Every year, vehicles become more feature-packed but also more expensive, potentially shutting out buyers on a tight budget. Fortunately, you can find many small, affordable cars that offer good value and don't feel cheap. To help you zero in on the best of those, here's a list of the standout budget-friendly small cars on the market today. We've picked these cars based on Edmunds' expert evaluations and price. Note that the manufacturer suggested prices below include destination fees.
2018 Kia Rio
Starting price: $14,795 (sedan) and $15,095 (hatchback)
Modern subcompacts and compacts aren't the dowdy econoboxes of yesteryear. Today you can find several pint-size sedans and hatchbacks that feel more upscale than expected, given their reasonable price tags. Among these, the Kia Rio is a standout: It's one of the least expensive vehicles in its class, and it's also one of the best. The interior materials are nicer than those in rivals, and the cabin is quiet around town. The Rio also feels pretty zippy when you're driving around turns.
If you can stretch your budget, check out the top EX trim ($19,295). Its tilt-and-telescoping wheel helps ensure that drivers of all sizes can find a comfortable driving position, while a 7-inch touchscreen connects your phone with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. The EX also includes a system that alerts the driver of an imminent front collision and can brake automatically to reduce the severity of an impact.
Fuel economy: 32 mpg combined
Also consider: the 2019 Ford Fiesta ($15,135)
2019 Honda Civic
Starting price: $20,345 (sedan) and $21,545 (coupe)
The Honda Civic is a perennial favorite, and for good reason. Its spacious cabin fits four adults with no problem; even tall passengers can find a comfortable seating position in back. We also like the Civic's entertaining performance and wide range of available body styles.
Every trim comes standard with the Honda Sensing package, which includes high-end safety features such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and forward collision warning with automatic braking. Though all Civics are value-rich, the midtier EX trim ($24,295) is the sweet spot. Its turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine is more fuel-efficient than the base engine and significantly more powerful.
Fuel economy: 33 mpg combined (2.0-liter engine); 36 mpg combined (turbocharged 1.5-liter)
Also consider: the 2019 Hyundai Elantra ($17,985)
2018 Mazda 3
Starting price: $18,990 (sedan) and $20,240 (hatchback)
While the Civic is one of the most impressive vehicles in its class, it's not the only compact to offer buyers a little something extra. The Mazda 3 also sets itself apart with a well-appointed interior and sporty driving dynamics. Its handling abilities are exceptional for an affordable economy car, yet the ride quality remains smooth. All Mazda 3s come with a infotainment system that can be operated using a touchscreen or a knob controller.
If your budget allows it, get the middle Touring trim ($20,985). It adds a ton of features for a reasonable price upgrade. The Touring also comes with a bigger and more powerful 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It provides quicker acceleration and a minimal drop in fuel economy compared to the 3's base engine.
Fuel economy: 30 mpg combined (2.5-liter engine); 31 mpg combined (2.0-liter)
Also consider: the 2019 Chevrolet Cruze ($18,870)
2019 Hyundai Kona
Starting price: $20,970
Crossovers are more expensive than comparably sized sedans or hatchbacks, so buyers on a tight budget might only be able to afford an SUV in the subcompact class. Among them, we think the Hyundai Kona is the best of the lot. Its stylish, rugged exterior distinguishes it from rivals, while its sporty handling gives it an edge in everyday driving. An intuitive touchscreen with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality will satisfy the tech demands of modern drivers. Good value and Hyundai's 10-year powertrain warranty round out its list of strengths.
If you have a little extra cash, the SEL ($22,780) is the Kona to get. Just one step up from the base SE trim, its added features — which include heated mirrors, heated front seats and a blind-spot monitor — are well worth the extra cost.
Fuel economy: 27 mpg combined (all-wheel drive); 30 mpg combined (front-wheel drive)
Also consider: the 2019 Honda HR-V ($21,515)
EDMUNDS SAYS: Buying an inexpensive new vehicle doesn't mean you have to live with bare-bones features and dreary performance. All you need to do is shop right.
These four small vehicles have features aplenty, are fun to drive, and will leave some money in your pocket, too.