Frugal Shopper: Five Most Miserly Models

March 19, 2010
2009 Nissan Versa 1.6 Base

2009 Nissan Versa 1.6 Base

Run all the numbers for overall ownership costs—including depreciation, insurance, repairs, maintenance, and the like—and you'll almost always find that holding on to that used car, or getting a 'new' used one, is going to be cheaper.

But sometimes even cheapskates want a new car.

If you simply want the most affordable new car possible, and to assure relatively low running costs as well, getting one of the lowest-priced cars on the market is a decent option. Though the list of offerings (and features) gets a lot more exciting if you're willing to spend more than $14,000, there are still a few models that ring in under the $13,000 mark.

With these lowest-priced new models—many of them pitched to those who are penny-pinching to the max—you're likely to find that they're strictly no-frills. Air conditioning is unlikely, power steering isn't common, and performance might be slightly worse due to taller gear ratios. And sound systems? You'll probably be packing a boom box or making a stop at Pep Boys. The plus side, of course, is that there's less to break. But you shouldn't expect much out of the interior appointments either as they're likely to have drab, basic trim and upholstery and a number of caps and plugs for the instrument panel, constantly reminding you of controls and features that your base model doesn't have.

Another one of the caveats with these bargain-basement models is that availability is limited, and since profit margins are so low it's unlikely that dealerships will be as willing to whittle the price down as much as with more expensive models.

However, if a quick survey of TrueCar market pricing—featured here at TheCarConnection.com alongside our reviews, pictures, and detailed model information—is any indication, in today's car-shopping environment, you're still likely to strike a deal on some of these models, thanks in part to various incentives. And it's still possible to get a new car for less than $10,000. For instance, TrueCar says that a 2010 Hyundai Accent Blue, which stickers at $10,690, has been selling for a national-average $9,738.

Whether you call it an econobox, a stripper, or el cheapo, a no-nonsense, no-frills miser of a vehicle is worth considering sometimes as a second or third vehicle.

Click through to see our frugal five—models that currently sticker at less than $13,000.

2010 Hyundai Accent

2010 Hyundai Accent

Hyundai Accent Blue
MSRP, including destination: $10,690
EPA Fuel Economy (city/hwy mpg): 26/36

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The 2010 Accent Blue only comes as a three-door hatchback and has power steering but otherwise doesn't even include a sound system. Air conditioning is the only factory option on the Accent Blue, at $1,000. But the Blue does get taller gear ratios, a smart alternator, low-rolling-resistance tires for better mileage, along with a new 'Eco' shift light.

2010 Nissan Versa

2010 Nissan Versa

Nissan Versa 1.6 Base
MSRP, including destination: $10,710
EPA Fuel Economy (city/hwy mpg): 26/34

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Beginning last year, the Nissan Versa became available in a lower-cost Base version, with a smaller 107-hp, 1.6-liter engine that can still move this small sedan reasonably well with the five-speed manual transmission. There are no power windows or locks, no standard ABS, and air conditioning and cruise control aren't even available in the 2010 Nissan Versa 1.6 Base, but you get a remarkably refined, substantial-feeling car for around $10,000.

2008 Smart Fortwo

2008 Smart Fortwo

Smart Fortwo
MSRP, including destination: $11,990
EPA Fuel Economy (city/hwy mpg): 33/41

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The mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive 2010 Smart Fortwo is, in all honestly, a vehicle with limited appeal. To many shoppers, the Fortwo is going to feel simply too light and diminutive to be comfortable—more like a novelty—and it's certainly not a good vehicle for highway commuting. But the little Smart might satisfy a certain kind of craving for those who want to battle gridlock and wedge into the tightest parking spaces. Fuel economy is good, but not as good as it should be for such a tiny two-seater.

2009 Kia Rio

2009 Kia Rio

Kia Rio
MSRP, including destination: $12,390 (sedan)
EPA Fuel Economy (city/hwy mpg): 28/34

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The Kia Rio hasn't yet been updated with Kia's new corporate look (a replacement is due for next year), but it's still reasonably stylish for a bargain-basement model. As we say in our overview of the 2010 Rio, "The Rio handles reasonably well, brakes seem strong, and there's enough peppiness for most driving, aside from high-speed passes." Base Rios don't include air conditioning, but they do come with a four-speaker sound system USB/aux inputs, Sirius satellite radio compatibility, and a tachometer. A sportier-looking Rio5 is also offered, but it costs a couple grand more.

2010 Chevrolet Aveo LS

2010 Chevrolet Aveo LS

Chevrolet Aveo LS
MSRP, including destination: $12,685 (sedan)
EPA Fuel Economy (city/hwy mpg): 27/35

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The 2010 Chevy Aveo is far from one of TheCarConnection.com's favorite vehicles, but it's one of the best bargains for those looking for cheap, fuel-efficient transportation and a new-car warranty. Overall, the Aveo is an acceptable pick for those who plan to drive mostly in the city, but the ride becomes busy on the highway. "The Aveo is nifty around town, but once you reach cruising speeds over 70 mph, the car reveals its urban heritage, feeling nervous and out of place," observes editor Marty Padgett in TheCarConnection.com's overview of the Aveo. But crash-test results suggest that safety is worrisome. Oddly, the cut-rate base model is called LS, which used to refer to some of GM's premium trims. This next year, look out for a new Aveo model that will be less homely and a lot more fun to drive...but probably not quite as much of a cheapskate.

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