While we can discuss affordable or cheap American or Japanese cars all day, trying to find an inexpensive European car is much more of a challenge. Volkswagen traditionally has provided the most budget-oriented European cars, but the dynamic has shifted somewhat in recent years. We had a target price point of $25,000 or less for this story, but we had to bend the rules a bit as we got toward the end of our list, at which point we began to focus on value as much as price. Note: Not all cars on this list are built in Europe, but they do come from recognized European manufacturers. Without further ado, here are Autobytel's 10 cheapest (inexpensive) European cars:
10 Cheapest European Cars
Photo Credit: smart
2016 smart fortwo — MSRP $14,650
The smart fortwo has been updated for 2016 with a wider cabin, but the premise is still the same—a cheap coupe of European origin, with a price tag that squeaks in under the $15,000 mark. The fortwo is one of the cheapest cars you can buy, European or otherwise, but it’s certainly not for everyone. It’s got two doors and two seats that are very close together. A small amount of cargo can be stowed out back—we’re talking maybe a week’s worth of groceries, not a run to IKEA. Despite its obvious limitations, though, this cheap European car has some cool features. Namely, it can be parked just about anywhere, and its turbocharged 89-horsepower 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine drives the rear wheels, just like in a traditional sports car.
Photo Credit: FIAT
2016 FIAT 500 — MSRP $16,995
Although the 2016 FIAT 500 falls under the multinational corporate umbrella of Fiat Chrysler automobiles, it is unmistakably Italian in origin and design, earning this stylish and affordable 4-passenger compact hatchback a spot amongst our other favorite cheap European cars. Base 500s, though cute and colorful, are pretty simple. They're priced at around $17,000, and there are lots of appealing ways to make this Mexican-built Fiat quite a bit more expensive. For example, the 500c has a sliding ragtop that turns the 500 into a convertible. And the turbocharged Abarth edition, with its exclusive performance and aesthetic touches, is a quick little head-turner.
Photo Credit: Volkswagen
2016 Volkswagen Jetta — MSRP $17,680
Volkswagen’s compact sedan has been one of the cheapest European cars available in the United States since the late ‘80s. VW’s sporadic attempts to move the brand upmarket have sometimes resulted in offbeat Jetta models, but it’s safe to say that potential buyers who want a basic and affordable German sedan have often looked first to the Volkswagen Jetta. The current Jetta, with an entry-level price of just under $18,000, seats five passengers, and is one of the roomier options in the class. Its base 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is new for this year, and provides decent acceleration, although it’s easy to get drawn in by the higher-end Jettas’ sport-tuned suspension and turbocharged 1.8- and 2.0-liter engines.
Photo Credit: Volkswagen
2016 Volkswagen Golf — MSRP $18,495
The Volkswagen Golf hatchback tells a similar story to its Jetta sedan sibling. A long time ago, these two vehicles were virtually the same, designed on the same platform and featuring the same menu of performance options. Thanks to ongoing changes in the brand’s strategy, the Golf and Jetta have been growing steadily apart, and are now distinctly different cars. For the 2016 VW Golf’s slightly higher entry-level price, you get the brand’s ubiquitous 1.8-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine, which outperforms the base Jetta's 1.4. Moreover, the more compact Golf handles better, and it boasts a higher quality interior. We also feel that the 2016 VW Golf has better exterior styling.
2016 Volkswagen Beetle — MSRP $19,595
If there's a better example of a “cheap European car” than the Volkswagen Beetle, we can't think of one. Granted, the 2016 Beetle has little more than a passing resemblance to the iconic classic Bug, but if it weren’t for that original VW we might not even be having this conversation. Today’s Beetle, in base form, costs about a thousand bucks more than the Golf, and we can chalk most of that up to the Beetle's distinctive body. The 2016 Beetle features the same 1.8-liter turbo engine as the Golf, but the latter has an edge in handling. The Beetle also suffers a bit in cargo and passenger space, owing to its iconic style with that dramatically arched roofline.
Photo Credit: MINI
2016 Mini Cooper Hardtop — MSRP $20,700
The MINI Cooper Hardtop, with a base price of $20,700, starts out as one of the cheapest European cars available. But the extremely customizable Mini doesn't stay cheap for long, at least not without excellent willpower. The 2016 MINI Hardtop is available in 2-door and 4-door bodystyles, both of which make great use of the brand’s distinctive sporty styling. It’s worth noting here that hatchbacks are generally regarded as practical cars; the Cooper Hardtop is a notable exception. Backseat space is cramped for adults, and most competitors in the segment offer more cargo room. But this affordable European uses a turbocharger to great effect, making the 2016 Mini Cooper Hardtop quite fun to drive even in its cheapest configuration.
Photo Credit: Volkswagen
2016 Volkswagen Passat — $22,440
Yet another Volkswagen joins the crowd of the cheapest European cars, although this one’s a bit more expensive and upscale than the others we’ve featured. The U.S.-built Passat is a midsize sedan that, like the other VWs we’ve examined, has been all over the place in terms of marketplace positioning. While the Passat once aspired to be a premium sedan offering, it’s now solidly accessible. The current design may be a little bland, but the interior is comfortable and cavernous, particularly in back. What's more, the engine lineup begins with a turbocharged 1.8-liter 4-cylinder that's good for 38 mpg on the highway. The 2016 VW Passat also scores well on safety tests, making it a smart buy for a family sedan of European origin.
Photo Credit: MINI
2016 Mini Cooper Countryman — MSRP $22,750
This version of the Mini is technically a subcompact SUV, although its styling and overall vibe are similar to those of its compact hatchback sibling. This entry on our list of 10 Cheap European Cars is the brand’s first sport-utility vehicle, taking the successful Mini Cooper formula and upsizing it to increase functionality by way of additional passenger and cargo space. The car’s entry-level engine is sufficient; the optional turbocharged powerplants increase prices significantly but pay off in power and enjoyment for buyers with deeper pockets. As with the Mini Cooper Hardtop, the options sheet for the MINI Cooper Countryman is full of expensive temptation. It’s possible, but not easy, to keep this cheap European car actually cheap.
Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
2017 Fiat 124 Spider — MSRP $24,995
Finally, the diminutive Fiat 500 has a companion in the brand’s sparsely populated lineup. It’s called the 124 Spider, and while this roadster looks Italian and has a name that pays homage to a classic Fiat, its underpinnings are of Japanese descent. Squint a little, and it’s not too hard to see the Mazda MX-5 Miata. In fact, the Spider is actually built by Mazda, although its exterior parts and engine (a turbocharged 1.4-liter) are shipped from Italy to Japan to complete assembly of this cheap new European roadster.
Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz
2016 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class — MSRP $32,500
When we realized that we had to go over our self-imposed $25,000 mark to complete our list of 10 Cheap European Cars, we took some liberties to avoid filling up the list with VWs and Minis. The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, which starts at nearly $33,000, may not be cheap by many peoples' standards, but it's one of the least expensive luxury cars on the market. As such, it offers more value than most other European vehicles at its price point (including M-B's own small sedans). Although it's a relatively new entry in the subcompact SUV segment, the GLA-Class has earned good reliability scores from J.D. Power, while packing a lot of features into a relatively small footprint.