BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Buying a inexpensive automobile used to mean settling for a bland hatchback or sedan, but no more -- as Kelley Blue Book's picks for 2014's Coolest New Cars Under $25,000 show.
"All of these cars are actually fun, stylish and desirable," says KBB Managing Editor Jason Allan, who led a team of Kelley Blue Book experts in finding the hippest models from among 104 new cars that typically sell for $25,000 or less.
Allan says modestly priced vehicles can sometimes offer better looks and handling than costly rivals because expensive models often come with big engines and extra features that add weight.
"When automakers are forced to go for lower price points, that can actually require them to make some compromises that end up making the cars more fun to drive," he says.
The editor adds that vehicles aimed at younger buyers often require fewer creature comforts and less interior space, giving manufacturers more freedom to focus on snazzy looks and sporty performance.
"Younger buyers are certainly in a better position to get something that looks good," Allan says. "For example, they're much more likely to buy a two-door model than someone with a family is."
Read on to check out the five cars KBB editors chose as this year's coolest models under $25,000.
Dollar figures refer to KBB's Fair Purchase Price, an estimate of what a given model is going for based on actual U.S. sales over the past week. Unless otherwise noted, prices also refer to each model's base trim line with manual transmission.
Fifth-coolest new car under $25,000: Chevrolet Camaro Coupe
KBB Fair Purchase Price: $24,640 (with automatic transmission)
"The Camaro name is legendary -- and the styling on the latest generation is still head-turning," Allan says. "It's just a nice mix of yesterday and today."
Launched by General Motors in the 1967 model year but discontinued after 2002, the sexy Camaro returned to the market in 2010.
The 2014 version comes standard with a 323-horsepower V-6 engine. If you can afford more than $25,000, there's also a convertible and high-performance models that top $60,000.
Fourth-coolest new car under $25,000: Volkswagen GTI
KBB Fair Purchase Price: $24,619
This compact hatchback from Volkswagen comes standard with a great combination of luxury and sport features.
Even the base GTI boasts a 200-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine, along with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, eight-speaker audio system and other upscale amenities.
"The GTI is kind of an affordable version of a higher-dollar European sports sedan," Allan says. "It has a 'European' driving feel and a lot of interior refinement, but its hatchback design and relative roominess make it a really versatile car."
Third-coolest new car under $25,000: Jeep Wrangler
KBB Fair Purchase Price: $22,195
Whether you're driving through the suburbs or the Serengeti, the Wrangler will get you where you're going and look cool in the process.
"The Jeep Wrangler can go just about anywhere," Allan says. "It's built to go off-road, and it does so better than anything else in its price range."
The two-door soft-top convertible comes standard with a 285-horsepower V-6 engine and manual transmission. Automatic transmission is optional, as are a four-door layout and a detachable hard top.
Second-coolest new car under $25,000: Ford Fiesta ST
KBB Fair Purchase Price: $21,298
This all-new model from Ford is a feistier version of the popular Fiesta subcompact.
The ST comes standard with a 197-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission, as well as sportier tires, steering, brakes and suspension than what a basic Fiesta offers.
"We really like the regular Fiesta, and Ford just turned up the heat with the ST," Allan says.
Coolest New Car Under $25,000: Scion FR-S
KBB Fair Purchase Price: $25,455
The FR-S costs a tad more than $25,000, but that's just because Kelley's Fair Purchase Price system captures weekly fluctuations in how much U.S. consumers are paying for the sexy Toyota.
Allan says KBB editors have named the vehicle the Coolest New Car Under $25,000 for two years running because the FR-S typically sells for less than $25,000 while offering the feel of a much-more-costly sportster.
"The FR-S is just a very pure 'driver's car,'" the expert says. "It doesn't have all that big of an engine, but that's good, because a lot of horsepower also adds a lot of weight."
The base FR-S coupe comes standard with a 200-horsepower four-cylinder "boxter" engine, plus rear-wheel drive, a six-speed manual transmission and other performance-oriented features. Automatic transmission is available for around an extra $1,100.