The 10 cheapest cars, and why almost nobody buys them

2:25 PM, Apr 24, 2013   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) Cheap new cars can be a disappointment zone.

If you go looking for the $12,780 2014 Nissan Versa sedan that went on sale Tuesday as America's lowest-price new car, good luck. Dealers almost never stock the lowest-price model.

They say nobody buys the bottom version, but shoppers say that's because they aren't available. Automakers say the so-called "take rate" for the lowest-price version of any model runs from 2% to 5%.

Using that new Versa as an example, the bottom-price model has a manual transmission. Few can or will drive a stick-shift nowadays. Moving up to the conventional four-speed automatic adds $1,000.

And you still don't have the high-mileage version you probably saw advertised.

That's the one with the CVT (continuously variable-ratio automatic transmission), which is rated an appealing 40 mpg on the highway. Lowest-price CVT model is the S Plus, starting at $14,580 including shipping.

Suddenly, instead of a chops-licking, less-than-$13,000 new car, you're getting close to $15,000.

At which point buyers often start thinking about nicely equipped, lightly used cars instead of new ones.

It's not just Nissan. Most automakers price their vehicles that way.

Of course, there's more profit in even slightly higher-price models, so that's what car companies want to make and dealers want to keep on the lot and in the showroom.

In addition to being hard to find, bare-bones cars just aren't that desirable, even among those who swear they "just want basic transportation." Often, "basic" means sans air conditioning, power windows and a radio.

Power windows sounds like a luxury until you picture yourself reaching from the driver's seat across the car to hand-crank the passenger-side window.

Using Versa again, the average transaction price is $16,092, according to research and shopping site TrueCar.com. Three cars have lower average transaction prices: SmartForTwo ($14,264), Chevrolet Spark ($14,707) and Mazda2 ($15,528).

Transaction price is all-in, out the door, so it includes taxes and license fees as well as factory rebates and dealer discounts.

And cheap-to-buy often isn't cheap to own. A low-pricer frequently depreciates faster than a more-expensive car, so at trade-in time, the gap between the value of what you have and what you want is pretty big. Depreciation is the single biggest cost of owning a car, but often overlooked because it doesn't hit until years after you buy the car.

The 10 cheapest new cars in the U.S.

The list was complied by kbb.com. Rankings are based on sticker prices, including shipping charges. All are 2013 models except the 2014 Versa.

•Nissan Versa S Sedan, $12,780
•Chevrolet Spark LS Hatchback, $12,995
•Smart ForTwo Pure Coupe, $13,240
•Ford Fiesta S Sedan, $13,995
•Kia Rio LX Sedan, $14,350
•Ford Fiesta S Hatchback, $14,995
•Chevrolet Sonic Sedan, $14,995
•Kia Soul, $15,175
•Hyundai Accent GLS Sedan, $15,320
•Mazda MAZDA2 Sport Hatchback, $15,515

The 10 cheapest cars based on average transaction price.

ATP is the all-in, out-the-door price that includes taxes, license, factory rebates, dealer discounts. Complied by TrueCar.com.

•Smart ForTwo, $14,264
•Chevrolet Spark, $14,707
•Mazda2, $15,528
•Nissan Versa, $16,092
•Ford Fiesta, $16,361
•Scion iQ, $16,688
•Kia Rio, $16,786
•Toyota Yaris, $16,881
•Hyundai Accent, $17,102
•Honda Fit, $17,651

James R. Healey, USA TODAY

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