If you donít want to spend more than about $15k on a new car, you wonít need to spend a lot of time shopping for one.
Because there are only three of them left on the market.
The Hyundai Accent and its two rivals, the Nissan Versa and Mitsubishi Mirage G4. They also happen to be among the few new small cars you can still buy, period.
And you can still buy them with a manual transmission!
So which one should you buy?
What It Is
The Accent is a subcompact sedan, something almost no one - other than Nissan and Mitsubishi - sells anymore. Others are larger - or they're crossovers. And they all cost thousands more to start than the Accent, which has a base price of $15,395 for the SE trim with a six-speed manual transmission controlling a 1.6 liter four cylinder engine.
The very similar Nissan Versa stickers for even less; just $14,930 to start. It also comes standard with a 1.6 liter engine but it's paired with a five-speed manual transmission. One less gear - for a bit less coin.
Then there's the Mitsubishi Mirage G4, which undercuts both of them with its base price of $14,295. But it comes with one less cylinder- and a lot less horsepower.
A top-of-the-range Accent Limited with the 1.6 engine and a CVT automatic stickers for $19,500 - a bit more than Nissan charges for a range-topping Versa SR ($18,430) which also comes standard with the 1.6 liter engine and a CVT automatic.
A Mirage G4 with a CVT lists for $18,195.
All three can be bought for several thousand dollars less than the small handful of slightly larger cars you can still buy like the Mazda3 ($20,500 to start), the Honda Civic ($21,050 to start) and the Toyota Corolla ($19,925 to start).
None of the above are available with manuals anymore, either.
Whatís New
Other than a $100 increase in the base price vs. last year, this yearís Accent is the same as it was last year.
Whatís Good
A brand-new car you can buy without hitching yourself to a six-year loan.
It has more backseat legroom - and a much better warranty - than the Versa.
It comes standard with a six-speed manual.
Whatís Not So Good
Manual isnít an option in SEL and Limited trims, which is the only wat to get a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a better than four-speaker stereo system.
Versa stickers for about $500 less to start and comes standard with a better stereo and more USB ports.
It has much less backseat legroom than the Mirage.
Under The Hood
The Versa comes standard with another thing thatís hard to find these days - an economy car engine.
Almost everything else on the market - including those that tout economy - come with turbocharged engines, which may be economical to operate but cost more to buy (viz, the Honda Civic) and could cost you a lot more down the road, if the turbo and related peripherals ever need service or replacement.
The Accentís 1.6 liter engine has no turbo so it doesnít make a lot of power - just 120 horsepower - but this is after all an economy car and the absence of a cost-adding turbocharger is one reason why this car costs so little. Adding a turbo would add $1,000 or more to the base price, which would make it less economical to buy.
It is also very economical to operate. More so than the turbo'd stuff.
With the six-speed manual transmission this car will travel 29 miles per gallon in city driving and 39 miles per gallon on the highway; if you choose the optional CVT automatic, the mileage increases to 33 city, 41 highway - which is just about the highest mileage you can buy without buying a hybrid, which will cost you several thousand dollars more to buy.
The Versaís mileage - with the manual - is significantly lower: 27 city 35 highway. The disparity is likely due to the Hyundaiís more favorable gearing, having six rather than five of them. With its optional CVT automatic, the Versa dead-heats the Accent on mileage, posting 32 city, 40 highway.
Neither of these cars is quick. But theyíre not slow, either.
The Accent with the manual six-speed can get to 60 in about 8.3 seconds. Thatís better than many cars that cost thousands more, including the Toyota Corolla. And much better than a Prius hybrid, which needs about 10 seconds to make the same run.
Itís also quicker than the Versa - which needs about 9.5 seconds. The disparity here is probably also due to gearing - and to weight. A Versa with the manual transmission weighs about 100 pounds more than the manual-equipped Accent (2,599 lbs. for the Nissan vs. 2,502 lbs. for the Hyundai).
And itís no contest vs. the Mirage - which though easy on gas - it rates a class-best (and best, period - absent hybrids) 43 MPG on the highway with the optional CVT automatic - makes you pay for it in the form of wanting acceleration.
It takes about 11 seconds to get to 60 - neck and turtle neck with a Prius.
On The Road
Itís becoming weird to drive a car when almost everything else is a crossover, an SUV or a truck. To sit down rather than climb up.
Itís also easier to find your car in a parking lot - assuming you can see it hidden behind and in between all those crossovers, SUVs and trucks.
It definitely easier to park this car - which is much smaller than almost all those crossovers, SUVs and trucks out there. And also almost all the other cars on the road.
Just 172.6 inches end to end, the Accent slots into spaces without backing up, then re-orienting before you get it lined up reasonably. The abbreviated length is handy in heavy traffic, too - where the openings are often brief as well as small.
Thereís not a lot of power on tap - but there is enough power on tap such that it's not necessary to use all the power there is just to get it going. And the available manual lets you make the most of the power there is and also makes it fun to drive this little car. You have something to do, for one thing. For another, the need to time your shifts and keep the engine in its sweet spot is its own ďsafetyĒ feature. Youíre paying attention to your driving instead of paying attention to whatís on the radio.
Something else, too.
If you know how to drive a manual, you can beat the CVTís touted mileage.
The rated mileage of the manual is less than the rated mileage of the CVT but the CVTís rated mileage depends on the car being driven in an unrealistic manner - i.e., so as to score best on the test that determines the rated mileage. If you drive the car as necessary to keep up with traffic - to take advantage of those brief and small holes - expect to not get the rated mileage.
And if you know how to shift for yourself, expect to get better-than-rated mileage with the manual. I can vouch for this, having driven both manual and CVT-equipped versions of this car as well as others like it.
This is inside baseball; CVTs - and automatics - are being hard-sold (and in more and more cases, the only thing being sold) because they can be programmed to do best on the test and because the car companies/dealerships can make more money by selling you an automatic and servicing automatics.
Note the almost $1,000 difference in price between the manual six-speed Accent ($15,395) and the same car with the optional CVT automatic ($16,495).
Same issue with the others.
And with one of the others - the Mirage - the manual is a necessity because of the 1.2 liter, three-cylinder engine's 78 horsepower output. This car moves out like a toad with no rear legs with the CVT automatic.
At The Curb
This is a small car - but itís also a surprising spacious car - especially up front, where the driver and front seat passenger have about as much legroom (42.1 inches) as in most current mid-sized cars.
It also doesn't look like a pathetic car - which was historically the case with subcompact economy cars. No one bought a Chevette - or an Excel - because they were desirable. They bought them because it was all they could afford. This is a car that doesn't make you wish you had more money. It has everything you need for comfortable transportation without making you pay through the nose for it - or suffer for it.
It has AC, power windows and locks; even cruise control is part of the standard equipment roster. Also keyless entry and a 5-inch LCD touchscreen. SE and Limited trims get a 7-inch screen and a six-speaker stereo.
The one thing it hasn't got is as much room in back as the remarkably space-efficient Mirage G4 has. The little - literally - Mitsu is only 169.5 inches long overall vs. 172.6 for the Accent (and 177 for the Versa) but its designers somehow carved out 37.3 inches of backseat legroom - vs. 33.5 inches in the Hyundai and just 31 inches in the Nissan.
Still, there is enough room in the Accent to make it serviceable as more than a two-seater commuter car that happens to have back seats, as the Versa is. If the Mirage had more engine it'd be more of a threat. But its lack thereof counterbalances the the class-best space efficiency of the thing.
The Rest
Another thing about the Accent is that it is one of the new vehicles - period - that you can buy without driver harassment technology, styled "assistance." Things like Lane Keep Assist, Automated Emergency Braking and an orchestra of buzzers, lights and a shaking/vibrating steering wheel are optional here.
They are also optional in the Versa - but Mitsu has made Forward Collision Mitigation with Pedestrian Detection (basically, a variant of automated braking) standard in the Mirage.
Also, Mitsubishi is iffy. Like Fiat, this brand -which has struggled to make a go of it in the United States - may not be around next year - which would mean no dealer support, including for warranty-related service issues.
And the Hyundai has the best warranty, regardless.
The only hair in the soup is that the base S trim Accent doesn't come standard with a telescoping steering wheel, which makes it harder to adjust-to-suit without spending more to get the SEL or Limited trims, which come standard with the tilt/telescoping wheel.
The Bottom Line
You can still buy a new car for what new cars used to cost - that's still a car - and still comes standard with a manual.
But given the crossover tsunami, this option may not be on the table for very much longer.
. . . .
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