The average price of a new car is over $37,000. These cars all cost much less.
The average price of a new car in the United States increases every year. In 2019, the average transaction price for a new light vehicle ended up being a bit over $37,000. For a new vehicle to be considered a People's Car, we wanted the base MSRP to fall well below the average transaction price. We realize $37,000 is still a lot of money, which is why the base price for all three of our choices fall significantly below this amount.
Some vehicles that just missed the cut for best People's Car of 2019 include the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Forte, Nissan Versa, Toyota RAV4, and Volkswagen Golf GTI. The three vehicles we've chosen all represent tremendous value at their price points. They're also the models we recommend to people who are looking for their first car.
As our favorite car in the affordable compact segment, the 2019 Honda Civic was a no-brainer. Not only does Honda offer the Civic as a conventional sedan, but it also sells two-door coupe and five-door hatchback variants. Even the standard Civic with its 158-horsepower 2.0-liter and 180-hp turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engines are fun to drive and can both be had with a six-speed manual transmission. With prices starting at just $19,550 for the sedan, the base Civic is also affordable for the masses.
The Civic's performance variants are also affordable. The 205-hp Civic Si starts at a reasonable $24,300 and the hardcore 306-hp Type R still rings in under the average new car price at $36,300. No matter your driver skill or budget, there's a Civic to suit your needs.
We had trouble faulting the 2020 Kia Soul when we tested it. It's that good. We agree that the styling won't be to everyone's tastes but with a starting MSRP of just $17,490, few sub-compact crossovers offer as much interior space as the Soul. Not only is it spacious, but it's also the most powerful vehicle in its segment. For $27,490, the Soul GT-Line packs a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder pumping out 201 hp. Compared to all of the other sub-compacts we drove this year, the Soul is a rocket ship.
It also packs some of the best interior technology at any price. Kia's infotainment system is large and easy-to-use and the safety features wouldn't feel out of place in a luxury car. The lane keep system, for example, kept us in our lane for almost five minutes before telling us to put our hands back on the wheel. This is incredible for a sub-$30,000 car.
Side Note: If you liked everything we said about the Soul but just can't get over the looks, the Kia Forte offers the same astounding drivetrains wrapped up in a prettier sedan body.
The vehicle we found ourselves recommending the most this year was the 2019 Mazda CX-5. People have gone crossover crazy and of all the SUVs we tested this year, the CX-5 offers the best combination of value and driving enjoyment. Mazda knows how to make a fun vehicle with the MX-5 Miata and some of that joy is palpable in the CX-5. The 2.5-liter four-pot with 187 hp found in the base $24,350 Sport Trim is fine but it's the 227-hp turbocharged four-pot used in the $34,870 Grand Touring Reserve trim that we fell in love with.
It offers a whopping 310 lb-ft of torque and will have even more for the 2020 model year. Combine this with great steering and a well-sorted chassis, and it's easy to understand why we love the CX-5. Not only does the CX-5 look beautiful with its Kodo design language, but the higher trim levels have an interior that wouldn't offend even the most loyal luxury car buyer. In fact, we've witnessed a few buyers trade in their luxury vehicles for a CX-5, saving thousands over a comparable luxury model.
The Mazda CX-5 is not just affordable, it is also the most enjoyable SUV we've driven this year. It is our go-to recommendation for an affordable car, which is why it comfortably wins People's Car of the Year.