10 Best Affordable and Attractive Cars at the New York Auto Show - TheStreet

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- A delightful pattern emerged after the first day of the annual New York Auto Show: Unlike at the Detroit Auto Show in January, most of the new car introductions were more affordable than the usual high-priced stars of these events.

Imagine that -- cars for regular people. Not $100,000 and up vehicles that look best as wall posters in a 13-year-old's bedroom.

Of the 17 million cars sold in the U.S. every year, most are not two-door 200-miles-per-hour beasts, or luxury cars that cost $50,000 or more. The vast majority are relatively boring but offer what matters to regular people when shopping for a new car:

1. Basic requirements -- Does it fit what I need to transport? Is it reliable?

2. What is the monthly payment?

3. Does it look good?

With that in mind, here are the best affordable cars from the first day of the New York Auto Show, ordered from least to most expensive:

1. Scion iA and iM

Scion is Toyota’s (TM) - Get Report "youth" brand, popular in places such as Los Angeles. A small sedan and hatchback, these are unbeatable values for the money -- $16,000 and $20,000, respectively.

Normally, for $16,000 or $20,000 you would expect to pay another $5,000 or more in order to get such a car reasonably equipped. Not in this case, as these cars come as is and include a reasonable amount of standard equipment.

The sedan looks great, inside and out. The hatchback looks more generic and forgettable, but the message here is supreme value. They’ll be in U.S. showrooms in September.

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Photo credit: Toyota

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2. Hyundai Tucson

The small SUV is one of the market’s hottest areas right now. Almost all automakers have jumped in. Hyundai has traditionally offered superb value here, but the old version of the Tucson was looking tired.

This new Hyundai Tucson is great inside and out. The interior is one of my favorites, with superb ergonomics, comfort and space. As with almost all Hyundais and Kias, the instrumentation and controls are as clear as they get in the auto industry these days. No education necessary; just get in and drive.

The current model starts around $22,000 and don’t expect the new one to be much different. The infotainment system will be capable of handling Google (GOOG) - Get Report Android Auto and Apple’s (AAPL) - Get Report CarPlay, or in the next model year a smartphone pass-through mode, lowering the price for the consumer by up to $1,500. This kind of system looks to be available on most Hyundais -- and perhaps Kias too -- within the next couple of years.

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Photo Credit: Matt Glueckert

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Photo Credit: Matt Glueckert

3. Kia Optima

Also starting around $22,000, the Optima has been a huge seller for Kia. However, as things go, it needed a complete redesign. The new one doesn’t disappoint, and should enter production by September.

The instrument panel looks like its Hyundai sister, the Sonata, but the car overall is styled more aggressively. The rear seat accommodations are decent for this kind of midsize sedan.

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4. Honda Civic concept

This gave us a taste of next year’s all-new Civic. Certainly the design looks larger and better than today’s Civic, as is Honda’s (HMC) - Get Report objective.

That said, Honda is operating inside an increasingly competitive space. The two Korean brands, by Toyota and its Scion brand, and the three U.S.-centric automakers are delivering increasingly attractive small bread-and-butter cars.

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Photo Credit: Matt Glueckert

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5. Chevrolet Malibu

A technical tour de force, GM (GM) - Get Report has taken lots of weight out of the Chevy Malibu, while endowed it with a hybrid option yielding 45 miles-per-gallon on the highway, 48 miles-per-gallon in the city. The Malibu is now larger and much better-looking than before. It looks very much like the Impala.

The current Malibu starts around $23,000, but given how much the 2016 model has grown and gone upscale, don't be surprised at a price bump. The GM people were lyric about the improvements and efficiency gains of the Malibu. It will be in showrooms by December.

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Photo Credit: Matt Glueckert

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Photo credit: Toyota

6. Lexus RX

A little more pricey, obviously, the Lexus RX currently starts around $42,000. It’s the company’s best-seller, launching the luxury SUV segment back in 1999, and still holds 25% market share today.

At the end of the year, this all-new RX will reach U.S. dealerships, and it’s a major design departure. The front of the car aligns with the rest of the Lexus lineup, whereas the rear looks more like the latest Nissan models (Murano and Maxima). 

Lexus, like its parent Toyota, is a hybrid leader and expects a 15% hybrid mix in RX sales. And even if you’re not a fan of the exterior design, the interior looks a lot better.

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7. Mercedes GLE

One step up on the SUV scale is the Mercedes (DDAIY) GLE, which is the refresh of the old ML. Starting just below $50,000, the ML becomes GLE this September, when it’s in U.S. dealerships.

The biggest news with the GLE other than the name change and the obligatory refreshed items such as the front design and dashboard, is the availability of a plug-in hybrid model. It will allow you to go about 15 miles on pure battery-electric power, before the gasoline engine kicks in. For some people, this could reduce gasoline consumption up to 50%-to-99% in some extreme cases.

This is plug-in electric for those who don’t want to worry about recharging, running out of electricity, and wonder what happens when it’s cold outside. Worse come to worse, just fill with gasoline and save only a little bit. However, if you can, plug in at home and at work, and depending on your driving distances, you could spend most of your time driving electric.

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Photo Credit: Matt Glueckert

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8. Jaguar XF

Starting around $51,000, I recently drove the outgoing Jaguar XF and had a variety of complaints. The front seats, the steering wheel controls, some of the other controls and infotainment system, as well as rear seat headroom were gripes.

All of these shortcomings appear to have been fixed in this all-new XF, in a major way. In particular, the new infotainment system goes from having been below-average, to being in the industry’s top three or better. I can’t wait to drive it when it reaches U.S. dealerships by early 2016.

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Photo Credit: Matt Glueckert

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9. Lincoln Continental

This concept car looks fantastic, although it looks smaller in person, and sits low to the ground. In 2016, Lincoln (F) - Get Report will unveil a production version of this concept.

It was among the most talked-about cars at the auto show and is as elegant as can be.

The interior is also a bit of a shocker. In an era where interior design is either over-worked or cold, the Lincoln Continental is simply warm and a bit nostalgic. The concept car has an all-blue interior the likes of which has rarely been seen outside classic custom jobs. It is extremely warm and plush. 

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Photo Credit: Matt Glueckert

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10. Cadillac CT6

Cadillac’s new flagship sedan was perhaps the New York Auto Show’s most anticipated car, and it’s a technological tour de force. The CT6 is as large as a BMW 740, but weighs less than a BMW 550. It’s got four wheel drive and four wheel steering. The engines are all new and have class-leading output.

Later this month, Cadillac will unveil the plug-in hybrid version in China. It will first be made there, as early as September this year, in Cadillac’s new China factory. Shortly thereafter, production of the gasoline-only CT6 starts in Detroit.

Interestingly, the plug-in hybrid CT6 won’t make it to the U.S. until, at the very earliest, late 2016, and more likely some time in 2017 -- a disappointment. Cadillac’s management told TheStreet that the demand for plug-ins in the U.S. is simply too low right now.

The Cadillac CT6 itself looks like an Audi (NSU) A8 from the side. The interior is inferior to the Audi A8 when compared side-by-side.

The CT6 has a rear seat that’s only barely passable for a flagship sedan, with headroom that may not be adequate for taller passengers, and with only acceptable leg and foot room. The quality of the woods, plastics and leathers was not only inferior to the competition, but also to the Cadillac Escalade. Hopefully, at least one of these concerns is fixed in the final production, which starts in November for the U.S. market.

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Photo Credit: Matt Glueckert

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held AAPL.