Well, it’s 3pm on a weekday and I’m not wearing pants. TIME TO BLOG. Now you may be saying to yourself, “Why do I care what this asshole thinks?” and to that I say; you don’t. Well, at least you shouldn’t. Because I am in no way qualified* to even bloviate about these cars, but bloviate I shall, and you’re going to read it! Or you’ll move on and click on macanamera probing some dark planet. Fair enough, that’s pretty cool.
*Although I have owned a Miata
I’m going to arbitrarily discuss the most exciting segment in all the automotive universe; New sub-compact cars with a maximumish budget of $15,000. That is not a lot of money. Seriously, if you have a pulse and a job that you plan on keeping until you sign the financial paperwork, you too can join the American dream. That dream being owing thousands of dollars to a faceless, uncaring corporate overlord for the privilege of saying, “That shiny thing is MINE. Suck it world.” There’s nothing wrong with this feeling. In fact, I feel it every time I buy a new(old) car, except replace shiny with dented and rusty. Own your feelings.
For a full list of sub-compact cars under $15,000 check your local cars.com or autotrader app. There are over a dozen down here at the bottom and as the Internets have told me, Ain’t nobody got time for that. So I cherry picked five cars from this segment that may not put you into a boredom induced coma(sorry Toyota Yaris) Plus a WILDCARD at the end. Don’t look at it. Don’t do it. You did it didn’t you? You’re the worst. Have I ever? Of course not.
1. The most interesting sub-compact... in the United States.
The (New) Smart Fortwo
Ok, it doesn’t come out until the Fall, but never have I claimed this list to be exhaustive/objective/well researched or logical. I never even realized that Smart car prices start below 15k until I started researching this segment. I didn’t know that much smug could be bought with Fiesta S prices. However, this...THIS is... well, it’s not a great looking car. Great idea showing it in silver and orange Smart. Your marketing team from 2002 really earned their keep. Aesthetics aside, this is a RR turbo car with a 5 speed. Sure, the suspension is likely so nerfed that even Madison and Liam won’t experience the joys/horror of snap oversteer, and the shifter has that legendary Mercedes-Benz feel, but what is nerfed can be un-nerfed! You have a new, overly complicated German/French/Swiss platform, you won’t need that warranty. It HAS to be worth checking out. I know I won’t, but that’s because I’m a shameless hypocrite with 3 kids.
2. Fiat 500 Pop
Who hasn’t imagined wringing out a small Italian hatchback for every one of its 2 and ½ dozen horses? Now you can! Again, this doesn’t fit neatly within the budget based on MSRP, but it’s not exactly a secret that these are moving off lots under $15k. And you get quite a bit of hardware for the segment, 4 wheel disc brakes (How is this not standard across every single car?) and heated mirrors. It doesn’t have the turbo or glorious exhaust note of the Abarth, but you can still get that raspy exhaust note every Fiat deserves with a socket wrench. Only 101 horsepower but at this price, there’s no reason not to take every single one of them. Brown seats are a $100 option; that’s a plus. Also when you get tired of taking it to the dealership you can make a proper Abarth. By proper, I mean certifiably insane.
3. Kia Rio5
This was going to be the place for the ecoboost Fiesta. However, I was tricked by the cruel mistress of lease incentives and was unable to get the MSRP of the ecoboost Fiesta down to 15k(ish). I even built a Fiesta....sedan. I know, I took a shower. Anyways, due to Ford’s insistence of not adhering to my pointless and fungible limits, it is out. (But you know, look around)— Introducing the Kia Rio5! Now, unlike certain other manufacturers (looking at you Ford and Chevy), Kia does not charge a premium for the glorious hatchback experience. If you have always wondered why small hatchbacks aren’t more popular, think about if people are going to spend this premium on style and practicality or on an automatic transmission. Yeah. Now, back on topic, the Rio5 provides good power for the class (138hp) and 4 wheel disc brakes to go along with the Korean’s apparently mediocre drive feel. Nothing a sawzall and some polyurethane can’t fix. The Kia Rio is otherwise unremarkable, aside from being a good prop to direct irrational and misguided criticism towards other car manufacturers for not offering everything at a loss. Assholes.
4. Mitsubishi Mirage
The modern day basement of the Automotive world. Claim that there are no bad cars made anymore and someone will say “Nope! Mirage! LOL!” This is patently ridiculous. Clearly, the worst car is the Mirage with a CVT transmission. One commenter claimed that him and a buddy were able to noticeably move the car in the lane by grabbing the roof and shifting their weight. That’s amazing. Often, we Jalops and Opponauts complain that new cars lack “fun”. That sounds like fun! Sure, its not fun in the way a well tuned car makes you feel like the steering wheel is an extension of your tongue (Is that just me?) but it sounds like it can be a riot with the right attitude. It’s not like you need to seriously concern yourself with resale value as Mitsubishi will be half a world away by the time your loan is due. And when that day comes, I’d just like to point out that the Mirage weighs less than 2000 lbs. Parting out that interior will probably be the most value that you can get out of it. Plus, the car will have likely taken off some pieces for you. Such a helpful little car. Then you can take your helpful little car to the local C+C and laugh at those FAT Lotus Elises. 2000 lbs? You need that fourth cylinder to lug around that gut.
The new Mazda2 seems to be lost in transit. Maybe it’s with the Skyactiv Diesel...
Oh, you’re surprised I put an outdated, outclassed car on this list? Did you not see where I owned a Miata? Mazda can’t do wrong. Well, at least until I own a non-Miata Mazda and realize that is what everyone meant by rust. Still, tiny overhangs, 100hp and a 5 speed is a great starter recipe, even if you need to make some “adjustments”. That seems to be a common theme here... Take all the improvements that have made these small cars objectively better and more livable than their penalty box ancestors and trash them. Wow... I’m kind of living up to the stereotype, sorry about that. Anyways, (insert strong segue here), let’s look at the WILDCARD!
Now in the interest of recognizing that used cars are riskier investments, have potentially higher running costs and the reality that many people have to finance rather than have thousands of dollars on hand I have made the WILDCARD purchase budget 3/5’s of the arbitrary new car budget, so in this case $9,000 (saving/planning/begging for $6,000 in reconditioning and eventual maintenance/repairs) As you may have noticed in the image, I picked the 05-06(h/t to bee1000 for the correction) Mini Cooper S. There are a good number at this price across the country, use your best judgment when picking one for yourself. And if you’re a masochist, can I offer you this gently owned Mirage? Now, for those of you afraid of the MINI stigma realize that 1. That’s dumb. Especially for a bunch of Miata fanboys. And 2. The 1st gen MINI is passé and no one will confuse you for the Chads and Brittanys that originally filled those seats. You’re getting a supercharged sub-compact with near universal critical adulation with regards to fun and handling. Congratulations! Oh, your supercharger belt slipped off.... and that puddle can’t be good. Good thing you saved that six thousand dollars right?