Inexpensive cars aren't necessarily cheap or shoddy, and 2017 is shaping up to be an exciting year for budget-friendly, entry-level vehicles across all categories. While some vehicles also made last year's list, this year's roster features several newcomers, such as Ford's Taurus and Chevy's Cruze. This list takes data from a range of sources, including Kelley Blue Book, Car and Driver, Edmunds, and AutoGuide, to determine the least-expensive models across the automotive spectrum. All prices listed are the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) for December 2016.
For yet another year, the entry-level Nissan Versa is the cheapest subcompact on the market. The 2017 model retains the 2016 sticker price of $12,825, as well as most of the outgoing model's features -- and lack of features. The bargain price comes with manual door locks, crank-up windows, four-speaker audio, no folding rear seats, no center armrest, and no height-adjustable driver's seat, although it does have air conditioning.
With a starting price of $12,995, the Mitsubishi Mirage comes with a standard five-speed manual transmission -- same as the Nissan Versa -- but it offers quite a few extras that the Versa lacks. It boasts power-adjustable mirrors, power windows, power locks, auto-off halogen headlights, remote keyless entry, automatic climate control, traction control, seven airbags, and a USB port. The tradeoff, however, is a paltry 78 horsepower.
AutoGuide reports that just one 2017 compact car comes in under the $16,500 mark: the Kia Forte. Starting at $16,490, the 2017 model gets 34 highway miles per gallon. According to Kelley Blue Book, the entry-level LX Manual positions Kia to pose a real challenge to the category's perennial heavyweights, including the vaunted Honda Civic. Only one other car in this segment (the Civic) offers three different body options: sedan, hatchback, and coupe.
For about $500 more than the Kia Forte, you can climb into a 2017 Chevrolet Cruze, which starts at $16,975. Chevy is offering the sedan in a hatchback for the first time in 2017, and that version boasts 47.2 cubic feet of cargo storage. A turbocharged 1.4-liter engine cranks out 153 horsepower, and safety features include 10 standard airbags.
The lowest price tag in the midsize segment is found on the Hyundai Sonata, which starts at $21,950. That's about $5,000 cheaper than the average midsize, according to AxleGeeks. A 2.4-liter engine musters up 185 horsepower. The Sonata has built-in security, cruise control, and a trip computer. Creature comforts include an MP3 player, satellite radio, and audio controls on the steering wheel.
Although upgrades can take a Malibu over $30,000, the entry-level model runs just $21,680. Drivers will enjoy more than just a turbocharged, 1.5-liter, 160-horsepower engine. The car earned a 5-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Extras include automatic headlights, telematics, and keyless start. Chevy added three new color options for 2017: Cajun Red Tintcoat, Arctic Blue Metallic, and Pepperdust Metallic.
Starting at $27,300, the Chevy Impala is one of the few full-size sedans to come in not just under $30,000 but under $28,000. According to AxleGeeks, the entry-level LS is a full 27 percent cheaper than its immediate competitors. The 2017 Impala boasts a rumbling 197 horsepower with a six-speed automatic transmission that delivers plenty of power on this front-drive vehicle.
The redesigned Taurus also boasts a sub-$28,000 sticker, which AxleGeeks says is more than $10,000 less than the average competitor. At $27,345, the Taurus SE includes standard features like telematics, cruise control, a trip computer, a backup camera, and an engine immobilizer anti-theft system. One drawback, however, is that it delivers just 22 combined miles per gallon.
With the reimagined Mustang, Ford also claims the title of cheapest sports car of 2017. With a price tag of $24,915, it's comparable to the new Mazda MX-5 Miata in cost but little else. Unlike the wimpier Miata, the 2017 Mustang roars in with a whopping 300 horsepower generated by a 3.7-liter V6 engine. Among the other standard features are automatic high-intensity discharge headlights, telematics, and keyless start. According to Motor Trend, Ford introduced more than half a dozen new color options for 2017.
Is it possible to own a brand-new luxury car for less than $28,000? Thanks to the Acura ILX, the answer is "yes." A 2.4-liter engine delivers 201 horsepower through an eight-speed auto-shift, dual-clutch manual transmission. The compact luxury sedan, which has an MSRP of $27,990, comes with 17-inch aluminum wheels, an anti-lock braking system, and electronic stability control.
The entry-level Sport edition of the Jeep Patriot line starts at just $18,040. Buyers can choose from seven color options and expect to get 30 highway miles per gallon or 23 in the city. The 2.0L four-cylinder engine puts out 158 horsepower, and safety features include six airbags in the cabin and impact-absorbing crush zones throughout the vehicle. The Patriot also made last year's list as the cheapest compact SUV.
Starting at $17,995, the 2017 Jeep Renegade stands out for its high ground clearance, advanced four-wheel drive, and unmistakable Jeep styling. It's got more interior room than its closest competitor from Mazda and more off-road capability than its Honda counterpart. The entry-level Sport version boasts a fun-to-drive, 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo engine.
The Ford Explorer is the SUV that, according to Car and Driver, originally started the SUV craze. Not only is it still here, but its $31,660 price tag makes it the most affordable in its class. Its LED tail lamps are brighter than traditional rear lights, and privacy glass in the second and third rows is now standard on all Explorers. Manual single-zone climate control is also standard, as are air filtration and rear auxiliary climate control.
Nissan breaks the $19,000 mark with the 2017 Nissan Frontier S King Cab, which starts at $18,390. Edmunds gives it a rating of 4.3 out of 5. A powerful V6 engine makes it a pleasure to drive both on the road and off, and the bed is durable, with sensible tie-down points. There aren't many changes from last year's model. Standard features are sparse, limited mostly to variable-speed intermittent wipers; and the fuel economy is barely satisfactory. But the price tag is undeniable.
For the second year in a row, Dodge has kept its full-size Ram 3500 under $34,000. It offers 31,210 pounds of towing capacity, or nearly 1 pound for every dollar spent. The MSRP for the entry-level Tradesman is $33,245, and Contractor's Top 50 named it one of the best products of the year. It's powered by the vaunted 6.7L Cummins Turbo Diesel I6 engine, and there is also a standard gas option.
Like last year, the Dodge Grand Caravan tops the list of cheapest minivans. The ultimate affordable family vehicle, the $24,995 price tag is more than $8,500 cheaper than the average 2017 passenger minivan. Edmunds raves about the versatile cargo bay and seating configurations, which can be credited to the Stow and Go storage system. This minivan seats seven, its six-cylinder engine has plenty of muscle, and it delivers ample sound throughout the cabin with a six-speaker audio setup.