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Top 25 Cars Under $25,000: 2014 Edition

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author photo by Josh Sadlier August 2014

The average cost of buying a new car in 2014 is more than $32,000, so it may seem like all the good stuff these days is out of reach. We know that's not the case, and we have the list to prove it. In alphabetical order, here are 25 cars on the market this year that cost less than $25,000. These aren't just low-priced cars; these are cars that our editors would be proud to own and cars that give you a lot of bang for your buck. Your dream car may even be on this list, but if it's not, you'll still have 25 genuinely appealing substitutes to consider.

2015 Chrysler 200 ($21,700)

Remember the previous 200, which was essentially a spruced-up Sebring? Fort Lauderdale vacationers surely do, but Chrysler would prefer that you forget. Fortunately, one spin in the all-new 2015 Chrysler 200 family sedan is all it will take to put that clunker out of your mind for good. With classy styling, a choice of capable 4-cylinder or impressive V6 power, a supersleek control layout that wraps around the driver, and up to 36 miles per gallon, the redesigned 200 is at the head of its class. This is one car that you have to drive to find out just how much it's improved.

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2014 Ford Escape ($23,100)

The Escape's no spring chicken at this point, but it's still one of the strongest entries in the compact-crossover segment. Thanks to its Focus-derived underpinnings, the Escape handles more like a tall hatchback than an SUV, and its available SYNC and MyFord Touch technologies give it an edge over most rivals. We're also fans of the fuel-efficient 1.6-liter and speedy 2.0-liter turbocharged engines.

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2015 Ford Transit Connect ($22,000)

Whether you're a contractor who dislikes the bulk of full-size vans or a parent looking for a superpractical crossover alternative for your family, the new Transit Connect hits the spot. It has as much cargo capacity as a large SUV, yet it's as easy to maneuver as a midsize sedan. Thankfully, the redesigned Transit Connect finally has an up-to-date interior as well, with Ford's usual allotment of high-tech features and available 3-row seating. It also shares its optional 1.6-liter turbo engine with the Escape, enabling highway fuel economy of up to 30 mpg.

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2014 Honda CR-V ($23,120)

Let's be honest: Virtually every available Honda could be on this list. We think it's important, however, to point out that Honda practically invented the compact-crossover segment with the Civic-based CR-V. The current model once again breaks new ground with its unusually spacious cabin. Compact isn't quite the right word for the CR-V anymore; two 6-footers can lounge in the back seat with headroom and legroom to spare. Somehow, the CR-V still manages to drive like a Civic on stilts, so you don't lose any of the nimble, user-friendly character that's made it a fan favorite.

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2015 Honda Fit ($15,525)

If we had to hand out an award for a shockingly low price, the completely redesigned 2015 Fit would win in a landslide. Typically, an all-new model gets a hefty price increase due to all the enhancements and fresh features, but the sleek 2015 Fit pretty much holds the line despite improved fuel economy (up to 41 mpg on the highway) and convenience items such as standard Bluetooth phone/audio with a 5-inch display. As ever, with over 50 cu ft. of cargo space, the Fit offers almost crossover-grade versatility in a tiny package that's a cinch to park.

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2015 Hyundai Elantra ($17,250)

For those who want bold styling at a humble price, the compact Elantra continues to impress. Its aggressive-yet-elegant exterior offers a unique visual impact, especially with the available LED headlight and taillight accents. Hyundai has also made numerous improvements over the years, including extra sound deadening for 2014 and a new Sport trim with a peppier engine and a sport-tuned suspension. There's even a sexy coupe now that lets the Elantra compete head-to-head with its nemesis, the Honda Civic.

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2015 Hyundai Sonata ($21,150)

Don't look now, but Hyundai has taken its already-formidable midsize sedan and made it a lot better for 2015. New sheet metal and front/rear fascias keep the Sonata looking fresh, while the redesigned interior is elegant enough to remind us of the upscale 2015 Genesis. Keep an eye on the newly optional 1.6-liter turbo engine in the Eco model, which should be good for 40 mpg or better on the open road.

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2014 Hyundai Veloster ($17,800)

The unique 3-door Veloster shows that style, versatility and driving fun can come together in a remarkably affordable package. There's room for adults in the Veloster's back seat, but from the driver seat, it feels like a sporty, quick-witted coupe. The base model gets a healthy 40 mpg hwy, while the invigorating 201-horsepower Turbo can run with high-performance hatches from around the world.

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2014 Jeep Cherokee ($22,995)

This certainly isn't your grandfather's boxy Cherokee. The brand-new 2014 version, based on the satisfying Dodge Dart sedan, is a modern crossover to be reckoned with. A novel 9-speed transmission helps return fuel economy in excess of 30 mpg, while plush interior materials and available 8.4-in Uconnect touchscreen infotainment give the Cherokee an uptown character. If you want to hit the dirt, two available 4-wheel-drive systems with low-range gearing are up to the task, especially if you get the Trailhawk model with its locking rear differential.

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2014 Jeep Wrangler ($22,395)

Can you believe that a brand-new Wrangler sells for well under $25,000? We were a little surprised, too. Of course, the Wrangler isn't the most civilized vehicle in daily driving, but you can't beat its go-anywhere skill set. People tend to forget that the Wrangler is also a convertible thanks to its removable canvas top. It even has a powerful V6 under the hood. Try finding this hardware or this much top-down fun anywhere else for the price.

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2014 Kia Forte ($16,700)

We know what you're thinking: How can one of the least expensive cars on the planet be a car "that our editors would be proud to own"? We don't know why, but it's true: The Forte is a remarkable small car that has quietly moved from the rear of the pack to leader of the pack starting in 2014. There are several good small cars available, but the Forte is better than most. The Forte also offers many options that you just don't expect to find on a budget-friendly small car. Heated front and rear seats, a ventilated driver's seat, a heated steering wheel, power-folding outside mirrors and LED taillights are just a few of the features you can get on the Forte. Opt for the Forte's smaller 1.8-liter engine, and you'll enjoy 31 mpg in combined city and highway driving.

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2014 Kia Soul ($15,695)

The Soul's base price is almost as shocking as the abovementioned Fit's, and the best part is that Kia's funky hatchback is no longer just a style-driven product. Sure, the first-generation Soul offered practicality in addition to its head-turning looks, but it was pretty cheap inside, with just the bare minimum in terms of features. The new-for-2014 Soul changes all that with premium cabin materials, a quieter ride, and an extensive equipment list that includes an attractive, up-to-date touchscreen.

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2014 Mazda3 ($16,945)

Mazda has established itself in recent years as a lower-priced alternative to BMW, and the Mazda3's sophisticated character is a perfect example. Quite simply, the 3 drives like a more expensive car, with supple suspension dampers and responsive steering. The Mazda3 also offers two excellent transmissions: an ultrasmooth 6-speed automatic and one of the very best 6-speed manual shifters in the business. Redesigned for 2014, the new 3 features fluid styling that sets it apart from humdrum economy cars. Its incredible combined fuel economy rating of 33 mpg with the 2.0-liter engine -- including 40 mpg hwy -- makes it nearly as frugal as the VW Golf's formerly peerless TDI diesel. Bottom line: For the money, the Mazda3 is the best small car you can get.

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2014 Mazda5 ($20,140)

Like the Transit Connect, the Mazda5 offers family-friendly transportation in a surprisingly compact wrapper. The 5's standard 3-row seating provides plenty of flexibility for growing broods, while Mazda's typical responsive handling and sporty driving position ensure that you'll always be in control. The Mazda5 is exceptionally affordable relative to other minivans and crossovers, but it never feels cheap. On the contrary, you'll feel like you got a lot of car for the money.

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2014 MINI Cooper ($19,950)

The venerable MINI has been modernized this year with a number of notable improvements that, happily, don't dilute its delightfully rambunctious nature. The base engine is now a turbocharged 3-cylinder that returns an outstanding 34 mpg in mixed driving yet sprints from 0 to 60 mph in well under 8 seconds -- a major improvement over the old 4-cylinder. The Cooper S features fewer dramatic changes under the hood, gaining just a handful of hp via its enlarged turbo four. Both models are treated to a reworked interior, with superior materials and more conventional controls. As a bonus, the new MINI's bigger back seat means that you can put two adults back there, at least on short trips.

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2015 Nissan Altima ($22,170)

With all the competitive family sedans on the market, it's hard to keep them straight. But the Altima is a perennial best-seller for good reason. The 4-cylinder model gets an astonishing 38 mpg hwy, for one thing, while the robust 270-hp V6 still manages 32 mpg. The NASA-inspired front seats are ultrasupportive, with plenty of space behind them for full-size adults. Additionally, the Altima is more fun to drive than any family sedan has a right to be thanks to its quick, tight steering and impressive body control in fast transitions.

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2014 Nissan Rogue ($22,790)

We actually liked the previous Rogue a lot (you can still buy it as the Rogue Select), but the redesigned 2014 Rogue is where it's at for families on a budget. Offering three rows of seating and a softer, quieter ride, this Rogue should appeal to a wide swath of shoppers. It doesn't hurt that fuel economy is a praiseworthy 33 mpg hwy with front-wheel drive. If the Pathfinder seems too large or expensive, the Rogue may be just right.

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2014 Scion FR-S ($24,700)

Okay, the FR-S is technically more than $25,000 if you include the destination fee, but once you drive Scion's rear-wheel-drive sports car on a winding road, you'll likely be glad that you broke your budget. The FR-S's steering, braking and overall handling are basically perfect; the whole point of the car is to stimulate the pleasure receptors of driving enthusiasts everywhere. It could arguably use a few more hp, but just save up for a turbo kit if you're so inclined.

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2014 Scion iQ ($16,420)

On the other end of the spectrum from the FR-S, the diminutive iQ is perhaps the ultimate affordable solution for city folk. It's basically the same size as a smart fortwo, but it's better to drive. There's even a little back seat that'll do in a pinch. Predictably, fuel economy is another highlight at a whopping 37 mpg combined.

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2015 Subaru Forester ($22,195)

The 2-row Forester crossover has always been known for its standard all-wheel drive and safe handling, but until the last redesign, subpar fuel economy was just part of the deal. That's no longer the case; Subaru has added a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that gives you up to 32 mpg hwy with all-wheel drive -- a laudable achievement. The Forester also boasts great safety scores and an available turbocharged engine that pumps out 250 hp and still gets 28 mpg hwy.

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2014 Subaru Impreza ($17,895)

Like the Forester, the Impreza has moved on from its gas-guzzling past, with highway fuel economy figures now reaching 36 mpg. It also features an interior of higher quality than the model ever had in the past, including a soft-touch dashboard, improved door materials and improved seat upholstery. With standard all-wheel drive and a base price under $18,000, it's no wonder that the Impreza continues to rule the roost in snowy states.

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2014 Toyota Corolla ($16,800)

The Corolla isn't found on many top lists, but don't judge it on that basis. Just because it doesn't dominate the headlines doesn't mean it's not worth considering. In fact, the Corolla continues to be an American favorite, and why not? It gets 37 mpg hwy with the new CVT, its fully contemporary interior has never looked better, and there's even a little flair now in the traditionally bland body panels.

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2014 Toyota Prius ($24,200)

The Prius has crept up the price charts over the past few years now that the tiny Prius c is here. We'd still recommend buying the regular Prius if possible. The midsize hatchback body style is a boon for both people-carrying and cargo-hauling needs, but the Prius still drives and parks like a smaller car. Of course, the main attraction is the hybrid powertrain, which provides an unbeatable 51 mpg city/48 mpg hwy, but the Prius is more than just a fuel miser; it's a great all-around car.

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2015 Volkswagen Golf ($18,995)

How do you improve on what many felt to be hatchback perfection: the sixth-generation (Mk6) Golf? Well, you kick off generation seven with a crisper-looking body and a longer wheelbase that affords more passenger space than before. The all-new 2015 Golf also brings a new base engine to the party, a fuel-sipping 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that replaces the unloved 5-cylinder of yesteryear. The interior offers some cool upgrades as well, including extended aluminum-style accents and a larger optional navigation screen.

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2014 Volkswagen Tiguan ($23,305)

The Tiguan crossover has been around longer than most folks can remember, but that's not due to neglect on Volkswagen's part; it's simply because it's tough to beat the Tiguan's total package. As expected in a VW, interior materials are nicer than the norm, and the Tiguan glides quietly down the road, using its elevated suspension to smooth out harsh impacts. We also love the 2.0-liter turbo engine that's borrowed from the previous-generation GTI; the turbo feels a lot stronger than its 200-hp rating once it kicks in. The Tiguan features generous back-seat space that makes it an appealing alternative to larger SUVs.

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AutoTrader Says

If you're buying a new car, and your ceiling is $25,000, don't fret. There is a lot of great cars for 2014 that will both fit your budget and make you smile.

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 25 Cars Under $25,000: 2014 Edition - Autotrader