(CNN) — You’ve probably seen shocking headlines saying the average price of a new car has reached about $48,000, according to industry analysts like Edmunds.com.
But while automobile prices are subject to inflation and supply chain problems, consumers choosing to buy more expensive cars remains one of the biggest reasons the average sale price has risen to such heights, even if base prices haven’t increased as much. That also means, of course, that customers can choose not to join in the big-SUV, glitzed out craziness. There are still plenty of choices on the market that cost lots less than the average new vehicle.
Take the new 2024 Chevrolet Trax, for instance, and the closely related Chevrolet Trailblazer. With starting prices around $20,000 and $22,000, respectively, both these SUVs are positively inexpensive by today’s standards. Both are also quite nice looking. The Trax, in particular, garnered repeated compliments from bystanders during a recent CNN test drive.
When shopping at the lower-priced end of the market, buyers will generally have to pass up the excessive engine power of more expensive vehicles, but even the three-cylinder turbocharged engines in these two small Chevy SUVs, for instance, provide perfectly adequate acceleration for daily driving.
“Everything’s going to accelerate onto the highway on ramp with relative ease,” said Tony Quiroga, editor-in-chief of Car and Driver magazine. “Granted more power makes it a little easier, but you’re still going to be able to cruise at 70, 80 miles an hour and not feel like your car is slow by any means.”
Interior design and materials may also be less luxurious than on more expensive models but even those can be quite nice after adding options on cheaper vehicles.
Balancing cost and features
The secret is balancing cost against the features you really want, said Jane Ulitskaya, an editor with Cars.com. The lowest base price will often get you a vehicle without features that many consider must-haves, like Apple CarPlay. On the other hand, a surprising number of inexpensive models have features you might not expect, like not only CarPlay, but wireless CarPlay and wireless phone charging, too.
When Cars.com recently announced its “Best Value Cars” for the 2023 model year, the overall winner was the Kia Rio S with the technology option package. At a total list price of about $20,000, it has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto plus things like LED headlights with automatic high-beams, automatic climate control and, for safety, a forward collision avoidance system with pedestrian detection.
Among pickups, Cars.com’s best value was the Ford Maverick XL with the Co-Pilot 360 driving assistance package added. That brought the truck’s total price to $27,000, still far less than the $45,000 median price among pickups overall. It’s a small front-wheel drive truck, so it won’t do everything bigger trucks will do, but it can still handle a lot of jobs that don’t require heavy towing and hauling. Also, it’s a hybrid with impressive 37-mile-per-gallon overall fuel economy.
Tax credits and EVs
Thanks to new tax credit rules, it’s even possible to get some cheaper fully electric models.
The Chevrolet Bolt EV has a starting price around $27,800, but the available $7,500 tax credit takes the real cost down to just around $20,000. And the Chevrolet Bolt EV’s electric motors provide the antidote to two of the biggest complaints about cheap cars: their slow and gasoline engines, said Car and Driver’s Quiroga.
Zach Gale, content director for MotorTrend’s Buyers Guide, agreed that the Bolt makes a great inexpensive choice.
“If you’re fortunate enough to have home charging, that would that would probably be my top pick, with that very large asterisk,” Gale said, “because there’s nothing like not having to visit a gas station anymore.”
And some cars are available for even less than $20,000, although that’s generally what’s considered cheap these days.
“The Nissan Versa [with a manual transmission] is like sixteen and change, and that’s a really, really pretty nice car,” said Quiroga.
Especially with supply chain problems that are still going on, the secret is to be open to trying some new things and consider options that maybe you hadn’t before, said Gale.
“We shouldn’t lie about this, it’s not going to be easy,” he said. “But if you’re if you’re willing to persist and stick to your budget, you absolutely can [find a good inexpensive car] if you can keep an open mind.”
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