If you don’t want to spend more than about $15k on a new car, you won’t need to spend a lot of time shopping for one because there are only three of them left on the market.
Drum Roll Please—they are the Hyundai Accent and its two rivals, the Nissan Versa and Mitsubishi Mirage G4. They also happen to be among the few new small cars you can still buy, period.
And you can still buy them with a manual transmission!
So which one should you buy?
What It Is
The Accent is a subcompact sedan, something almost no one other than Nissan and Mitsubishi sells anymore. Others are larger, or they’re crossovers. And they all cost thousands more to start than the Accent, which has a base price of $15,395 for the SE trim with a six-speed manual transmission controlling a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine.
The very similar Nissan Versa stickers for even less; just $14,930 to start. It also comes standard with a 1.6-liter engine, but it’s paired with a five-speed manual transmission—one less gear for a bit less coin.
Then there’s the Mitsubishi Mirage G4, which undercuts both of them with its base price of $14,295, but it comes with one less cylinder- and a lot less horsepower.
A top-of-the-range Accent Limited with a 1.6-liter engine and a CVT automatic stickers for $19,500—a bit more than Nissan charges for a range-topping Versa SR ($18,430), which also comes standard with the 1.6-liter engine and a CVT automatic.
A Mirage G4 with a CVT lists for $18,195.
All three can be bought for several thousand dollars less than the small handful of slightly larger cars you can still buy, such as the Mazda3 ($20,500 to start), the Honda Civic ($21,050 to start), and the Toyota Corolla ($19,925 to start).
None of the above are available with manuals anymore, either.
Other than a $100 increase in the base price vs. last year, this year’s Accent is the same as last year.
• A brand-new car you can buy without hitching yourself to a six-year loan.
• It has more backseat legroom and a much better warranty than the Versa.
• It comes standard with a six-speed manual.
What’s Not So Good
• Manual isn’t an option in SEL and Limited trims, which is the only way to get a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a better than four-speaker stereo system.
• The Versa stickers for about $500 less to start and comes standard with a better stereo and more USB ports.
• It has much less backseat legroom than the Mirage.
Under The Hood
The Versa comes standard with another thing that’s hard to find these days, an economy car engine.
Almost everything else on the market, including those that tout economy, comes with turbocharged engines, which may be economical to operate but cost more to buy (viz, the Honda Civic). It could cost you a lot more down the road if the turbo and related peripherals ever need service or replacement.
The Accent’s 1.6-liter engine has no turbo, so it doesn’t make a lot of power (just 120 horsepower), but this is, after all, an economy car, and the absence of a cost-adding turbocharger is one reason why this car costs so little. Adding a turbo would add $1,000 or more to the base price, which would make it less economical to buy.
It is also very economical to operate—more so than the turbo’d stuff.
With the six-speed manual transmission, this car will travel 29 miles per gallon in city driving and 39 miles per gallon on the highway. If you choose the optional CVT automatic, the mileage increases to 33 city, 41 highway, which is just about the highest mileage you can buy without buying a hybrid and will cost you several thousand dollars more to buy.
The Versa’s mileage, with the manual, is significantly lower: 27 city 35 highway. The disparity is likely due to the Hyundai’s more favorable gearing, having six rather than five. With its optional CVT automatic, the Versa dead-heats the Accent on mileage, posting 32 city, 40 highway.
Neither of these cars is quick, but they’re not slow, either.
The Accent with the manual six-speed can get to 60 in about 8.3 seconds. That’s better than many cars that cost thousands more, including the Toyota Corolla. And much better than a Prius hybrid, which needs about 10 seconds to make the same run.
It’s also quicker than the Versa, which needs about 9.5 seconds. The disparity here is probably also due to gearing and weight. A Versa with the manual transmission weighs about 100 pounds more than the manual-equipped Accent (2,599 lbs. for the Nissan vs. 2,502 lbs. for the Hyundai).
And it’s no contest vs. the Mirage, which though easy on gas, rates a class-best (and best, period — absent hybrids) 43 MPG on the highway with the optional CVT automatic. It makes you pay for it in the form of wanting acceleration.
It takes about 11 seconds to get to 60—neck and turtle neck with a Prius.
On The Road
It’s becoming weird to drive a car when almost everything else is a crossover, an SUV, or a truck. To sit down rather than climb up.
It’s also easier to find your car in a parking lot, assuming you can see it hidden behind and in between all those crossovers, SUVs, and trucks.
It’s definitely easier to park this car, which is much smaller than almost all those crossovers, SUVs, and trucks out there and almost all the other cars on the road.
Just 172.6 inches end-to-end, the Accent slots into spaces without backing up, then re-orienting before you get it lined up reasonably. The abbreviated length is handy in heavy traffic, too—where the openings are often brief as well as small.
There’s not a lot of power on tap, but there is enough power on tap such that it’s not necessary to use all the power there is just to get it going. And the available manual lets you make the most of the power there is and also makes it fun to drive this little car. You have something to do, for one thing. For another, the need to time your shifts and keep the engine in its sweet spot is its own “safety” feature. You’re paying attention to your driving instead of paying attention to what’s on the radio.
Something else, too. If you know how to drive a manual, you can beat the CVT’s touted mileage.
The manual’s rated mileage is less than the rated mileage of the CVT. Still, the CVT’s rated mileage depends on the car being driven unrealistically (i.e., to score best on the test determining the rated mileage). If you drive the car as necessary to keep up with traffic to take advantage of those brief and small holes, expect not to get the rated mileage.
And if you know how to shift for yourself, expect to get better-than-rated mileage with the manual. I can vouch for this, having driven both manual and CVT-equipped versions of this car and others like it.
This is inside baseball; CVTs and automatics are being hard-sold (and in more and more cases, the only thing being sold) because they can be programmed to do best on the test and because the car companies/dealerships can make more money by selling you an automatic and servicing automatics.
Note the almost $1,000 difference in price between the manual six-speed Accent ($15,395) and the same car with the optional CVT automatic ($16,495).
Same issue with the others.
And with one of the others like the Mirage, the manual is a necessity because of the 1.2-liter, three-cylinder engine’s 78 horsepower output. This car moves out like a toad with no rear legs with the CVT automatic.
At The Curb
This is a small car, but it’s also a surprisingly spacious car—especially up front, where the driver and front-seat passenger have about as much legroom (42.1 inches) as in most current mid-sized cars.
It also doesn’t look like a pathetic car, which was historically the case with subcompact economy cars. No one bought a Chevette or an Excel because they were desirable. They bought them because it was all they could afford. This is a car that doesn’t make you wish you had more money. It has everything you need for comfortable transportation without making you pay through the nose for it or suffer for it.
It has AC, power windows, and locks; even cruise control is part of the standard equipment roster. Also, keyless entry and a 5-inch LCD touchscreen. SE and Limited trims get a 7-inch screen and a six-speaker stereo.
The one thing it hasn’t got is as much room in the back as the remarkably space-efficient Mirage G4 has. The little (literally) Mitsu is only 169.5 inches long overall vs. 172.6 for the Accent (and 177 for the Versa), but its designers somehow carved out 37.3 inches of backseat legroom vs. 33.5 inches in the Hyundai and just 31 inches in the Nissan.
Still, there is enough room in the Accent to make it serviceable as more than a two-seater commuter car that happens to have back seats, as the Versa is. If the Mirage had more engine, it’d be more of a threat. But its lack thereof counterbalances the class-best space efficiency of the thing.
Another thing about the Accent is that it is one of the new vehicles you can buy without driver harassment technology, styled “assistance.” Things like Lane Keep Assist, Automated Emergency Braking, and an orchestra of buzzers, lights, and a shaking/vibrating steering wheel are optional here.
They are optional in the Versa, but Mitsu has made Forward Collision Mitigation with Pedestrian Detection (basically, a variant of automated braking) standard in the Mirage.
Also, Mitsubishi is iffy. Like Fiat, this brand, which has struggled to make a go of it in the United States, may not be around next year—this would mean no dealer support, including warranty-related service issues.
And the Hyundai has the best warranty, regardless.
The only hair in the soup is that the base S trim Accent doesn’t come standard with a telescoping steering wheel, making it harder to adjust-to-suit without spending more to get the SEL or Limited trims, which come standard with the tilt/telescoping wheel.
The Bottom Line
You can still buy a new car for what new cars used to cost — that’s still a car — and still comes standard with a manual.
But given the crossover tsunami, this option may not be on the table for very much longer.
Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.