Car prices are getting out of hand. The MSRP of many new models is ballooning faster than the actual size of new cars, which are now packed with features and more safety but have taken on chunky dimensions all around. More car means more money, or so the refrain from your dealer might go. Gone are the days of the bustling under-$20,000 segment. When people ask you to recommend a cheap new car, what make and model do you usually go with?
Your answer doesn’t have to be under the $20k mark, because value may be relative. But in 2023, cheap new cars are few and far between on the U.S. market. We can count the number of these cars with our fingers now — with just the one hand. There are three of them: the Mitsubishi Mirage, Kia Rio or Kia Rio 5, and the Nissan Versa.
They’re the only ones carrying the baton for budget vehicles into this decade, these so-called econoboxes. Hell, I still fondly remember the era of the $9,999 Nissan Sentra; those were the days, the golden age of daydreaming about a brand new car, which most people in the U.S. could comfortably afford without having to bear the weight of what is essentially another mortgage payment — as many drivers of new cars do today.
I know that inflation (allegedly) factors into the equation. Sure. But that’s just as arbitrary, senseless and out of control for the majority of people in America as dealer markups are. In fact, there’s evidence suggesting that dealer markups contribute to inflation, meaning these things are all in circular orbit together. Never mind that wages for the average American have hardly kept up with inflation — if at all.
Is it any wonder that many young people have traded in the prospect of a new car for a new phone? Automakers like Volvo and Chevrolet say they’re going to chase after younger buyers. Some are trying to target new demographics with so-called cheap new cars, but the yardstick keeps moving. Within the span of a decade it doubled from the $10,000 mark to $20,000. Who knows where it’ll be in another ten years, by 2033. So, when a starry-eyed college grad or budding car enthusiast poses the question of what cheap new car to buy, what model is your go-to recommendation?