Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Cheap Choices

Christina (my beautiful and pregnant wife, for those very few readers who don't know her) said the other day, "It's hard to keep up with the cars you do and don't like." And, you know, I have to agree.

So I've decided to embark on a project I've been thinking about for a while. I'm going to actually put on electronic paper the cars I do and don't like.

I'll start at the low end. They very low end. If you wake up one morning to find your 1982 Ford Escort in the driveway on its back with wheels slightly twitching and your checking account balance shows only $10,000, you haven't much of a choice in new cars.

So, what do you do? If you're dead-set on getting a brand new car in which noone's butt has already sat, you're going Korean.

Three choices await the super-budget car shopper. The least expensive new car sold in the United States is the $9,000 Chevrolet Aveo. But don't let that Chevy bowtie on the hood fool you. That four-seater tin can is made in South Korea.

And so are the next cheapest cars sold in the U.S. Kia's Rio is $10,570 and Hyundai's Accent has a list price of $12,455. Yes, I know, it's over the $10k limit. I throw it into this category because despite its generous 10-year warranty, it's not worth sticker. If the savvy car buyer can't get it nearer $10k, call me. I have a 1965 Mustang I'll sell ya for $20,000. Suuuuurrre it runs.

So which is my pick? Uh. That's a tough one.

Chevrolet Aveo

The Aveo is just right out. It's truly a cheap car. With that just-under-$10k price you get a manual transmission, a tiny engine with only 103 hp, no CD player, no air conditioner, no power door locks, and 14-inch wheels. On top of all that, fuel economy ain't that great: 27 city, 35 hwy. Better than a Hummer, but the Hyundai accent gets 32/35 and the Kia Rio gets 29/38.

Hyundai Accent

Kia Rio
So it's between the Kia and the Hyundai. Good lord, what a choice. They both offer 10-year warranties. But you're gonna need every second of it. They both have pretty good fuel mileage, which you'll remind yourself everytime you have to drive them. But the Hyundai at least gives you a choice (for more cash, of course) of air conditioning and includes power steering, tilt steering, and lighted vanity mirrors.

My vote is for the Hyundai if you just gotta have a new car. Add a few options and make it livable.

Were it my money, though, I'd take that $10,000 and buy a well-loved 2002 Honda Civic. What you give up in warranty, you'll make up in civility and driving fun.

Next time I'll delve into the $20,000 slot where things start getting crowded.

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