Cool cash, no clunkers

Posted on 05 Oct 2009 at 9:37am
By CASEY WILLIAMS | Auto Reviewer

A game show isn’t the only way to get a great deal on a brand new car — these autos offer slick rides without breaking the bank

If you didn’t get your share of the $3 billion our government sprayed under auto sales during the "Cash for Clunkers" program, have no worries. You can still get into one of these cool cars and put a lot of cash in your pocket.

Kia Soul

The Nissan Versa goes back to basics with options keeping the price tag under $10,000 but offers stylish European design, quality Japanese power and most importantly, a low fuel bill.

Designed at Kia’s Southern California studio, the Soul has a funkily handsome beach buggy look, accentuated by a tall, boxy profile that is visually broken up with thick wheel arches, chiseled character lines, faux engine vents, rounded nose and upturned rear windows. People sit up high for comfort and to allow a very small footprint during tight parking.

The interior looks like it could have come from a small Nissan Murano and features two-tone dashboard, canvas seats and center controls fit for a spaceship. Bluetooth phone connection, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio/cruise controls, and air-conditioning are standard. A sunroof, 18-inch alloy wheels, Sirius Satellite Radio and iPod connection with full dashboard controllability are optional.


The new Kia Soul offers real eye-catching bang for the buck with its nifty exterior and a two-tone interior with controls right out of a sci-fi movie.

Base models come with a 120 horsepower, 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder engine connected to a 5-speed manual transmission. A more powerful 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder, mated to either the 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission, moves things along a bit quicker. Fuel economy is rated 26/31-MPG city/highway for the 1.6 and 24/30-MPG for the 2.0.


To prove the Soul’s awesomeness, it was recognized as one of the "coolest new cars under $18,000" by Kelly Blue Book’s Web site and a "top safety pick" by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. One of the best parts about buying a Kia is the stellar coverage that includes 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain, 5-year/60,000-mile limited basic, 5-year/100,000-mile anti-perforation (rust) warranties and a 5-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance plan. Prices start at a scant $13,330.

Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI

Even with its economical fuel diesel and sweet interior options, the Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen also offers a $1,300 tax credit.

Clunkers taught Volkswagen there’s a pent-up desire for diesels — the company sold so many during the program that it is considering even more in the upcoming years. With fuel economy stats that rival hybrids, durability that is measured in quarter-centuries, and quiet power for surprising performance, diesels are good value. They’re especially great when found under the VW Jetta Sportwagen.


Certified 50-state compliant, the Jetta’s turbo diesel engine produces 140 horsepower and 236 lb.-ft. of torque for quick sprints off the line and strong performance at speed. This is made more fun when controlled through the standard 6-speed manual or optional 6-speed paddle shift automatic transmissions.

Diesel Sportwagens are rated a wallet-building 30/41-MPG city/highway.

Sportwagens come with the same high-quality interior and German road manners befitting any VW. Air conditioning, cruise, CD player, tilt/telescoping steering wheel and Sirius Radio are all available. A huge panoramic sunroof and touch screen navigation are optional. I’d skip leather, choose high quality leatherette, and put more money in my pocket. All this, but the best part of the Sportwagen is the crossover-like 66.9 cu. ft. of space that opens up out back with seats folded.

Beyond the value inherent in diesel fuel economy, a $1,300 Federal income tax credit comes standard due to its clean-burn technology, putting even more money in your pocket.

Diesel Sportwagens start at $23,590 — an incredible value for a fine German touring wagon that sips fuel like a high-tech Japanese hybrid.

Nissan Versa
Although billed as the cheapest car in America, the Versa is no Yugo. It comes with Euro-style, Japanese quality and an energetic powertrain that makes highway cruising easy.

And that famously low price? It starts at $9,990!

The car’s tall box exterior is handsome with its Murano grille, domed hood, strong shoulder lines and smooth rear glass. Hubcaps come standard — a casualty of cost.

Swept back A-pillars and mirrors separated from the body allow the interior to remain quiet at higher speeds. Versa was designed for fashion-forward European and Japanese roads, but it also plays well in the States.

Four people slide in comfortably and ride on styled seats with cool fabrics. The dashboard and doors look and feel expensive, but there are a few sacrifices.

For under $10k, you roll sans air-conditioning, roll-up windows … or much else. To save money, Versa also trades its 1.8-liter engine for a smaller 1.6-liter 4-cylinder that produces 107 horsepower, but rewards with 26/34-MPG city/highway when equipped with a 5-speed manual transmission.

The Versa 1.6′s equipment list may make you think of a 1970s Toyota Tercel, but the car’s style, space and comfort feels upscale and rewards with a low price point and fuel bill. With the Versa, you get plenty of cool cash, even without a clunker.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 06, 2009.

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