Bargain Pricing Doesn’t Equal Good Value When it Comes to New Vehicles

Let’s face it; new cars are expensive.  With an average sticker price of around $32,000, purchasing a new vehicle is no longer an option for many consumers. Those who do bite the bullet are going deep into debt, and many are financing their purchases for five or even six years.  Although there are some low priced new cars on the market, a recent Los Angeles Times article found that “cheapness doesn’t necessarily equate to good value.”

LA Times staff writers Jerry Hirsch and David Undercoffler subjected the lowest priced new vehicles on the market today, the Nissan Versa, Chevrolet Spark and Mitsubishi Mirage, to a week of testing and ultimately concluded that they are no match for higher quality, comparably-priced used vehicles.

With a base sticker price of $13,790, including destination charges, the Mitsubishi Mirage sold well when it was introduced last year.  The Chevy Spark has a starting price of $12,995, including destination charges, and sold only 34,000 units last year.  With destination charges included, a basic Nissan Versa is priced slightly lower, at $12,800.  The Versa sedan and hatchback model, the Note, accounted for combined sales of 117,000 in 2013.

Hirsch and Undercoffler applauded automakers for their ability to get more power and fuel economy from smaller engines, but said Mitsubishi has missed the mark when it comes to the Mirage’s 74-horsepower three-cylinder engine which they called, “neither refined nor powerful.”  They liken the Mirage’s engine noise to that of an “aging dump truck.”

Although they commended the Mirage for its standard amenities including climate control, keyless entry, power locks, side mirrors and windows, the duo also pointed out Mitsubishi’s meager market share and miniscule dealer network which could create headaches for owners in need of maintenance and repair services.

They were slightly less critical of the Nissan Versa, which is currently the lowest priced vehicle in the U.S. market. The primary selling point for the Versa is its slightly larger size which “helped the car track better at high speeds and over rough roads.”  The downside, however, is the lack of amenities.  The test model featured manual, hand-crank windows, manual locks and “an entertainment system with all the fidelity of a 1960s transistor radio.”

The Chevrolet Spark received the highest marks of the three vehicles tested. They found the Spark’s small 1.3-liter, 84-horsepower engine to be a bit loud, but said it has “more than enough to zip around town.” The Spark’s five-speed manual transmission was smooth and responsive, and interior space can accommodate five adults comfortably.  Overall, Hirsch and Undercoffler say, “Chevy manages to pack a lot of value into this car.”

For those in search of an economical new vehicle capable of squeezing every last mile out of a gallon of gas all three models fit the bill.  According to Hirsch and Undercoffler, “They all topped 40 miles per gallon in highway driving and climbed into the mid-30s mpg in mixed city and highway use.”

In the long run, Hirsch and Undercoffler’s recommendation is to put your hard-earned money into a comparably-priced three- to five-year-old Honda Civic or Accord, Hyundai Elantra, Ford Fusion or Nissan Altima, which they say offer  “better driving characteristics, more safety features, and good reliability records and resale value.”

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