BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Buying a cheap car used to mean settling for bland looks, shaky reliability and an AM radio, but no more. Some of 2014's lowest-priced vehicles offer decent designs, upscale amenities, 10-year warranties -- or even all three.
"They used to call [low-priced] cars 'econoboxes' because you had to make certain compromises in terms of handling, feature content and interior quality, but things have really changed in recent years," says Warren Clarke of Edmunds.com, which analyzed all models on the U.S. market to determine this year's lowest-priced cars.
Clarke says automakers are packing more and more features into budget buggies these days partly because they realize today's entry-level buyer can become tomorrow's lifetime customer.
The expert adds that the Internet has made it so easy to compare cars that even entry-level models need a decent amount of standard equipment."Buyers these days are more savvy than in days gone by, and manufacturers realize the way to win over this audience is to give them high-quality products with the feature content that they've come to expect," he says. Look below for a rundown of the U.S. auto market's five lowest-priced autos of 2014 (or click here for a look at this year's least-expensive sport utility vehicles). All dollar figures refer to manufacturers' suggested retail prices for each model's base version, with destination charges included. 2014's fifth-lowest-priced car: Kia Rio sedan
Base price: $14,700 The Rio offers a grand design for such a low-priced model. "One of the things we like the most about the Rio is just how good it looks," Clarke says. "In days gone by, you really couldn't expect a low-cost car to look so stylish." Base Rios also come with decent standard features, from a four-speaker stereo to a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Under the hood, entry-level models have a 138-horsepower four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission. (You can upgrade to automatic transmission for around $1,100.) On the downside, cruise control, power windows and other amenities standard on many cars are either optional on the base Rio or available only on higher trim lines. And surprisingly, the car comes with a tire-patching kit, but no spare tire.