What's the Most Affordable New Car?

Used-car prices are going up, and gas prices remain high.

That makes new small cars with good mileage even more attractive to car shoppers. However, low starting prices under $15,000 don’t really translate to the transaction price most buyers face when you include equipment that’s almost a prerequisite today, such as an automatic transmission and power windows.

Over the 2011 and 2012 model years, more than a dozen new small cars will, or have been, released. They range from the traditional — like the Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Accent — to the quirky Fiat 500.

We decided to add another factor into this comparison that we haven’t included in the others: the cost of gas. For each model, we also included a year’s worth of gas to the total cost of the car — 15,000 miles’ worth of traveling in a mix of city and highway at $3.96 per gallon.

Each model must come equipped with power windows, locks and mirrors; remote keyless entry; air conditioning; an automatic transmission; and electronic stability control. The lack of electronic stability control on the 2011 Chevrolet Aveo and Kia Rio disqualified each model from the comparison.

Adding the cost of gas causes an interesting twist for some models, as cheaper but less fuel-efficient cars get beaten by traditionally more expensive and fuel-efficient ones. Ultimately, the most affordable budget car will be fuel efficient and will offer an array of features for a good price.

For this comparison, we looked at the 2012 Hyundai Accent, 2011 Mazda2, 2011 Ford Fiesta and 2011 Honda Fit while including a cost comparison on the rest of the field.

2011 Honda Fit

2011 Honda Fit

The Honda Fit is often regarded as the original premium budget vehicle and the benchmark for which all other new entries are often judged. The model’s base trim comes well-equipped, getting all the interior amenities we required for this comparison. For the 2011 model year, Honda made electronic stability control standard on all models.

The base Fit also gets cruise control, remote entry and a USB interface standard, too, for the model year. The Honda’s five-speed automatic transmission costs only $800, and it increases the vehicle’s gas mileage to 28/35 mpg on the evaluated base trim. (Gas costs $1,919 for a year).

Total cost for a Fit is $18,569, which is more expensive than any other vehicle in this comparison, but only by $400.

Despite the slight price premium compared with the other models, the Fit comes better equipped than the Mazda2, Fiesta or even the new Accent. In a twist, the Fit is cheaper than models like the Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa and Kia Soul – those vehicles are often priced below the Honda, but poor fuel economy and/or feature availability contributes to this about-face.

Notable Features You’ll Get: iPod/USB controls, 10 cupholders, active head restraints, drive-by-wire throttle system, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel
Cars.com Review

2011 Ford Fiesta sedan

2011 Ford Fiesta sedan

The Fiesta is Ford’s first foray into the subcompact realm since the Aspire quietly died in 1997. Unlike the Aspire econobox, Ford has given Americans a product equivalent to the same entry car sold in Europe. The Fiesta feels substantial and has engaging handling, and it offers high-end features, such as automatic climate controls and push-button start.

Despite the niceties, the Fiesta has a relatively cheap starting price — it costs less than the Fit and Mazda2. The S trim comes with power mirrors with integrated blind spot mirrors and a 4-inch LCD screen. Unfortunately, you can’t get power windows on the base trim, so you’d need to opt for the SE, which also gets you remote keyless entry and some exterior updates.

An advanced dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission will cost you a relatively expensive $1,095, but it delivers an EPA-rated 29/38 mpg city/highway, making the Fiesta one of the most fuel-efficient offerings in the class. (Gas costs $1,800 a year).

Total Fiesta costs come out to $18,190.

Notable Features You’ll Get:  Carpeted floormats, driver's knee airbag, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, capless refueling, integrated blind spot mirrors, 4-inch LCD screen
Cars.com Review

2011 Mazda2

2011 Mazda2

The Mazda2 is Mazda’s first entry-level subcompact offering in this country since the 323 went away in 1994. New for the 2011 model year, the Mazda2 is based off the Ford Fiesta but offers a less high-tech powertrain and transmission than the Ford. The model is available only as a four-door hatchback.

The Mazda2 starts out well-equipped on the base Sport trim, with power mirrors, locks and windows; remote keyless entry; air conditioning with filter; and electronic stability control. The only add-on is a relatively inexpensive $800 four-speed automatic transmission. At 27/33 mpg city/highway, the Mazda2 isn’t as fuel efficient as some of its competitors and will cost you $2,049 a year for gasoline.

Total cost — including the most expensive destination fee in the class — will net you $17,824.

Notable Features You’ll Get: none
Cars.com Review

2012 Hyundai Accent sedan

2012 Hyundai Accent sedan

The new Hyundai Accent is the latest entry in the group, and it goes on sale later this summer. The sedan offers a punchy 138-horsepower engine that delivers 30/40 mpg, which is the best fuel economy currently available this side of the Smart ForTwo. The Accent also packs the most powerful engine in this comparison.

Despite being slightly more expensive than its predecessor, in terms of base costs, the model is actually a better value than the old model, starting at $12,445. The Accent sedan comes standard with power door locks and a cabin air filter, electronic stability control and active head restraints.

A six-speed automatic is optional, and it’s paired with cruise control, an Eco mode to optimize fuel economy, air conditioning, six-speaker stereo with USB input, and power windows and locks for an extra $2,750.

Add in destination and $1,757 for a year’s worth of gas (the second-cheapest of any car in the group), and the total cost for the Accent comes to $17,712.

Notable Features You’ll Get: Active front head restraints, six-speaker stereo, iPod/USB controls, Eco mode

The Results

Not surprisingly, basic transportation isn’t as cheap as most people think.

New transmissions and engine technology have dramatically increased the gas mileage of newer models, and they give the 2012 Hyundai Accent an advantage over the older models in this comparison. But the aging-yet-well-equipped Fit fares well, too.

The Accent is the most affordable option in the group if you discount the Smart car, which we don’t recommend

It will be interesting to see how the new Accent does against new competition like the 2012 Kia Rio, Chevrolet Sonic and the redesigned Nissan Versa — models that are more fuel efficient and offer the latest safety equipment.

We’ll have a follow-up post to compare those models to the segment above when pricing becomes available.

Comments 

Anonymous Coward

Don't all cars have drive-by-wire throttle now? I think that's a consequence of emissions requirements.

Davin Peterson

According to Consumer Reports magazine, in the April 2010 Auto Issue, they said the Honda Fit was the most cost effective car for your money.

Davin,
The three cars that top it here weren't out for that issue of CR. So it looks like it isn't the best value anymore, but still very respectable.

It's worth noting that some of these cars will have more discounts than others. The Fit, for instance, will be selling at or very near sticker, so its cost relative to the average would increase.

Brady,
Typically cars this inexpensive have very small incentives. Fiesta has $500 cashback for memorial day here in Chicago. Fit has 0.9% financing which is pretty good too.

Tony

I drove Fit. I am not impressed with it as a vehicle. The seat is terrible. It is good for small drivers, may be. For 6-foot person it is not a good fit.
I've spent some time in Mazda2 and I don't see how I could live with it.

May be manufacturers should think of making their compacts with smaller engines. Driving one of these subcompacts seem to be torture unless you never drove for more then 20 minutes. Or, may be they should simply make more comfortable seats and sacrifice some interior room for it.

Derrick G

Despite what Hyundai may be saying, the 2012 Accent is on sale now. Cars.com's inventory shows about 250 as of right now. Discounts probably are non-existent and supplies are certainly tight, but you can find one if you look.

JM

The Mazda2 would be a much better vehicle if they would update the powertrain. sure, its already fairly efficient, but the addition of a six-speed auto and a version of the SKY active engine with similar or better power figures with the same displacement could put this vehicle at the top of its class in terms of efficiency.

Six

I'm pretty sure finding the most affordable new car wouldn't involve these requirements. "Each model must come equipped with power windows, locks and mirrors; remote keyless entry; air conditioning; an automatic transmission; and electronic stability control."

If affordability is really the priority, why is an automatic a requirement, not to mention power mirrors?

If cost is the #1 concern, buy used, pay cash.

Shorebreak

The Hyundai Accent is the clear winner. I, and most people, wouldn't even consider a vehicle without cruise control. Additionally, the Hyundai has more comfortable seats than the other vehicles. Why do some manufacturers insist on going overboard on lumbar support? Try walking without back pain after driving for a couple of hours in those vehicles (Attention: Honda in particular).

highdesertcat

I have to agree that the Accent is a nice little car. A friend recently rented one locally so he could drive down to El Paso, TX, to pick up his new car, and I drove the Accent back to the rental agency in our area. It had Air and Cruise but what was most memorable was how quiet it was on the inside. We have rented other small cars in the past and they were NOISY! Banshees!!! The Accent was pretty darn good for a cheap car. Excellent gas mileage, too, on the open highway at 75mph coming and going. The seats weren't bad for a guy 6ft tall weighing 253lbs. After 200+ miles roundtrip I had no aches or pains.

almprin06

Did you test the Fit or Fit Sport?
The photo shows a Fit Sport.
There is a difference.

Did you test the Fit or Fit Sport?
The photo shows a Fit Sport.
There is a difference.


almprin06

I wouldn't even consider a vehicle without cruise control.

I wouldn't even consider a vehicle without cruise control.

@almprin06 we tested the base Fit model, not the Sport. We apologize if the photo threw you off. The photos illustrate what model we are talking about, not necessarily the exact specific trim or color combination required for the price outlined in the text.

This blog is really useful. It can show us and other clients that gas usage of ones car must be considered. Now a days it's not easy to spend a single cent for anything. We must look for something that can give us a lot of savings. I think it would be practical to choose a car that uses less gas or fuel.

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I think one will have to take into account more than just adding the price of gas to get the cheapest car. I understand that you can't test for all factors but some of them include warrnty and known problems. For example, the Accent comes with the 5 * 10 year warrenty whereas the honda only comes with a 3 year warrenty. Additionally, the Fiesta's automatic transmission has been known to break down. Just google Fiesta Auto Transmission problem. I think that is just unacceptable and Fiesta should be disqualified just for that fact.

This is helpful, considering how fuels are consumed nowadays. I believe this can contribute on choosing car/s you would like.

I love this car and i want to drive this car i just love it..

Jon

Another consideration would be to look at the local market. Using truecar.com, in upstate new york, the automatic fit is selling for 16900, and the comparable model of the accent for 16100. But down in GA, the Fit is only 16400, and the Accent is 16200. Just keep that in mind. Plus some cars will have better resell value over others.

chubby

All of these cars seem to be overpriced. If you want to spend up to the low 20s and are concerned about mileage, don`t buy any of these cars. Buy the prius c for under $19,000 and get 53 mpg. Plus you get a toyota with a resale value that puts these cars to shame.

Where's the Prius C? It's $19K with AC CVT Power Windows and it gets 50MPG!

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One car that I would've liked to see on this list is the new Chevy Cruze. I'm a window tinting professional in the Frisco area (Dallas-Fort Worth) and we've seen such a large volume of these vehicles recently on the road, most of which are driven by younger drivers. I think you'll see the Chevy Cruze cracking this list in the next year or so.

- Robert

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