Thirty-odd years ago, the Japanese schooled the rest of the world's automakers by building simple cars that seemed to never break down. America and Europe have been racing to catch up ever since, and while the industry has advanced, Japan continues to earn its reputation for cars that are robust and trouble-free. Here are 10 affordable Japanese cars that are reasonably priced and solidly built.
10 Best Cheap Japanese Cars
The Versa is not only the least expensive Japanese car on the market, it's the least expensive new car you can buy, period, with a starting price of $12,825 (including destination fee). But the Versa has more going for it than just a cheap price: It's got a roomy interior, with more back seat and trunk space than many midsize sedans. Under the hood is a 1.6-liter engine that delivers responsive acceleration while returning good fuel economy with either the manual or CVT automatic transmission. (If possible, avoid the 4-speed auto in the base model.) You can get your Versa loaded up with goodies like navigation and keyless ignition, and still pay less than you would for a typical compact sedan.
Photo Credit: Mitsubishi
Japanese automakers built their reputation on cars that were small and simple, and the $13,830 Mirage continues that tradition. Here's a car that takes cheap motoring seriously: It's small and slow, but it'll deliver an honest 40 mpg in day-to-day driving and its 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty means that most owners need only worry about budgeting for scheduled maintenance and fuel (what little the Mirage uses) until the car is paid off. Mitsubishi has even designed the front end for simple repairs to help keep insurance rates down. And there are some pleasant surprises inside the miserly Mitsubishi, such as standard automatic climate control and power accessories. The Mirage may not be one of the cheeriest cars to drive, but it's definitely one of the cheapest.
Photo Credit: Toyota
Toyota cars are known for their bulletproof build quality, and with a base price of $16,445 the 2016 Yaris is the least expensive new Toyota you can buy. The Yaris received a thorough makeover a couple of years ago, and we like its modern styling and small, easy-to-park size. And while this small Toyota may lack the appeal of some of its competitors, the 2016 Yaris looks like a good long-term investment. If you follow the official maintenance schedule, don't be surprised if the Yaris returns a couple hundred thousand miles of trouble-free service.
Photo Credit: Scion
Scion is a division of Toyota, but the Scion iA is actually a Mazda designed under contract. That's a good thing: Like most Mazda designs, the Scion iA returns great fuel economy, is good fun to drive on curvy roads, and is engineered with all the attention to quality and detail that have made the Japanese so successful. Although the starting price of $17,595 may seem high—we expect Mazda's version to be cheaper when it debuts—the iA is very well equipped, with lots of comfort and convenience items as standard equipment. Be wary of dealer-installed accessories, which can drive the price into the stratosphere. Toyota is planning to shutter the Scion brand after 2016, but the iA will continue to be sold and serviced at Toyota dealerships.
Photo Credit: Honda
The Honda Fit is one of the most space-efficient cars you can buy. Despite its diminutive size, it offers a surprisingly roomy back seat and staggering amount of cargo space. This apparent magic comes courtesy of Honda's innovative engineering: By moving the fuel tank forward and designing a back seat that splits, folds and flips nine ways to Sunday, Honda has created a vehicle that is part car, part Swiss Army Knife. And if that's not enough to sway you, consider that the Fit is very fuel-efficient, good fun to drive, and built to last. Priced at $16,725 for the well-equipped base model, the 2016 Honda Fit is certainly not the least expensive car on the market, but it delivers great value for money.
Photo Credit: Mazda USA
Mazda's “Zoom Zoom” tagline isn't just advertising hype; the company's cars really are good fun to drive, which is why many automotive writers consider the Mazda3 their favorite compact car. The Mazda3 handles curves with the response of a sports car, yet it still rides comfortably and returns excellent fuel economy. This, thanks to Mazda's mastery of a typical Japanese engineering trait, which is to make hundreds of tiny improvements that yield great cumulative gains. Pricing for the handsome Mazda3 sedan starts at $18,680; if you prefer a hatchback Mazda3, it lists for $700 more.
Photo Credit: Nissan
Nissan's compact Frontier pickup truck is a seasoned player, which is a nice way of saying the current version has been unchanged for some time now. The basic 4-cylinder pickup with an extended cab and a manual transmission is the lowest price pickup truck on sale in America, priced at $19,190. Frontier V6 4x4 models can be had for around $28k. And while the Nissan Frontier may be mature, it's no second-rate player: This is a durable pickup truck designed for a long life of hard use.
All-wheel drive is a boon if you live where it snows or rains, and Subaru is a specialist—all of the company's vehicles, save the rear-drive BRZ sports car, deliver engine power to all four wheels, which is why Subies have become a staple in places like New England and the Pacific Northwest. That said, we should not underestimate the ability of all-wheel drive in the dry: It provides a better grip on the road, improving stability in quick movements like panic swerves. And if you need a recommendation, just ask any Subaru owner: Subaru's buyer loyalty is among the best in the business. Pricing for the surefooted Impreza starts at $19,090 for the 2.0i sedan; hatchbacks are priced $500 higher.
Photo Credit: Toyota
The iM is one of the newest and most stylish additions to the Scion brand (which, by the way, is going away in 2017; the iM will become a Toyota.) The iM is based on a European-market Toyota called the Auris, which explains its slickly styled hatchback shape and high-lux interior that looks nice enough to be mistaken for that of a low-grade Lexus. Pricing starts at $19,995, and as with other Scions, the iM comes with a lot of standard equipment. Also, there's a ton of available dealer accessories that can drive the price way, way up.
Photo Credit: Honda
Priced at $20,115, the Honda HR-V is one of the least expensive SUVs you can buy, but don't let its small size put you off: The HR-V is related to the aforementioned Honda Fit, and shares its space-efficient design. This means there's more back seat and cargo space than you'll find in most subcompact SUVs. And it's not just affordable to buy—the HR-V is powered by an eager, fuel-efficient engine that'll save you money at the gas pump as well. The HR-V is offered with front- or all-wheel rive, and it's one of the few SUVs available with a manual transmission. Iif you're a devoted stick-shifter, you know what a pleasure Honda manuals are to drive.