It used to be that finding a cheap car meant compromising on quality, but those days are long behind us, thanks to the recent surge in well-engineered, ultra-efficient, and stylish subcompact automobiles that have flooded the market. There are now so many good new cars under $15,000 that shopping in this particular segment no longer feels like a consolation prize, but rather the chance to slip behind the wheel of a competent and fun automobile that just happens to be affordable. Let's take a quick look at 10 of the best new cars under $15,000, and see just how far this particular area of the market has come in only a few short years.
1) 2016 Hyundai Accent - MSRP $14,745
For 2016, the Hyundai Accent leads off our look at the top new cars under $15,000. Available as both a sedan and a hatchback, a strong list of standard equipment has helped to push it even closer to the front of the subcompact pack. Throw in the fact that the 2016 Hyundai Accent's 137-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine gets 27 mpg in city driving and 38 mpg on the highway and there's a lot to like about this affordable entry level option. Opting for the available automatic transmission, however, pushes both models above the $15k threshold.
2) 2016 Nissan Versa Note - $14,230
The 2016 Nissan Versa Note is a five-seat, four-door hatchback version of the less-expensive Versa sedan (which will be discussed a few pages down). It comes powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 109 horsepower, and offers the choice of a five-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission. The cabin and cargo area both offer more generous space than other vehicles in the compact car class, and the Versa Note offers a more comprehensive equipment list than the base Versa. Options such as an all-around camera monitoring system, remote keyless entry, and Bluetooth are available in the otherwise spartan hatchback.
Photo Credit: Chevrolet Media
3) 2016 Chevrolet Spark - MSRP $12,660
Updated for this year, the Chevrolet Spark has proven itself as a good choice for a sub-subcompact, targeted at urban dwellers who need a small, but practical vehicle for occasional use hauling groceries or picking up the slack when public transit just won't get them where they want to go. The 2016 Chevrolet Spark is a four-door hatchback that brings with it a 1.2-liter, four-cylinder engine that delivers 98 horsepower, and fuel mileage is listed as 31 mpg in stop-and-go driving and 41 mpg on the highway when the vehicle is ordered with its standard five-speed automatic transmission. The available continuously variable transmission drops city driving estimates by 1 mpg.
Photo Credit: Mitsubishi Motors North America
4) 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage - MSRP $12,995
The 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage is another sub-subcompact, targeted at first-time buyers, but it’s a surprisingly versatile one. It offers the flexibility of a hatchback as well as best-in-class fuel economy — 37 mpg in combined driving. Let it be said, though, that there are some sacrifices required to get in a new car, with this fuel economy, at such a low cost of entry. The 2015 Mirage is powered by a 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine that produces a modest 74 horsepower. The Mirage will get where it’s going, but it won’t be fast and it won’t be very much fun. Buyers can keep the standard five-speed manual transmission or step up to a CVT.
Photo Credit: Toyota Media
5) 2016 Toyota Yaris - MSRP $14,895
The 2016 Toyota Yaris was treated to a new front end and refreshed interior for last year, but carries over basically unchanged for this year. The two-door compact hatchback is powered by the same engine that’s been around for a while: a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that puts out 106 horsepower, is shifted via either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission, and returns fuel mileage of 30 mpg city and 37 mpg highway. The base Yaris is fairly spartan, and there are options to be had, but most of the additional features will push this model above the $15,000 mark.
6) 2016 Chevrolet Sonic - MSRP $14,345
The 2016 Chevrolet Sonic can be though of as the Spark's bigger brother, one of the best new cars under $15,000 that represents the renaissance of GM's small car program. The Chevrolet Sonic is a comfortable cruiser, can seat as many as five passengers, and is offered in both sedan and hatchback models, although it might be a challenge to score most configurations under the cutoff price. The Chevrolet Sonic, in base trim, provides a 1.8-liter inline-four engine yielding 138 horsepower, which can be paired to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Even entry level Sonics are nicely equipped, featuring a Bluetooth wireless interface, keyless entry, and alloy wheels.
7) 2016 Ford Fiesta - MSRP $14,580
The 2016 Ford Fiesta, another sedan/hatchback combination in the subcompact segment, manages to please with its smooth driving experience, its relatively nimble handling, and styling that is extroverted without being obnoxious. The Ford Fiesta stands apart from other good new cars under $15,000 thanks to this all-around performance and the fact that it can be had with high tech goodies such as the Ford SYNC vehicle interface, which was updated for this year. Underneath the hood, the base model Fiesta packs a 120-horsepower, 1.6-liter engine that can be paired with the category's first six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (or a five-speed manual), and it offers up fuel mileage of 26 mpg city and 38 mpg highway.
8) 2016 Kia Rio - MSRP $14,165
The 2016 Kia Rio is the brand's value-oriented yet feature-laden subcompact that shares a chassis with the Hyundai Accent. Both the sedan and hatchback boast clean and sporty profiles, helping them stand out from the crowd, and are powered by a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine good for a healthy 138 horsepower. All Rios come with a six-speed automatic transmission; the manual option was discontinued for this year. Fuel mileage is rated at 27 mpg around town and 38 mpg highway.
9) 2016 smart fortwo - MSRP $14,650
The 2016 smart fortwo isn’t for everyone, but this year’s updates bring some welcome changes. Yet, its compact footprint still holds appeal for city dwellers. The 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine puts down 89 horsepower, a nice upgrade over the outgoing model, and comes paired with a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. There are other options for the 2016 smart fortwo, like a convertible body style and an electric drivetrain, but any configuration beyond the base model coupe is likely to push the price above $15,000.
Photo Credit: Nissan
10) 2016 Nissan Versa - MSRP $11,990
The 2016 Nissan Versa is the least expensive car on our list of the best new cars under $15k. In fact, the Nissan Versa sedan is the cheapest vehicle for sale in the United States, a title it has held for several years now. The Versa's large interior makes it an exceptionally comfortable subcompact for those riding in the back seat, and although the base model doesn't offer a lot in terms of standard features, it does come with a CD player and air conditioning. The Nissan Versa's 1.6-liter, 109-horsepower four-cylinder engine offers decent fuel mileage of 31 mpg city and 40 mpg highway, figures that it achieves when swapping the entry-level five-speed manual for the sedan's optional continuously variable automatic.
Photo Credit: Scion
Honorable Mention: 2016 Scion iA - MSRP $16,495
The 2016 Scion iA, all new for this year, is the first sedan available from Toyota’s youth-oriented brand. Though the iA comes in a bit higher than our target price, it deserves a mention specifically because of Scion’s no-haggle pricing strategy, which means it comes in just one well-equipped trim level. That is, buyers who are happy with a manual transmission can actually drive away in a nicely outfitted Scion iA for MSRP, without any haggling or unpleasant negotiating. An automatic transmission costs a bit more, but otherwise, the Scion iA is a pretty painless way to get a 106-horsepower compact car.