What do you want a car to do? Look good, drive well, be reliable and fit within the budget? Here are 10 cars that offer a balanced mix of all four:
Those looking for a reliable compact car with a satisfying amount of tech, the Corolla is a pretty solid bet. Standard features are plentiful (and useful) on the 2014 base models. Thanks to the latest redesign, the standard features include LED headlights, power locks/windows, steering-wheel-mounted controls, a four-speaker audio system, Bluetooth connectivity and eight airbags for safety. For power, the Corolla’s 132-horsepower 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine offers enough oomph to get you around quickly and efficiently. Given its taught-yet-comfortable ride, you shouldn’t be afraid to take it out on long trips either. If you opt for the sportier S model, the Corolla comes loaded with a 6.1-inch touchscreen display, a six-speaker sound system, leather trims, power-adjustable/heated mirrors and specialized exterior accents. MSRP: $15,995 – $22,200
Combining fun, looks and practicality for a reasonable price is something the Mazda3 has done for a while now, and the 2014 model is no exception. Equipment-wise, the base Mazda3 comes with everything you need, including a four-speaker sound system, Bluetooth connectivity, steering-wheel audio controls, keyless entry and full power accessories. In addition, the base-level Mazda3 now features the 155-horsepower SKYACTIV 2.0-litre engine as standard. This offers one of the best compromises between power and fuel economy in the compact car class. Both sedan and hatchback versions look really sharp, too. MSRP: $15,995 – $26,855
When it comes to affordable mid-range luxury sedans, the 2014 Verano takes the cake. For one, it’s stylish- and it’s ready-equipped with features every mid-size sedan of this class should have: full power accessories, keyless entry, a six-speaker audio system with all the inputs necessary, and a touchscreen display, to name a few. Power comes from a 180-horsepower 2.4-litre inline-four, and to keep you safe on the road, the Verano sports a pair of four-wheel-disc-brakes, 10 airbags, traction control, ABS and electronic stability control. A solid all-round value. MSRP: $23,005 – $29,360
For quite a while now, the Civic has been a good bang-for-your-buck contender – offering modern styling, a healthy list of standard equipment and sufficient power for a daily driver. Standard amenities include a four-speaker sound system, full power accessories, cruise control and automatic headlamps. Newer Civics also feature an “ECON mode” button that modifies gear and engine behavior to reduce the strain in city driving conditions, which is a neat fuel-saving feature. Its 140-horsepower 1.8-litre inline-four engine is capable, offering enough grunt to get you there quickly and efficiently. Safety-wise, 2013/14 Civics feature disc brakes in front and rear, electronic stability control and several airbags throughout the cabin. MSRP: $15,440 – $26,250
As a starting package, the Focus comes with modest standard amenities, including a four-speaker sound system with its respective aux. audio/USB/CD inputs, full power accessories and a tilt-telescoping steering wheel. Sufficient enough, but where the Focus really comes alive is its luxurious-yet-affordable options; adaptive cruise control, a self-parking feature and keyless start. The Focus’ 160-horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is just above-average in the compact class, while powerful turbocharged and full-electric options are also within reach. In terms of safety, the Focus scored very well, thanks to its abundance of airbags and electronic safety systems. Though slightly more expensive than the compact-car norm, the Focus is a mixed bag of agility, power, looks and top-end tech. MSRP:$15,999 – $29,999
Those on a tight budget looking for a loaded car in an affordable package, the Accent is a great start. Available as a sedan and as a hatchback, the 2013 Accent comes with a four-speaker sound system with Bluetooth/USB connectivity, and steering-wheel-mounted audio/cruise control. For a sub-compact, it’s also well-equipped with standard safety tech, including four-wheel disc brakes, six airbags and electronic stability/traction control. Power-wise, the Accent features a 138-horsepower 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, which is equally impressive for its class. And since it looks like a miniature Elantra, you wouldn’t be embarrassed to pick your date up in it either.
Serving as a replacement to the Cobalt-models of old, the Cruze is a considerable contender in the compact class – for its standard-tech, its top safety ratings and affordable access to turbocharged gasoline and diesel engines. Base-level models start with keyless entry, full power accessories, Bluetooth connectivity, a six-speaker audio system and satellite radio, which is slightly above average than its rivals. A standard Cruze makes do with a solid 138-horsepower 1.8-litre inline-four, but opt for the turbocharged 1.4-litre or turbo-diesel 2.0-litre engines, and you get a fuel-efficient ride with a good amount of power.
The Altima has grown over the years into a spacious, refined and modern machine, making it one of the best-value midsize sedans around today. Starting models are adequately-equipped with features such as keyless ignition/entry, full power accessories, Bluetooth connectivity and a four-speaker sound system, though for not much more, you can get cruise control, power seats, a rearview camera and other goodies. A standard 182-horsepower 2.5-litre inline-four is enough to get the Altima around, which also comes with one of the most effective continuously-variable transmissions (CVT) available.
As an entry model, the compact Dart is somewhat bare-bones in terms of standard tech; a four-speaker sound system/CD player/aux. audio jack and power windows are some of the highlights – but, for its style and power alone, it’s worth a mention. Its aggressive front fascia and sleek LED tail-lights offer a sporty look, and with its 2.0-litre, 160-horsepower four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission, the Dart is also very agile. Mid-range Dart models come fitted with keyless entry, a six-speaker sound system, a rearview camera, satellite radio, heated/power front seats and leather upholstery. They are indeed a bit more, but in the long run you also get one of the most fulfilling cars in the compact class.
In terms of an affordable, modern-looking, feature-packed and safe midsize sedan, the Optima is good value overall. A base-level Optima comes equipped with a variety of features such as automatic headlights, full power accessories, heated mirrors, air conditioning, a six-speaker audio system, Bluetooth connectivity and aux. audio/USB inputs. A capable 200-horsepower 2.4-litre inline-four engine is standard, but you can also treat yourself with the optional turbocharged 274-horsepower 2.0-litre engine without sacrificing too much fuel economy. Thanks to a solid chassis, an array of airbags and stability/traction control systems, the Optima is also one of the safest four-door sedans in the midsize segment.