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) 2015 Hyundai Accent - MSRP $14,745
For 2015, the Hyundai Accent leads off our look at the top new cars under $15,000. It just received a mild refresh, and is still available as both a sedan and a hatchback. Some new touches and a strong list of standard equipment have helped to push it even closer to the front of the subcompact pack. Throw in the fact that the 2015 Hyundai Accent's 138-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine gets 26 mpg in city driving and 37 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) 2015 Chevrolet Spark - MSRP $12,270
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 2015 Chevrolet Spark is a four-door hatchback that brings with it a 1.2-liter, four-cylinder engine that delivers 84 horsepower, and fuel mileage is listed as 31 mpg in stop and go driving and 39 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.
3) 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.
4) 2014 Mazda Mazda2 - MSRP $14,720
The 2015 Mazda Mazda2 isn’t yet on sale — in fact, it’s unclear if the Mazda2 might skip this model year and go straight to 2016. However, the 2014 Mazda2 is still available for a time, and that’s a good thing, because this subcompact hatchback makes the best use of its modest available power. Compared to some of the competition on this list, the Mazda’s 1.5-liter, four-cylinder, 100-horsepower engine is a little slow, but it’s been designed for great handling and the standard five-speed manual ups the fun factor. A four-speed automatic transmission is optional, though. The Mazda2 is rated for an EPA-estimated 28 mpg city, 34 highway.
5) 2015 Toyota Yaris - MSRP $14,845
The 2015 Toyota Yaris has been treated to a new front end and refreshed interior, but this 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) 2015 Chevrolet Sonic - MSRP $14,245
The 2015 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) 2015 Ford Fiesta - MSRP $14,455
The 2015 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. 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) 2015 Kia Rio - MSRP $13,990
Kia's second entry on this list of the top new cars under $15,000 is the 2015 Kia Rio, 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. Transmission choices include a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic, and fuel mileage is rated at 27 mpg around town and 40 mpg highway.
9) 2015 smart fortwo - MSRP $13,270
The 2015 smart fortwo is getting a little tired (a new generation will hit the streets in late 2015) but the minicar still has its appeal for city dwellers. It’s less than 9 feet long, but still fits two adults. That’s the main benefit to the smart fortwo, and everything else about it is incidental. It’s a rear-wheel drive, powered by a 1.0-liter three-cylinder with a five-speed automated manual transmission, putting down a scant 70 horsepower. There are other options for the 2015 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.
10) 2015 Nissan Versa - MSRP $11,990
The 2015 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.