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9 cars under $15,000

The average price of a new vehicle was $30,803 in 2012, according to Edmunds.com. So what could you get for about half of that amount? The answer is: more than you might expect.

Nissan Versa

Base price: $11,990 (sedan); EPA rating (city/highway): 27/36 mpg. What it has: AC, tilt steering wheel, AM/FM/CD audio with input jack, spare tire, six airbags. What it doesn't: Bluetooth, power windows and locks, cruise control, tachometer. What it's like: The previous generation hatchback starts at $14,670 and this all-new sedan starts at $2,680 less. The Versa sedan offers a decent ride and a surprisingly roomy cabin. A five-speed manual transmission is standard; a four-speed automatic is optional.

Chevrolet Spark

Base price: $12,185 (5-door hatchback); EPA rating: 32/38 mpg. What it has: AC, power windows, tilt steering wheel, AM/FM audio with input jack, 10 airbags. What it doesn't: Bluetooth, cruise control, power door locks, spare tire. What it's like: A five-door hatchback is the Spark's sole body style. It delivers loads of style and cargo-carrying flexibility. Interior materials are honest, if inexpensive. A five-speed manual transmission is standard; a four-speed automatic is optional.

Smart ForTwo

Base price: $12,490; EPA rating: 34/38 mpg. What it has: Eight airbags. What it doesn't: A back seat, radio, AC, cruise control, power steering, spare tire. What it's like: The ForTwo is the only one on this list that requires premium fuel. There are only two seats. The continuously variable automatic transmission has odd shift characteristics, while the ForTwo's short length makes for a truly punishing ride. And most every feature costs extra. Smart? No.

Ford Fiesta:

Base price: $13,200 (sedan); EPA rating: 29/39 mpg. What it has: Intermittent wipers, AC, tilt steering wheel, AM/FM audio with input jack, spare tire, seven airbags. What it doesn't: Power windows and locks, cruise control. What it's like: The Fiesta's fuel economy is impressive. Even better, this is one inexpensive car that's really fun to drive. The interior is impressively finished for the price. Like some other cars in the group, the rear seat is cramped. And this price is for the sedan, not the pricier five-door hatchback.

Kia Rio

Base price: $13,600 (four-door sedan); EPA rating: 29/37 mpg. What it has: Six-speed transmission, intermittent wipers, Bluetooth, USB/audio input jacks, steering wheel-mounted controls, AC, tilt steering wheel. What it doesn't: Power windows and door locks, spare tire, cruise control. What it's like: Last year, the Kia Rio received a total makeover that transformed it from drab to fab. A 138-horsepower four-cylinder returns decent mileage. There's a lot of standard gear on the base model; the options list merely gilds the lily. The five-door hatchback costs $200 more.

Chevrolet Sonic

Base price: $14,185 (four-door notchback); EPA rating: 26/35 mpg. What it has: AC, Bluetooth, AM/FM with input jack, power door locks, steering wheel-mounted controls, spare tire, 10 airbags. What it doesn't: USB port, power windows, cruise control. What it's like: Its interior is visually caffeinated. Base models get a 140-horsepower engine mated to a standard five-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic. As for handling, well, just tackle a corner with gusto.

Toyota Yaris

Base price: $14,370 (three-door hatchback); EPA rating: 30/37 mpg. What it has: AC, intermittent wipers, AM/FM/XM/HD radio with CD player and input jack, tilt steering wheel, power door locks, spare tire, nine airbags. What it doesn't: Power windows, steering wheel-mounted controls, cruise control. What it's like: This hatchback has a remarkable amount of space. Fuel economy is decent, but performance, ride and handling are unexceptional. And in an era when rivals are endowing their smallest cars with a dash of panache, the Yaris' drab interior reminds you of how little you spent.

Hyundai Accent:

Base price: $14,545 (four-door sedan); EPA rating: 28/37 mpg. What it has: Six-speed transmission, intermittent wipers, AC, tilt steering wheel, AM/FM/XM/CD with USB/audio input jacks, power windows and door locks, power heated mirrors, power steering, spare tire, six airbags. What it doesn't: Cruise control, Bluetooth, steering wheel-mounted audio controls. What it's like: The Accent has been reworked with more interior space than its competition. The car looks as if it's in motion, even when it's not. And it's reasonably agile to drive with good fuel economy. The five-door costs an extra $250.

Mazda2

Base price: $14,720; EPA rating 29/35 mpg. What it has: Power windows and door locks, tilt steering column, keyless entry, AM/FM/CD audio with USB/input jacks, intermittent wipers, spare tire. What it doesn't: Bluetooth, cruise control. What it's like: It's no speed demon off the line, but it is reasonably responsive once you've accelerated. But Mazda has this car tuned right; it's fun to toss around. Interior space is expansive given the car's small dimensions, but overall ambience is a bit more spartan than the Fiesta's.

All prices represent base models without options, destination charge or taxes. All models have stability control, antilock brakes, traction control, tire pressure monitors and a number of airbags.

9 cars under $15,000 04/04/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 5:09pm]

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