2010 MINI Cooper Hardtop 2-door Coupe Side Exterior View
We've already told you how we feel about strippers--those base cars that come with only the essential equipment, and still outperform today's super-sized expectations.
What you need now is a shorthand shopping list of five cars that look, feel and drive just as good without any options, as those cars overstuffed with digital paraphernalia and exotic animal hides and Special Edition Limited stripes and decals.
If your sensibilities have been retuned in this Great Recession, you'll know right off the bat why these five frugally-priced machines are some of our favorite strippers--and why there's no good reason to make it rain all over your local dealer's desk:
2010 MINI Cooper: If you're a cheapskate seeking undiluted driving joy, there's just nothing to compare with the MINI Cooper. Even in base form--and you will have a very difficult time finding a base car on a showroom floor, trust us--the Cooper will pull grins out of you with magic-hat ease. And if you ever decide to let it move on, the resale value will ensure you got your money's worth, even without a Union Jack on the roof.
2010 Ford Flex 4-door SEL FWD Angular Front Exterior View
2010 Ford Flex: As it's gained a cult following, the hip-to-be-square Ford Flex has seen some price creep. But with a base sticker of $28,950, you get reasonable power, top-drawer safety and interior materials, and a vast interior for six or seven passengers that will have you forsaking minivans for good.
2010 Subaru Forester 4-door Auto X Side Exterior View
2010 Subaru Forester: It may not shine with the funky sheen of the Flex, but the five-seat Forester starts at $20,295 and has carlike dynamics our editors love, with the wagon body we need. The base versions of the Forester are a great bargain, especially if you can live with a manual transmission—it’s the pick of trannies, since Subaru sticks with an old-school four-speed automatic.
2011 Hyundai Sonata 4-door Sedan I4 Auto Limited Angular Front Exterior View
2011 Hyundai Sonata: One of our best-rated family sedans, the base Sonata with a manual transmission slots in under $20,000--and comes with power features, cruise control, a spacious interior, elegant styling, and features like XM satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port for your personal audio player. It also tops many of its four-door friends with great fuel economy, which means it keeps saving on a fill-up by fill-up basis.
2010 Nissan Versa 4-door Sedan I4 Auto 1.8 S Angular Front Exterior View
2010 Nissan Versa: Sometimes, you just need a car. It doesn't have to be pretty, but it needs to have a long life ahead of it. A brand-new Nissan Versa S isn't a base model, but it's priced like one--it's priced like a used Honda Fit, actually, and this year the Versa S adds the safety gear we've been missing, like stability control and ABS. The MSRP on a Versa S is just $13,350, and discounts are frequent, unlike the Fit.