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Top 10 Daringly Designed Affordable Cars

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author photo by Nick Jaynes April 2012

In the heyday of automotive design during the 1950s and 1960s, lavish attention was paid to the styling of even inexpensive vehicles. But by the mid-1980s, affordable, every-day cars with truly beautiful or cutting-edge designs seemed to have virtually disappeared.

Over the last few years, however, automotive designers seem to have been re-empowered. The result is a new breed of affordable and yet stylish vehicles.

In honor of this new era of design inspiration, we've compiled a list of ten affordable vehicles with daring designs.

2013 Lincoln MKS

Better known these days for boxy vehicles like the Town Car and the Navigator, Lincoln chose to put its design foot forward with the new MKS. Hoping for a reinvention, Lincoln has begun rolling out a series of new cars featuring a new design language.

Even if you don't like the MKS (some critics have made allusions to its grille looking like a baleen whale with its mouth open), there's no denying the distinctive front fascia and strong bodylines are rather striking. The 2013 MKS coupled with the MKX Concept unveiled at last year's LA Auto Show, are clear proof that Lincoln is pushing the boundaries of its once conservative designs.

2012 Scion iQ

In markets outside the U.S., the Scion iQ has been on sale since 2008 as the Toyota iQ. Rebadged here as a Scion, the iQ arrived in late 2011 as a 2012 model.

While there are other subcompact city cars on the market (like the Fiat 500 and Smart ForTwo), the iQ stands out for several reasons. First, it has a relatively wide, aggressive stance that gives it a more substantial look. Secondly, it has huge wheels in proportion to its size. Scion gave the iQ 16-inch alloys, giving it a giant's stature amongst its diminutive brethren. Lastly, unlike the vintage-inspired design of the Fiat, the iQ looks futuristic - like a sci-fi Anime star - which easily puts it a decade ahead of the rest of the herd.

2012 Nissan Juke

The Juke is the oldest vehicle on the list (it went on sale here in late 2010), but still stands as one of the most distinctive looking cars for sale. Love it or hate it, everyone has an opinion on the Juke. And to us, that's one of its best features. For too long automakers have shied away from risky designs, resulting in bland blobs of metal. Nissan designed a polarizing vehicle that got people talking. Regardless of your opinion, you have to admit that Nissan made a gutsy move with the Juke. Remember, there's no such thing as bad publicity.

2012 Audi A7

The A7 is a car that came out of left field and made the motoring press scratch its collective head. Falling between the A6 and the A8, the A7 didn't seem to have an obvious place in the market. That is, until they popped the hatch.

To the uninformed eye, the A7 looks like yet another sleek German luxury sedan with a bit of extra weight in the back. The A7 cleverly hides its brilliant secret design: a long, sloping hatch. Open up the back, and the A7 is big enough to fit your golf clubs, some groceries, and perhaps your briefcase - all at once. The shape of the A7 has a subtle, sensual appeal, but it's the hatch that takes it from a thing of beauty to a vanguard of automotive design.

2013 Ford Fusion

Given a moment's glance, most people might guess the 2013 Fusion was an Aston Martin long before they'd guess it a Ford. It wasn't long ago that Ford might be accused of phoning in its designs. Now, with the new Fusion, it's pushing the boundaries of how an every-day midsize family sedan can look and behave, challenging some of the reigning luxury brands for aesthetic dominance.

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Not only is the new Fusion stunning, it marks a new step for Ford: One Ford. For years, Ford products sold in the U.S. differed dramatically from the Ford vehicles available in the rest of the world. Ford seems to have finally realized that Americans want and deserve the same level of quality and detail that the rest of the world has come to expect from the brand. The 2013 Fusion and its outstanding design is just one of many exciting new products coming as part of One Ford.

2013 Buick Encore

At first glance, the Buick Encore isn't really special. Why it's on this list isn't readily apparent. That is, until you learn that it's a subcompact crossover. Underneath its luxurious interior and recognizable Buick bodylines, it's a Chevrolet Sonic: a subcompact car. But what makes a subcompact crossover a daring design choice? Simply because it's the first of its kind in the US market.

While not expected to be a sales juggernaut in the U.S., Buick is hoping the Encore will sell like hotcakes in China.

2012 Range Rover Evoque

The Range Rover Evoque was named North American Truck of the Year for 2012, and for good reason. Aside from its competitive price and excellent ride quality, the Evoque features a stylish design with the cutting-edge look of a concept car.
When automakers show off a new, boundary-pushing concept car, the production version tends to be much more watered-down. The Evoque retained its remarkable form all the way from the design studio to dealer showrooms. For that, Range Rover deserves a lot of respect and a spot on this list.

2013 Subaru BRZ

Although the Subaru BRZ is fairly attractive, its looks aren't all that got our attention. It's what's underneath that's really interesting.

The BRZ is a joint venture between Subaru and Toyota. Subaru designed and built it, and Toyota paid for it. With its performance-oriented rear-wheel drive layout, the BRZ marks a shift away from Subaru's longtime focus solely on all-wheel drive vehicles. The design of the BRZ harkens back to early sports cars: lightweight, compact, sporty but not overly powerful, with a focus on nimble handling. The BRZ will be the lightest closed-wheel, rear-wheel drive car for sale in the U.S. Couple that lightweight with the 200-horsepower "Boxer" engine and the BRZ should be a blast on twisty roads.

2012 Hyundai Veloster

The Hyundai Veloster is kind of like the Audi A7; at first glance, you might not be able to see what all the fuss is about.

Open all the doors, however, and the answer becomes clear. What initially appears to be a 5-door hatchback is actually two cars in one. Approach from the driver's side, and it appears to be a 2-door coupe. But approach from the passenger side, and you'll find two full-size doors for the front and rear passengers. Add in the hatch out back, and you have an improbable 4-door vehicle with a lot of versatility - and personality to spare.

2012 Mitsubishi i
Last but not least is the Mitsubishi i. The i is the only electric car to make our daring design list. We like the i because it's both technically and visually daring.

We love that it looks distinctly futuristic, like it was zapped back in time from downtown Tokyo, circa 2040. But no matter the place or time, the i garners a lot of attention. With a range of around 80 miles per charge, the i benefits from an unique look and relatively low price when compared to other electric vehicles currently available.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Top 10 Daringly Designed Affordable Cars - Autotrader