Before we get to this list of “best cheap cars”, I feel like you might be wondering about that headline. Why $22,515? I chose that number because the average price of a new car in 2021 has crept past $45,000 for the first time — $45,301, to be exact — and half of that is … well, you get the idea.
As for the list, I’ll try to answer it the same way you’d probably answer your friends if they asked you for help picking a new car: With a question of my own.
“What do you plan on using it for?”
MOVING PEOPLE AND THINGS
Look, the best answer to this “best cheap car for 2022” question is, in almost every use case, the Ford Maverick, starting at $19,995 (plus destination).
Yes, it’s “compact”, but probably not as compact as you think. It also has room for five adults, a 1500 lb. payload, and — in hybrid trim — will trade you 42 miles of city driving for every gallon of gas you pour into it.
I will admit, at this point, that I haven’t driven the Maverick, yet. That said, I don’t have to. Despite being a front-driver, I’m sure it’s capable enough, rides and handles well enough, and stops and goes well enough to get me through my day-to-day with minimal complaints.
What’s more, Ford’s littlest truck offers enough cargo space to solve for almost every use-case I can throw at it. Trip to IKEA? Check. Big plant from Home Depot? Check. Dragging a family’s worth of luggage to the airport? Check, again.
Order your base model Maverick with a Tonneau Pickup Box Cover – Soft Folding ($560), Trailer Hitch Receiver with 4-pin Connector ($100), and Floor Liners, All-Weather Tray Style ($135) for just $22,285, with destination.
If you want the best all-around “cheap car”, then you can stop reading now. If you want something a little more specialized, though, keep reading.
FRUGAL LONG HAULER
My friend Mike used to drive from Wellington, Ohio all the way to Independence for work. That’s 45 miles each way five or sometimes six times a week. That’s about 2,000 miles of driving a month, not including grocery runs, nights out, or anything else. In rural Ohio, too. It’s worth noting that each of those drives would probably be 10 or 15 miles on their own. All told, Mike easily drove 30,000 miles a year. What someone like that needs is a Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic — and the Corolla gets the nod for 2022.
Why choose the Corolla when the Honda is all-new for 2022? This one’s a personal preference. The Civic is a great car, but — with a base price of $21,900 and $1,015 in destination fees — it’s just over the arbitrary price limit I’ve set for this article. But that’s OK, because the Toyota, like the Honda, is a sturdy, capable, and somewhat boring little A-B appliance with a long history of reliability and resale value. The Toyota has another advantage, too: The ease with which I’ve personally been able to hypermile this latest generation of Corolla.
If you’re not familiar with hypermiling, the basic idea is that you drive in a way that will give you maximum fuel economy. That may mean driving a bit slower or coasting a bit more, but I very easily averaged more than 50 mpg over a week of driving with minimal effort, and that kind of proven fuel economy is more important than ever these days.
Order yours as a hatchback, precisely the way Matthew Guy spec’ed it, and drive home for $20,815 (plus plus plus).
SECOND OR THIRD VEHICLE
It’s not a typical choice, sure — but the Arcimoto FUV will handle 90 percent of the trips Americans take by themselves. Whether it’s commuting to work by yourself or picking up a few things at the grocery store, the 3-wheeled, all-electric Arcimoto is more than up to the task with a 75-mph top speed and just over 100 miles of driving range.
In addition to being super-efficient, the Arcimoto is also pretty fun. It’s open on three sides, for starters, but it’s surprisingly free of wind noise and buffeting thanks to the F-14 style fairing/canopy deal.
Speaking of surprises, the FUV is also surprisingly inexpensive, with a starting price of $17,900 before any EV incentives are factored in. If the proposed $7,500 tax credit for electric motorcycles passes, the net price of an Arcimoto would be $10,400 — which means you could get two of the things and still be under our arbitrary price cap!
If you didn’t like the Arcimoto, you’d better stop reading now, because you’re not going to like this next one. I have faith that you’ll keep reading, though, because this isn’t “Things We Tell Ourselves About Cars Because We Like To Hear Them”, it’s The Truth About Cars — and the truth is that, for less than $22,515, nothing beats a big-bore sportbike — not in a straight line, not in top speed, nothing. Well, maybe a front-offset crash, but we’ll save that argument in case we do a “Safest Car under $22,515” follow-up.
In the meantime, it really doesn’t matter if your tastes lean towards the state-of-the-art BMW S 1000 RR, the achingly beautiful new 2022 Triumph Speed Triple 1200 RR, or even the so-good-at-everything-it’s-almost-boring perfection of the Honda CBR1000RR ABS — if you want to even get close on four wheels you’ll have to be ready to spend big money. Hell, even a land yacht like the $18,999 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Standard (my personal pick under $20K, if anyone’s curious) will out-accelerate, out-corner, and flat out out-run any new car in its price range and still get more than 30 mpg.
Alas, these aren’t cars — and maybe the Arcimoto isn’t, either (despite the love that three-wheelers have been getting these days), but they’re my picks for bargain-basement transportation.
What are yours? Come on, B&B — surely you’ve got a novel take on what the best new ride for the money might be, so scroll on down to the comments and let us have it!
[Images: Ford, Toyota, Arcimoto, Triumph]
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