At one time, owning an economy car meant dealing with tiny, uncomfortable cabins that quickly showed their age, few interior tech or entertainment features, crank windows, manual door locks and underpowered engines. In short, an economy car meant a cheap car.
Times have changed, though. While there are still some cheap-feeling, inexpensive economy cars, an increasing number of mainstream models are going upscale. You’re just as likely to find standard features like Bluetooth and iPod interfaces on today’s economy cars as you are on luxury cars. Even cars from bargain brands have comfortable interiors and good performance. Economy cars are much more than what they used to be.
Economy Car Performance
If there’s one area where economy cars still fall a little short, it’s performance. That’s not to say that all economy cars perform poorly, but if you’re a driving enthusiast, you might find the lack of power disappointing. Economy cars tend to have small four-cylinder engines with less than 200 horsepower. While that won’t win you any races, one benefit is that most economy cars get great fuel economy. The Nissan Versa sedan, which starts at $11,990, gets an EPA-estimated 40 mpg on the highway with the continuously variable transmission.
Some car reviewers complain that economy cars can have rides that are a little harsh, but the trade-off is that many of these cars have zippy handling and good corning ability. Since they are less expensive than other cars, economy cars tend to have less sound-deadening material. This helps decrease their weight, which aids fuel economy, but it also means that you’re likely to hear a lot of road noise.
Economy Car Interiors
The interiors of many economy cars are small and basic, but it’s also possible to get a car loaded with features for very little money. The Kia Forte sedan costs $15,400 and comes with standard Bluetooth and a USB port, as well as roomy seating for five. A well-equipped Forte EX with navigation, a rearview camera, push-button start and a sunroof will cost about $21,000. The Chevrolet Cruze starts at about $17,100, but offers interior space that rivals some midsize cars. Reviewers also say that the interior is well-built. The Cruze comes standard with a six-speaker stereo, USB port, satellite radio and Bluetooth. You can also opt for a navigation system and a touch-screen stereo.
The automotive press also likes the Hyundai Elantra. Like the Cruze, it is large enough to be classified as a midsize car. Starting at about $17,000, the Elantra is priced competitively with the Cruze. The Elantra comes standard with satellite radio and a USB port. The smaller Ford Fiesta and Kia Rio sedans cost about $14,000. Even though they’re subcompacts, they have decent passenger space. The Rio costs a little more than the Fiesta and has more standard tech features, including a USB port and Bluetooth. On the Fiesta, you can opt for Ford’s SYNC infotainment system, which lets you control the stereo, navigation system and your phone with voice commands. The Rio has a comparable UVO system. Unlike SYNC, UVO has a touch interface for the navigation screen and other entertainment features. Like SYNC, UVO lets you make phone calls and access music through voice commands.
Economy Car Safety
Most economy cars are no longer unsafe little tin cans, and many receive good crash test ratings from the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the non-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which are two organizations that assess vehicle safety. But because they tend to be small, economy cars do have a size disadvantage in crashes with larger vehicles.
Many economy cars have impressive standard safety features and strong test scores that make them comparable to more expensive small cars. The Chevrolet Sonic has 10 air bags, which includes two knee air bags: one for each front-seat occupant. Knee air bags keep the driver or front passenger from sliding down into the footwell in a crash, which helps the other air bags and the seatbelts protect front passengers better. It’s also a feature usually seen on luxury cars, and only a few cars in the class have them. The Ford Fiesta, for example, has one knee air bag, while the Chevrolet Cruze has two.
The Chevrolet Cruze also gets a five-star overall crash test rating from NHTSA and is an IIHS Top Safety Pick for its performance in their crash tests. These are the highest ratings that any vehicle can receive from either organization. The Subaru Impreza, Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris hatchback and Chevrolet Sonic are also IIHS Top Safety Picks.
Some economy cars aren’t as well-equipped because the government doesn’t require automakers to make features like anti-lock brakes (ABS) standard on all vehicles. You may have to pay extra for safety features like ABS, but they may be worth the money. One feature that you can expect on all small cars is electronic stability control (ESC), because it is required by the federal government on all 2012 and newer vehicles. ESC is a system that automatically detects and prevents skids, helping you maintain control of the car and avoid an accident.
If you’re in the market for an economy car, it’s a great time to shop for one because they’re better than ever. With more standard safety features than ever before, impressive safety ratings from the IIHS and NHTSA, good performance and upscale interior features, you won’t feel like you’re driving a cheap car.
- economy car
- Chevrolet Cruze
- fuel economy