A year ago, holiday promotions and elevated incentives boosted transactions in December by 3 percent from a year earlier to 1.7 million new cars and trucks, vehicle researcher Autodata said in a Los Angles Times article.
The trouble for shoppers revolves around new-car and -truck prices, which have been rising as of late. Kelley Blue Book analysts reported the "estimated average transaction price" for passenger cars and trucks in the U.S. was $34,968 in January 2017, up $1,123 or 3.3 percent from a year before.
Buyers still can find plenty of bargain-rate cars, however. More than 140 new models show manufacturer's suggested retail prices starting at less than $20,000, based on figures on auto marketplace edmunds.com. More than half of the vehicles are compact sedans and hatchbacks, but the list also includes two convertibles, three pickup trucks, four coupes, a hybrid and 17 crossover SUVs, which are typically smaller than full-sized models.
The lower-cost vehicles include 2018 editions available for a few months, as well as 2017 and some 2016 models. For the newest cars, the lowest MSRP belongs to the 2018 Nissan Versa sedan at $11,990. The new-year Chevrolet Spark claims the most affordable price among hatchbacks at $13,050.
Meanwhile, the 2018 Kia Soul goes for the least among wagons at $16,100, the 2018 Honda Civic coupe costs a trim $19,250 and the new-year Nissan Frontier posts an $18,990 sticker price. The 2017 Fiat 500 convertible can be acquired for $16,490, while the only "new" hybrid below $20,000 is the 2016 Toyota Prius hatchback at $19,560.
Lowest priced among crossovers are the 2016 Jeep Patriot at $17,695, 2017 Jeep Renegade at $17,995 and 2018 Honda HR-V at $19,570.
A few categories don't offer any cars below $20,000, such as diesels, electric, sports and performance cars, luxury and minivan.
If you have a brand preference, a dozen companies are rolling out new cars and trucks — Chevrolet, Mitsubishi, Ford, Kia, Nissan, Scion (which Toyota has discontinued), Toyota, Fiat, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Mazda, Subaru, Honda, Dodge and Jeep.
Fuel mileage figures tend to be important for many buyers. The Toyota Prius hybrid boasts 53 mpg city and 46 highway. Among hatchbacks, the 2018 Mitsubishi Mirage posts 33 mpg city and 41 mpg highway while the 2018 Chevrolet Cruise counts as 27 mpg city and 40 mpg highway and the 2016 Mazda 3 is 29 city, 41 highway.
The Honda Civic coupe posts 28 mpg city, 39 mpg highway; Nissan Frontier pickup is 19 city, 23 highway, the Kia Soul wagon reaches 24 mpg city, 30 highway and the 2017 Smart Fortwo convertible grabs 31 mpg city, 39 mpg highway. The best fuel mileage for a crossover is the 2018 Mitsubishi Mirage at 33 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway.
Regarding vehicle prices, the list discloses the starting MSRP but buyers can pay more if they include options. Incidental charges such as taxes and shipping can raise the final bill. Manufacturers offer rebates and slashed interest rates on loans. Dealerships also can offer their own holiday incentives.