The best American economy cars have become a particularly impressive bunch in recent years, as Chevrolet and Ford continue to successfully fine-tune current small car offerings. As a result, all can serve up some combination of high fuel efficiency ratings and low pricing, and a few push the envelope with the latest infotainment, connectivity, and safety technologies. Also, despite their generally smaller size, a new crop of compact hatchbacks has surprisingly high levels of versatility, too. That said, because Dodge has dropped out of the economy car game altogether—and some foreign-based brands do build smaller vehicles in this country—Autobytel experts have taken the inclusive route to determine “American-ness” here today. Indeed, our chief criterion was a starting price of under $20,000.
10 Best American Economy Cars
Photo Credit: Chevrolet
2017 Chevrolet Spark
The Bowtie brand’s best American economy cars start with the 2017 Chevrolet Spark—which itself starts at just $13,000. Now, the Spark is Chevy’s city car, so it’s more than a foot shorter in length than the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic hatchback. But even with the Spark’s economical MSRP, the car also has a standard mobile Wi-Fi hotspot and a standard rearview camera, plus Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration. The car is pretty efficient as well, thanks to a peppy 98-horsepower engine that can achieve EPA ratings of 30 mpg city/38 mpg highway/33 mpg combined with its available CVT; the only difference with the Spark’s standard 5-speed manual is a 29 mpg mark in city driving.
Photo Credit: General Motors
2017 Chevrolet Spark Activ
For a sportier alternative among the best American economy cars, the 2017 Chevrolet Spark Activ debuted for the current model year with a price tag of $16,945 with a standard manual transmission (and a cost of $18,045 with an optional CVT). Unsurprisingly, the Spark Activ is based on the Spark proper, which means the newer model carries the same standard Wi-Fi-enabled infotainment system, rearview camera, and smartphone integration technologies. Chevy then distinguishes the Spark Activ with its own exclusive style elements, including model-specific front and rear fascias, 15-inch alloy wheels, and suspension settings, the latter of which supplies a noticeable bump in ride height. Other Activ highlights are integrated fog lights, rocker moldings, roof rails, and contrast-color body accents.
Photo Credit: General Motors
2017 Chevrolet Sonic
Stepping up to the best American economy cars from the subcompact class brings us to the 2017 Chevrolet Sonic. It’s sold in sedan and hatchback formats, each checking off the boxes for standard mobile Wi-Fi, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and a rearview camera. It’s also worth noting that the Sonic sedan has a bigger trunk than a Toyota Corolla, from the next size class up, and the Sonic hatchback has a healthy 47.7 cubic feet of total cargo space. For comparison’s sake, the rival Nissan Versa hatchback has 24.5 percent less. The Sonic additionally has lower pricing than either of those competitor cars: The sedan opens at $15,145, and the hatchback starts at $17,580.
Photo Credit: General Motors
2017 Chevrolet Cruze
Technology-wise, the 2017 Chevrolet Cruze obviously matches the rest of the best American economy cars from the brand. However, it goes beyond its siblings in perhaps unexpected ways. A standard turbocharged engine, for example, allows the Cruze to supply a significant jump in output and higher top EPA grades: The car’s 153 horsepower and 177 lb.-ft. of torque come with fuel economy performance of up to 30 mpg city/40 mpg highway/34 mpg combined. New for 2017 is the Cruze hatchback, complemented by a maximum cargo capacity of 42.7 cubic feet. (The Cruze Diesel, with an EPA line that reaches up to 30/52/37, has an MSRP of $23,795 that’s a bit past our price ceiling.)
Photo Credit: Ford
2017 Ford Fiesta
Although many of the best American economy cars are hatchbacks, all hatchbacks cost more than their available sedan counterparts. This gives the 2017 Ford Fiesta a key advantage, since it’s the least expensive subcompact hatchback in the country. The Fiesta S hatchback is stickered from $13,960, and that’s $2,415 less than a comparable Toyota Yaris. And to be clear, the Blue Oval’s bargain-basement price does cover air conditioning, power locks, and a SYNC voice-activated communication and information system, complete with AppLink to access mobile apps. The Fiesta S sedan has that equipment with an MSRP of $13,660. With such affordability, owners can pile on the premium features in the Titanium trims and still stay under $20K.
Photo Credit: Ford
2017 Ford Focus
While the best American economy cars all have certain benefits, few are as fun to drive as the 2017 Ford Focus. The Blue Oval’s compact contender has more standard power than its rivals from Honda, Nissan, or Toyota, yet the Focus furnishes that output—160 horsepower and 146 lb.-ft. of torque—with fuel economy grades of 25 mpg city/34 mpg highway/28 mpg combined. Further, the wallet-friendly Focus sedan has a base price of $16,775 in its S trim, and that’s with standard content like a rearview camera and a SYNC infotainment system with enhanced voice recognition and a 4.2-inch LCD display. Ford also broadens customer appeal with both sedan and hatchback configurations for the Focus.
Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
2017 Jeep Renegade
An interesting alternative to the best American economy cars is the 2017 Jeep Renegade. The Renegade isn’t a car, of course, but it is the most economical vehicle sold by one of the country’s most iconic automotive brands. In fact, the $17,995 MSRP of the Renegade clears our price bar with a couple thousand to spare. Another compelling point for car shoppers is that the Renegade entry model has a standard front-wheel drive powertrain and unibody construction, for a more traditional driving experience. Fuel economy also is plenty car-like, since the Renegade’s standard EPA ratings are a best-in-class 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway/26 mpg combined—but backed by a peppy 1.4-liter turbo engine that kicks out 160 horsepower.
Photo Credit: Honda
2017 Honda Civic
To help fill out our roster of best American economy cars, we’ll turn to a trio of naturalized citizens, beginning with the 2017 Honda Civic sedan. Built in Honda’s manufacturing facility in Greensburg, Ind., along with the Honda CR-V, the Civic sedan is on the premium end of the compact pricing spectrum. On the other hand, the car’s entry price remains a mere of $18,740, and its impressive range of standard features extends to a multi-angle rearview camera, LED taillight accents, automatic climate control, a multi-function steering wheel, and a 4-cylinder engine that combines 158 horsepower and 40 mpg highway. (FYI: Honda has been building Civic sedans in Indiana since 2008, and the company also manufactures vehicles in Ohio.)
Photo Credit: Subaru
2017 Subaru Impreza
For the new model year, the 2017 Subaru Impreza joins the Civic both in the Hoosier state and on our list of best American economy cars: Subaru’s compact sedan and hatchback are each being built in the company’s plant in Lafayette. MSRPs for the different body styles are set at $18,395 and $18,895, respectively, and yes, that includes standard symmetrical all-wheel drive, a Starlink multimedia system, and a rearview camera in both versions. Shoppers also should know that this latest generation of Imprezas has become highly economical in terms of fuel consumption, as evidenced by EPA results as high as 28 mpg city/38 mpg highway/32 mpg combined.
Photo Credit: Hyundai
2017 Hyundai Elantra
Today’s honor roll of best American economy cars wraps up with the 2017 Hyundai Elantra sedan that’s currently in production in Alabama, alongside the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. The Elantra sedan supplies the brand’s typical high-value pricing, with an MSRP of $17,150 that’s among the lowest in its class. But the value comes from what you get for that price: cabin content such as air conditioning, power amenities, a center armrest, a multi-function steering wheel, and 6-speaker audio with a USB port and 6-month complimentary subscription to SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Setting a stylish tone for the exterior are standard LED daytime running lights. Meanwhile, standard EPA ratings are an efficient 26 mpg city/36 mpg highway/29 mpg combined.