Top 10 Budget Cars

1. Nissan Leaf

MSRP: $32,780
Estimated annual operating cost: $561 for electric supply (lowest on this list)
Nissan Leaf
Federal and state subsidies can reduce the cost of this electric vehicle – and many others – to between $25,000 and $20,000, depending on your state ofresidence. While the operating costs are attractively low, one drawback to this vehicle is its range, which is only 100 miles on a single 30-minute charge. It’s a fine option for commuting around town, or if you own a second vehicle for longer trips.

2. Tesla Roadster

MSRP: $109,000 (highest on this list)
Estimated annual operating cost: $562
Tesla Roadster
While the steep price tag is prohibitive for most buyers, if you’re seeking a fuel-efficient sports car, look no further. Although you won’t save on the sticker price, the operating cost of this American-made electric sports car is incredibly low. In fact, it’s the second-lowest on this list – by one dollar.

3. Chevy Volt

MSRP: $42,000
Estimated annual operating cost: $600–$1,600 (ranging to the highest price on this list)
Chevy Volt
The Volt is a great practical option, because it combines an electric motor with a traditional fuel-efficient internal combustion engine. Operating on the electric motor only, the Volt gets the equivalent of 93 MPG. On a long road trip or operating with the internal combustion engine, it still gets 37 MPG/highway. Like other fuel efficient vehicles on this list, federal and state subsidies and tax incentives will certainly lower the price considerably.

4. Toyota Prius

MSRP: $21,600
Estimated annual operating cost: $888
Toyota Prius
The Prius is one of the most affordable vehicles available, though its yearly operating cost is a little higher than you may find with other options. This eco-friendly hybrid gets an estimated 50 MPG. Unlike some of the other new entrants to the fuel-efficient automobile market, the Prius has a proven record of dependability. And since the model has been around for a few years, you can probably find a used Prius at a dealer near you, which could open your options and save you a bundle on the initial cost.

5. Lexus CT 200h

MSRP: $29,000
Estimated annual operating cost: $900
Lexus CT 200h
Yes, you can get a Lexus for under $30,000, and this hybrid is even predicted to average 42 MPG. If you’re thinking about purchasing an eco-friendly luxury vehicle, this model is the one. The operating costs are the most affordable in the Lexus lineup of vehicles.

6. Honda Civic Hybrid

MSRP: $24,000
Estimated annual operating cost: $1,100
Honda Civic Hybrid
Another conservative choice when it comes to sticker price, the Honda Civic Hybrid averages 41 MPG. This is a significant improvement over the gas-only Honda Civic sedan, which averages 30 MPG. Honda is consistently rated as one of the top vehicle manufacturers in the world by Consumer Reports, and its vehicles are widely known to be well built, have low maintenance costs, and retain their resale better than most other cars.

7. Fiat 500

MSRP: $15,500 (lowest on this list)
Operating cost: $1,125
Fiat 500
Predicted to be brought to the U.S. marketplace by Chrysler in 2012, the Fiat 500 has been available in Europe for years, and it averages 40 MPG. If this vehicle’s price tag stays where experts expect, it’ll be the least expensive option on this list. But beware, one of the reasons it hasn’t made it here from Europe is its design: It certainly isn’t the sexiest vehicle on the list. But at $15,500 who cares?

8. Honda Insight

MSRP: $18,200
Estimated annual operating cost: $1,100
Honda Insight
One of the most affordable vehicles on the list, both in terms of sticker price and operating costs, the Insight gets 41 MPG, just like the Honda Civic Hybrid. With the Fiat 500 not yet available in the U.S., the Insight is the least expensive car on this list that you could buy today. The Honda Insight, like the Civic Hybrid, comes with an affordable sticker price as well as the Honda reputation and resale value retention.

9. Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

MSRP: $34,000
Estimated annual operating cost: $1,137
Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
The American luxury brand Lincoln has a new hybrid called the MKZ. If you are a stickler for buying American and have deep pockets, this vehicle may be right up your alley. Lincoln really pulled out all the stops on this one, and although it’s not cheap, the comfortable, stylish ride gets 39 MPG and is sure to turn some heads.

10. Mercury Milan Hybrid

MSRP: $28,000
Estimated annual operating cost: $1,137
Mercury Milan Hybrid
If you still want to buy American but are scared off by the MKZ’s hefty sticker price, the Mercury Milan Hybrid may be for you. Mercury’s popular hybrid model’s numbers are similar to those of the MKZ, with 39 MPG, and its lower sticker price is easier on your budget.

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