5 Cost-Effective Cars Worth Leasing Now

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Owning a new car is one option, but with car leases returning to pre-recession levels, not paying that new-car price certainly has its advantages.

Leases are a less costly way of getting behind the wheel of a new car, but those short-term deals disappeared during the economic downturn. Tightened credit took car buyers out of the lease market while automaker bankruptcies ended lease offers altogether for a time.

Leases are making a comeback, but rising used car values, shrinking used car supply and a changing credit landscape are making them much different than the boom-era leases buyers may remember. Three years and 36,000 miles with a zero-dollar down payment shrank to two years and 20,000 with a down payment similar to the price of a used car during the recovery. Only now are we starting to see 36-month leases and sub-$2,000 down payments again.

The folks at auto lease comparison site Wantalease.com say there are still deals to be had in the newly stabilized auto lease market. The following deals offer buyers some options while providing an alternative to costly financing plans or upfront payments:

5. 2014 Kia Rio
MSRP: $13,600
Monthly lease payment: $159
Months: 36
Down payment: $1,999

Kia just launched its flagship midsize with a Super Bowl commercial, but there's always room on the lot for this subcompact.

Though Kia sales slumped in the U.S. last year, the Kia Rio's combined 32 miles per gallon are always in demand. With remote keyless entry, Bluetooth, sport suspension a rearview camera and Kia's UVO entertainment and information system, Sirius-XM satellite radio, heated power-folding mirrors, LED lights, paddle shifters and more, this sporty little package gives away a lot for the money.

Ordinarily, the 10-year warranty on the power train and 5-year warranty on everything else are the big lures for members of the Hyundai family, but this lease price will do in a pinch.


4. 2014 Volkswagen Jetta
MSRP: $16,895
Monthly lease payment: $149
Months: 36
Down payment: $2,349

The last time the Volkswagen Jetta was a cool car, people were setting about coloring themselves badd and investing in jeans that got their "wash" from either stones or acid. Donna Martin graduated almost two full decades ago, but her car made the leap from Beverly Hills 90210 nostalgia past the short-lived CW 90210 with its efficiency and reliability intact.

The Jetta's nearly 30 combined miles per gallon, 200-horsepower engine, keyless access, push-button start, 15.5 cubic feet of trunk space, heated front seats, three feet of rear legroom, tech-laden steering wheel and touchscreen entertainment and information console with Bluetooth, HD Radio, navigation and MP3 player hookups makes for a much more cushy ride than its Clinton administration predecessor. With stability control, antilock brakes and a crash response system that unlocks the doors, cuts power to the fuel pump and throws on the hazard lights, it's also grown up right along with its Gen X fans. ABC's "TGIF" Friday night lineup wasn't this safe.

3. 2014 Chevy Cruze
MSRP: $17,520
Monthly lease payment: $149
Months: 36
Down payment: $1,629

The Cruze has been a great pickup for frugal carbuyers since General Motors introduced it. The Cruze has a comfortable ride, smooth steering and combined mileage of more than 30 miles per gallon.

It also throws in a lot of toys for the money. The base LS model includes 10 airbags, stability controll, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, OnStar directions and emergency service for the first six months and Sirius XM Satellite Radio. More loaded models throw in heated front seats, automatic climate control, touchscreen entertainment system, a rearview camera, foglamps and keyless entry with pushbutton start.

That's none too shabby for Chevy's compact model.

2. Nissan Versa Sedan
MSRP: $11,990
Monthly lease payment: $129
Months: 36
Down payment: $1,999

You would hope this lease would have that low of a monthly payment, especially with this being the lowest-priced 2014 model in the U.S.

Oh, and because this car is an absolute econobox.

What does it come with? You mean besides wheels, a body and an engine and powertrain? Not much. There are a scant 14.9 cubic feet of trunk space that actually comes up short of the Note hatchback version's cargo room by 10 cubic feet.Actually, you don't even get that. The hatch's capacity is 18.8 cubic feed with the seats up and 38 with them down. The car has traction control, ABS brakes, airbags and a whole lot of other safety features that are fairly standard by now.

Its 109-horsepower engine is tiny, its Bluetooth and NissanConnect tech offerings are extra and its tire-pressure sensor is actually listed as a key feature. What would draw someone to this car beyond price -- which that $1,999 down payment is almost a sixth of? Well, the automatic does get combined mileage of more than 35 miles per gallon. It's not pretty, but it'll save you some pretty pennies.

1. Smart Car Pure Coupe
MSRP: $13,270
Monthly lease payment: $99
Months: 36
Down payment: $1,393

The good news is that you can still lease a car in this country for 100 bucks a month. The bad news is that it's a two-seater with worse highway mileage than the Versa and a "luggage compartment" with about 8 cubic feet of space if you want to see out the rear window and 12 cubic feet if you pile everything to the ceiling.

Smart really hasn't had it easy in the U.S., and a sales pitch that includes such phrases as "solid roof" and "85% recyclable" hasn't helped. Nor has the fact that Smart features such as navigation and digital radio come in the form of a moble app for your device.

While this hasn't been a problem for tech-savvy urbanites who need some help with parallel parking spots and could use the trunk space for the occasional shopping trip, it's been a much tougher sell beyond city limits. That said, a $99-a-month lease might just goose some first-time buyers, empty nesters and retirees into this microcoupe.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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