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Shopping for New Wheels? Here are 8 Economical Vehicles to Consider

When you’re on a budget, shopping for an economy car can be tough.

According to CNet.com, most economists advise purchasing a car that costs no more than 20% of your annual income.

“But with the average median household income being $55,775 (according to the US Census Bureau), that leaves most buyers with only $11,155 or less to spend,” reports Emme Hall.

The bad news? Very few cars fit within that budget range. The good news? We’re here to help.

As you pinch pennies for your down payment, read up on everything you need to know about buying an affordable car - and the 8 vehicles you should consider for a test drive.

1. Chevy Cruz

Chevy’s compact car is the perfect choice for folks who simply need a car for their daily commute, says Andrew Krok of CNet.com.

“Chevrolet's massively revised 2016 Cruze is a middle-of-the-road choice for folks who want a solid commuter that isn't stuck in the 20th century,” Krok writes.

There’s a slight ergonomic issue with the front seats, but priced at well under $20,000, this car gets the job done.

Starting price: $16,975

Engine: 1.4 liter four-cylinder

MPG: 30 mpg city / 40 mpg highway

Transmission: Automatic

2. Ford Fiesta

The Fiesta is the smaller, more compact cousin to Ford’s mid-range vehicle, the Ford Focus. Still, it’s roomier than most other subcompacts, and received good marks from Consumer Reports on handling.

“This subcompact has agile handling that makes it fun to drive, as well as a supple, controlled ride,” write the editors.

“Interior fit and finish and equipment levels are among the best of the class, and the cabin is relatively quiet.”

That’s a bonus when you’re out on the road.

Starting price: $15,455

Engine: 1.6 liter four-cylinder

Fuel economy: 31 mpg city / 41 mpg highway

Transmission: Automatic, Manual available

3. Honda Civic EX

Named the “best compact car” by TheWirecutter.com, the Honda Civic EX offers top-notch fuel economy and plenty of room at a decent price point.

“The new Civic...provides the best overall driving experience of any compact, balancing fun driving and a comfortable ride,” explains professional tester Rik Paul. “It’s also one of the roomiest cars in the segment, and among the most fuel efficient.”

Looking for something a little less pricey? CNet.com named the Honda Civic hatchback - a cousin to the EX that goes for $19,700 - as their pick for best affordable car.

Choices, choices.

Starting price: $21,875

Engine: 2.0 liter Inline 4

Fuel economy: 31 mpg city / 41 mpg highway

Transmission: Automatic

4. Hyundai Elantra SE

A four-door sedan, the Hyundai Elantra is a great economy car, although it requires more money up front.

“A prime example of how a car with a higher price can cost less to own,” the Elantra offers a “low depreciation rate of only 43%...and is tied for lowest repair costs,” explains Russ Heaps at Bankrate.com.

If you’re looking for good trade-in value down the line, the Elantra could be for you.

Starting price: $17,150

Engine: 2.0 liter four-cylinder

Fuel economy: 29 mpg city / 38 mpg highway

Transmission: Automatic

5. Mazda 6

Have a little fun with the Mazda 6, a kicky sedan at an incredible price point.

“For years, I've recommend the Mazda 6 to anyone shopping the midsize sedan class who wants a vehicle that's actually entertaining to drive,” writes Jon Wong at CNet.com.

With good handling and fuel efficiency, you can get where you’re going in style - fast.

Starting price: $21,400

Engine: 2.5 liter four-cylinder

Fuel economy: 26 mpg city / 38 mpg highway

Transmission: Automatic, Manual available

6. Nissan Versa

One of the most affordable cars on the market, the Nissan Versa starts at $11,990. It’s also perfect for hauling plenty of stuff - as long as your passengers aren’t too tall.

“Cute, inexpensive and efficient, the 2016 Nissan Versa Note is the perfect commuter car for those who like offbeat good looks,” write the experts at Autotrader.com.

The basic model offers plenty of legroom for a compact and great fuel efficiency, while those willing to spend a little more dough can upgrade their tech to include an on-board GPS.

Starting price: $11,990

Engine: 1.6 liter four-cylinder

Fuel economy: 31 mpg city / 39 mpg highway

Transmission: Manual

7. Toyota Corolla

The Toyota Corolla is by far one of the most economical - and dependable - cars you can purchase, say the experts at Kelley Blue Book.

“For the fourth year in a row, the Toyota Corolla tops all other compact cars as the least-expensive model to own over five years,” write the editors.

While it might be pricier than some of the other options on our list, the Corolla has a relatively low rate of depreciation and few repair costs. If you have the extra money in your bank account to make an investment at the outset, it’s well worth the cost.

Starting price: $19,000

Engine: 1.8 liter inline four-cylinder

Fuel economy: 30 mpg city / 40 mpg highway

Transmission: Automatic, Manual available

8. Volkswagen Golf

This two-door hatchback is a favorite among city drivers for its good handling and dependable, roomy design. If that’s all you need, then the Golf is a good choice, says Krok.

“Not everybody needs to be flashy,” writes Krok at CNet.com. “Most people just want a car that doesn't look bad, has competitive equipment and won't be worth $1,000 in six months' time. In that sense, the Golf is a damn smart purchase.”

He also highlights the Golf’s decent tech for a low price point as an unexpected bonus.

Starting price: $19,985

Engine: 1.8 liter four-cylinder

Fuel economy: 25 mpg city / 36 mpg highway

Transmission: Manual

Key Considerations for Buying an Economy Car

Buying a new car - even an economy model - means facing plenty of important decisions. Here’s what you should consider before you head to the dealership:

Gas Mileage: Do you do most of your driving in your neighborhood or city, where you’re stopping and going on the way to school or the grocery store? Then opt for a car that gets decent gas mileage in city traffic - at least 30 mpg. If your commute puts you up on the highway, or you take regular road trips, it might be worth spending a little more for a car that can really cruise.


Engine Size: One of the downsides of shopping for an economy car is that usually they have small engines with low horsepower - they sound like they’re straining when you hit highway speeds or climb hills.

“True, you don't need as much power to motivate a smaller car, but don't expect to win any drag races in any of these vehicles,” explains Hall at CNet.com.

Basically: you get what you pay for.


Technology: The bigger the price tag, the more likely it is your car will have better tech, like a decent sound system or an on-board navigation system. If you’re looking to cut costs, the basic versions of most cars will have stripped-down amenities - even in newer models.


Depreciation: This is the biggest issue for new car owners. As soon as you drive your car off the lot, it immediately loses value. With economy cars, this seems to happen at an even faster rate. The main thing to consider, says finance expert Donna Fuscaldo, is how long you plan to keep your car.

“For consumers who keep their car for five years or less, depreciation should be one of the main factors to consider,” writes Fuscaldo at Bankrate.com. “Those looking to hold on to their car for the long haul may benefit by paying less upfront because the resale value really won’t matter five or 10 years later.”


Seating & Cargo Space: Economy cars are, more often than not, compact or subcompact vehicles. Basically, you’re saving money by opting for a smaller car with better gas mileage. For those with families to worry about, it’s practical to anticipate a slightly higher price tag for more room - like the Hyundai Elantra or the Toyota Corolla. Smaller options like the Volkswagen Golf just won’t make as much sense - no matter how cute or affordable they happen to be.

It can be intimidating to head to the dealership to test drive a new car - especially when you’re worried about affordability. Arm yourself with product reviews, iron out your budget, and ask plenty of questions to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

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