Rides That Offer the Best Bang for Your Buck

Ford Mustang EcoBoost Via Ford

For most of us, buying a new car or SUV is a nerve-racking decision given that most of us don’t make such large purchases on a daily basis. And while you may be jonesing for a new car or SUV, your finances are telling you that you might have to bike to work.

Don’t despair. There is an answer. 

Any buyer can get the essence of a high-priced ride without the price tag if you know which vehicles to consider. Some spendier rides are little more than mundane vehicles with an attitude, while some everyday vehicles have many of the same attributes as pricier rides.

With that in mind, here are some tempting budget-stretching suggestions:

SUBCOMPACT SUVS

Nissan Kicks ($19,585)

Don’t expect driving kicks from the Kicks; this SUV’s kicks come from its fashionably sporty style, a comfortable ride, optimal cabin space, and loads of standard equipment at prices mere mortals can afford. Consider its tech package with a responsive touchscreen, Bluetooth, three USB ports, and a rearview monitor, along with such niceties as keyless entry, roof rails and automatic headlights. Pricier models get Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, blind spot warning, and rear cross traffic alert. And there’s an impressive list of driver safety systems. Inside, there’s a high seating position and 25.3 cubic feet of cargo space. It’s a hard package to beat. 

Runner up: Kia Soul ($17,490): Consider it fast fashion; H&M with tires. Offered with a manual transmission and boasting a distinctive personality, its interior accent lighting can be set to pulse with the audio system’s music. Easy to drive smoothly, the Kia Soul is one cute ute that’s sure to satisfy yours.

SMALL SEDANS

Honda Civic sedan ($20,480)

Once again setting the standard for compact sedans, energetic styling cloaks an impressively large cabin that it could easily be thought of as a small midsize car. Even the trunk is huge, measuring a commodious 15.1 cubic feet. While the Civic sedan’s interior gives up 7.9 cubic feet and its trunk 1.7 cubic feet to the Accord, the extra space isn’t worth the extra scratch. All Civics do an excellent job of insulating passengers from road shocks. In fact, it's nearly luxury level. At the same time, sporty handling gives the Civic the athletic, responsive feel drivers have come to expect. And it’s available with some high-end features, like rain-sensing windshield wipers. Nice.

Runner up: Toyota Corolla Hybrid ($23,100): It’s not the driving thrills that make this Corolla notable; it’s exceptional gas mileage: 53 mpg city, 52 mpg highway. This Corolla has the Prius’s driveline, but not the Prius’s hideous look.

COMPACT HAULERS

Mazda CX-5 ($24,350)

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While the CX-5 is no sports car – it has too many doors and too many seats – its ability to vanquish switchbacks and effortlessly carve through corners and twisting roads makes for a truly fulfilling experience. It’s light, tossable, and surprisingly fun to drive. Body roll is largely lacking because the CX-5 slightly reduces engine power in corners to tighten suspension response and improve handling. The impressively large cabin is exquisitely fashioned for the price, with impressive materials and plenty of soft touch points. It’s a transcendent compact crossover utility vehicle, one that’s superior than many of its pricier rivals.

Runner up: VW Golf SportWagen ($22,790): This contrarian antidote to SUVs has compact dimensions that aren't much different from many small SUVs and, like them, carries 30.4-to-66.5 cubic feet of cargo and up to 5 people (if they’re friends). Unlike most, it offers superb driving dynamics and a manual transmission. 

SPORTS CARS

Ford Mustang EcoBoost ($26,395/$31,895)

This ponys classic style returns at a very affordable price. But while other Mustangs receive double-overhead-cam V8s, the EcoBoost makes do with a fuel-efficient double-overhead-cam 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. If the idea of a four-cylinder Mustang makes you feel like Steve McQueens unloved gay relative, keep in mind its 310 horsepower is more than the Mustangs V8 developed a decade ago. A six-speed manual is standard, a 10-speed automatic is optional. And theres enough space for friends to come along, or carry a large amount of lifestyle debris, starting at $26,395 for the EcoBoost coupe, or $31,895 for the EcoBoost convertible. 

Runner up: Fiat 124 Spider ($25,390) Based on the Mazda Miata, and built by them, the 124 Spider uses a turbocharged Fiat engine, and more relaxed suspension tuning and a richer interior than its Japanese identical cousin. Cheaper to buy than a Miata, it’s every bit the grand tourer, making it easier to live with. 

COMPACT LUXURY SEDANS

Mercedes-Benz A-Class Sedan ($32,500)

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We all know that designer knock-offs is how stores like H&M thrive. Now, Mercedes-Benz is getting into knock-offs. Having copied the CLS in the smaller CLA, Mercedes has now plagiarized the pricier E-Class sedan with the new entry-level A-Class. No, the front-drive 188-horsepower/seven-speed automatic A-Class will never match the effortless performance of the rear-wheel-drive 255-horsepower/nine-speed automatic E-Class. But you’ll get styling that’s nearly as gorgeous and an interior that features a dazzling, large digital dashboard with refined, high-end graphics. Yes, you’ll find some hard-plastic bits and experience a bit of road noise, but at this price, who cares?

Runner up: Genesis G70 ($35,380): This new entry into the world of compact luxury sedans doesn’t have a fashionable name – yet. But it has the goods to beat the best, with a stout, rear-wheel-drive chassis, classis proportions and a ride/handling compromise that’s among the best-in-class. 

Larry Printz is an automotive journalist based in South Florida. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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