Cheap Can Be Fun, Too: Here’s KBB’s 10 Coolest New Cars Under $18k

We know the problem all too well. You want to get a new car, and you want it to be cool, but you’re on a budget. So what to do?

The editors at Kelley Blue Book have some suggestions. Not jut a couple, either: KBB has put out a list of the 10 coolest cars for 2017 that cost less than $18,000.

That’s a mighty low threshold, especially considering that the average price of a new car these days is nearly double that amount at $35,000.

Suffice it to say, then, that you won’t be getting a lot of muscle for that amount, and you won’t be shaming others on the road with badge prestige. But there are more important things when looking for a new car, and these ten fit the criteria without costing you an arm and a proverbial leg – at least not relatively speaking, anyway.

1 – Mazda3

Cost no object, we think the Mazda3 is one of the best-looking cars out there. It’s fun to drive, too, which makes it a winner in our book. Plus you can get it as a sedan or hatchback, and even with a manual if you’re inclined to row your own gears.

2 – Honda Civic

The Civic is a perennial hot seller and a top choice. To its established position, Honda has added greatly improved styling on the latest model, making it a solid option for those in the market – whether you want two doors, four doors, or five.

3 – Jeep Renegade

Less into cars and more into SUVs? Check out the Jeep Renegade, which offers all the ruggedness of larger and more expensive machinery but in a smaller, more cost-effective package. And if you’re into a more rounded, the Fiat 500X is essentially its twin (albeit priced closer to the $20k mark).

4 – Kia Soul

The Renegade isn’t the only SUV on the list. The Kia Soul is (sort of) a sport-ute, too, but with a more urban vibe. The last surviving member of a generation of unusual boxes on wheels, the Soul keeps popping up on these fun-on-a-budget lists, and for good reason.

5 – Hyundai Veloster

Want something sportier, and maybe a little more unusual? The Koreans have you covered again with the Hyundai Veloster – a sport hatch with unusual styling and an even more unusual layout. It may or may not be your thing, but it sure is a refreshing alternative to the Accent or Elantra.

6 – Volkswagen Jetta

A German car for $18k? That could only be the VW Jetta. Not even the Golf starts that low, never mind anything from Mercedes, BMW, Audi, or Porsche. Yet it doesn’t feel low-rent, and for those with European tastes but a small budget, it could be the only choice worth considering.

7 – Toyota Corolla iM

Formerly sold as a Scion and as the Auris overseas, the Corolla iM is an entirely different model to the Corolla sedan that’s so ubiquitous on American roads. It replaces the old Matrix (originally developed together with the Pontiac Vibe) with more dynamic styling, bulletproof reliability, and hatchback versatility.

8 – Subaru Impreza

Want all-wheel traction and stability without the bulk of an SUV? That’s hard to come by at this price point, but it’s where the Impreza sets itself apart from the competition. A recent comprehensive redesign makes it that much more compelling to newcomers and diehard Subie fans alike.

9 – Honda Fit

Despite its small size, the Honda Fit can accommodate a surprising amount of stuff. (Maybe that’s why it’s called the Fit.) The flexible rear seats make it that much more versatile, while the small footprint makes it easy to maneuver, and the Japanese build quality shines through.

10 – Chevrolet Sonic

The cheapest car on this list, the Chevy Sonic is a solid choice for a first-time new-car owner. It’s roughly comparable to the Honda Fit, but can also be had as a sedan as well as a hatch. Either way, the styling is decidedly sporty, the equipment top-notch, and the value hard to match in any segment or at any price point.

  • Tinky-Winky

    Is this really where the fun begins for automotive journalists? If you have 18k to spend and you want a fun car then buying a new car is the last thing you should do. Better buy a proper used one and you’ll also have a lot left for some quick repairs and maintenance or even modifications.

    • fabri99

      How much are sportscars in the US though? I have no idea of US pricing, but in Europe a new MX-5 (base model, sure) won’t cost you more than 25k. Which leads me to believe there has to be some cheap sports cars, or hot hatches at least (Fiesta ST, for a start).

      • Tinky-Winky

        Sorry, I’m from Europe. If new car smell is really that important then the cheapest hot hatch I could find from local sellers is Renault Clio RS with reduced starting price of 20k, others start from about 24k and people probably want some extra kit too.

      • Six Thousand Times

        You couldn’t get a new MX-5 for under $18K. They’re around $20-$25 thousand here, too. Fiesta STs are pretty rare so you have to order them rather than just buy off the lot and that means little dealing to be had.

        • Benjamin B.

          There was one at one of the Ford dealers near me. Yes. They keep it as a show model pretty much.

    • dolsh

      There are A LOT of people out there that would rather have the security of a warranty, and factory financing.

      (Granted: these are the same people that should just drop $2k on a used car and save $$ for a change…but you’re probably not winning that battle either)

    • Six Thousand Times

      This is obviously true. I’m sure you could get a nice used GTI or Toyota GT86 for $18K. Maybe a gently used Camaro, or Subaru WRX, too.

    • Benjamin B.

      It’s a what if. Used is the way to go. Pre owned or die. Hehe.

  • fabri99

    I’d remove some of the cars from this list, but I like the idea that cheap cars can be fun and cool. I think the best example is the extremely funky yet not costly at all Citroèn C4 Cactus, shame the US doesn’t get it…

  • eye.surgeon

    There are some laughably bad choices on this list. No one even remotely involved in automotive journalism wrote this. You should be making fun of it, not linking it.

    • Six Thousand Times

      But also some very good ones. And KBB is fairly good at values so if you’d care to expound on why this article should only be scoffed at…? The internet doesn’t always require ridicule, sometime simple discussion is OK, too.

  • dolsh

    No way anyone is getting the Renegade for $18k. FCA simply doesn’t stock the low end models (but will happily advertise them), then works on talking people into the $30k version they have on the lot with all their appealing financing.

  • Paul

    I think KBB is living in a dream world with some of these choices and that price point.

  • Six Thousand Times

    I just couldn’t do the Veloster, I just couldn’t. Maybe a sporty-ish Elantra hatch? And isn’t it time for a new Sonic? Hopefully GM saved the stillborn Corsa to build it from.

  • brn

    This is the “name some cheap cars that don’t suck [much]” article.

  • Wandering_Spirit

    I understand the need to build an article even when there isn’t anything to write about. I also understand that tastes are subjective. Some of the cars could indeed be fun to drive, like the Mazda, the Impreza and the Renegade. However, and this is about my taste so i may be wrong and others may comment on that, there are few cars in there i could not define as FUN not even under threat of death. Some of those designs convey boredom. The Corolla, the VW and what to say of the Sonic and the Fit? How can one possibily define a Kia Soul as “FUN”? What is fun for you? Going around with an econobox while everyone around you pokes you at your poor taste in cars?
    There is so much you can buy for that amount as second hand that there is no need to hurt yourself with those cars. Last but not least, i don’t know where those cars are that cheap. In Italy most of them would be expensive enough to make you think about better models. In Taiwan, they are relatively cheap but there is much better choice, including really big cars owners throw away after one year or so that sell for very cheap prices. You don’t really want one of those. I hope i won’t have to get one of those when the moment comes to pick up a new one in Taiwan.

  • Jørn-tommy Skjellnes

    i would have a Fiat 500, a hyundai i20 or a suzuki ignis if i have 18-20000 dollar, ps i live in norway where the cars are extremly expensive.

  • brn

    I just did a search for cars in my area that are being advertised (not retail, but sale prices) for no more than 18K. Here’s what I found.
    Dodge Dart GT – Um it’s a 2016, but still new.
    Ford Escape S – Not “fun”, but a good vehicle
    Mitsubishi Outland Sport ES – Pass
    Kia Forte Koup SX – Not fun
    Chevy Trax LT – Yawn
    Chevy Sonic LT – See article
    Ford Escape SE – Now we’re getting somewhere
    Chevy Cruz LS
    Chrysler 200 – 2016 again. Disqualified.
    Nissan Sentra SV – Have you seen the IIHS death ratings for Nissan?
    Ford Focus SEL – Kinda fun
    Chevy Malibu 1LS
    Mitiubishi Lancer LE – Pass on everything Mitsu.
    Kia Soul – Not fun.
    VW Jetta 2.0L TDI S – Still trying to sell a “new” 2015 model!
    Fiat 500C Pop – Now this one actually could be fun. Still don’t want it.
    Hyundai Elantra Value Edition – Boring edition of a boring car
    Mazda Mazda3 Sport – Could be fun as long as you don’t mind low-end interior
    Ford Fusion SE – Kinda fun, on the right day. Heck of a deal!
    Dodge Journey SE – They still make these?
    VW Jetta 1.4T SE – No fun.
    Toyota Yaris iA – The opposite of fun
    Honda Fit LX – Fun in a gutless POS kinda way
    Chevy Spark 2LT – A more refined Honda Fit?
    Kia Rio LX – I seriously thought they stopped making the Rio ten years ago
    Nisan Versa Note SV – Nissan version of the Fit?
    Toyota Corolla LE – Anti-fun
    Hyundai Volster Turbo R-spec – OK, it’s a 2016 that hasn’t sold. Should be fun, but why still on the lot?
    Ford Fiesta SE – Never been near one, so I can’t say
    Mitsubishi Mirage G4 SE – What happened to Mitsu? They making nothing worthwhile anymore.
    Mitsubishi Lancer ES – No.

    It took me 15 minutes, but there you have a more comprehensive article than KBB put together. You’re welcome. OK, I didn’t have pictures, with one picture being several times the size of the others, so maybe the advertisers will be upset with me.

  • An Existing Person

    The only car here being even remotely near fun is the Veloster.

  • Sukhoi31m3

    Well, there’s two on the list I would consider: the Mazda 3 hatchback in base model form and the Honda Fit.
    Both come with sticks that are slick shifters and engines that don’t mind being aired out. The base model Mazda comes with tires that actually have a sidewall (more comfortable ride) and a 2 liter engine you’re gonna have to work, which is quite fun. The Fit is basically the same formula slightly tilted more towards utility, slightly sacrificing some sportiness. The good news is they both can be found on dealer lots, many times with additional discounts because of the manual transmission.

  • Benjamin B.

    Small sedans are fugly.

  • KSegg

    1.) None of these is fun.
    2.) None of these is cheap.

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