16 Cars for $16,000---Or Less Page 2

April 22, 2009

Likes:
* Very roomy interior, with adult-worthy back-seat space
* Huge trunk
* Responsive acceleration, even with automatic
* Respectable fuel economy ratings

Dislikes:
* Conservative exterior styling plays it too safe
* Doesn’t feel as sporty as other small cars
* Engine noise can be prominent when accelerating

2009 Kia Spectra Spectra5

2009 Kia Spectra Spectra5

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2009 Kia Spectra

What is it? A four- or five-door compact loosely related to the Hyundai Elantra
Price range: $13,200 - $17,345

Hyundai and Kia may be related, but even vehicles that both companies develop from similar components end up feeling quite different. The Kia Spectra, for example, shared some running gear with the Hyundai Elantra—but it’s rated much lower by TheCarConnection.com’s editors. It earns a 6.4 out of 10, and scores lower than the Elantra for its less impressive interior and higher levels of engine noise and vibration. The Spectra will be replaced in 2010 by the new Kia Forte.

Likes:
* Impressive interior space
* Smooth, settled ride
* Responsive steering and handling in SX models

Dislikes:
* Dull interior design and subpar materials
* Disappointing fuel economy
* Engine noise when revving or accelerating hard
* Anti-lock brakes aren’t offered on much of the lineup

2010 Kia Soul

2010 Kia Soul

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2010 Kia Soul

What is it? A compact urban wagon with seating for five
Price range: $13,300-$16,950 base

The 2010 Kia Soul is a brand-new wagon in the cute urban wheels niche that includes the Scion xB and the new Nissan Cube. The Soul trumps them both, and for city families with a need for flexibility, its compact body and flip-folding rear seats will make errands and carpools easy. The Soul’s most stirring feature is its angular, youthful body—but standard Sirius satellite radio and available Bluetooth are uncommon in this class, too. Six airbags and stability control are standard, and Kia expects the Soul to score top crash-test ratings. TheCarConnection.com’s team of auto experts rank the Soul at 8.2 out of 10.

Likes:
* Adorable, angular shape
* Fun and spacious interior
* Standard safety equipment
* Well-equipped, even in base trim

Dislikes:
*  Manual shifter has long travel
* Drivetrain thrum at highway speed
* Not quick

2009 Mitsubishi Lancer

2009 Mitsubishi Lancer

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2009 Mitsu Lancer

What is it? The mainstay four-door compact from the company that brings you the Evolution turbo sedan
Price range: $14,340 - $26,490

The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution thrills rally drivers and sportscar aficionados alike—but at its roots, it’s a Mitsu Lancer with some heavy drivetrain work. The base car has glimmers of fun from its high-wattage cousin—the handling is good, and the manual gearbox is among the best in the class. The engine’s a little loud, though, and the interior is Dullsville. TheCarConnection.com’s editors gave the base Lancer a score of 7.8. In 2010 a new Ralliart Sportback edition will be available, adding a hatchback profile to the lineup.

Likes:
* Styling (especially GTS) that could be mistaken for an Evo
* Sharp, responsive handling
* Sweet-shifting manual transmission

Dislikes:
* Engine noise, and not the sporty kind
* Lots of road noise on coarse surfaces
* Dull interior plastics

2009 Nissan Cube

2009 Nissan Cube

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2009 Nissan Cube

What is it? Nissan’s entry in the boxcar segment, riding alongside the Scion xB and the Kia Soul
Price range: $13,990 - $19,370

Is the 2009 Nissan Cube a new kind of utility vehicle, a city-friendly microvan, or an especially tall compact wagon? It’s tough to say; at once, the quirky new Nissan Cube sort of fits into several existing categories but then ends up being the odd one out—in a positive sense. Its warped, organic style is a nice counterpoint to the likes of the Scion xB and the Kia Soul. Ultimately, though, it’s not as flexible as the Soul nor as sporting. TheCarConnection.com rates the Cube at 7.8 out of 10.

Likes:
* Offbeat styling
* Perky and economical powertrain
* Overall refinement
* Space for four tall adults
* Bargain base price

Dislikes:
* Rear seats don’t tumble forward
* Light, disconnected steering feel
* Susceptible to crosswinds
* Unimpressive highway fuel economy

2009 Nissan Versa S

2009 Nissan Versa S

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2009 Nissan Versa

What is it? A sedan or wagon that shares some pieces with Nissan’s Sentra
Price range: $9,990 - $16,330

The 2009 Nissan Versa isn’t particularly sporty, fashionable, or innovative, but it offers an astonishing amount of space, comfort, and features for the money. With an ultra-low-priced base version, it’s also one of the cheapest cars you can buy in America right now. The Versa is rated at 7 out of 10 by TheCarConnection.com. 8 for features and comfort, 6 for styling and performance

Likes:
* Very spacious, quiet interior
* Supple ride for a small car
* Simple but attractive instrument panel
* Good crash-test results
* Available Bluetooth interface

Dislikes:
* Lacks the agile feel of other small cars its size
* Fuel economy is only passable
* Engine gets very noisy when accelerating

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