Smart Fortwo

There are a few car-buying assumptions you shouldn't forget: salesmen lie, minivans aren't cool, and you get what you pay for. With the economy in recession and gas prices at record highs, the last point has never been more important for car buyers.

While automakers strive to meet consumer demand for affordable, fuel-efficient cars, shoppers are left trying to get the most for their money -- and realizing that they have to make some compromises. Sure, it may not be so hard to forgo an in-dash CD changer if you already have an iPod, but what about A/C or side-curtain air bags? To help you find the best affordable new car for you, we take the seven new cars available today for under $13,000 and look at their performance in the U.S. News overall rankings of 29 small cars

The seven cheapies are (in order of price):

  2008 Model
Starting MSRP
1. Chevrolet Aveo $10,235
2. Hyundai Accent $10,775
3. Kia Rio $10,890
4. Toyota Yaris $11,550
5. Smart Fortwo $11,590
6. Nissan Versa
7. Kia Spectra $12,895

Chevrolet Aveo

Ranked #27 in Affordable Small Cars
MSRP: $10,235 - $13,920, MPG: 24 City / 34 Hwy

The Chevy Aveo doesn't offer much more than the satisfaction of knowing that you got it cheap. Test drivers say it's underpowered and bland-looking. Fuel economy is subpar for its class. Though it performs well in government crash tests, the Aveo lacks much of the accident avoidance and crash protection equipment that comes standard in other affordable small cars. It does, however, feature a roomy cabin and abundant cargo space.

Hyundai Accent

MSRP: $10,775 - $15,375, MPG: 27 City / 32 Hwy

Hyundai Accent

The Hyundai Accent features standard safety equipment not typically found in vehicles at this price point and also has loads of cargo room. It's also backed by one of the longest powertrain warranties in its class. However, auto writers report that the Accent's has poor acceleration, a harsh ride, and dull styling. Available as a sedan or three-door hatchback.

Kia Rio

MSRP: $10,890 - $14,465, MPG: 32 City / 35 Hwy

The Kia Rio has the bare necessities -- sufficient power, good fuel economy, six standard air bags, and a long warranty -- but lacks many of the standard features people expect in a new car. The base model doesn't come with an audio system, air conditioning, or power windows and locks. But if you can live without those frills, the Rio is a bargain. For increased cargo space, check out the pricier Rio5 hatchback.

Toyota Yaris

Toyota Yaris

MSRP: $11,550 - $14,650, MPG: 29 City / 36 Hwy

The Toyota Yaris is a solid choice with a lot going for it, including roomy front seats, loads of cargo space, and Toyota's reputation for quality. Even so, test drivers find that it lacks power and offers few interior features. Be sure to spring for the optional side air bags, as the Yaris performs poorly in side-impact crash tests without them. Available as a sedan or hatchback.

Smart Fortwo

MSRP: $11,590 - $13,590, MPG: 33 City / 41 Hwy

The petite Smart fortwo may be an urbanite's dream: small enough to fit in tight parking spots, easy on fuel and head-turning. However, it has little established safety or reliability history and only comes with a two-year/24,000-mile warranty. What's more, the fortwo is iffy on the highway and Smart recommends premium gasoline.  

Nissan Versa 

MSRP: $12,880 - $15,980, MPG: 26 City / 31 Hwy

Nissan Versa

Those realistic about what 13K can buy will like the Nissan Versa. Reviewers say it falls short of competitors in terms of performance (and gas mileage), but appreciate its comfortable five-passenger cabin, six standard air bags, loads of cargo room and unique styling. Available as a sedan or five-door hatchback.

Kia Spectra

MSRP: $12,895 - $16,995, MPG: 23 City / 30 Hwy

The Kia Spectra's biggest drawback is its noisy engine and soft handling. Otherwise, its comfortable cabin has adequate space for four passengers and comes with plenty of safety features. Available as a sedan or the five-door Spectra5 hatchback.

For a close look at these and other affordable options, see our full small car rankings or our slideshow of the Best and Worst Cars under $13,000.