Buying a new car is a nightmare for most of us. We always go over our budget, have to cope with the aggressive salespeople just to get a test drive, and then fall in love with a ride we have to walk away from because it’s missing one key component. It’s more frustrating than prom night and can feel to most like choosing from an impossible array of beautiful options.
While we can’t help you with that new car smell – which is probably full of carcinogens anyway – and we can’t tell you what is going to feel right to you, we can offer the 25 best new automobiles on the market for under $25 K.
How We Picked
Since there’s a few million factors that go into choosing what cars are “best” we had to approach this carefully. Reliability was our first factor, because if you’re wanting something in the relatively low price range, you don’t want to be paying a couple more grand just to get it fixed up.
Our second major point was bang for the buck. We wanted cars that offered a little extra under the hood, or additional features without adding weight to the price tag. Green technology, added performance, sleek looks, climate controls, or anything that enhanced safety, enjoyment, sustainability, or comfort went into the pile as well.
“It” Factor was our final determination. This comes down to sheer cool. If it was fairly reliable and had some extra stuff floating around that added value, we then went for something that looked hot, could corner like a fiend, was quick off the line, or just had a bitchin’ cup holder.
In short: We wanted low-priced, not cheap. Wherever possible, we grabbed bargains on older models that are still in the shrink wrap to save you pennies yet offer a premium machine.
Technically made by Mazda, this is the Mazda2 that has yet to be released in the United States. The 106 hp is tiny, but so is the cost. Inside is a pre-collision system, and easy steering wheel controls for all your bells and whistles. MSRP: $15,700
Nissan Versa Note SV
Wide and comfortable, the Note SV is ideal for the driver that wants exceptional reliability, ease of use, quiet, 31 mpg, and broad, comfortable seats. The doors allow easy in and out access, even for taller commuters, and the backseat is roomy, even if cargo isn’t. MSRP: $16,380
Chevrolet Sonic LT
Quaint, quick, and quiet, the LT is a subcompact that can be as frilly or as minimalistic as you like. Safety rankings for crash tests are astoundingly good, and the option of a sedan or hatchback give you a couple of choices depending on your needs. For a few dollars more, you can get a turbo on this 4 that’ll do you proud. MSRP: $17,530
Honda Fit EX
An SUV hybrid that brings a shocking amount of square footage to the table, we like the Fit EX for kids heading off to college or young urbanites who want extra seating or storage. Those who don’t need the room should look elsewhere, as this is a stiff, strange little hauler. MSRP: $17,900
On paper the 27 mpg isn’t mind-blowing, until you factor in that it comes with AWD out of the box. The infotainment system is sweet and saucy, while the decked out interior cuts noise to the barest of bones. Young families can’t miss at chez Impreza. MSRP: $18,295
Honda Civic LX
Primped and pimped to replace the disappointing models that came before it. The constantly variable transmission feels tight, handling is a dream, and it moves slick on the road. If it weren’t for the low profile that makes entry and exits difficult, it’d be our prayers answered. MSRP: $18,640
Toyota Corolla LE
Kia Soul Plus
Kia has been fighting like a dervish to make its bones as a reliable budget car, and with the Soul Plus, they’ve hit it on the head. MPG isn’t stellar at 26 a gallon, but with the heated seats, upright chair-like posture, wide view, and accessible style, we can dig it. MSRP: $19,400
FIAT 500 Abarth
Performance-tuned suspension and a tiny footprint make the Abarth a maneuverable city car that can be beaten only by a bike or motorcycle for getting around. The lightweight allows it to push the most out of only 160 ponies, stop on a dime, and run like a dream with a 5-speed manual. For a little more than our $25,000 ceiling, get the Cabrio for a real thrill. MSRP: $19,995
Mazda3 i Touring
33 miles per, plus handling that makes any drive fun, you can take your pick between hatchback and sedan. The multimedia system is also tops, once you learn it, and some added safety features give it more than you expect, but not more than you need. MSRP: $20,045
Chevrolet Sonic RS
Big brakes, a cute little body kit, and a tuned suspension make the RS a little less impressive than the Sonic LT, but keeps costs down while giving you 30+ feet of cargo space, and some comfort elements that make the cabin feel like home. Not a true hot-hatch, but a smart-hatch for the mellow motorist. MSRP: $20,095
The standard Cooper will get you out the door with 134 hp. The S has turbocharged those stallions and added a few for a total count of 189. Either is peppy and perfect for getting around town. MSRP: $20,950
Ford Fiesta ST
Coming in under 3,000 lbs. with a slicked back body design that hides 197 horses complete with turbo, the ST isn’t a screamer, but it hits the right notes. MSRP: $20,970
A midsize that’s actually fun to drive, the Mazda6 might be a 4-banger, but it’s got the heart of a coupe. The interior is a little loud on the highway and the center console takes some adjustment, so it isn’t perfect. At 32 mpg on average with a 6-speed automatic that corners like it’s on rails, we can forgive the missteps. MSRP: $21,495
There are luxury cars that don’t ride this nicely, and coupes that lack the same level of firm, unobtrusive handling. A rear camera comes standard, as does a user-friendly infotainment system that’s child’s play. A quick note: The 2016 model is far superior to its 2017 counterpart. MSRP: $21,745
Wagoneers looking to head for the hills will find all the room they need, all the luxury they want, and 32 mpg highway driving for those long rides. Suburbs, look out! MSRP: $22,595
Toyota Camry LE
Comfortable and accessible, the Camry has long held out as one of the most impressive sedans in its price range. No exception, the LE is refinement and elegance without a heavy cost. MSRP: $23,070
Hyundai Sonata Eco
It won’t push out the thunder, but the dual-clutch automatic can get this up to 60 in a respectable 6.5 seconds, which isn’t bad for a little family sedan. MSRP: $23,125
Yes, you’ll be forced to take the stripped-down V6 Camaro, and might have to go all the way back to the 2015 model to get under the price tag (MSRP on the 2016 is $25,700. $26,305 for the 2017), but we were impressed with the 325 hp and 30 miles to the gallon that came on the most basic models. It’s muscle for beginners. MSRP: $23,705
Jeep Wrangler Sport
Green and gentle on the planet, the Prius will give you around 50 miles to the gallon, is cozy for commuters, and handles city streets with quiet aplomb. We’d suggest a 2016 over a 2017 for a little more comfort. MSRP: $24,200
The Mustang has never been our ride of choice, but if you must have a 2017 under $25K, this will do it. The throaty V6 manual is a pleasure to drive, and the look is low and predatory. You’ll get both more power and better gas mileage out of a Camaro from yesteryear, but don’t let that discount the enjoyment to be had here. MSRP: $24,645
Ford Focus ST
This ain’t your daddy’s Focus. It’s a hot-hatch with a turbo-charged inline 4 that is the big selling feature of the Focus ST over the Fiesta. It doles out 252 horsepower, making it a bantamweight racer with 5 doors for packing in all the good stuff. If you’re eyeing the Focus RS but want to save 10 grand, give this a look. MSRP: $24,775
Mazda MX-5 Miata
The 155 horsepower will tell you lies. 50-50 weight distribution along with the tuned up and turned out suspension give a load of fun for the most playful wheelman. It’s old school sexy; don’t believe otherwise. MSRP: $24,915
Volkswagen Golf GTI
Aged to perfection, the king of the hot-hatches again reigns supreme with a 2.0 litre inline 4 that can pony up 210 steeds. Performance on a budget and that sweet VW feel make this a must. MSRP: $24,995