Last updateWed, 18 Oct 2017 10am

On The Road

A new car on a budget

Photo By: Photo courtesy of Ford
Photo Photo Courtesy Of Ford The Ford Fiesta is not only inexpensive – as new cars go – but fuel efficient as well.

Let’s be practical. There are many ways to spend significant money on automobile transportation, but when your budget can only handle a few hundred dollars a month – and you want the peace of mind of brand-new – there are still several choices.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve driven the newest Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit and Kia Optima. For each of these three cars in their standard gasoline-engine configuration, the total bill out the door is less than $21,000.

But if your budget is limited, why not just buy a nice used car? The answer lies in two questions: Have you priced a used car lately? Have you noticed how much small, practical cars have improved in the past five years?

Buy a new car and you’re going to get all the peace of mind of state-of-the-art stability and braking assistance, maximum air-bag coverage and excellent crumple protection, as well as a good new-car warranty backed up by a full-service dealer. And let’s not forget fuel efficiency and emissions mitigation, both of which have improved by as much as 50 percent in the past five years.

All three of our test cars offer those advantages, but each also has its own characteristics that set it apart. Following are the points we liked about each.

• The Honda Fit has the most practical and spacious interior, offering the most headroom. With its five-door configuration and two-way folding rear seats, the car can easily haul anything from a full-size bicycle (with the Fit seats folded flat) to three tall bushes and potting soil (with the seat backs in place, but the rear cushions folded against the seats). With all the seats in place, the interior is comfortable for four full-sized adults.

Fuel efficiency is right in the center for our three test cars, with combined usage rated at 30 mpg. On the other hand, our $20,480 test car came with a navigation system standard, so you might make up some mileage by not getting lost as often. The handling and acceleration make the car more fun to drive.

• The Ford Fiesta, also a five-door hatchback, gives up a little on headroom and rear-seat room to the Honda Fit in return for a much sleeker and more fashionable style. That upgraded feeling carries over to the interior as well. But even with its fashionability, our test car is stickered at $20,210.

Fuel efficiency is the second feature in the plus column for the Fiesta, with combined usage rated at 34 mpg from its 1.6-liter Duratech engine and six-speed automatic transmission producing 120 horsepower.

• Of our three test cars, the Kia Optima is the most adult looking, with much more in common with more expensive family sedans than the other members of the 20-grand family (the standard Kia Optima has a base price of $21,750). The four-door sedan would look more at home in one of the downtown parking plazas than over in the Foothill College student lots. That impression of settled-down styling carries over into the comfortable, almost-plush interior.

On the other hand, the Optima in its standard version gets 5 mpg less than the Fiesta and a few less than the Fit. If you want to do your part to fight global warming and contribute to energy security, you can add $5,000 to the sticker price for the hybrid and get up to 40 mpg, which at present fuel prices would be paid back within five years.

In the negative column, we should note that the Fit is more funky than fashionable, the Fiesta is challenged in its ability to carry adults comfortably in the rear seats and is getting some bad press for its electronic controls and the Optima is the least flexible in the range of chores it can handle.

Bottom line – if your goals are practical and you need safe transportation at rock-bottom budget prices, you would be well served to try each of these three economy cars on for size and see which one matches your personality.

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