There has never been a better time to be in the market for what used to be termed 'basic transportation.' The quality, comfort and stylishness of entry-level automobiles has risen to an impressive standard over the past few years, which means that those looking for a new car bargain have a wide range of solid options to choose from. As the segment grows more and more competitive, automakers are pouring additional dollars into developing quicker, more efficient and more attractive vehicles with an eye on keeping prices down across the board.
Let's take a look at eight affordable small cars that can get you from point A to point B with style.
1. 2012 Chevrolet Sonic
The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic is an all-new effort from the Detroit-based automaker that represents their strongest subcompact offering in years. The Chevrolet Sonic can be found in both sedan and hatchback editions, with the latter throwing in 30.9 cubic feet of total cargo space with the rear seat folded forward. The entry-level edition of the automobile additionally features a strong list of standard equipment, including air conditioning and a trip computer.
The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic features a pair of four-cylinder engine options. The base motor is a 138 horsepower, 1.8-liter unit that also generates 125 lb-ft of torque and returns fuel mileage of 26-mpg city and 35-mpg highway. A five-speed manual and a six-speed automatic transmission are each available with this engine. A smaller, 1.4-liter four-cylinder makes use of a turbocharger to churn out the same horsepower rating (138 ponies) but significantly more torque (148 lb-ft). Matched with either a six-speed auto or a six-speed manual gearbox, the turbo motor is good for 29-mpg city and 40-mpg highway.
2. 2011 Honda CR-Z
The 2011 Honda CR-Z is a sporty take on the compact hybrid car concept, bundling excellent handling and a sleek, two-seat coupe design with fuel economy that is amongst the best in its class. The Honda CR-Z is aimed specifically at drivers who want an efficient commuter car that can cut loose on the weekends and bring some fun to the table as well.
The 2011 Honda CR-Z is outfitted with Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system. IMA consists of a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that works together with an electric motor in order to produce a total of 122 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. Unlike most hybrids, the CR-Z offers the choice of a six-speed manual transmission in addition to its optional continuously-variable automatic. The latter comes with paddle shifters for manual control over the CVT. Fuel economy for the Honda coupe checks in at 35-mpg city and 39-mpg highway.
3. 2012 Hyundai Accent
The 2012 Hyundai Accent is a clean slate design that fully updates the Korean brand's subcompact contender to meet the expectations of modern shoppers. The Hyundai Accent is now much easier on the eyes and is attractive in both hatchback and sedan body styles, with the four-door hatch presenting a practical option for those with busy lifestyles thanks to its cavernous (for its segment) 47.5 cubic feet of total cargo space.
The 2012 Hyundai Accent benefits from a new 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes use of direct-injection technology to help grind out 138 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission comes free of charge with the Accent, while a six-speed automatic can be ordered as an option. Fuel economy for the thrifty subcompact shows as 30-mpg in stop and go driving and 40-mpg on the highway.
4. 2011 Chevrolet Cruze
The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is another fresh design from General Motors that is part of a concerted effort to reinvigorate its image in the entry-level area of the new car market. The Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan is comfortable, features solid interior design and is available in a number of different trim levels, with some capable of enhancing both the automobile's handling performance and aesthetics.
The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze is initially offered with a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine that is tuned to provide 138 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy for the base motor is reported as 22-mpg in city driving and 35-mpg on the highway. Opting for the Cruze's 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine gives buyers more lively acceleration (thanks to its 138 horses and 148 lb-ft of twist) as well as a fuel mileage improvement (28-mpg city and 42-mpg highway when ordered in Eco trim). Transmission choices for both mills include a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic.
5. 2012 Honda Civic
The 2012 Honda Civic debuts a revised look and platform for the current model year, with both the coupe and the sedan benefiting from a host of styling and under-the-skin changes compared to the 2011 edition of the car. The Honda Civic sticks to its familiar game plan of offering a wide range of different models to choose from, including the sporty Si edition and the Hybrid.
The 2012 Honda Civic makes use of a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder motor as its primary power plant. This engine produces 140 ponies and 128 lb-ft of torque and it can be matched with either a five-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission. Fuel economy for the 1.8-liter Civic shows as 28-mpg city and 36-mpg highway. The stingier Civic Hybrid returns 44-mpg city and 44-mpg highway from its 110 horsepower, 1.5-liter four-cylinder / electric motor combination, while the Honda Civic Si squeezes 201 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque from a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine. A six-speed manual is the only gearbox available with the Si, and fuel economy for the quick Civic is rated at 22-mpg city and 31-mpg highway.
6. 2011 Ford Fiesta
The 2011 Ford Fiesta has been imported from Europe in order to improve the company's chances in the entry-level automotive stakes. The Ford Fiesta is available as a sedan or a hatchback, and buyers will be happy to note that the five-door edition of the car opens up 26 cubic feet of total storage space with the seats tilted forward. Both versions of the vehicle can also be found with the Ford SYNC communications and entertainment interface.
Regardless of which trim level is ordered, the 2011 Ford Fiesta is equipped with a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder motor that provides 120 horsepower and 112 lb-ft of torque. The Fiesta asks drivers to choose between a traditional five-speed manual transmission or an advanced six-speed dual-clutch automated manual, with the latter offering fuel economy of 30-mpg around town and 40-mpg during highway cruising.
7. 2012 Kia Forte
The 2012 Kia Forte runs the gamut in terms of body styles as it is offered in two-door (Koup), four-door sedan and four-door hatchback editions. The Kia Forte is aimed at value-conscious new car shoppers, but in addition to its appealing list of standard features the Forte can also be ordered in the SX trim, which installs a stiffer suspension system, up-sized alloy wheels and a more performance-oriented appearance package.
The 2012 Kia Forte starts out with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine under the hood. Capable of producing 156 horsepower and 144 lb-ft of torque, this motor also returns fuel mileage of 27-mpg in city driving and 37-mpg on the highway. The Forte SX upgrades to a 173 horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder that additionally puts out 168 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy for the SX dips somewhat to 22-mpg city and 32-mpg highway. The Kia Forte features both a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic transmission on the order sheet.
8. 2012 Fiat 500
The 2012 FIAT 500 marks the first time the Italian automaker has operated in North America for almost three decades. The Fiat 500 is positioned as an attractive subcompact two-door hatchback that counts its Euro styling and high tech efficiency as its main selling points. Although quite small inside, the 500 is comfortable for two adults and can haul an additional two passengers out back for short trips.
The 2012 Fiat 500 features a 1.4-liter "MultiAir" four-cylinder engine that offers up 101 horsepower and 98 lb-ft of torque to haul around the hatchback's lightweight frame. The Fiat 500's fuel economy is rated at 30-mpg in stop and go driving and 38-mpg on the highway, and transmission choices include a five-speed manual and a six-speed automatic.
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