Today’s cars can be intimidating to some drivers, with complex controls vying for attention with everything going on outside the car. No doubt about it, the modern car is a rolling symphony of technologies that work together to enhance safety, performance, connectivity, and the driving experience.
The high-tech features are one reason that car prices continue to rise. Transaction prices are up 3 percent in just the last year, according to Kelley Blue Book. Over the past several years wage growth hasn’t matched the increase in car prices, leading consumers into longer car loans and a higher rate of leasing. Many consumers are chasing a monthly payment that fits with their income, rather than looking at the total cost of the vehicle.
It’s getting tough to find a vehicle with simple controls, an easy-to-use radio, and even manually-operated windows and door locks. Typically those features are only found in the most basic (and inexpensive) models available. The search for simplicity can be a huge challenge for families helping aging parents find a new car, or those merely seeking transportation on a budget.
You simply won’t find a new vehicle that a weekend mechanic can do more than basic maintenance on anymore. Due to strict emissions and efficiency regulations, engines and transmissions have become highly complex and computer controlled machines that take specialized tools and knowledge to maintain.
One option for those seeking simplicity is to find a gently used car that’s at least one generation older than current models. You can see what’s available using our used car tools to find the highest-ranked used cars.
We’ve rounded up a list of new vehicles with the easiest to use controls on the following pages. When you find one that fits your needs, be sure to look for the latest finance and lease deals and stretch your buying dollar with our Best Price Program.
2016 Kia Rio LX
The Kia Rio is one of the least expensive new vehicles available in America, and it comes with a straightforward cockpit with little technology to distract you from driving. Air conditioning is standard, as it is with nearly every new vehicle sold, but power windows and door locks are optional.
Despite its Spartan feature set, it’s tied for the No. 5 position in our rankings of subcompact cars with the Scion iA. It comes standard with a host of passive safety features, though it lacks a standard rearview camera – a piece of safety technology that even technophobes should consider essential.A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a six-speed automatic is available.
2016 Chevrolet Sonic LS
The base Chevy Sonic LS provides an interesting mix of simplicity and leading edge technology features. It comes standard with manual roll-up windows, a simple five-speed manual transmission, and a basic AM/FM radio. But it also has 10 airbags, 4G LTE connectivity, and OnStar telematics and safety capability.
One of OnStar’s most important features is a simple-to-use way for drivers to reach first responders in case of an emergency or accident. If a collision causes the airbags to deploy, OnStar will automatically summon an emergency response. For seniors who otherwise eschew modern car tech, the service can be a critical lifeline.
Both OnStar and 4G LTE connectivity are subscription-based, so you can save some money by not extending the services past their trial periods if you’re finding them unnecessary, or if you find a less expensive way to gain the same functions.
The 2016 Sonic is tied with the 2016 Ford Fiesta for the No. 2 position in our rankings of subcompact cars. It’s one of the sportier cars in the subcompact class and can carry more cargo than most. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the Sonic a Top Safety Pick and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded it a five-star overall safety grade.
A refreshed model has been announced for 2017.
2016 Mazda MX-5 Sport
Just because you’re looking for a simple-to-operate vehicle doesn’t mean you have to give up the fun factor. The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata goes back to the roadster’s roots as a lightweight sports car without a lot of extras to interfere with its pure driving experience.
The Miata’s cloth convertible top is manually operated with just a one-handed flick required to open or close it. It does come with a healthy amount of standard equipment, including power windows and door locks, push-button start, air conditioning, and cruise control.
2016 Hyundai Accent SE Sedan
The Hyundai Accent SE Sedan comes with more features than others in the subcompact class, including power windows, door locks, and a tilt steering wheel, but it’s still approachable by those who aren’t looking for a plethora of technical goodies. Cruise control and Bluetooth telephone connectivity are optional.
The Accent has a smooth and quiet ride for a subcompact. It’s powered by a 137-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, which is matched to a six-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed automatic. The 2016 Accent holds the No. 7 spot in our rankings of subcompact cars.
2016 Ford F-150 XL
The aluminum construction of the Ford F-150 pickup truck has been hailed as a huge leap forward in pickup efficiency. However, if you’re looking for a truck that’s not loaded with other high-tech features, Ford has a model that can meet your needs with the F-150 XL.
For decades the F-150 has held the U.S. overall sales crown, and the current model holds the No. 1 position in U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of full size pickups.
The F-150 XL comes with manual windows and door locks, a key to open the doors and start the truck, and manually adjustable side mirrors. A simple AM/FM radio is standard, as is air conditioning. The F-150 XL is available in regular, SuperCab, and SuperCrew models, and many options are available on an a la carte basis, without the need to buy entire option packages.
2016 Honda CR-V LX and SE
Most models of our top-ranked compact SUV, the Honda CR-V, come standard with an array of high-tech features. But the base LX and SE trim levels are different, skipping the complex and clumsy infotainment interface found on more expensive CR-Vs and instead featuring a system with traditional controls.
The CR-V LX and SE still have a high level of standard equipment including cruise control, A/C, power windows and door locks, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and a remote entry system. In fact, the CR-V LX and SE have many of the connectivity features of upper trim models, including Bluetooth streaming audio, Pandora connectivity, and SMS text messaging, but the interface is much easier to use.
All CR-Vs are powered by 185-horsepower four-cylinder engines and feature continuously variable transmissions. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive available on all trim levels.
2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris
One of the most approachable, and affordable, vans available in the U.S. comes from a surprising source. The 2016 Mercedes-Benz Metris is designed to move people and their stuff without the complexity and luxury of many minivan competitors. Metris pricing starts at $32,500.
The Metris offers many of its options individually, rather than in costly option packages or higher trim levels. Unlike many vans, you can choose swing-open rear doors or a liftgate. You have the option of manual or power sliding side doors. While many advanced electronic safety systems are available, the van can be configured with or without them.
Passenger and Cargo Metris vans are available. They’re larger than the typical minivan, but smaller than the commercial-style Mercedes Sprinter, Nissan NV, and Ford Transit vans on the market.
2016 Nissan Versa Note S
If you’re looking for basic transportation, without a lot of technical features to distract you, look no further than the Nissan Versa Note. The hatchback version of the Nissan Versa is one of the least expensive cars available on the market, and its meager feature set is one reason why.
While you can load high-tech features in upper trim levels of the Versa Note, the base model is much simpler, though it does include Bluetooth telephone connectivity and air conditioning. The radio is a simple AM/FM/CD unit with tuning and volume knobs.
Power windows and door locks are not available on the base Versa Note S trim level. It doesn’t get a lot of love from reviewers. It’s ranked No. 16 of 16 subcompact cars in our listings.
2016 Ford Fiesta S
It’s impossible to get all of the tech out of the Ford Fiesta. All models come with at least the Ford SYNC Bluetooth connectivity system, but you have to move up in the range to get the much more complex and comprehensive SYNC 3 interface.
The base Fiesta comes with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission. Cruise control, power windows, satellite radio, and SNYC 3 are not available until you reach the SE trim level. The Fiesta S is available in sedan and hatchback models.
2016 Honda Fit LX
The Honda Fit is our No. 1-ranked subcompact car, lauded for its great fuel economy, roomy interior, and flexible cargo handling capability. Fortunately, there’s a way to take advantage of all those strengths without facing complex technical features. The Fit LX features a much simpler interface than higher trims.
A six-speed manual transmission comes standard, and a continuously variable transmission is available on all trim levels. The base LX model features standard A/C, Bluetooth telephone connectivity, power windows and door locks, cruise control, and steering wheel-mounted controls.
The Toyota 4Runner is a throwback to the origins of today’s SUVs. It’s a body-on-frame truck in a world of sophisticated unibody models. Its simple architecture makes it brilliant off road, but less awesome on road. It’s tied for last place in our rankings of midsize SUVs with the Dodge Journey.
However, if you’re looking for an off-road truck that will last forever and take you places where crossovers fear to tread, the 4Runner is a great choice. Standard features include power windows and locks, cruise control, and a rearview camera. Upper trim models gain sophisticated traction management electronics, but with a skilled driver, a four-wheel drive 4Runner can get most places without them.
With last year’s demise of the Nissan Xterra, there are fewer and fewer naturally off-road-capable vehicles available. That’s one reason why the 4Runner holds its value extremely well. It placed second in Kelley Blue Book’s 2016 Resale Value Awards, behind the 2016 Toyota Tacoma.
Jeep Wrangler/Wrangler Unlimited
Do you fear technology, but have no fear of adventures that take you to the edge of civilization? The Jeep Wrangler or Wrangler Unlimited might be the vehicle for you. While upper trims gain some electronic aids, base Wranglers are off-road dynamos for purists, capable of going almost anywhere.
Power windows and door locks are options, as is air conditioning. The vehicle’s spec sheet notes that doors are standard, but you don’t even have to leave them on. The roof comes off, and the windshield can be folded forward onto the hood.
The Wrangler is ranked No. 16 in our rankings of compact SUVs, tied with the Toyota 4Runner for the No. 12 slot in the off-road SUV category. However, in terms of extreme off-road capability, the Wranglers are tough to beat.
If any of the vehicles in this slide show seems like the car for you, be sure to check out our constantly updated lease and finance deals. When you’re ready to buy, use our Best Price Program where buyers have saved an average of $3,279 off sticker price.