Packaged in both subcompact and soon hatchback shape, the 2019 Toyota Yaris is a trusted recipe for affordability. Powered by a 106-hp 1.5-liter inline-4, its available six-speed manual is faster but less efficient than the six-speed automatic. Its well-balanced ride doesn’t produce the most thrilling adventure, but with a standard 7.0-inch touchscreen, keyless entry, and Bluetooth connectivity, it’s still an adventure nonetheless.
The Nissan Versa is all-new for 2020. All Versas power their front wheels with a 122-hp inline-4, but only the CVT gets an EPA combined 35 mpg. There have been improvements all around, from improved steering to a 7.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment. The Versa features technology surprising for its price point such as pedestrian detection, automatic high-beams, and automated emergency braking, all standard. It’s a big step ahead of the model it replaces, and its low base price is undeniably attractive.
If you’re considering saving money at the gas station and the dealership, consider the surprisingly useful Honda Fit. The Fit offers a smooth ride for its size, and a segment-leading amount of available space inside its boxy shape, all for an affordable price. It gets an EPA combined 36 mpg. Available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on a 7.0-inch touchscreen, this little Honda has other optional driver-assistance features like adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and automated emergency braking.
It can be tough to find what the Honda Civic can’t do well; there’s a model for every need, from fuel sippers to track attackers. Plus it’s a frequent 10Best winner. In this version, with a turbocharged 1.5-liter and CVT, the Civic is rated at an EPA combined 36 mpg. The 2019 models received a much-needed infotainment update, with new standard driver-assistance functionality. It won’t be the most fun you’ll have in a Civic, but it has plenty of space and fuel economy.
Toyota’s all-new Corolla Hatchback keeps the flame of affordability burning with its fuel-saving 2.0-liter engine and CVT. Hitting an EPA combined 36 mpg, this Corolla falls short of its hybrid counterpart, which is capable of 52 mpg but is still among the top against its gasoline-only competitors. Its cheap base price and standard features we all feel we’re entitled to in 2019 make it a great bargain performer, and it has looks that keep it from looking too much like a bargain car.
The new 120-hp 1.6-liter engine and CVT in the 2020 Kia Rio puts this little sedan at midfield for fuel-efficiency. The drop in power translates to overall better mileage, and we expect the suspension tuning and driving characteristics we enjoyed about the last-generation model will remain. The Rio sedan earned a Top Safety Pick from IIHS, but many of the standard driver-assistance features are not available in base models.
The 2020 Hyundai Elantra has replaced its traditional six-speed automatic transmission with a CVT for SE, SEL, Value, Edition, and Limited models to give it an EPA combined 36 mpg, up 1 mpg from last year’s model, with the help of its new stop/start system. Every Elantra gets dual-zone climate control and driver-assist features including automated emergency braking and lane-keeping assist. Its 128-hp turbocharged 1.4-liter engine does suffer from a drowsy, slow-responding gas pedal, but if you’re after fuel efficiency, you may find throttle response an acceptable trade-off.
Hyundai put a new 1.6-liter inline-4 engine with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) in the 2020 Hyundai Accent, which trades 10 fewer horsepower for a 4-mpg improvement in EPA combined fuel economy. This may be the simple commuter in the Hyundai lineup, but the Accent is still light enough to be fun to drive and fast enough to make tire noise. A 5.0-inch touchscreen radio is standard, but paying extra for the higher SEL and Limited trims that deliver a larger screen could be worth the few hundred bucks extra.
The Chevrolet Cruze could be the hero compact-car owners run to in the event gas prices reach for the sky again. The 1.6-liter turbo-diesel sedan with a nine-speed automatic transmission gets an impressive EPA combined 37 mpg. The best part? The Cruze diesel also benefits from a strong 240 lb-ft of torque. It received a refresh in 2019 to improve style features, but even on the inside, the Cruze offers a comfortable ride and a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.
The Mitsubishi Mirage is the answer to the question: Need a new car for cheap? When it comes to price, the Mirage blows even the cheapest hybrids out of the water. Powered by a tiny 1.2-liter 78-hp three-cylinder, the Mirage makes a big stand for fuel-efficiency. With an EPA-rated 39 mpg combined fuel economy for the CVT-equipped hatchback version, this is certainly a case of David versus the gas station. Of course, it won’t be getting you anywhere very fast, as the 2017 Mirage G4 with CVT, we tested in 2018 achieved a zero to 60 mph in a patient 12.8 seconds.