BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Budget cars don't have to be boring -- if you buy one of these five models.
"There are a lot of very sporty and cool-looking cars that you can get for [modest prices]. You don't have to settle for a 'plain vanilla' car," says Jack Nerad of Kelley Blue Book, which recently named 2014's Coolest New Cars Under $18,000.
The annual list calls out cars that offer hip styling, sporty performance and other "cool" factors that belie their modest price tags.
Nerad says vehicles on the list are great choices for modest-income consumers, young people just starting out or older folks who need a low-cost extra car to keep around the house or leave at a vacation home.
He says car companies once put little effort into low-cost cars, but now pack them with as many features and as much stylishness as possible.
"The auto market is hotly competitive, and any sale is a sale," the expert says.
He adds that a low-cost vehicle is "very often the first car that someone buys -- and the automakers figure that if they can get you into their brand, they can keep you there for a while."
Look below to check out KBB's top picks for cool cars under $18,000. (Or, click here if you have a little more money to spend and want to check out the firm's recommendations for cool 2014 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.
Fifth-coolest 2014 model under $18,000: Volkswagen Jetta gas-powered sedan
Fair Purchase Price: $16,076
"The Jetta has a European flair that virtually no other car in its segment offers," Nerad says. "What you're getting is German engineering and a European feel."
Jettas (which are European designed but actually built for the U.S. market in Mexico) come standard with a 115-horsepower four-cylinder engine, four-wheel braking and manual transmission.
Automatic transmission is optional, while upper trim levels boast a newly designed 170-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Hybrid and diesel-powered Jetta sedans are also available, as are wagons and sporty Jetta GLIs.