High-tech features are no longer restricted to luxury cars. Many entry-level cars, those going for well under $20,000, are sporting technologies that work with today's portable electronics.
2011 Chevrolet Cruze
The Cruze, an all-new compact sedan, is not the smallest car in the Chevy lineup, yet it still can be had, optioned up, for less than $20,000. We reviewed the Eco model, optimized for the best fuel economy, but the 1LT version is also a worthy choice. Both come with an economical turbocharged 1.4-liter engine with enough power to keep the car drivable around town and on the highway.
The Cruze can be optioned with Bluetooth phone and iPod integration, and also includes Bluetooth streaming audio. There is also limited voice command for making calls. But Onstar is the Cruze's secret weapon. With it, you can request directions to an address and they will be downloaded to the car. Turn-by-turn guidance shows up on the instrument cluster display.
With a base price of $15,500 for the hard-top Pop model, it is easy to get a Fiat 500 for less than $20,000. We reviewed the 500C, its convertible top making it a bit more expensive, but this top trim model still barely topped our price limit. Because of its size, the 500 is excellent in an urban environment, and it definitely earns style points. A 1.4-liter engine is not all that powerful, but fine for this little retro car.
The Fiat 500's big claim to tech fame is its Blue & Me system, which lets you connect Bluetooth phones and MP3 players. Using the same Microsoft technology base as Ford's Sync, this system offers some very advanced functionality. In our review of the car, we found some difficulties with this system, but Fiat should be able to address those issues through software updates. The Fiat 500 can also be had with a Garmin navigation option, a portable GPS device designed for the car.
The Fiesta starts at a mere $13,200 for the base sedan, but no tech is available on that model. However, the high-trim sedan is only $16,600. We prefer the hatchback, which will cost you a little more, topping out at $17,500. The Fiesta's 1.6-liter engine gives it enough power to get around in sprightly fashion, and a stylish exterior won't make you embarrassed to valet park it.
Ford's Sync system has been a high point of its cars for years, integrating Bluetooth phones and MP3 players. The voice command is truly excellent, letting you request music playback by name, or saying the name of a contact and having the car dial the associated telephone number. But Ford is constantly improving Sync, and the new AppLink feature has made the Fiesta the first car to come out with Pandora integration.
Hyundai offers three cars that can be legitimately driven off the lot for less than $20,000, and all have the same basic cabin tech. We have not reviewed the Veloster as of this date, and among the Elantra and Accent, we liked the smaller Accent better. This car starts at $14,195, but you will probably want to take it up a trim level or two. Good handling, a manual transmission, and a 1.6-liter engine made the car fun to drive, while its short length made for easy urban parking.
2012 Hyundai Accent iPod and Bluetooth phone integration
There is no particular edge to the Accent's cabin tech, just solid iPod and Bluetooth phone integration. Hyundai puts a sizable screen in the car, making it easy to browse through the music library of an overloaded iPod. There is also Bluetooth streaming audio for the Android set. Voice command lets you say the name of a contact from your phone to place the call.
The minuscule Scion iQ starts out at $15,995, and as there are no trim levels, it is all options from there. Expect to come in around $17,500 when all is said and done. This little car buzzes around nicely in an urban environment, although its small, 1.3-liter engine loses steam at higher speeds. Its shortness makes it highly maneuverable and exceptionally easy to park.
Scion offers two head unit upgrades for the iQ, the top level including navigation. But we recommend the midlevel head unit, which gives you a decent-size screen and full Pandora integration. It also includes solid iPod and Bluetooth phone connectivity. Aftermarket, you would probably want to upgrade the audio system, adding a subwoofer, for example.