Shopping for a new car? You'll probably be driving off the lot with more than a new set of wheels — a hefty monthly payment could be riding along with you, too. The amount Americans borrow to finance their new cars has crept up at an alarming pace, with the average new auto loan reaching $482 in the fourth quarter of 2014, according to Experian Automotive.
If you’d rather spend some of that money elsewhere, there’s hope: Plenty of new cars can be purchased with monthly payments that are hundreds of dollars cheaper. We talked to auto experts at Edmunds, Cars.com, Kelley Blue Book and more, and compiled a list of 36 quality vehicles you can easily finance for $300 or less.
Methodology: Auto payments were calculated using the starting MSRP as provided by the car manufacturer, assuming a 20 percent down payment, a five-year term length and an interest rate of 3.44%. This rate is the daily national average on five-year new auto loans for consumers with excellent credit scores (740 to 850); it was pulled from Informa Research Services' database on April 1, 2015.
1. 2015 Nissan Versa
The 2015 Nissan Versa is the least expensive car Nissan offers, according to Kelley Blue Book, and it's the cheapest vehicle on our list, too. A 60-month loan will cost the borrower $174 per month, with a 20 percent down payment of $2,398 — keeping the total cost under $12,853.
2. 2015 Chevrolet Spark
The 2015 Chevrolet Spark is "small but sporty, offers great fuel economy and is one of the most affordable vehicles to own," Alec Gutierrez, a senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, told us. It certainly won't burn a hole in your wallet; with a 20 percent down payment of $2,454, you'll pay $178 per month on a 60-month loan, bringing the total cost to $13,152.
3. 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage
Despite its name, the 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage can indeed be purchased for less than $300 a month — no illusions here. The car offers great fuel economy and a long warranty, according to Edmunds.com, all of which you’ll get for $189 a month, with a $2,599 down payment. All told, you'll end up paying about $13,929 for this car.
4. 2015 Smart Fortwo
Starting MSRP: $13,270
You won’t need to stuff your 2015 Smart Fortwo with cash to pay your loan every month. Its horsepower is middling, but you'll never have a hard time finding a parking spot — and for $193 a month (on 60-month terms), you'll be able to comfortably purchase this vehicle, paying $14,224 overall.
5. 2015 Ford Fiesta
Starting MSRP: $13,965
“The Ford Fiesta is fun to drive, offers plenty of technology and is a great value,” Ron Montoya, the consumer advice editor at Edmunds, told us.
What's more, you can own the Fiesta for just $203 a month, with a $2,793 down payment — you'll end up spending $14,969 overall.
6. 2015 Kia Rio
Starting MSRP: $13,990
The 2015 Kia Rio is another vehicle that could cost you around $203 per month. And with a down payment of approximately $2,798, your total costs should come out to just $14,996.
It'll be a good deal, too: Brian Moody, site editor for AutoTrader.com, named the Kia Rio among the cars with the best reputation for reliability and low maintenance costs.
7. 2015 Nissan Versa Note
Starting MSRP: $14,180
The 2015 Nissan Versa Note will cost you $206 per month with a 60-month loan, meaning you'll spend about $15,200 overall. Along with that, you'll get great fuel economy — though not the strongest horsepower.
8. 2015 Chevrolet Sonic
Starting MSRP: $14,245
If your budget is $16,000 or less, the 2015 Chevrolet Sonic should be on your car shopping list. A 60-month loan will put you at just over $15,269 for your total payment, with monthly payments at $207. The car gets about 40 miles to the gallon on the highway and, according to the manufacturer, is the first in its class to offer 10 standard air bags.
9. 2014 Mazda Mazda2
Starting MSRP: $14,720
The 2014 Mazda Mazda2 will run you about $214 for a 60-month loan, leveling out at about $15,778 total, with down payment and interest. According to Car and Driver, the Mazda2's 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine produces just 100 horsepower, but the car is known for its agility and efficiency.
10. 2015 Hyundai Accent
Starting MSRP: $14,745
The 2015 Hyundai Accent should cost you roughly the same amount as the 2014 Mazda Mazda2. At approximately $214 per month for a 60-month loan, you'll end up spending about $15,805 total for this car. The Accent gets 38 miles to the gallon on the gallon, according to the manufacturer, with 137 horsepower.
11. 2015 Toyota Yaris
Starting MSRP: $14,845
With a down payment of $2,969, you could keep your monthly payment as low as $216 with a 2015 Toyota Yaris. Better yet, you probably won’t have to worry about looking for a new car or spending a ton of money at a repair shop anytime soon. According to Moody of AutoTrader.com, this model is typically reliable and has low maintenance costs.
12. 2015 Kia Soul
Starting MSRP: $15,190
The 2015 Kia Soul is the first car on this list that you’ll need to borrow more than $12,000 to purchase when making a 20 percent down payment. Still, a 60-month loan will cost you just $221 a month, with the car's overall price reaching $16,282 with interest.
According to Gutierrez of Kelley Blue Book, this vehicle boasts an “exceptionally low cost to maintain." Cars.com editor Kelsey Mays added that the Soul has "relatively good driving refinement," and that "Hyundai-Kia’s impressive warranties should keep ... Soul buyers from costly repairs for years to come."
13. 2015 Honda Fit
Starting MSRP: $15,650
Your 2015 Honda Fit will only cost you $227 over 60 months. Buyers and experts like this model: Gutierrez told us it's fuel-efficient and among the top-selling subcompacts.
Additionally, Montoya told us, "The Fit gets an A rating from Edmunds, has been redesigned for 2015 and is extremely spacious for its size."
14. 2015 Kia Forte
Starting MSRP: $15,890
The 2015 Kia Forte will cost you about $231 a month for a 60-month loan, totaling $17,033 factoring in interest. According to the manufacturer, it boasts a number of security features, like a reinforced body, advanced airbag system and innovations like front active headrests.
15. 2015 Chevrolet Cruze
Starting MSRP: $16,170
The 2015 Chevrolet Cruze will run you $235 a month on a 60-month loan, totaling $17,333 overall. It's a popular car: Mays of Cars.com said the Cruze was among the top five best-selling models in February 2015.
16. 2014 Scion iQ
Starting MSRP: $16,435
The 2014 Scion iQ might be a smart purchase if you’re not on an extreme budget. You'll need to borrow more than $13,000 to purchase it, but you'll pay just $239 a month on a 60-month loan. The iQ is one of the most fuel-efficient non-hybrids out there, according to the manufacturer, with 37 miles to the gallon, highway.
17. 2015 Nissan Sentra
Starting MSRP: $16,480
With a 60-month loan, you’ll pay approximately $239 a month for a 2015 Nissan Sentra, with a total cost of just under $17,665. The Sentra gets 40 mpg on the highway (30 in the city) and has a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine with 130 horsepower.
18. 2015 Dodge Dart
Starting MSRP: $16,495
The 2015 Dodge Dart will cost you basically the same per month as the 2015 Nissan Sentra, with a $239 monthly payment. In fact, the difference in cost between the two cars over the 60-month loan is just $16, with a Dart coming to $17,681, including interest.
19. 2015 Jeep Patriot
Starting MSRP: $16,695
You don’t need a Super Bowl champion’s bonus to purchase a 2015 Jeep Patriot. It could cost you just $243 a month with a 60-month loan, totaling $17,895 overall.
Gutierrez told us the Jeep Patriot is "the most affordable small utility on the road," and added, "It’s not the newest, most feature-rich vehicle on the road, but it will get the job done and save you money doing it."
20. 2014 Nissan Cube
Starting MSRP: $16,900
The 2014 Nissan Cube is comfortably below the $300 threshold with a 60-month loan, which should run you about $246 a month and totaling $18,115 over the loan's full term.
21. 2015 Toyota Corolla
Starting MSRP: $16,950
The 2015 Toyota Corolla will cost you $246 a month over 60 months. Expect to pay about $18,107 total if you choose this option. Certain Corolla models can provide fuel savings, however; Moody pointed out that "the LE Eco model is estimated to get 42 mpg on the highway."
Christian Gulliksen, senior editor of CarsDirect, said that the Corolla also offers savings with prolonged reliability even at higher mileages, while its favorable reputation means the Corolla will maintain its value better and is "likely to be worth more at trade-in."
22. 2015 Fiat 500
Starting MSRP: $17,145
With a 60-month loan, your 2015 Fiat 500 will hit $249 a month, with the total amount reaching $18,378. The 500 offers up to 40 mpg highway (31 city), seven airbags, reactive front seat head restraints and a 1.4-liter engine.
23. 2015 Ford Focus
Starting MSRP: $17,170
The 2015 Ford Focus can be purchased for about $250 per month with a 60-month loan. But you won’t have to sacrifice quality to keep it at that price.
“The Ford Focus in the U.S. is now built on the European-based platform, which is among the sportiest vehicles in the segment,” said Eric Lyman, TrueCar's top analyst and vice president of industry insights. “Additionally, Ford packed the Focus with segment-leading technology and safety features for the 2015 model year refresh, ensuring this vehicle will remain at the top of the shopping list in the compact segment.”
24. 2015 Hyundai Elantra
Starting MSRP: $17,250
If you’re looking for plenty of features on a budget, the 2015 Hyundai Elantra might be the right car for you. You can purchase this model for just $251 a month with a five-year car loan.
“The Elantra still plays to Hyundai's tradition of offering a lot of features for the money,” said Gulliksen of CarsDirect. “For buyers who want the most equipment for the lowest cost, this is probably the compact of choice. There's also the security of a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.”
25. 2015 Volkswagen Jetta
Starting MSRP: $17,325
"As the sole mainstream European brand, Volkswagen has a unique position in the U.S. auto market," Lyman said. The 2015 Volkswagen Jetta costs more than $300 a month for shorter loans, but is still well below the threshold with a 60-month loan — roughly $252 a month. Plus, "the VW Jetta is available as a diesel model, which can do better than 40 miles per gallon on the highway," Moody of AutoTrader said.
26. 2014 Scion xB
Starting MSRP: $17,740
While it is the first car on this list to cross the $14,000 mark for its loan amount, you can still purchase a 2014 Scion xB for less than $300 a month — it'll be a monthly payment of about $258 over 60 months. The xB offers 22 city and 28 highway miles per gallon, along with 69.9 cubic feet of cargo space, according to the manufacturer.
27. 2015 Nissan Frontier
Starting MSRP: $17,990
The 2015 Nissan Frontier is a popular compact model that will cost you about $261 a month over 60 months, totaling $19,284 with interest included. Its fuel economy isn't extremely noteworth — the truck gets 19 city and 23 highway miles — but it does have a 2.5 liter, four-cylinder engine and 281 pound-feet of torque.
28. 2015 Jeep Renegade
Starting MSRP: $17,995
Your total payment for a 2015 Jeep Renegade could come out to approximately $19,289 including interest, which might seem a little high if you’re on a tight budget. But your monthly bill on a 60-month loan would be just $262.
29. 2015 Hyundai Veloster
Starting MSRP: $18,000
The 2015 Hyundai Veloster will also cost you around $262 a month over 60 months, and $19,294 overall with interest. The four-seat car has 138 horsepower, getting 36 highway miles to the gallon (27 in the city).
30. 2015 Honda Civic
Starting MSRP: $18,290
Over 60 months, the 2015 Honda Civic will cost you about $266 monthly, or just over $19,605. If you like that price, consider that this model also has fans at Cars.com; Mays said these vehicles have good crash tests and are pretty reliable. Gulliksen also favored the Civic: "People buying a Civic can reasonably expect strong resale values, low maintenance costs and long-term reliability."
31. 2015 Kia Forte Koup
Starting MSRP: $18,590
The 2015 Kia Forte Koup will cost you about $270 a month over 60 months, with the overall cost landing just below $19,923, factoring interest. With 201 horsepower, the Forte Koup gets 25 city and 34 highway miles to the gallon.
32. 2014 Honda Insight
Starting MSRP: $18,725
The 2014 Honda Insight is the first car on this list to surpass $20,000 for its total costs — but you'll just have to pay $272 a month over 60 months to finance it. According to Kelley Blue Book, it's the least expensive new hybrid car out there, boasting 44 mpg on the highway.
33. 2016 Hyundai Elantra GT
Starting MSRP: $18,800
With a 20 percent down payment, the 2016 Hyundai Elantra GT will cost you about $273 a month for a 60-month term. The car is equipped with a 173-horsepower, two-liter, four-cylinder engine that gets 33 mpg on the highway.
34. 2015 Toyota Prius c
Starting MSRP: $19,540
The 2015 Toyota Prius c will cost about $284 a month over 60 months, capping out at $20,945 total, including interest. But with a whopping 46 miles to the gallon on the highway (and 53 in the city), you'll surely save on fuel costs.
35. 2014 Hyundai Elantra Coupe
Starting MSRP: $19,600
The 2014 Hyundai Elantra Coupe is one of the priciest cars on this list, with an MSRP starting at $19,600. But at about $285 a month over 60 months, the Elantra Coupe is still within your price range to finance if a $300 monthly payment is your threshold. The car boasts 173 horsepower and 34 miles the gallon, highway.
36. 2015 Kia Forte5
Starting MSRP: $19,690
The 2015 Kia Forte5 can be financed for $286 a month with a 60-month loan; you'll end up paying $21,105 overall. The Forte5 delivers 33 miles to the gallon on the highway, 25 in the city.