Coolest cars under $18,000

CNNMoney.com


Thanks to the ever-decreasing cost of technology and improved manufacturing techniques -- not to mention cutthroat competition -- it's easier than ever to find a relatively inexpensive car that's still looks good while being fun to drive and good on gas.

The experts at Kelley Blue Book have selected these as their favorites among the lowest-cost new cars.

1) Dodge Dart

Base price: $15,995
Fuel economy: 25 City / 36 Hwy

The new Dodge Dart, based on engineering from Italy's Fiat Group, earned the top spot in Kelley Blue Book's estimation. Besides being fun to drive, KBB says, it also has ample interior space and can be readily personalized to suit your changing moods.



2) Hyundai Veloster

Base price: $17,300
Fuel economy: 28 City / 40 Hwy

The three-door Veloster is an interesting combination of sporty coupe styling and family car practicality. Well, almost family car practicality. The backseats aren't exactly capacious but they're big enough to keep kids comfortable while the crisp steering and suspension should keep the driver happy, too.



3) Fiat 500

Base price: $15,500
Fuel economy: 30 City / 38 Hwy

The 500 is a cute little car and it's surprisingly comfortable, at least for front seat occupants. It's available as a convertible, too, with a top that can be peeled back even at highway speeds.



4) Mazda3

Base price: $15,200
Fuel economy: 25 City / 33 Hwy

The sporty and efficient Mazda3 has become a standard feature in this annual list. For the 2012 model year, an optional SKYACTIV engine provides fuel economy estimated at 40 mpg on the highway. (Fuel economy figures shown are for the standard engine.)



5) Chevrolet Sonic

Base price: $13,865
Fuel economy: 26 City / 35 Hwy

Affordable compact cars haven't traditionally been a strong suit for General Motors, but the Sonic is changing that. With its energetic but efficient engine choices and stylish, aggressive design, the Sonic "booms with exuberance," Kelley Blue Book says.



6) Ford Fiesta

Base price: $13,200
Fuel economy: 29 City / 38 Hwy

Another surprisingly fun American entry, the Fiesta, with its sharp fender flares, is a "styling standout," according to Kelley Blue Book. Designed and engineered, in large part, for the European market, the Fiesta caters to those who want a quick, responsive driving feel.



7) Honda Fit

Base price: $15,325
Fuel economy: 27 City / 33 Hwy

The Fit is another regular on this list. Besides being fun to drive, it's also got cool backseats that flip and fold to create a variety of cargo-carrying possibilities.



8) Kia Soul

Base price: $13,900
Fuel economy: 27 City / 35 Hwy

The Soul combines funky styling with a practical big-box design. A few slight design tweaks for the 2012 model year have made it look even cooler while some engineering changes have brought big horsepower gains and even better fuel economy.



9) Scion iQ

Base price: $15,265
Fuel economy: 36 City / 37 Hwy
The iQ is basically a two-plus seater. The backseats aren't really comfortable for adults but kids might be able to tolerate them and, when there are just two of you, they provide extra space to carry some luggage. The biggest selling point is probably its easy parkability in tight urban spaces.



10) Volkswagen Jetta

Base price: $15,515
Fuel economy: 24 City / 34 Hwy

Volkswagen designed the Jetta to suit American tastes, giving it ample backseat and trunk space along with clean, crisp styling that mimics expensive luxury cars.
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