Least Expensive Cars of 2016

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Nissan Versa 1.6 S

Nissan Versa
Nissan Versa. Photo © Aaron Gold

Looking for inexpensive wheels? Here are the least expensive cars on sale in America. We've driven all of them, and we'll tell you which cheap cars are the real deals -- and which ones are the real duds.

1. Nissan Versa 1.6 S: $12,825 (including destination charge)

Good value? Yes, great!

The Nissan Versa sedan has been the least-expensive new car for a number of years now—but it’s also the best value on this list. Cheap as it is, the Versa is a roomy four-door sedan with nearly as much interior space as a mid-size car like the Kia Optima—and for a little more than half the price.

What are the downsides? Well, the styling is a bit homely and creature comforts on the base model are few and far between. The Versa does come with air conditioning and Bluetooth, but it lacks power windows and locks (the latter a must-have if you’re hauling kids), and if you want an automatic transmission, you’ll have to pay an extra $1,500. The good news is that the rest of the options are reasonably priced: Even a top-of-the-line Versa SL with power windows and locks, a fuel-efficient CVT automatic transmission, alloy wheels, Bluetooth, and navigation -- navigation, for cryin' out loud! -- costs less than a basic Honda Civic. Not only is the Versa America's cheapest car, it's also America's best family-car value.

Read more: Nissan Versa review

NEXT: Chevrolet Spark

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Chevrolet Spark LS

2016 Chevrolet Spark
Chevrolet Spark. Photo © Aaron Gold

2. Chevrolet Spark LS: $13,535

Good deal? Pretty good

Chevrolt’s Spark is all new for 2016, and while they’ve kept the price in check—the new version costs just $500 more than last year’s model—they’ve cut the list of standard equipment. You still get air conditioning, Bluetooth, and a touch-screen stereo, but alloy wheels and power windows and locks are now extra-cost options. That said, the 2016 Spark does still come with ten airbags and OnStar, a subscription-based system that will automatically call for help if the car is in a crash. That makes it a great choice for teen drivers.

The new Spark has traded its cute-and-cuddly styling for a more mature look, and with its high-quality interior and quiet ride, the Spark drives like a bigger and more expensive car. It helps that Chevrolet has fitted a bigger and more powerful engine, and yet the Spark’s EPA fuel economy estimates are slightly higher than the old car. There’s a long list of options, including pricey-car features like a lane-departure and collision warning systems, though such extravagances raise the price to nearly $20k. Back seat and trunk space remain cramped, so the Spark is still best for singles and couples. The Spark may not be the value it once was, but if you want a cheap car that doesn’t feel cheap, the Spark is a great choice.

Read more: 2016 Chevrolet Spark review

Next: Mitsubishi Mirage

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Mitsubishi Mirage DE

2014 Mitsubishi Mirage
2014 Mitsubishi Mirage. Photo © Aaron Gold

3. Mitsubishi Mirage DE, $13,805 (2015 pricing)

Good value? Yes, if you’re not picky

Note: The Mirage is in limbo at the moment; Mitsubishi plans to skip the 2016 model year and introduce an improved version for 2017. Meanwhile, you should be able to find the 2015 Mirage described here at dealers for a little while longer.

The Mirage a car that takes this whole cheap-wheels thing seriously. The sub-$14k price includes A/C, power windows and power locks, and even with all the optional goodies (alloy wheels, push-button ignition, and navigation), it's still $1,500 cheaper than a comparably-equipped Nissan Versa. But it's also cheap to run, with a tiny 3-cylinder engine that delivers an honest 40 MPG in day-to-day driving -- and I would know, as we used one as our family car for six months. The Mirage is covered by an epic warranty, with 5 years or 60,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper coverage and 10 years/100,000 miles on the powertrain. On the downside, the Mirage is noisy, slow, and an unpleasant companion on long road trips, and no one who sees you driving one will mistake you for a lottery winner. It's not an outstanding car, but for inexpensive motoring, the Mirage is hard to beat.

Read more: Mitsubishi Mirage review

Next: Ford Fiesta

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Ford Fiesta S

Ford Fiesta front view
Ford Fiesta. Photo © Aaron Gold

4. Ford Fiesta S: $14,965

Good value? Yes, and getting better

Of all the cars on this list, the Fiesta is by far the most fun to drive, with sharp steering and a responsive chassis that loves to be flung through the turns. And while it’s not the best value on this list, Ford continues to up the ante, this year adding power door locks, remote keyless entry, and a voice-activate touch-screen stereo with smartphone app integration to the base model’s standard equipment list, which also includes air conditioning and power-adjustable mirrors. Unfortunately, color choices are still limited to black, white and silver (the green car in the photo is a more expensive model), and power windows are only offered on higher trim levels. The automatic transmission (a high-tech twin-clutch unit) is moderately priced at $1,095, but Ford has slashed the price of the hatchback—it now costs just $300 more than the sedan.

Read more: Ford Fiesta review

Next: Kia Rio

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Kia Rio LX

2016 Kia Rio SX
Kia Rio. Photo © Kia

5. Kia Rio LX: $15,015

Good value? Only the base model

One of the problems with cheap cars is that a lot of them look like cheap cars—and who needs a constant reminder that their income isn't quite up to Mercedes levels? That's what I like best about the Kia Rio: Its smooth, modern styling belies its cheap price tag, and it has the same upscale look inside as it does on the outside.

Unfortunately, when it comes to value-for-money, the Rio stumbles. The basic LX model comes with a fuel-efficient engine, air conditioning, and a CD stereo with USB input jack as standard, with an automatic transmission steeply priced at $1,230. If you want goodies like power windows and locks, alloy wheels, or even a Bluetooth speakerphone, you’ll have to buy the EX model, which is priced a jaw-dropping $3,590 higher. (Are they kidding?) Worse yet, the hatchback now costs $1,330 more than the sedan (last year the price premium was only $300) and its standard equipment list is every bit as mean as the sedan’s. Best argument against the Rio is the Hyundai Accent, which is mechanically similar and offers more features for less money. That said, if appearance is more important than value, the Rio is still a cheap car that doesn’t look cheap.

Read more: Kia Rio review

Next: Nissan Versa Note

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Nissan Versa Note S

2014 Nissan Versa Note front view
Nissan Versa Note. Photo © Aaron Gold

6. Nissan Versa Note S: $15,015

Good value? Not particularly

While the Nissan Versa sedan is one of the cars I like best on this list, I am nowhere near as fond of the Versa hatchback, called the Note. The Note is definitely the more stylish of the two; it was designed with Western European buyers in mind, whereas the sedan was designed for emerging markets in Asia. The Versa Note has plenty of back seat and cargo space, but it also has the same flimsy interior fittings as the sedan, and for $2200 more, I expect better.

With crank-down windows and manual door locks, the entry-level Versa Note isn't much of a bargain compared to the other cars on this list, and the equation doesn't get any better once you start piling on the options. If a hatchback is what you want, the Honda Fit (#13 on this list) offers similar space and better value.

Read more: Nissan Versa Note review

Next: Chevrolet Sonic

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Chevrolet Sonic LS

Chevrolet Sonic Sedan
Chevrolet Sonic Sedan. Photo © General Motors

7. Chevrolet Sonic LS: $15,220

Good value? Yes

The Sonic is yet another bright spot on this list, with handsome styling, a reasonably powerful 1.8 liter engine, and a stylish interior built with parts that feel like they were pulled from General Motors' more expensive cars. The base-model Sonic includes air conditioning, alloy wheels (a nice change from the plastic wheel covers found on most cheapmobiles), and the protection of ten airbags, more than many high-end luxury cars.

Out on the road, the Sonic feels substantial and sporty, though it can't quite match the fun-to-drive factor of the Ford Fiesta. But while the Fiesta is hecho en Mexico, the Sonic is an American car that is actually built in America -- in fact, it's the only car on this list to wear the "Made in USA" label.

Read more: Chevrolet Sonic review

Next: Smart ForTwo

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Smart ForTwo Pure

2016 Smart Fortwo
Smart Fortwo. Photo © Aaron Gold

8. Smart ForTwo Pure: $15,400

Good value? No, but it sure is cute

Smart has redesigned the ForTwo for 2016, and while it's just as tiny, it's a much better vehicle with a more powerful engine, a better transmission, and much better driving dynamics. It's also even better in the city, with the ability to pull U-turns in a laughably small space. It's also better equipped: Air conditioning, power steering, power windows, optional on the old version, now come standard. But with this higher spec comes a higher price: The new Smart costs $1,400 more than the old one, dropping it from fourth place to eighth on our list.

Unfortunately, some of the drawbacks remain: The Smart ForTwo has no back seat (those come on handy), and since parking sideways is illegal in most states, its super-small size isn't quite as much of an advantage here as it is in Europe. And the Smart still requires premium fuel, which increases running costs. While the Smart ForTwo is cool in its own way, there are less-expensive cars that are more practical and more efficient.

Read more: 2016 Smart ForTwo review

Next: Hyundai Accent

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Hyundai Accent GLS

2012 Hyundai Accent sedan
Hyundai Accent. Photo © Hyundai

9. Hyundai Accent SE Sedan: $15,580

Good value? Meh

A close relative of the Kia Rio, the Hyundai Accent is basically the same car with a different skin, and it offers many of the same advantages, including the fuel-efficient engine, generous back seat, and long warranty. So why is the Accent $850 more expensive? Primarily because it's slightly better equipped: Along with air conditioning and a USB-compatible stereo (both standard on the Rio), the Accent GLS comes with power windows and power locks with a keyless remote, Kia won't give you unless you buy a more expensive model. And while a hatchback Rio will cost you over $1,300 more, Hyundai charges just $250 extra for the hatch.

The automatic transmission is also a better deal on the Hyundai: $1,000 instead of $1,230 at your Kia dealer. That said, for reasons I cannot explain (and I'm sure Hyundai can't either), the automatic trans costs $1,200 on the hatchback. The Hyundai Accent isn't the best value on this list, but it is a solid little car.

Read more: Hyundai Accent review

Next: Toyota Yaris

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Toyota Yaris L

2015 Toyota Yaris front view
Toyota Yaris. Photo © Aaron Gold

10. Toyota Yaris L 3-door: $15,730

Good value? Not great, but better than it was

In years past, the Yaris was not on my list of recommended small cars, but I started to like it better last year when Toyota made a round of improvements. Besides its angry new face, the Yaris is much more pleasant to drive than in years past, with a better manual-trans shifter and an improved suspension (and nine airbags in case it all goes wrong). The Yaris is still saddled by its old-school 5-speed manual and 4-speed automatic transmissions, both of which rob it of power and fuel economy. (The automatic, which is reasonably priced at $725, is the way to go.) Bear in mind that the Yaris is one of the few cars on this list that comes with two doors; the four-door model costs $1,100 more, but it includes an automatic transmission.

If you're planning to keep your cheap wheels for a decade or more, the Yaris is a good choice -- but if you're anticipating a change in circumstances that will let you trade up for something nicer, the Yaris probably isn't the best way to spend your money.

Read more: Toyota Yaris review

Next: Scion iA

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Scion iA

2016 Scion iA
Scion iA. Photo © Scion

11. Scion iA: $16,495

Good value? Only if you want a well-equipped car

The Scion iA (soon to be the Toyota iA, as Toyota is planning to fold the Scion brand) is a new entry on this list, and it's well worth of your attention if you love to driv, because it rivals the Ford Fiesta for cheap thrills. The iA was actually engineered by Mazda—it's basically a Mazda2 with a different grille—and that company's "Zoom-Zoom" tagline is no joke.

The Scion iA does give you a lot of stuff for the money; the single trim level including power windows, locks and mirrors, keyless push-button ignition, and a backup camera. But Scion's no-haggle pricing policy means you must compare its $16,495 price tag to more expensive vehicles. And while the iA has no factory options, you can load them up with dealer-installed accessories that can easily boost the price into the stratosphere. Mazda will most likely bring the Mazda2 to market with less equipment and a lower price. If you love to drive but your budget isn't very big, you might want to wait for the Mazda.

Read more: Scion iA review

Next: Kia Soul

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Kia Soul Base

2014 Kia Soul front view
Kia Soul. Photo © Aaron Gold

12. Kia Soul Base: $16,515

Good value? Only with a manual transmission

The Kia Soul has long been one of my favorite cheap cars, although with the price having crept up by $1,020 over the past two years, it's not the bargain it once was. The Soul offers cutting-edge styling and a long list of standard equipment (A/C, power everything, cruise control alloy wheels, tinted side windows, and an iPod-compatible stereo with satellite radio), and a 2014 redesign improved the ride and handling to the point that it drives like a much more expensive car.

Problem is, if you want an automatic transmission, it is a much more expensive car -- Kia charges a whopping $1,500 for an automatic—better than last year ($2,000!) but still much more than the going rate. If you can drive a stick-shift, the Soul gives you a lot of car -- and a lot of style -- for the money.

Read more: Kia Soul review

Next: Honda Fit LX

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Honda Fit LX

2015 Honda Fit
Honda Fit. Photo © Honda

13. Honda Fit LX: $16,625

Good value? Yes, definitely!

Plainly put, the Honda Fit is the most useful subcompact car you can buy. Completely redesigned last year, the Fit is a small car that packs a surprisingly roomy back seat and a smartly-shaped trunk that can be expanded to accommodate nearly as much cargo as a small SUV.

It's also zippy and mind-bogglingly fuel efficient (I drove one for a week and averaged over 38 MPG). I'm of the opinion that the lower-priced LX is the way to go; it gets a knob-and-button operated stereo that is simpler to use than the touch-screen unit in the EX. On the downside, the Fit is noisy and it's expensive compared to other small cars (though it does come with a lot of standard equipment), but its combination of durability and practicality make it a good value and one of the best small cars you can buy.

Read more: Honda Fit review

Next: Kia Forte

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Kia Forte LX

2015 Kia Forte LX
Kia Forte LX. Photo © Kia

14. Kia Forte LX: $16,815

Good value? Not bad

It's rare to find a compact car priced below $17k, though this year we have two! No surprise that one is a Kia, a brand known for good value. Like other Kia models, the Forte is attractively styled, though the LX trim with its cheap plastic wheel covers certainly doesn't cast this otherwise handsome car in its best light. (The Forte EX looks much nicer, but it's also priced $3,500 higher.) The LX model comes with power windows, mirrors and locks, satellite radio, and Bluetooth phone connectivity; as with other Kias, the automatic transmission is overpriced ($1,710!), but at least it comes bundled with cruise control and better-looking alloy wheels. That said, with a starting price much lower than most compact sedans, the Forte is a good deal on a decent-sized set of wheels.

Next: Chevrolet Cruze Limited

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Chevrolet Cruze Limited L

Chevrolet Cruze Limited
Chevrolet Cruze Limited. Photo © General Motors

15. Chevrolet Cruze Limited L: $16,995

Good value? So-so

Another newcomer to this list is the Chevrolet Cruze Limited. Chevy has a new version of the Cruze coming for 2016, but this isn't it—"Limited" is a nice way of saying this is the old (2011-2015) car. Chevy is keeping the old model on the books for rental agencies and fleets, but private buyers shouldn't rule it out: The Cruze is a solid, reliable and roomy car, as I found during my six-month test drive of a 2013 Cruze Eco.

The L model is pretty sparse, with crank-down windows, plastic wheel covers, and no cruise control. (The car in our photo is the nicer LTZ version.) And you cannot get the L with an automatic transmission—for that you have to spend nearly $20k on the LS model, and if you're going to spend that kind of dough, there are newer and nicer designs. Still, the Cruze Limited does get Bluetooth, ten airbags, and OnStar, which makes it a great choice for young and inexperienced drivers...provided they can drive a manual transmission. It's solid and reliable—there's a reason rental car companies like it—and it's also built in the USA, a rarity among inexpensive cars.

Back to the beginning: Nissan Versa S