Cars cost money. But some cars cost more than others, and some cars … well, the only thing going for them is their price. Here are the ten cheapest cars we could find, and how much they’d run if you could bring them to the U.S. (you can’t) and if you even wanted them in the first place (you don’t). And surprisingly, they’re almost all fairly new!
Why? Globalization, inflation, and safety standards. Although one classic bomb makes the list (no points for guessing which), U.S. cars have generally had to meet stricter safety standards than the rest of the world, and that draws the line at about $10,000. It helps that there’s a thriving used car market in America, and that we buy a lot of cars: a 2011 Passat costs $25,000, whereas a 2003 model will currently fetch $8,000.
Secondly, until recently, half the world was getting assigned a car by their government, or that nation’s car makers were heavily protected with high tariffs on “imports” and other nasty tricks. After the Berlin Wall fell, and the remaining Communist regimes discovered the joys of capitalism, everybody started cranking out a cheap car. And by cheap, we mean cheap.
Fiat Palio ($9,242)
Fiat’s attempt at a “world car,” the Palio is turned out around the world: Brazil, Turkey, China, pretty much any country we consider an “emerging market.” It’s also one of the few cars on our list with anything resembling horsepower. In short, it’s the next generation of the Yugo, only far more reliable.
Hyundai I10 ($9,096)
You probably own a hard drive that spins faster than this crackerbox’s engine. No, seriously, your typical high-end hard drive spins at 7200 rpm. The highest this engine goes is 5500 rpm. Although to be fair, this car, mostly sold in India, is being pitched not as a muscle car but as an economical gas sipper in a country where gas is costly.
Still, 5500 rpm? Fred Flintstone’s car does better.
Tata Indica ($8,894)
What is it with cheap cars and hatchbacks? Made by India’s Tata Motors, they promote it as the most fuel efficient car you can get, at 25 kilometers to the liter. If we’re doing our math right, that’s nearly 60 miles to the gallon — better than a Prius!
Of course, a Prius can go faster than 60 miles an hour.
You knew this rolling junk-pile would be somewhere on the list. We will give the Yugo this: it was fairly fuel-efficient, it was cheap, and it was safe, partially because it broke down without painstaking maintenance that nobody knew to do in the first place. It is no more, unless you want to buy a used Yugo (if there is such a thing).
Chery A1 ($7,394)
Behold, the “sleek and refined” vehicle with an engine like a “quickly attacking cheetah,” you know, about 5750 rpm. That’s cheetah speed, right? Apparently this is Chery’s idea of a “world car,” like the Fiat Palio. But unlike the Palio, Chery hasn’t mastered that whole “being manufactured and sold around the world” thing yet, possibly because of the company’s terrible safety record, which is so bad that Russians wanted another Chery car, the Amulet, thrown off their market.
Geely HQ, ($5,780)
The first car from Geely, a Chinese manufacturer, that’s mostly notable for being cheap, having no glaring safety problems (well, for something made in China, anyway) and for … well, not much else. Although it does look kind of like a Yugo, so that’s a nice warning to any buyers.
Geely MR ($5,500)
Yes, Geely somehow got that price just a little bit lower. Don’t be fooled, though: despite the little semi-trunk there, this isn’t a sedan, but rather another freakin’ hatchback. Seriously, what it is it about the hatchback and cheap cars? Do trunks cost that much?
Suzuki Maruti ($4,994)
From the people who brought you the handsome and attractive Geo Metro! No, really, the Metro was just a rebranding of the Suzuki Cultus, with a few minor tweaks. Looking at this thing, are you really surprised the same brilliant designers were behind the two? Needless to say, it’s not India’s best-selling car because of looks.
Chery QQ ($4,781)
Showing the fine tradition and creativity of the Chinese auto industry, and reflecting those of much of China’s industrial design…the Chery QQ is a total rip-off of a Daewoo, namely the Daewoo Matiz. It’s so much of a rip-off that it was demonstrated in court that you could swap out the doors of the two cars with literally no modification. China: stealing designs from people bothering to do the work, and passing the savings on to you!
Tata Nano ($2,500)
You might be wondering…is something off in that image? Those wheels can’t be actual size, can they? Oh, yes they can. It looks like a Smart Car modified by Hot Wheels, but the Nano was designed to be a cheap car. It’s practically powered by a rubber band, and obviously it’s not designed for any hard work, but for getting around a city, the tiny 12” inch wheels and tinier engine work just fine.
There you are, ten cars, mostly hatchbacks, mostly failing U.S. emissions tests, mostly a reminder of why we love the USA. So, remember, treat your car well; even the cheapest cars are better than you’d think.