Buying Guides

2017 Best Affordable Vehicles

These bargains don't mean you have to settle

Wade Thiel, Senior Staff Writer

Affordable cars fill a very important part of the automotive market. If you're looking for a car for a young driver, shopping for something right after you graduate from college, or just don't care much about what kind of car you drive, a cheaper vehicle is the way to go. For the 2017 model year, there are plenty of seriously good affordable new cars. Just because you're shopping for something with a low price tag doesn't mean you have to drive a crappy car. The vehicles listed below may have rock bottom price tags but they're very good at what they do - providing affordable transportation to the cash-strapped masses.

2017 Nissan Versa

  • PROS: The cheapest car in America, excellent efficiency, sedan or hatchback body style, better cargo space than a lot of competitors, decent available infotainment system.
  • CONS: Looks top heavy, tiny wheels, lots of hard plastics in the interior, anemic engine, few standard features, little driving enjoyment.

The Nissan Versa’s claim to fame is that it’s the cheapest car sold in America ($11,990 base MSRP). Nissan sells two different types of Versas: the sedan and the hatchback called the Versa Note. The hatchback is a few thousand dollars more but offers more practicality. Both the sedan and hatchback come with a 106 hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine under the hood mated to either a five-speed manual transmission or a CVT.

The base model doesn’t come with much, but if you step up to the higher trim levels, you can get a NissanConnect infotainment system with navigation and Bluetooth, keyless entry, alloy wheels, fog lights, and Nissan’s Around View Monitor camera system.

2017 Chevrolet Spark

  • PROS: Plenty of features for the price, fantastic fuel economy, cute exterior, nimble handling, quick off the line.
  • CONS: Small cargo area, limited back seat space, underpowered for highway driving.

The Chevrolet Spark ($13,000 base MSRP) is a fantastic city car. It’s the kind of little car that thrives in tight spaces and at low speeds. Chevrolet has built a tiny car that puts vehicles like the Mitsubishi Mirage and Smart Fortwo to shame. The Spark handles well for such a little car, and its 98 hp 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine is actually peppy at low speeds. The car can be had with either a five-speed manual transmission or CVT.

The best thing about this car is it comes well-equipped. It can be had with a 7-inch infotainment system, 4G LTE Wi-Fi, satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth, heated seats, power sunroof, and Onstar. Many of those features come standard on low trims, too.

2017 Ford Fiesta

  • PROS: Nimble handling, available in sedan or hatchback form, easy to use infotainment and tech, comfortable front seats, three engine options.
  • CONS: Automatic transmission is known to be problematic, cargo space isn’t as large as competitors, rear seats could use more room.

Ford’s most affordable car is the Fiesta ($13,660 base MSRP), and it’s pretty darn good. Although Ford has had issues with its dual-clutch automatic transmission, buy the car with the manual gearbox, and you’ll find that it’s one of the best cars at this price point. The Ford Fiesta can be had with either a 120 hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder, a 123 hp 1.0-liter turbo three-cylinder, or a 197 hp 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder engine. If you want a reliable car buy the Fiesta with the five-speed manual, though there is a 6-speed automatic option.

The Fiesta comes reasonably well-equipped, too. You can buy the car with a 6.5-inch Sync infotainment system that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, navigation, apps and more. If you want an especially sporty version of the car, get the Fiesta ST. That car is only available as a hatchback but is one of the best hot hatches on the market for the money.

2017 Kia Rio

  • PROS: More upscale interior than similarly priced cars, excellent warranty, easy to use tech and features, comfortable interior, and available in sedan or hatchback
  • CONS: Not the most fuel efficient car out there, dated design, competitors have more features and better tech, safety ratings aren’t fantastic, new 2018 Rio is much better.

The Kia Rio ($14,165 base MSRP) is a smart and inexpensive buy. While the 2017 model year design is a little tired, it’s still a good car. Kia has a new Rio for 2018 that’s much improved, but a little more expensive. The current Rio comes with a 138 hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine under the hood that can be mated to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

The interior of the Rio features notably better materials than other similarly priced cars and a smartly laid out and easy to use technology setup. The Rio can be had with a 7-inch UVO infotainment system, heated leather seats, power moonroof, automatic headlights, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and Bluetooth.

2017 Hyundai Accent

  • PROS: Good ride quality, a lengthy warranty, available as a sedan or hatchback, more than adequate cargo space, easy to use infotainment system with a good layout.
  • CONS: New 2018 model comes out soon, competitors get better fuel economy, dated design, safety ratings could be better.

The Hyundai Accent ($14,745 base MSRP) is the brand’s most affordable offering. It’s a car that offers basic transportation in sedan or hatchback form at an affordable price. The model is powered by a 137 hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine mated to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Hyundai has redesigned the Accent for 2018, which should take the car to new heights.

The 2017 Accent's interior is well laid out with plenty of available features, including Bluetooth, satellite radio, auxiliary input, and a USB port. The new 2018 Accent will have more features than the 2017 car, but if you’re just looking for a simple and reliable vehicle, this certainly isn’t a bad choice.

2017 Fiat 500

  • PROS: Cuter than other affordable cars, easily maneuverable, simple infotainment system, nimble handling, two gas engine options, electric version available.
  • CONS: Limited interior space, cramped back seats, small cargo area, interior materials could be better, subpar reliability ratings.

The Fiat 500 ($14,995 base MSRP) is a little and fun Italian hatchback. It’s cute as a button and charms everyone who sees it. Its base engine is available with a 101 hp 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission in most trims. If you get the sporty Abarth trim you get a 160 hp 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder. You can also go with the 500e, which is fully electric and makes 111 hp and can travel 87 miles per charge.

The Fiat 500 doesn’t have much space in the cabin, but there’s still quite a lot of content. The car can be had with the Uconnect 5.0 system with apps, auxiliary inputs, voice command, and Bluetooth. Fiat also offers a ragtop version of the 500. If you want to feel the wind in your hair at a low price, this is an option.

2017 Chevrolet Sonic

  • PROS: Available as a sedan or hatchback, excellent safety scores, a lot of features and technology, plenty of space, good ride quality.
  • CONS: Not the best fuel economy, some interior materials are still on the cheaper side.

The Chevrolet Sonic ($15,145 base MSRP) does essentially the same thing its smaller brother, the Spark does: offer great value in a feature-packed car that's good to drive. For 2017, the model received some minor styling updates that help both the sedan and hatchback fit in with the Chevy lineup. The Sonic has a 138 hp 1.8-liter four-cylinder base engine and a 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder engine as an upgrade. Manual and automatic transmissions are available with both engines.

Inside, you’ll find a simple but attractive cabin. Some materials are on the cheaper side, but that’s forgivable thanks to the car’s long list of features. You can get the Sonic with a 7-inch infotainment screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, 4G LTE Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and heated seats. If the Spark is just a little too small, this is the car for you.

2017 Toyota Yaris iA

  • PROS: Fantastic handling capabilities, good steering, simple pricing structure, easy to use infotainment system.
  • CONS: Looks like a catfish on wheels, cramped rear seat, virtually no options.

Toyota’s Yaris iA ($15,950 base MSRP) is actually a rebadged Mazda2 sedan. The Yaris hatchback that Toyota sells is a very different car. It has the same 106 hp 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine but otherwise isn't really the same. The Yaris iA is a better car in our minds, and that’s why it’s on here instead of the Yaris hatchback. The iA is actually a fun-to-drive, affordable sedan.

The issue with the Yaris iA is that it doesn’t come with many options at all. That being said, the car does have some useful features, including a 7-inch display infotainment system, two USB ports, Bluetooth, and available dealer-installed navigation. The Yaris hatchback offers essentially the same equipment just spread out over a couple trim levels.

2017 Honda Fit

  • PROS: Spacious and easy to use cargo space, high safety scores, tons of interior space, good driving dynamics, superior build quality to some competitors.
  • CONS: Underpowered and noisy at high speeds, infotainment system is hard to use, some competitors have better seats.

The Honda Fit ($16,090 base MSRP) is the affordable subcompact car you should get if you have a lot of stuff to carry around. It’s has a surprisingly large cargo area, and Honda’s innovatively folding rear seats, open up 52.7 cubic feet of space which buries most competitors. The Fit is powered by a 130 hp 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine mated to either a six-speed manual transmission or CVT.

The Fit’s infotainment system can be a little hard to use, but you can get a lot of features in this car, including a 7-inch touchscreen, power moonroof, push-button start, navigation, Bluetooth, satellite radio, and HD Radio. If you’re after a versatile and feature packed hatchback, the Fit could be for you.

2017 Kia Soul

  • PROS: Unique styling, comfortable interior, electric model available, plenty of features, excellent warranty.
  • CONS: Base engine could use more power, not the most fuel efficient, some people don’t like the styling.

The Kia Soul ($16,100 base MSRP) is most remembered for the company’s odd hamster marketing campaign, but the fact of the matter is that the Soul is a great automobile. It’s somewhat of a crossover, but it's often classified as a wagon. No matter where you put it, there’s no denying it’s one of the best values around. The Soul is powered by either a 130 hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder, 161 hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder, or 201 hp 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder. The base engine can be had with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. All other engines come only with the automatic. The Soul is also available as an EV with 109 hp and a range of 93 miles.

The Soul isn’t just about what’s under the hood. The interior is nice and well-laid out. It can be had with an 8-inch touchscreen UVO infotainment system, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, navigation, HD Radio, premium Harman Kardon audio system, auxiliary input, USB ports, and Bluetooth. The Soul is the most expensive vehicle on this list, but its price is warranted.

Why a cheap car doesn't mean you have to settle.

  • Carmakers are investing more money in tech and interiors.
  • More inexpensive cars are getting features not available in prior models.
  • There are very few cheap cars that are still poorly made.

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