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Six cars that help buyers stretch their scratch

  • Returns on investment

    Passenger cars are faster, safer and more efficient, but unlike consumer electronics equipment – where chips and processors continue to plummet in price – the numbers on cars’ windscreens creep ever higher.

    For 2013, the average price paid for a new car in the US was $32,086, according to the pricing service Kelley Blue Book. That is no pittance for most shoppers. Consequently, it seemed a good moment to survey the market and identify cars that best help shoppers – in the time-honoured words of marketers everywhere – “maximise their spend”. (Photo: Volkswagen of America)

  • Mid-size sedan: 2014 Ford Fusion SE

    Ford delivers a roomy, comfortable, comely and nimble mid-size four-door sedan for a bottom line in the US of $27,590. That’s not even the base price for the Fusion – marketed in Europe and other markets as the Mondeo – but an as-tested number that includes a luxury equipment package and the requisite $825 destination charge.

    That package includes one-touch operation on all four windows, 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat, 17in aluminium wheels, 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine, six-speed automatic transmission, heated seats, back-up sensors, satellite radio and even a chrome exhaust tip.

    All this in a car that seats five and returns 25mpg in city driving and a standout 37mpg on the highway. The tiny EcoBoost engine, which lamentably is being phased out in favour of a larger 2-litre unit, is as smooth as a pickup artist, and the six-speed transmission’s seamless shifts are a revelation to drivers who remember Ford’s early struggles programming it for smooth behaviour.

    Quite simply, it is a car many shoppers can afford and would enjoy driving every day, without qualifications or compromises. (Photo: Ford Motor)

  • Urban wagon: 2015 Kia Soul

    Maybe they do it because it provides a legitimate low price to advertise, knowing that few people will buy a car with a manual transmission, but an automatic gearbox in a Kia Soul costs a steep $2,000. Of course, the flip side for lovers of manual transmissions is that the Soul has a good one, which is a fringe benefit of paying the car’s $15,900 base price, inclusive of $800 destination charge. Unfortunately, Kia also doesn’t permit a-la-carte optioning of the base car. Instead, there is a $3,500 cost of entry for a Soul+.

    Nevertheless, the Soul is a great car even in base trim. Bottom line for a base vehicle, including $115 for floor mats – because everyone needs floor mats – is $16,015. In turn, buyers receive a genuinely practical, stylish, fun car with ample space for friends and gear.

    Even stripped down, the Soul includes a six-speaker stereo with satellite radio, USB inputs, Bluetooth connection and steering wheel-mounted controls. The Soul received a major overhaul for 2014, and its ride and handling are among the best in class, even if the 24mpg city and 30mpg highway ratings on the EPA cycle are only fair for a little wagon. (Photo: Kia Motor)

  • Crossover SUV: 2014 Chevrolet Equinox

    The Equinox has been a hot-seller for a decade , owing to its relative affordability and efficiency. These attributes, along with a raft of standard safety features, also earned it a spot on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s list of recommended vehicles for teenagers.

    The Equinox starts at $25,395 inclusive of $875 destination charge in the US, a price that also includes a 182hp 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine, six-speed automatic transmission, 17in aluminium wheels, OnStar connectivity, a 4G LTE hotspot, a tilting and telescoping steering wheel, and a six-speaker stereo with satellite radio, USB port and auxiliary input – plus steering wheel-mounted knobs and dials to control them.

    The roomy five-passenger crossover earned 22mpg city and 32mpg highway on the EPA’s fuel economy test, a rather competitive showing for its segment.

    In true General Motors fashion, the Equinox offers great flexibility on the options sheet. A trailering package adds $355 to the price, and you wouldn’t have to select a four-figure cold weather package just to get seat heaters ($560 a la carte). (Photo: General Motors)

  • Luxury sedan: 2014 Volkswagen CC

    Few cars exude luxury quite as readily as a mid-size German sedan, which makes Volkswagen’s CC a rather incredible value. No, the VW badge does not earn many favours, but the CC, with its sweeping roofline and stylised headlamps, can sit quite confidently in the valet lot.

    Splurge for the automatic car, which lists for $33,760, inclusive of $865 destination charge. Think about the CC as a bona fide mid-size German luxury sedan, and that price begins to look more than reasonable. For their money, buyers get a superb 200-horsepower 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, 17in aluminium wheels, cool white Xenon headlights and LED running lights, heated 12-way power front seats, back-up camera and thermostatic climate control. The perforated V-Tex vinyl seat covering does a passable impression of leather, too. And fuel economy of 22mpg city and 31mpg highway will let CC drivers keep fuel money in their pockets without spending big for hybrid or diesel technology. (Photo: Volkswagen of America)

  • Compact hatchback: 2014 Hyundai Elantra GT

    The “hot hatch” category is rightly headlined by such models as the Volkswagen GTI and Ford Focus ST, but price tags can easily put such machines out of reach of their intended customers.

    The Elantra won’t win any sprints from a stoplight, but its 173hp, 2-litre four-cylinder engine is plenty powerful for thrifty kicks, and the car’s profile betrays little of its economy-car roots. More significantly, it is packed with valuable equipment.

    The Elantra GT’s $19,560 base price – inclusive of $810 destination charge – brings unexpected goodies such as heated front seats, fog lights, tilting and telescoping steering wheel, heated outside mirrors and a six-speaker sound system with satellite radio. That’s for the shift-it-yourself model; the six-speed automatic adds $1,000.

    But the $2,250 Style Package contains a bounty of hot-hatch bits that justify the outlay. Among the highlights are 17in aluminium wheels, sport-tuned suspension, leather-wrapped seats, shift knob and steering wheel, aluminium pedals, keyless push-button start and a power driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment.

    You still need the $125 floor mats and $275 automatically dimming rearview mirror to finish the car, for a total of $22,210. In return you get a spirited yet practical four-door for thousands below the hot-hatch vanguard. (Photo: Hyundai Motor)

  • Dream car: 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Coupe

    After adding options, even the “entry level” Ferrari, the California T, will run right up against a quarter million dollars. Even if you had such a sum, a princely pile had better be in reserve for routine service and maintenance. A new Corvette Stingray Coupe, meanwhile, starts at just $53,995 in the US, and with the spectacular Z51 performance package, the total outlay comes to $57,995.

    Yes, this is a lot of money, but the Corvette represents an attainable dream, a car that spins heads as quickly as it spins its tires.

    Sharp-edged bodywork is complemented by a sublime small-block 455hp 6.2-litre V8 engine, paired with a seven-speed manual transmission that includes a rev-match gimmick (which thankfully turns off) to aid downshifts. Together, they let the Corvette rip from a standstill to 60mph in 3.8 seconds – just three-tenths behind the California T.

    The Z51 performance package is truly a bargain, delivering larger-diameter wheels (19in front, 20in rear), Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, larger-diameter Bilstein shocks and monstrous Brembo brakes. Add to these a racetrack-specification dry-sump oiling system for the engine.

    Like all new General Motors cars, the Corvette includes OnStar telematics with 4G wireless connectivity. And though it burns gas at the rate of 17mpg in the city, it cruises highways at 29mpg, according to the EPA. It is every bit a dream car, but one that doesn’t have to merely exist in your dreams. That is a value, even at $58,000. (Photo: General Motors)

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