With recent market jitters, vehicles with affordable price tags are back in the spotlight. But that doesn’t mean you have to settle for bland econo boxes. These three wallet-friendly vehicles are priced below today’s $36,270 average sticker for a new vehicle, yet they still shine in design.
HYUNDAI SANTA FE SPORT
Mpg: 21 city/27 highway
0-60 mph: 8.3 seconds
Ever since Hyundai debuted the Santa Fe in 2001, it’s been a go-to crossover for frugal buyers. This year, the automaker dropped the price and is offering a $1,900 Value Package with plenty of niceties. These include power driver’s seat with lumbar support, dual-zone automatic climate control, seven-inch monitor, heated front seats, keyless entry and ignition, roof rails, heated side mirrors with turn signal indicators and LED daytime running lights.
Another plus: Apple CarPlay/Android Auto functionality, with three years of complimentary Blue Link services that can include automatic collision notification, emergency assistance and stolen vehicle recovery. Inside, the seats are mounted high for good visibility and there’s plenty of storage space. It’s a handsome, quiet interior that would look right at home in a higher-priced Infiniti or Lexus. But acceleration is tepid, fuel economy is so-so and the ride can be a bit bouncier than expected over deep potholes. Still, it’s hard to quibble with the overall value here.
Mpg: 22 city/28 highway
0-60 mph: 7.1
OK, so the Lexus NX barely squeaks below the average cost of a new vehicle. It’s still a good buy, thanks to high reliability and safety ratings, ample legroom and a swanky interior. Plus, the edgy styling is just as chiseled as Olympic athletes Gus Kenworthy or Brittany Bowe, take your pick. This is a mini version of the hugely popular midsize RX crossover, yet the ride, handling and braking are pleasingly tighter.
It’s also faster than the Hyundai Santa Fe and has a long list of standard features, including rearview camera, LED interior lighting, automatic LED headlights, smartphone app connectivity, eight-speaker stereo and more. Fuel economy is mediocre and there’s a rather annoying touch-pad interface on the infotainment system. But luckily you can simply use the hand-free, voice-recognition software.
Mpg: 126 city/111 highway
0-60 mph: 9.2 seconds
Why buy an e-Golf when an electric Smart car or Chevy Spark EV are about $2,000 less? Because the e-Golf is bigger, sexier and much more fun to drive than a dorky Smart or Spark. Performance and handling are just what you expect from VW: nimble and smooth. With EVs, the quick burst of power from a standing start is always a welcome surprise. So is the e-Golf’s well-insulated cabin, which is eerily quiet even though VW installed a low-speed sound system to alert pedestrians to the vehicle.
Those flush-mounted, 16-inch aluminum wheels look like something out of Transformers and the faux-exhaust pipes are a wink-wink to those in the know that you won’t be stopping at a gas station. You also can choose between three driving modes to boost the range before recharging by shutting down certain features, such as climate control. While it’s easy to spot a Tesla on the road, that’s not really the case with an e-Golf. Yet they must be popular — VW is now doubling e-Golf production to satisfy demand.