features found in other small cars, and in the humdrum performance of its small four-cylinder engine. TCC’s team rates the 2009 Aveo at 5.8, with a low of 4 for performance and 8 for comfort and quality.
2009 Honda FitEnlarge Photo
What is it? A five-passenger compact with great room and a flexible interior
Price range: $14,750- $18,960
The 2009 Honda Fit is a perennial winner in the subcompact class. With compact dimensions and a small four-cylinder engine, the Fit seems pretty mundane on paper. On the road, its great visibility, handling and spacious cabin lift it above the usual standards of the class. TheCarConnection.com rates the Fit at 8.2, with highs of 9 in safety and features.
* Excellent steering and maneuverability
* Upmarket interior
* Astonishing cargo and back-seat space
* Secure, substantial feel on the road
* Good crash safety relative to rivals
* Unimpressive highway fuel economy
* Tall, stubby design is still far from sexy
2008 Hyundai Accent GLSEnlarge Photo
What is it? The South Korean automaker’s entry-level car, offered as a four-door or three-door hatchback
Price range: $9,970-$16,000
The Hyundai Accent is nearing the end of its life in its current form, but it’s still a decent performer that goes out of its way to present a handsome cabin and good passenger room to its owners. The biggest drawbacks to either the sedan or the hatchback come from under the hood; the engine isn’t that powerful, and it’s rather noisy, too. TheCarConnection.com’s experts give the Accent an overall rating of 6.4 out of 10, with high scores of 7 in comfort and features. But the bargain base price of $9,970—making it the cheapest car for sale in the U.S.—is a huge draw on its own.
* Stylish interior
* Roomy back seat
* Good fuel economy
* "Power" is a relative term
* Engine noise
* Shifter quality
2009 Hyundai ElantraEnlarge Photo
What is it? A compact car in five-door wagon or four-door sedan form
Price range: $13,970 - $17,670
The Hyundai Elantra is a surprising performer among compact cars. With strong competition from the likes of the Honda Civic and Nissan Sentra, the bargain Elantra is one of the more highly ranked compacts on the market—even Consumer Reports puts it at the top of their list for its roomy interior, sharp powertrain and reliability record. TheCarConnection.com’s experts give the Accent an overall rating of 7.6 out of 10, with high scores of 8 in comfort and features.