An iffy economy and high unemployment rate make a flock of new vehicles priced below $20,000 well timed for their 2011 debuts. At the North American International Auto Show, concluding in Detroit today, Jan. 23, and at the Chicago Auto Show, held Feb. 11-20, budget vehicles are the stars.
Starting this month, Italian automaker Fiat is re-launching its brand in the U.S. after a 27-year absence. The first vehicle to hit 130 showrooms this year is the 500. It is a U.S. version of the popular Fiat Cinquecento, which debuted in Europe in 2007.The re-launch of Fiat has been made possible by the fact that the Italian automaker is the minority owner of Chrysler, and was chosen by the White House Auto Industry task force in 2009 to take over management of the then-bankrupt Chrysler. Fiat dealerships are owned and run by Chrysler dealers in new Fiat Studios in the launch cities.
The Fiat 500 debuts at prices ranging from $15,500 to $19,500. Manual and automatic transmissions are being offered. The 500, which is distinguished by its Italian branding and colorful styling (14 exterior and 14 interior colors), will compete against the Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, MINI Cooper, Mazda 2 and Scion xD.
Hyundai Elantra and Veloster
Hyundai is amidst a launch of an all-new Elantra sedan, and will be advertising the new car during the 2011 Super Bowl. The new model is substantially upgraded in every way, and many auto critics says it has large advantages over the new Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. Prices start at $14,830 and climb to $19,980.
Hyundai, which has been growing its sales and portfolio, is also adding the three-door subcompact Veloster coupe to its showrooms later this year. Pricing has not yet been set, but we are assured that the starting price is below $20,000. Hyundai promises that the Veloster will be agile and fun to drive. Powered by a 1.6 liter engine that produces 138 horsepower, the car is expected to get 40 mpg on the highway.
A pocket-sized super fun-to-drive subcompact, the 2011 Mazda2 is on sale now, with prices ranging from $14,180, and Touring at $15,635. The Mazda2 is actually shorter and lighter than the Mazda Miata MX-5 roadster that Mazda is perhaps best known for. But don't let size matter too much. It's powered by a 1.5 liter engine that generates just 100 horsepower. But that is plenty of power to push the light-weight car.
Trailing the all-new Chevy Cruze, which went on sale in late 2010 at a starting price of $16,275, the new Chevy Sonic replaces the Chevy Aveo and will hit showrooms later this year starting at $14,500.
The new subcompact will be available with a standard 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, as well as a turbocharged 1.4-liter producing 138 horsepower. It comes in a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. Chevy says the Sonic has greater backseat legroom than the rival Ford Fiesta, as well as more cargo space when the rear-seats are folded down.
An all-new Honda Civic and sedan will hit showrooms in April. The designs won't look too radically different from the current Civics. Pricing will also be close to current levels -- starting at $15,605 for the coupe and $15,805 for the sedan. The Hybrid and Natural Gas versions of the new Civic will also be available by mid year.
By the end of this year, smart will launch a four-door subcompact around the size of a Honda Fit to compliment its tiny two-door micro-car smart Fortwo.
Smart is a division of Daimler, which also makes Mercedes-Benz vehicles. But the brand is a bit of a troubled hybrid. The Fortwo is designed and developed by Daimler, but it is powered by an older Mitsubishi engine. That car will continue to be sold in the U.S. until at least 2015.
But smart USA will launch, by December, an adaptation of the Nissan Micra mini-car that the Japanese company sells in Asian and European markets. The pricing of this new car, which we haven't seen yet, will be well below $20,000, seat four, and get around 40 mpg in highway driving.
The Ford Focus has been completely redesigned, and will begin rolling into dealerships by February. Offered on sedan and hatchback, the new Focus is expected to get 40 mpg on the highway, a significant increase in fuel economy from the outgoing model. The sedan starts at $16,070, and the hatch starts at $18,605.
Offered in a five-door hatch or four-door sedan, it's powered by a new, 2.0-liter direct-injected four-cylinder that makes 155 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque, up from the current car's 143 hp and 136 lb-ft. Pricing will start around $17,570, and will creep up over $20,000 with options and added features.
Five Best New Cheap Cars (Under $20K) To Consider