Get it out of your head right now: A cheap car is not a cruddy car. In fact, there can be a lot to love in an affordable package. More and more buyers need to shop for cars on a budget these days, too. Keep in mind, the average new car price is a couple grand over $40,000 these days. Crazy, we know. That's alright, because we want to help you pick your new car with your budget in mind.
For this list, you'll find our favorite cars on sale today that sit below the average new car price. We think you'll like them because we certainly do.
Sometimes, aggressive styling can help cover an otherwise mediocre car, but that's not the case with the 2021 Hyundai Elantra. Style and substance play together here to create an affordable compact sedan that's one of the best you can currently buy.
Funky styling inside and out helps you stand out from the traditionally conservative econobox crowd, but that's just the start. Even the base Elantra SE comes with furnishings like an 8-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a vast array of active and passive safety systems and a 147-horsepower I4 gas engine that promises up to 43 mpg highway. It's a little ho-hum to drive, but there's a turbocharged N-Line model to scratch that itch, need be. Have your cake and eat it, too, folks.
You can't have a list of great affordable cars without mentioning the Toyota Camry, bastion of the midsize sedan segment. Sure, most people talk about the Toyota Camry like they talk about a package of envelopes they bought at Staples, but that's for good reason: For decades, the Camry has stood as good, reliable, affordable transportation for families of all shapes and sizes.
Unsurprisingly, the Camry is showing no signs of slowing down. The non-hybrid Camry is supremely affordable, yet it's still loaded with tons of tech and safety systems as standard equipment, even on the base LE model. It's quite the smooth operator, too, returning a well-cushioned ride that makes long trips feel much shorter.
Full-size sedans are slowly going the way of the dodo, but there are still a few kicking around. Of that group, the Dodge Charger might be a little long in the tooth, but there's a surprising amount of value kicking around.
The 2021 Dodge Charger, like the half-decade's worth of Chargers before it, is a large and comfortable sedan with a post-destination manufacturer suggested retail price that just crosses the $30,000 mark, rising a little higher if you prefer four driven wheels to two. In base guise, its V6 engine is efficient enough, but it doesn't make the car feel pokey. Drop a little more coin and you can replace it with a V8 but still sit under the average new-car transaction price. The Charger isn't the most tech-forward vehicle on the planet, but it does come with Stellantis' Uconnect infotainment system, which has been one of our favorites for years, and it just keeps getting better.
"The Honda Accord is like a blue-chip stock: always a smart buy," writes our own Craig Cole in his review of the 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid. And it's true -- the Accord remains one of our perennial favorite vehicles, blending comfort, efficiency and driving dynamics in equal doses. You might think that adding a hybrid-electric powertrain would involve a compromise somewhere along the line, but nope, it's still really darn good.
With 212 net hp and 232 net lb-ft on offer, the 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid is plenty peppy in real-world use, but stay light on the accelerator and you'll reach the EPA-estimated fuel economy of 44 miles per gallon city, 41 mpg highway and 43 mpg combined. The battery hangs out behind the rear seats, so it doesn't mess with interior volume, nor does it impugn on trunk space, which bests both the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. An 8-inch touchscreen is standard across the range, too, offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the former of which is available wirelessly on EX trims and above.
The best affordable electric car
2022 Chevrolet Bolt EV
The first-gen Chevrolet Bolt EV was a lovely if imperfect electric hatchback. Now, for the 2022 model year, the Bolt EV is back with a host of upgrades -- and a second variant we'll get to later -- that make this five-door properly compelling and even more worth your attention (and money).
Outside, the Bolt EV has much sharper looks while retaining its hatchback shape. Inside, dramatic improvements abound, from general design to the actual materials in play. A 10.2-inch infotainment screen dominates the dashboard, while standard safety tech includes lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking and automatic high beams, with adaptive cruise control and a surround-view camera system available as options. Oh yeah, it has 259 miles of range, too, which for most commuters is nothing to shake a stick at.
The Honda Civic Type R is good, but boy howdy, it's expensive. If you want a similar but slightly less potent experience, while saving handfuls of cash and rocking an aesthetic that's just a smidge more adult, say hello to the 2021 Hyundai Veloster N.
The Veloster N gets its motive force from a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 producing 250 hp (270 hp with the optional Performance Package) and 260 lb-ft. A six-speed manual is standard, but new for 2021 is an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic that can provide the same hilariously fun backroad experience for folks who don't want to row their own. It is so much fun to drive, and like every other new Hyundai, the Veloster N is packed with all manner of safety and creature-comfort tech. Load the thing up to the gills and you still won't hit the $40,000 mark, which gives it some powerful value among similarly powered performance cars.
Another day, another paragraph extolling the virtues of Ford's "Baby Bronco," which eventually came to be known as the Bronco Sport. This compact SUV won our hearts with a potent blend of capability and quality, with a little dash of nostalgia for good measure.
Coming in below the $30,000 mark for its base model, the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is an impressive small crossover. Its tall body means there's plenty of space and visibility, the latter of which pairs well with the vehicle's off-road capabilities that put nearly every other tiny SUV to shame. It might not win every fight on paper when it comes to cargo space or towing capability, but there's so much moxie in the Bronco Sport that you can't help but adore it.
The 2021 Subaru Outback might be little more than a tall wagon, but it doesn't take much to qualify as a crossover these days, so a crossover it is, for the purpose of this list. No matter how it's categorized, though, the Outback is a lovely vehicle that's worth your time.
2021 models pick up one new piece of safety tech -- LED headlights that sweep left or right as the steering wheel turns -- complementing the standard EyeSight tech found on every Outback. An available turbocharged flat-four engine makes trips to the grocery store a little more exciting, while the optional 11.6-inch portrait infotainment screen makes quite the dashboard statement. We had a 2020 model for an entire year, and we found it to be a supremely competent highway cruiser that delivered solid efficiency in the process.
Consider the Kia Telluride the Choose Your Own Adventure book of three-row SUVs. With a starting price around $32,000, you can keep it Ace of Base and walk out of the dealership with a wholly righteous three-row SUV that oozes family values and won't break the bank. Or, you can throw money at your local salesperson and drive off with a Telluride loaded with wood trim, Nappa leather and power-folding rear rows. And you can have it just about anywhere in-between, too.
The 2021 Kia Telluride rocks, full stop. It's capable, its three rows offer enough space for big families to stay comfy on long road trips and it's loaded with all the same great tech that we praise in everything else Hyundai and Kia make. Its 291-hp V6 is a little thirsty, sure, but you can keep gas stations at bay by sticking with the standard front-wheel-drive getup. No matter how you spec it, though, the result is a seriously impressive SUV.
If you've driven one of Honda's newer hybrids, or if you've driven a gas-powered CR-V from this current generation, you'd be right in assuming that pairing those two things would result in a vehicle of equally high quality.
The 2021 Honda CR-V Hybrid is like a nice night out at a sensible restaurant. Good times abound, but not in a way that will make your wallet cry in agony. The CR-V Hybrid's powertrain is capable of producing 40 mpg in the city and 35 on the highway, which is solid for an all-wheel-drive vehicle, and the ride quality errs on the comfortable side. Throw in a sub-$30,000 base trim and a range-topper that caps out at about $37,000, and you have a wide variety of affordable trims on offer.
The best affordable electric SUV
2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV
The Bolt EV is no longer the only affordable electric car in Chevrolet's portfolio. Now, there's a higher-riding crossover version, the Bolt EUV, which looks mostly the same but actually shares no common sheet metal with its sibling. All the same great things from the Bolt EV are here, including a nicely styled interior with better materials and some solid standard tech. It may not look this way in pictures, but the EUV is actually half a foot longer than the EV, with the increased interior space to match.
One very important thing sets the Bolt EUV apart from any potential competitor, though: Super Cruise. Formerly limited to expensive Cadillac vehicles, GM's advanced driver aid is now available on the Bolt EUV, too. Hit the button on any of more than 200,000 miles of mapped highway and the vehicle will take control of the steering, brakes and accelerator to cruise handsfree.
Is the 2021 Mazda CX-5 Turbo technically a performance SUV? Well, no, but until the Hyundai Kona N arrives, the CX-5 with its turbocharged I4 engine delivers an experience that is as close to a performance-oriented vehicle as you can get in this price range.
Available on higher trims, the CX-5's optional 2.5-liter turbocharged I4 produces a solid 250 hp and 320 lb-ft, the latter of which makes for some very exciting starts and on-ramp antics. A solid body and properly damped suspension allow you to have a surprising amount of fun in corners, and in the right spec, its interior trimmings put some actual luxury cars to shame in terms of both materials and styling.
Comparison of the best affordable cars for 2021
|Category||Name||Base Engine||Output||Fuel Economy (mpg, city/hwy/combined)||Base Price|
|Best affordable small car||2021 Hyundai Elantra||2.0-liter I4||147 hp / 132 lb-ft||33 / 43 / 37||$20,655|
|Best affordable midsize car||2021 Toyota Camry||2.5-liter I4||203 hp / 184 lb-ft||28 / 39 / 32||$25,965|
|Best affordable full-size car||2021 Dodge Charger||3.6-liter V6||292 hp / 260 lb-ft||19 / 30 / 23||$31,490|
|Best affordable hybrid car||2021 Honda Accord Hybrid||2.0-liter I4 hybrid||212 hp net||48 / 48 / 48||$27,565|
|Best affordable electric car||2022 Chevrolet Bolt EV||Single electric motor||200 hp / 266 lb-ft||TBA (259 mi. est. range)||$31,995|
|Best affordable performance car||2021 Hyundai Veloster N||2.0-liter I4||275 hp / 260 lb-ft||22 / 28 / 25||$33,245|
|Best affordable small SUV||2021 Ford Bronco Sport||1.5-liter I3||181 hp / 190 lb-ft||25 / 28 / 26||$29,650|
|Best affordable midsize SUV||2021 Subaru Outback||2.5-liter H4||182 hp / 176 lb-ft||26 / 33 / 29||$27,845|
|Best affordable three-row SUV||2021 Kia Telluride||3.8-liter V6||291 hp / 262 lb-ft||20 / 26 / 23||$33,415|
|Best affordable hybrid SUV||2021 Honda CR-V Hybrid||2.0-liter I4 hybrid||212 hp net||40 / 35 / 38||$31,710|
|Best affordable electric SUV||2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV||Single electric motor||200 hp / 266 lb-ft||TBA (250 mi. est. range)||$33,395|
|Best affordable performance SUV||2021 Mazda CX-5 Turbo||2.5-liter I4||250 hp / 320 lb-ft||23 / 28 / 25||$31,760|
How we made our list
Believe it or not, we drove them! Everyone at Roadshow is constantly evaluating new vehicles in all types of situations, whether it's hauling mulch or just getting the family from Point A to Point B. Our vast library of published reviews allows us to look at every car in context and determine what makes a properly good vehicle. The names you see on this list represent some of our favorite affordable cars from all corners of the auto industry -- except the super expensive ones, naturally.
Don't forget, though: Your mileage may vary, and not just literally. Everybody's needs are different, and what's good for one goose may not be for the gander. We're flattered if you want to take this list as canon, but we implore you to get out there and actually take a spin in these cars, and others, to get a feel for what you, dear reader, truly want in a vehicle.
Read more: Best convertibles for 2021