What Defines an Economy Car?
The short answer is this: An economy car is an automobile that is designed for low cost purchase and operation. Typical economy cars are small, light weight, and inexpensive to buy. Economy car designers are forced by stringent design constraints to be inventive.
According to Edmunds, the most economical cars are those that consume the least amount of fuel. These are typically vehicles with hybrid powertrains. Hybrids can generate and store electricity for use while driving by harvesting the forces created during braking, or by siphoning small amounts of engine power. They can then use the stored electricity to travel short distances or to keep vehicle functions operating while the vehicle is stopped. The most economical hybrids include the Honda Insight, Hyundai Ioniq, Toyota Corolla Hybrid and Toyota Prius. However, they are often times more expensive than their non-hybrid counterparts.
For buyers looking to keep costs low, the most economical non-hybrids include the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Rio and Mitsubishi Mirage. Check out the Edmunds
Economy X-Small Sedans
Toyota Yaris: Introduced in 2019 • MSRP: $15,650-$18,750 • (Edmunds) Rating: 7.4 out of 10 • Combined MPG: 34-35.
A Toyota in name only, the subcompact Yaris sedan is essentially a rebadged Mazda 2. That’s a good thing since Mazda has a reputation for building cars that are fun to drive. You’ll like this Toyota’s nimble handling, excellent fuel economy and wealth of standard features.
Hyundai Accent: Redesigned in 2019 • MSRP $15,395-$19,500 • Rating 7.2 out of 10 • Combined MPG: 33-36.
You wouldn’t expect a tiny, low-powered sedan to be fun, but the Hyundai Accent’s driving characteristics maximize the sporty feel behind the wheel. Its spartan front seats and low-power USB port are notable weak points, but all cabin controls are refreshingly easy to use, and it gets great gas mileage.
Nissan Versa: Redesigned in 2020 • MSRP $14,980-$18,390 • Rating 7.1 out of 10 • Combined MPG 30-35.
The redesigned Nissan Versa is more upscale than in years past. Granted, it’s still an affordable small sedan. But the Versa is no longer a car you buy only because it’s cheap. A comfy ride, plenty of safety features and good fuel economy are highlights.
Economy Small Sedans
Honda Civic: Redesigned in 2022 • MSRP $21,700-$28,300 • Rating 8.1 out of 10 • Combined MPG 33-36.
The Honda Civic boasts praiseworthy performance, high fuel economy, excellent passenger space and a refined design. There are a few minor drawbacks, such as elevated road noise on the highway, but overall the Civic is a great pick for a small sedan.
Kia Forte: Redesigned in 2019 • MSRP $17,890-$23,390 • Rating 7.9 out of 10 • Combined MPG 28-35.
The Kia Forte sedan has been redesigned for 2019. Overall, it more than satisfies with its mix of great features, attractive style and appealing price.
Hyundai Elantra: Redesigned in 2021 • MSRP $19,650-$28,100 • Rating 7.7 out of 10 • Combined MPG 28-54.
The new Elantra stands out with its high fuel economy, impressive technology and safety features, and roomy cabin. It’s also comfortable and strong on value. The base engine is lackluster but otherwise this is a great pick for a small sedan.
Economy X-Small Hatchbacks
Toyota Yaris: Introduced in 2019 • MSRP $15,650-$18,750 • Rating 7.4 out of 10 • Combined MPG 34-35.
The Yaris hatchback is one of the smallest and least expensive vehicles in Toyota’s lineup. Even so, it’s a pleasing urban runabout that should work out well for car shoppers on a budget.
Economy Small Hatchbacks
Hyundai Veloster: Redesigned in 2019 • MSRP $18,900-$33,750 • Rating 8.3 out of 10 • Combined MPG 22-30.
Sporty yet practical, the Veloster is just what a small hatchback should be. It’s smartly packaged, affordable, and provides something a little different from the norm. While there are a few minor concessions, the Veloster has a lot going for it overall.
Honda Civic: Redesigned in 2016 • MSRP $22,000-$43,995 • Rating 8.0 out of 10 • Combined MPG 25-34.
The Honda Civic is one of our favorite small cars, and the hatchback variant adds the virtue of increased cargo capacity. Standard turbocharged power, nimble handling and strong fuel economy are just a few of the Civic’s strengths.
MINI Clubman: Redesigned in 2017 • MSRP $29,900-$39,500 • Rating 7.7 out of 10 • Combined MPG 26-29.
A more family-friendly Mini, this little hatchback has usable interior space, a funky personality and — especially with one of the upgraded engines — no shortage of energy. But the Clubman still feels a bit restrained compared to other Mini products. It’s the grown-up of the bunch, you might say.
Mazda 3: Redesigned in 2019 • MSRP $22,650-$33,900 • Rating 7.7 out of 10 • Combined MPG 26-29.
If a fun-to-drive character and a classy interior rank high on your shopping list, then the Mazda 3 should be right at the top. It may come up short in a few categories on paper, but in the real world it’s more than capable and definitely worth a test drive.
Hyundai Elantra GT: Redesigned in 2018 • MSRP $20,650-$24,600 Rating 7.6 out of 10 Combined MPG 26-28.
The Elantra GT isn’t just an Elantra with a hatchback body: it has a distinct interior, a more powerful base engine and sharper handling. The E-GT is an affordable, practical little car that provides some lightweight fun when you want it.
Volkswagen Golf: Redesigned in 2015 • MSRP $23,195 – $23,995 Rating 7.4 out of 10 Combined MPG 32-33.
The Volkswagen Golf’s fun-to-drive character and no-nonsense approach burnish its appeal. On the other hand, some competitors now offer more safety technology, along with competitive performance and better interior quality.
Toyota Corolla Hatchback: Redesigned in 2019 • MSRP $20,465-$24,515 • Rating 7.4 out of 10 • Combined MPG 31-35.
The Corolla hatchback is comfortable and stylish. It’s also surprisingly engaging to drive, especially when equipped with the six-speed manual transmission. Only a lack of cargo space and a sub-optimal infotainment system hold it back.
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