Buying a budget-priced car these days doesn't mean getting stuck with a lemon. "Vehicles have gotten so much better over the past 10 years or so that there's no correlation between the lowest-priced car in a segment and low quality," says Akshay Anand, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. Rather, cheaper models typically lack many amenities or haven't been redesigned for a while. For consumers looking to spend as little as possible on their next set of wheels, here are the least expensive 2016 models in each vehicle class based on figures supplied by Kelley Blue Book. Dollar amounts reflect manufacturers' suggested retail prices (including destination fees) as of December for the base configuration.
The Cheapest New Cars and Trucks of 2016
The $12,825 Nissan Versa is the cheapest model on this list, period. About the only creature comforts available on a base Versa are air conditioning and a four-speaker stereo; forget power doors and windows. Under the hood, the Versa comes standard with manual transmission and a modest 109-horsepower four-cylinder engine. This is "an acceptable car if you just need something to get from point A to point B," Anand says.
Second in line is the $14,990 Kia Rio sedan. Entry-level models are fairly Spartan but boast a few amenities, such as satellite radio and heated power mirrors. The base Rio comes with manual transmission and the nameplate's standard four-cylinder engine with 138 horsepower. Features include Kia's industry-leading 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Kia designed the boxy, hip Soul to appeal to young drivers. Despite a modest $16,515 MSRP, this small wagon offers a relatively generous amount of interior space and several upscale amenities, such as a six-speaker stereo with satellite radio. Standard mechanicals include manual transmission and a 130-horsepower four-cylinder engine. Like its subcompact sibling, the Soul is backed by a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
It takes $300 more to move up to the Kia Forte sedan. The $16,815 base Forte combines a good amount of interior space with fairly decent features, including heated mirrors and a four-speaker stereo with satellite radio. Mechanicals on entry-level Fortes include manual transmission and a 145-horsepower four-cylinder engine. Kia's 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty likewise applies to this model.
The Mazda6, with a $22,315 base price, earns high marks for styling, performance, and fuel efficiency. Even base versions come with a 184-horsepower four-cylinder engine, hefty for the class and offering surprisingly fast acceleration for a midsize car. Standard features include manual transmission and an acceptable list of creature comforts, from power windows to a six-speaker audio system. "The Mazda6 offers really good bang for the buck," Anand says.
Consumers interested in all-wheel drive can shell out about $200 more for the $22,540 Subaru Legacy. The standard version is equipped with all-wheel drive, a 175-horsepower four-cylinder engine, and a fuel-efficient continuously variable automatic transmission. Base Legacies also offer a surprisingly extensive list of amenities, from a backup camera to a 6-inch touchscreen display.
The $27,920 Chevrolet Impala combines segment-leading pricing with a design so appealing that Kelley Blue Book deemed it the best buy among full-size sedans for two years running. The Impala even placed No. 1 in Consumer Reports' sedan rankings when the current generation was introduced in 2014 -- a feat no American car had ever achieved under the magazine's current rating system. Standard features include a six-speaker stereo and an eight-way power driver's seat. Under the hood, base Impalas feature automatic transmission, a 196-horsepower four-cylinder engine, and fuel-saving start/stop technology.
Buyers eager for something a little more muscular but still budget-friendly might consider the $28,990 Dodge Charger. Entry-level Chargers are more staid than top-of-the-line versions (which boast 485 horsepower) but still come with plenty of performance-oriented features, including standard rear-wheel drive and 292-horsepower V-6 engines. Inside, even base models sport a six-speaker stereo and a six-position power driver's seat.
The $24,700 Ford Mustang offers a muscle car's good looks and performance at a 97-pound weakling of a price. The year's cheapest sports car comes standard with manual transmission, rear-wheel drive, and a 300-horsepower V-6 engine. Mustangs also feature an impressive list of standard amenities, from a six-speaker audio system to a backup camera. "The Mustang is an iconic nameplate, and buyers get really good horsepower for the money," Anand says.
High-end buyers who don't want to spend more than necessary should check out the $41,425 Audi A5, 2016's lowest-priced luxury car. Even the base model has a luxurious feel and is equipped with a lengthy rundown of features, such as leather seats, a 10-speaker stereo, and a sunroof. Under the hood, drivers will find standard all-wheel drive, manual transmission, and a turbocharged 220-horsepower four-cylinder engine.
Buy a Jeep Patriot and save plenty of Washingtons and Franklins. This small sport utility vehicle starts at $18,290, making it the lowest-priced path into the popular Jeep line. Kelley Blue Book honored the 2015 Patriot for delivering the segment's lowest projected five-year cost of ownership. On the downside, entry-level Patriots are fairly bare-bones, with manual windows, mirrors, and door locks. The only real luxury is a four-speaker stereo with satellite radio. Base Patriots also offer underwhelming mechanics -- front-wheel drive, manual transmission, and a 158-horsepower four-cylinder engine.
The family-friendly Dodge Journey combines a $21,890 MSRP with decent amenities and plenty of interior space. Base Journeys seat five, with third-row seats available to boost capacity to seven -- a rarity for midsize SUVs and a lot of space for a very good price, says Kelley Blue Book's Anand. Standard equipment includes a dual-zone climate system and six-speaker stereo. Entry-level models come with automatic transmission and a 173-horsepower four-cylinder engine. The Journey hasn't been fully redesigned since 2009 and gets only so-so fuel efficiency of 19 mpg/city and 26 mpg/highway.
The Ford Explorer is a big SUV with a relatively small price of $31,595. Refreshed for 2016 -- a rarity among the cheapest models -- the Explorer combines room for seven with pretty good standard features, from a backup camera to a six-speaker audio system. Mechanically, the base Explorer comes with automatic transmission and a 290-horsepower V-6 engine. "The Ford Explorer is just a very capable vehicle," Anand says, pointing out its popularity among police forces around the country.
The $20,995 Chevrolet Colorado extended cab qualifies as the year's cheapest midsize pickup. The little brother of Chevy's flagship Silverado, the entry-level Colorado combines a two-person extended cab with a 6-foot-2 cargo bed. Base Colorados also come with a decent set of amenities, from power windows to a rearview camera. Standard mechanicals include rear-wheel drive, manual transmission, and a 200-horsepower four-cylinder engine.
Looking for a massive truck on a modest budget? The Ram 3500 regular cab starts at $33,185 and tows up to 31,200 pounds -- or nearly 1 pound for every dollar spent. Entry-level Ram 3500s are equipped with automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive, and a beefy 383-horsepower Hemi V-8 engine. Base models have few creature comforts, lacking even power doors and windows. About the only amenities that don't cost extra are air conditioning and a six-speaker stereo.
Frugal families might take a shine to the Dodge Grand Caravan with an MSRP of $22,900. Base Caravans offer three rows of seating, including a removable second-row bench seat, which provides plenty of room for seven people or tons of cargo. Entry-level Caravans also come with decent standard amenities, such as a four-speaker stereo and power door locks. Mechanically, base Caravans offer automatic transmission, front-wheel drive, and a 283-horsepower V-6 engine.