Cheap car roundup includes two tiny models

The Nissan Versa went up by $1,000, but it's still the cheapest car on the market.
The Nissan Versa went up by $1,000, but it's still the cheapest car on the market.
Posted: October 22, 2012

Gentlemen in the percussion section, you're here to rehearse, not converse. We don't care what kind of exquisite medieval tortures you would inflict on the man who once sold you a Yugo.

Let's get to work. Let's try a protracted drumroll, followed by a thunderous clash of cymbals. The Annual Inquirer Cheap Car Survey (ICCS) deserves an intro of this magnitude.

Yes, the frost is on the pumpkin, and it's time for me to offer my fellow fiscally challenged Philadelphians a chance to motor to work or the mall in an affordable new car blessed with good mileage and an anxiety-lowering warranty.

I was able to retain last year's $14,000 limit for the survey, despite the fact that the price of new wheels keeps rising. But inflation did cut the field of under-14s from six to five.

So let's take a look at our five-pack of small sedans and hatchbacks, keeping in mind that the MSRPs given are for base cars and don't include shipping and incentives:

Nissan Versa 1.6S sedan ($11,990). This base Versa may have gone up $1,000 again this year, but it's still the lowest-priced car in the marketplace. The Versa is essentially a carryover for 2013, but it did get an EPA mileage bump: from 26 city and 34 highway, to 27 and 36.

This reasonably roomy and comfortable subcompact is fitted with a 109-horsepower engine and a five-speed manual gearbox (an automatic adds $1,000). Standard gear includes air conditioning, antilock brakes, and traction control.

Chevrolet Spark LS hatchback ($12,245). A new U.S. model for 2013, the Spark is a re-badged Daewoo Matiz whose diminutive footprint allows you to call it a minicar, a city car, or a munchkin. At 145 inches long, it is a foot-and-a-half shorter than Chevy's Sonic subcompact, which makes it ideal for moving about on Center City's more claustrophobic side streets.

The Spark's 1.2-liter Cuisinart twirls up a modest 84 horsepower, but then you don't need a lot of motivation when you weigh less than 2,400 pounds.

The five-door hatch has EPAs of 32 city and 38 highway. It can be fitted with either a manual or automatic and boasts 10 air bags.

Smart fortwo Pure ($12,490). If you thought the Spark was a midget, consider this two-seat offering from Mercedes-Benz's Smart car subsidiary. It's only 106 inches long and weighs a pre-school 1,808 pounds. The equally tiny 1-liter engine serves up 70 horsepower, is buttoned to a five-speed automatic, and engenders EPAs of 34 and 38.

While good, those economy numbers are less than you'd expect from a car this light and an engine this small. The car's comebacker is its safety-mindedness and unchallenged urban maneuverability.

Ford Fiesta S sedan ($13,200). Introduced as a 2011 model, the subcompact Fiesta has much to recommend it. It is surprisingly roomy, provides a comfortable ride, and gets more than enough motivation from its 120-horsepower engine. The base car's EPA estimates are nice numbers of 28 city and 38 highway with the base five-speed manual gearbox. It can be fitted with an optional six-speed automatic.

The Fiesta is available as a sedan or hatchback and with a wide array of hedonism, ranging from heated leather seats to a moonroof. The long litany of safety gear includes a Boron steel safety cage.

Kia Rio LX sedan ($13,600). Redesigned for 2012, the sporty Kia subcompact is available as a sedan or hatchback. This is a greatly improved car, especially in the fuel-economy department, where the use of direct fuel injection has bumped up its EPAs to an exceptional 30 city and 40 highway - and increased the 1.6-liter engine's horsepower to 138.

Honorable mention. Several cars priced themselves out of the survey this year. These are nice subcompacts that barely missed, so I thought you might want to tack them onto your shopping list: Chevy Sonic ($14,200); Toyota Yaris ($14,370); Mazda2 ($14,530); and Hyundai Accent ($14,545).

Contact Al Haas at

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