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.
Completely redesigned for the current model year, the 2012 Hyundai Accent leads off our look at the top new cars under $15,000. Available as both a sedan and a hatchback model (with the hatch offering a very practical 47.5 cubic feet of total storage space with the second row of accommodations folded forward), the Hyundai Accent's new platform, fresh looks, and 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 2012 Hyundai Accent's 138 horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine gets 30-mpg in city driving and 40-mpg on the highway and there's a lot to like about this affordable entry-level option.
02. 2013 Chevrolet Spark - MSRP $12,245
The newest entry on this list of the best new cars under $15k is the 2013 Chevrolet Spark, a sub-subcompact that is 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 Chevrolet Spark is a four-door hatchback that brings with it a 1.2-liter, four-cylinder engine that delivers 85 horsepower, and fuel mileage is listed as 32-mpg in stop and go driving and 38-mpg on the highway when the vehicle is ordered with its standard five-speed automatic transmission (a four-speed automatic is optional).
03. 2012 Kia Soul - MSRP $13,900
The 2012 Kia Soul offers some of the most unique styling of the best new cars under $15,000. Square, but hip at the same time, the Kia Soul is a four-door compact crossover that comes with a generous warranty, 53 cubic feet of total interior cargo space, and the availability of options such as Kia's new UVO voice command interface that can control the vehicle's entertainment and communications features. The most inexpensive model of the Kia Soul comes with a 138 horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder motor, while an optional 2.0-liter, four-cylinder unit grinds out 164 horses. Transmission choices for the Soul include a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic, and fuel mileage for the smaller of the two engines leads the way with a rating of 20-mpg city and 36-mpg highway.
04. 2012 Mazda MAZDA2 - MSRP $14,530
The 2012 Mazda Mazda2 is a subcompact hatchback that is designed to appeal to drivers who are looking to have more than a little bit of fun behind the wheel. Sure, despite its status as one of the best new cars under $15k the Mazda MAZDA2 won't win any drag races (due to its 1.5-liter, 100 horsepower four-cylinder engine), but its chassis has been tuned to provide above average handling for its segment. Fuel mileage checks in at 29-mpg city and 35-mpg highway, and even the base MAZDA2 comes with air conditioning, power windows and door locks, and a CD player.
05. 2012 Toyota Yaris - MSRP $14,115
The 2012 Toyota Yaris hatchback is another recipient of a recent redesign, and while the vehicle hasn't changed dramatically it does remain a solid choice as one of the top new cars under $15k for those looking for basic subcompact transportation. 15.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats might not seem like a lot in this two-door hatch, but the Toyota Yaris can be had in an ultra-affordable L trim that includes a CD player, power door locks, and air conditioning. The Yaris' 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine 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 38-mpg highway.
06. 2012 Chevrolet Sonic - MSRP $14,765
The 2012 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. The Sonic hatchback delivers 30.9 cubic feet of total cargo space, and the LTZ trim level introduces heated seats, leather-like seat covers, and Bluetooth connectivity. The Chevrolet Sonic additionally offers the choice between two four cylinder engines: a 1.8-liter, and a 1.4-liter turbocharged mill. Each generates 138 horsepower, but the turbo unit provides additional torque and the best fuel mileage of the pair (29-mpg city and 40-mpg highway).
07. 2012 Ford Fiesta - MSRP $13,200
The 2012 Ford Fiesta (again, a 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 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 29-mpg city and 40-mpg highway.
08. 2012 Kia Rio5 - MSRP $13,600
Kia's second entry on this list of the top new cars under $15,000 is the 2012 Kia Rio5, the brand's value-oriented subcompact hatchback. In addition to its 49.8 cubic feet of total storage space with the rear accommodations out of the picture, the Kia Rio5 also comes with air conditioning, satellite radio, a CD player, heated exterior mirrors, and an iPod interface even in its base trim level. The Rio5's 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine is good for a healthy 138 horsepower, transmission choices include a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic, and fuel mileage is rated at 30-mpg around town and 40-mpg highway.
09. 2012 Suzuki SX4 - MSRP $13,859
The 2012 Suzuki SX4 is offered in a variety of body styles, but when talking about the best new cars under $15,000 only the sedan squeaks in under the price limit. The Suzuki SX4 sedan comes in a number of trim levels, and the inexpensive base version features power windows and door locks and not much else - if you want air conditioning and a stereo system, you need to step up to the LE trim. Regardless of what model is ordered, all SX4s come with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that is good for 150 horsepower and fuel efficiency figures of 23-mpg city and 29-mpg highway when ordered with the available continuously-variable automatic transmission. A six-speed manual is standard with the car.
10. 2012 Nissan Versa - MSRP $10,990
The 2012 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 30-mpg city and 38-mpg highway, figures that it achieves when swapping the entry-level five-speed manual for the sedan's optional continuously-variable automatic.