Reality check: most of us ‘Mericans can’t afford über cool vehicles. The cheapest cars sold here tend to be boring and uninspiring. Simply put, most cheap cars suck when it comes to fun. There are a few vehicles with a base price under $17,000 that don’t suck. You might be surprised to find a few vehicles out there that handle beautifully. Some, when driven stupidly, can make you giggle.
Well, it depends on the driver, but all four of the vehicles on this Cheapest cars sold in the USA that don’t suck list made more than one jaded automotive journalist smile. Sometimes, even the cheapest cars can corner like the devil, return a spirited drive, buzz just the right way and make you look back at it as you walk away.
Here are four of the cheapest cars sold in the USA that don’t suck:
Okay, it makes a measly 101 horsepower and 98 lbs-feet of torque. That little, 1.4 liter “Multiair” four-cylinder only has to lug around less than 2,400 lbs. Efficiency is pretty good with a combined 33 mpg, which is best in its segment, but is only achievable with the five-speed manual transmission. The six-speed is less efficient and, quite frankly, Prozac for the 500’s performance.
It may not be fast, it is a hoot in the corners. There is a bit of lean, but traction is good, even with the FIAT 500’s skinny tires. The “Sport” button feels like it firms the steering, but there is still very little feel. Fortunately, you can tell what the 500 is doing from the seat of your pants.
Stick with the manual transmission, few options (it comes standard with lots of goodies) and you can spend less than $17,000 for a fun, bubbly vehicle that’s got a heap of personality. Sure, the backseat is puny, I was able to get two kids back there and a few groceries into the cargo area. High School/College kids and empty-nesters might dig this pint-sized runabout.
I highly recommend the FIAT 500 T as the turbo version is one of the most enjoyable vehicles out there for less than $20,000.
The Mazda 2 is a bit of a misnomer at The Fast Lane Car when referring to it as fun for some of us. I think it’s one of the best cornering cars in this bracket, that in itself is enough for me – but some, including our newest contributor, M.E. Cribbs, disagree. You can read his Mazda 2 review (here). The adhesion and steering feel is excellent and the Mazda 2 loves to squirt out of corners.
Making a paltry 100 hp and 98 lb-ft of torque, you would think the Mazda 2 is slow, and it is. Still, if you arm one with the smooth-shifting five-speed manual, it does remarkably well squirting through traffic. There is a four-speed automatic available, but it is archaic and wastes what little power is available. Fortunately, there’s only about 2,300 lbs to move (about 50 lbs more with the automatic) and overall combined economy is about 33 mpg.
Starting at $14,720, the Mazda 2 is not the cheapest, nor most economical among its peers – but it is truly one of the best when charging through the corners.
The Ford Fiesta’s 1.6-liter, four-cylinder currently puts out 120 hp and 112 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is optional. The thing is: both transmissions get the same economy at 33 mpg combined. The Ford Fiesta has the most modern amenities and the most utility in this group. I feel that the back seats could be more comfortable, but they are more than acceptable.
Most importantly, the Ford Fiesta is a peppy, fun runabout. It corners nearly as good as the Mazda 2 and it is nearly as comfortable as the Chevy Sonic.
I wish I could tell you about the next Fiesta with the EcoBoost, but Ford refuses to let me near one.
The goofy looking Ford Fiesta sedan costs $13,200, but I would opt for the more utilitarian (and better looking) hatchback which starts at $14,200.
I was initially going to look into the Chevrolet Spark as it’s a fun and rather personable ride. Then I factored in price, power, economy and, most importantly fun – the Chevy Sonic has the Spark completely beat. The $14,795 (base) Sonic is a handsome, simple hatch and sedan with a playful attitude. I like its silly IP which looks like motorcycle gauges. It works well, as does the simple
The base Chevrolet Sonic makes 138 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque out of a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine. That’s the most power here; yet, the Chevy Sonic . It’s the heaviest here at a base curb weight of 2,690 lbs. Some of that heft can be offset by the extra power the 1.8-liter packs. There is a 1.4-liter turbo available, but it’s $20,995 for an RS equipped with that power-plant.
Only the turbocharged engine gets a combined 33 mpg. The 1.8-liter engine gets a maximum of 29 mpg combined.
This Sonic is mighty fun to drive, especially on sweeping turns. The base model’s suspension is one of the best compromises in the group and it has the best ride by far. Directional control is good all around and steering feels is not too shabby. Out of all of the vehicles in this page, I would consider the Chevrolet Sonic first.
What do you think? Know any cheap cars that make you feel good? Let me know!
For now, check out this fun video with three good small cars!
Keep checking this space because I am dedicated to getting my hands on an EcoBoost Fiesta soon… even if I have to con a local dealer out of one!