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Home » Auto Insurance, Auto Ownership

The Top 15 Cheapest New Cars of 2012

Last updated by on 24 Comments

Update: I’ve also put together a list of this year’s cheapest new cars.

Looking for a cheap new car? It’s important to do the research ahead of time to get a clear picture of what you’re buying. Sticker price, dealer cost, fuel efficiency, engine size, and warranty length all factor in to what you can negotiate and future costs. I’ve included all of these metrics on this list of 2012′s cheapest new cars.

There are a few changes in 2012 versus the 2011 cheapest new cars list. Most notably, Chevy retired the drab and tired Aveo and replaced it with the beefed-up Sonic, which comes in as the 6th least expensive new vehicle. The brand new Scion IQ displaces the Scion XB, and comes in as the 5th lowest cost car for the 2012 model year. And the Fiat 500 Pop makes the list, in its inaugural model year. J-Lo would be proud.

A few returnees boost better fuel efficiency this year, particularly the Kia and Hyundai models as they move to improved 1.6L 6-speed automatic transmissions. I decided to include engine specs this year if you’d like to make comparisons.

All of the vehicles you will find on the list have automatic transmission. Why? It’s hard to find, negotiate, and re-sell manuals. If you are interested in manuals, each model, excluding the Scion’s have them. They to run roughly $1,000 less than the MSRP’s I quoted, but their limited availability may prevent your ability to find and negotiate (if you have 25 vs. 2 to choose from on a lot and other dealers locally have the same numbers, your negotiating power goes up).

cheapest cars

The Used Vs. New Debate

Before running out any buying a shiny new car, do your homework to make sure it is the best use of your money. Be honest with yourself in evaluating whether you in fact need a car in the first place, and if you have a significant other, whether you need a second car.

If you do need a car, new cars might not present the best value for you – although, this list is a good place to start for value. If you get a new car, baby it, and ride it until its death, it is possible to get a better return for your investment than buying used. However, keep in mind that new cars lose 11% of their value as soon as they are driven off the lot, on average.

Other Factors to Consider with a Cheap Car

Beyond the prices I’ve listed, there are some other considerations you should have when shopping for a new car:

  • Fuel economy is important. A Scion IQ, for example, would save you over $400 every year in fuel costs vs. the new Chevy Sonic. My source for fuel costs is fueleconomy.gov, which used a $3.23 average per gallon with 45% highway, 55% city miles, and 15,000 annual miles.
  • New models are unlikely to offer up big incentives until the end of their model year. It’d be wise to wait. I did not factor incentives in to the prices listed.
  • Ongoing costs and insurance costs for cheap cars is generally lower, but you don’t want to sacrifice safety. Make sure a car you choose rates high on safety.

Foreign Automakers Still Own the Market for the Cheapest Vehicles

Foreign Automakers claim ownership of 13 of the 15 cheapest new cars. Only the new Chevy Sonic and last year’s new Ford Fiesta make the list from the U.S. automakers. Topping the list with the most models are Kia (3), Scion (2), Nissan (2),and Honda (2). Smart, Hyundai, Chevy, Ford, and Toyota are each represented by one model on the list.

My Picks for the Most Improved & Best Cheapest New Cars of 2012

The Soul, Fit, and Fiesta are still personal favorites for their functionality, styling, and price. However, I have to hand it to the Versa for being a solid car with improved fuel efficiency (25 mpg to 30 city, and 33 to 38 in the city) and still comfortably being the second cheapest.

The once-ugly Kia Rio is now rather stylish, is $495 cheaper than last year, and jumps from 27 to 30 mpg city and 36 to 40 highway. It gets my pick for having the best improvement from last year to 2012.

Without further ado, here are the 15 cheapest new cars of 2012 from #15 up to #1. What’s your favorite?

15. Honda Civic

2012 Honda CivicBase Automatic Transmission model: Honda Civic DX, 2-door Sedan
Engine: 1.8L, 5-speed Auto Transmission, 16-valve, 4 cylinder, 140 HP
MSRP: $17,175
Dealer Cost: $15,728
City MPG: 28
Highway MPG: 39
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,514
Powertrain Warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles
Limited Basic Warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles
Notes: The 2012 Civic is re-styled. With a $1,400 spread between MSRP and dealer cost, there may be room to negotiate.

14. Fiat 500

2012 Fiat 500Base Automatic Transmission model: Fiat 500 Pop, 2-Door Hatchback
Engine: 1.4L, 6-speed Auto Transmission, 16-valve, 4 cylinder, 101 HP
MSRP: $17,000
Dealer Cost: $15,905
City MPG: 27
Highway MPG: 34
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,785
Powertrain Warranty: 4 years or 50,000 miles
Limited Basic Warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles
Notes: As a guy, I hate to admit it (it’s definitely branded for the ladies), but this is kind of a cool car. Reminds me of the VW bug in appearances. The standard base model is pretty loaded in features. One disappointment? For a 1.4L, 6-speed, it gets very poor fuel economy.

13. Kia Forte

2012 Kia ForteBase Automatic Transmission model: Kia Forte LX 4-Door Sedan
Engine: 2.0L, 6-speed Auto Transmission, 16-valve, 4 cylinder, 156 HP
MSRP: $16,950
Dealer Cost: $15,644
City MPG: 29
Highway MPG: 36
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,671
Powertrain Warranty: 10 years or 100,000 miles
Limited Basic Warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles
Notes: Similar to the Kia Rio, but with more engine and slightly lower fuel economy.

12. Scion XD

2012 Scion XDBase Automatic Transmission model: Scion XD 4-Door Hatchback
Engine: 1.8L, 4-speed Auto Transmission, 16-valve, 4 cylinder, 128 HP
MSRP: $16,875
Dealer Cost: $15,755
City MPG: 27
Highway MPG: 33
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,671
Powertrain Warranty: 5 years or 100,000 miles
Limited Basic Warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles
Notes: If Scion wants to remain competitive with other automakers, they will need to focus on fuel efficiency. A 4-speed auto transmission is behind the game.

11. Honda Fit

2012 Honda FitBase Automatic Transmission model: Honda Fit 4-Door Hatchback
Engine: 1.5L, 5-speed Auto Transmission, 16-valve, 4 cylinder, 117 HP
MSRP: $16,745
Dealer Cost: $16,022
City MPG: 28
Highway MPG: 35
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,563
Powertrain Warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles
Limited Basic Warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles
Notes: Great functionality. Only comes in a hatch (it runs on a Civic base).

10. Kia Soul

2012 Kia SoulBase Automatic Transmission model: Kia Soul 4-Door Hatchback
Engine: 1.6L, 6-speed Auto Transmission, 16-valve, 4 cylinder, 138 HP
MSRP: $16,450
Dealer Cost: $15,379
City MPG: 27
Highway MPG: 35
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,615
Powertrain Warranty: 10 years or 100,000 miles
Limited Basic Warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles
Notes: 1.6L now available in 6-speed transmission, with better fuel economy.

9. Hyundai Accent

2012 Hyundai AccentBase Automatic Transmission model: Hyundai Accent GLS, 4-Door Sedan
Engine: 1.6L, 6-speed Auto Transmission, 16-valve, 4 cylinder, 138 HP
MSRP: $15,955
Dealer Cost: $15,239
City MPG: 30
Highway MPG: 40
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,468
Powertrain Warranty: 10 years or 100,000 miles
Limited Basic Warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles
Notes: I have not been in this car, but it has a cult-like following. 40 mpg highway is impressive.

8. Mazda 2

2012 Mazda 2Base Automatic Transmission model: Mazda 2 Sport 4-Door Hatchback
Engine: 1.5L, 4-speed Auto Transmission, 16-valve, 4 cylinder, 100 HP
MSRP: $15,775
Dealer Cost: $14,354
City MPG: 28
Highway MPG: 34
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,514
Powertrain Warranty: 5 years or 100,000 miles
Limited Basic Warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles
Notes: Has 4-speed auto trans vs. its cousin Fiesta’s 6-speed, giving it lower fuel economy. It does, however, offer a better warranty than the Fiesta.

7. Toyota Yaris

2012 Toyota YarisBase Automatic Transmission model: Toyota Yaris 2-Door L (Liftback/Hatchback)
Engine: 1.5L, 4-Speed Auto Transmission, 16-valve, 4 cylinder, 106 HP
MSRP: $15,600
Dealer Cost: $15,033
City MPG: 30
Highway MPG: 35
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,514
Powertrain Warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles
Limited Basic Warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles
Notes: Solid car is now restyled. Like the Scion, it’d benefit with value seekers in a move from a 4 to 6-speed engine.

6. Chevy Sonic

2012 Chevy SonicBase Automatic Transmission model: Chevy Sonic 2 LS 4-Door Sedan
Engine: 1.8L, 6-speed Auto, 16-valve, 4 cylinder, 138 HP
MSRP: $15,565
Dealer Cost: $14,973
City MPG: 25
Highway MPG: 35
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,730
Powertrain Warranty: 5 years or 100,000 miles
Limited Basic Warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles
Notes: New model from Chevy that replaces the Chevy Aveo. Would love to see this in a 1.4L in future years for improved mpg’s. 25 city is low for a car of this size.

5. Scion IQ

2012 Scion IQBase Automatic Transmission model: Scion IQ 2-Door Hatchback
Engine: 1.3L, Continuously Variable Auto Transmission (CVT), 16-valve, 4 cylinder, 94 HP
MSRP: $15,265
Dealer Cost: $14,936
City MPG: 36
Highway MPG: 37
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,309
Powertrain Warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles
Limited Basic Warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles
Notes: New model from Scion, the IQ launches in California now and Midwest in March. It has the highest city MPG of any non-hybrid. It doesn’t look to be much bigger than a Smart Car, but has a bulkier build with big wheels.

4. Kia Rio

2012 Kia RioBase Automatic Transmission model: Kia Rio LX 4-Door Sedan
Engine: 1.6L, 6-speed Auto Transmission, 16-valve, 4 cylinder, 138 HP
MSRP: $15,250
Dealer Cost: $14,325
City MPG: 30
Highway MPG: 40
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,468
Powertrain Warranty: 10 years or 100,000 miles
Limited Basic Warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles
Notes: $495 price decrease bumps it from #7 to #4 on the list. It also moves from 4 to 6-speed, bumping fuel economy from 36 to 40 on the highway. All of this, and its improved styling makes it the most improved car from 2011 to 2012.

3. Ford Fiesta

2012 Ford FiestaBase Automatic Transmission model: Ford Fiesta S Sedan, 4-Door
Engine: 1.6L, 6-speed Auto Transmission, 16-valve, 4 cylinder, 138 HP
MSRP: $15,090
Dealer Cost: $14,157
City MPG: 33
Highway MPG: 39
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,468
Powertrain Warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles
Limited Basic Warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles
Notes: Great car. But the bigger (and not much more expensive) Focus is worth a look.

2. Nissan Versa

2012 Nissan VersaBase Automatic Transmission model: Nissan Versa Sedan 1.6S, 4 Door
Engine: 1.6L, Continuously Variable Auto Transmission (CVT), 16-valve, 4 cylinder, 109 HP
MSRP: $13,520
Dealer Cost: $12,907
City MPG: 30
Highway MPG: 38
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,468
Powertrain Warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles
Limited Basic Warranty: 3 years or 36,000 miles
Notes: Some nice improvements in 2012 versus 2011. MPG’s jump from 25 and 33 with the continuously variable transmission. With its price, it deserves a look.

1. Smart ForTwo Pure

2012 Smart FortwoBase Automatic Transmission model: Smart ForTwo Pure Coupe
Engine: 1.0L, 5-speed Auto Transmission, 12-valve, 3 cylinder, 70 HP
MSRP: $12,490
Dealer Cost: $11,991
City MPG: 33
Highway MPG: 41
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,458
Powertrain Warranty: 2 years or 24,000 miles
Limited Basic Warranty: 2 years or 24,000 miles
Notes: Good, but not ground-breaking mileage in a golf cart size, the worst warranty in the business, and a price that does not entirely set it apart from the competition? Other than being the cheapest car, it comes up a bit short.

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


24 Comments »
  • Joe says:

    The irony is that the sponsored ad at the bottom of this post (for me, anyway) was for the Nissan Armada SUV. It could eat all 15 of these cars for breakfast and would set you back $38,790.

  • Jesse K. says:

    Regarding the New vs. Used debate:
    I think there are certain times when buying new makes sense.
    My old car was about to hit 10 years old and had quite a list of maintenance and repairs that outweighed the cost benefit of keeping it around. I set out to buy a 1 or 2 year used Toyota RAV4 to save some money.
    What I realized is that in the nature of this specific car (can’t say this for all cars but this one has great resale value), used ones with about 15-20k miles were listed up and sold regularly for only about $3,000 less than a new vehicle. I ended up buying a new one because they offered 0% APR financing for 3 years and it would come with a full factory warranty as well as 2 years Toyota Care (free maintenance/service). Not to mention the fact that I know it has not been abused.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      I know, this is what I’ve been finding recently with used cars as well. I don’t have a theory to why this is. Perhaps dealerships have created some sort of OPEC-like agreement to keep used car prices inflated so they can all financially benefit and sell more new cars. Regardless, it’s frustrating.

      • Marco says:

        That is a great comment, Daniel Milstein. There are many comments on blogs today but few with such poor command of language. One thing I learned before I became an intelligent and socially capable adult (and long before my mom told me I could do anything) is to spend my time wisely, and if I don’t need to respond to ridiculous self-promoting comments, I can always go play Diablo.

      • LB says:

        The reason for such high used car prices is thanks to President Obama. The good ol’ fashion Cash for Clunkers that Obama initiated early on in his presidential career did indeed decrease the availability of used cars on the market. The “clunkers” that were brough in, were not turned around for resale; they were stripped down and sold off as parts, scrap metals, and salvagable materials. This decreased the used car market size. Factor in supply and demand rules, and there you have it…higher prices for used cars.

        This was a way that Obama helped out the big auto manufacturers who were hurting and in need of a bail out. Raising the prices on used cars = more new cars bought. Help to the big guys and not so much help to the little people who want to buy an affordable used car.

  • Dustin says:

    Regarding Manual Transmisssions…

    “their limited availability may prevent your ability to find and negotiate (if you have 25 vs. 2 to choose from on a lot and other dealers locally have the same numbers, your negotiating power goes up).”

    I’ve always driven/purchased/sold vehicles with a manual transmission. YOu are correct in assuming their are fewer manual transmission vehicles on a lot…however, there are also as few buyers looking for a manual transmission. Supply and Demand my friend. Both the supply and demand are less, so there is just as much negotiating power when buying and no issues when selling.

  • Rika says:

    What about the new Fiat 500?

    • G.E. Miller says:

      I priced it out. The manual version falls in the top 15, but the base on an automatic is a full $4,000 more ($19,500)! Poor J-Lo will have trouble paying her lease.

      • Rika says:

        I think the Sport model goes for that much, but the 500 Pop (not the convertible) is available in automatic for $1000 more than the manual base price for a total MSRP of $16500.

        • G.E. Miller says:

          You’re right! I had to actually go and build the model to find it, but the Pop does have an auto version. Destination charge puts it at $17,000. I’ve updated the post to reflect. Sorry, Nissan Cube, you got cut.

          • Rika says:

            Thanks for the update–I’ve begun to look at new cars and (although I highly doubt I’ll buy one), the Fiat has so much personality! I’m 90% certain I’ll end up buying a family member’s used car, but it’s fun to look.

            Keep up the good work! Your site is extremely practical and well-written.

  • Joanna says:

    What is the CHEAPEST car (besides the smart car) to lease?

    • G.E. Miller says:

      Not sure. Leasing is just playing with numbers. The cheapest new car to have monthly payments on SHOULD be the car with the cheapest purchase price. I’m not a big fan of leasing – I would rather buy a car and make monthly payments at 0% interest.

    • CJ says:

      There are no cheapest cars to lease. It really is best to buy the car and drive it into the ground, especially with the lifespans on cars nowadays. You should be able to go 150,000 miles without any major repairs, except for maybe changing the timing belt if you have one. Run the depreciation models vs. lease payments, and you’re way overpaying if you’re leasing (sometimes almost 2x as much). Great way to cut your car expenses is to stop leasing.

      Additionally, it’d be nice to see a couple more articles on here with cost saving projects under the “live well” category. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars repairing my own car for basic maintenance (spark plugs, brake pads, transmission fluid draining, changing my headlights/brakelights, cabin filter, air filter, and struts). Everything in that list except the struts are easily doable by anyone who has a spare hour, knows how to turn a screwdriver or wrench, and can get on YouTube.

  • Renee says:

    I bought #15 2012 Honda Civic EX in June 2011. I replaced my 1997 Honda Civic LX with it. :) I get about 31.3 mpg average between mostly city miles and some highway miles. Overall, I love it. I plan on keeping it for my soon to be 8 and 9 year old’s are old enough to drive it. Then, the can share “Vicki”.

  • Gery says:

    I have never heard of a Two door sedan until, now. Honda keeps changing the bar…

  • Jason says:

    For the pure factor of depreciation, I sit firmly on the used car side of the fence, there is however an argument for buying these cheap cars because they are so cheap they then wont lose that much money in depreciation per year.

  • Martha salinas says:

    I am looking x good deal on new car

  • Kate says:

    I’ve recently been searching for a new car and it has been horrible. The supposedly cheap cars never sell for the internet price, they are all $17,000 (Kia Rio, Nissan Versa, Sonic). The used cars are totally over priced.
    I tried using one of the online shopping sites like Carwoo and the dealer who offered me a low price on a car didn’t honor it. I’m at a loss as to what to do – if I didn’t live so far from work I would just ride my bike and forget about the expense of a damn car.

  • Swordsmith says:

    I agree with you on this one Kate; I spent a lot of time researching cars and car prices on the net, then when I finally went to some dealers, I found their prices universally 25% higher than what I’d found. And that’s only if you can actually find a dealer selling a “base” model; most only have cars with a bunch of “options” that jack the price up by another 25% or more; go in to look at a nominally 11 grand car and they want 18K for it.

    I also tried contacting dealers via the net itself. I’d say “I’m looking for a sub 15K hatchback with good fuel economy…” and they’d send me pictures of cars (often, sedans!) that run 18K and get 30 mpg highway. I really do not see the point

  • Swordsmith says:

    I went over to my local Ford dealership a couple days ago and test drove the Fiesta hatchback. It was a nice smooth driving car and I was pretty pleased with it. But they also own a Chevy dealership next door, and as long as I was already there, I also test drove the Sonic; it really amazed me. Just as roomy, but significantly more solid feel, and it was really peppy. On paper the Fiesta was a clear winner, but the test drive really changed my mind.

    The article expresses a wish that the Sonic came in 1.4L instead of just the 1.8… it seems that it does, a 1.4L turbo. Sadly, for reasons I can’t understand, the local dealer doesn’t carry that, so I can’t comment yet, but when I get the time I’m going to head over to an out of town dealer to give that a try.

    What I don’t get is why the 1.4 is only offered in the higher trim versions; some sites say that the turbo only costs $700 extra… but the truth is you have to pay $1300 or so for the LT trim and then $700 on top of that for the turbo; that’s $2K in my book.

    • Swordsmith says:

      I ended up buying the 1.4 Turbo version of the Sonic, the added cost was, in my opinion, worth paying, although I’d still rather have had the base LS rather than the LT, as I didn’t care about anything the LT had other than the fact that you must get that trim in order to get the better engine.

  • Erin says:

    Do you have the same information on the ford focus? Or could you tell me where to find the dealer cost?

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