Toyota Yaris

With a housing bust, a slowing economy, and maybe even a recession around the corner, consumers are eyeing expenses more carefully, especially when it comes to big purchases like cars. For many shoppers, the strongest instinct is to simply put off a purchase until the clouds pass.

Stowing your checkbook may be prudent, but most people still need reliable transportation, and aging cars need to be replaced. And what if there's no recession after all, and the economy brightens? Should you drive your old clunker indefinitely, waiting until you're sure it's safe to upgrade? Or buy a joyless econobox just because the unemployment rate might go up?

Chrysler 300

Here's a better idea: Choose a car that's relatively light on the wallet today, with strong value that will hold up over the long term, in case times turn tough and you have to rein in your lifestyle. We've plumbed our extensive database of automotive information to come up with 10 cars that are appealing in good times -- and even smarter buys when there's economic uncertainty.

Buying the cheapest car that suits your needs usually isn't a good idea. If it's supercheap now, it will be worth far less later when you want to sell. And some cars are cheap because of subpar quality, which means you might face expensive repairs down the road.

So instead of simply gauging the lowest prices, we took into account many other factors that make a car a smart buy. We started with the cars that rank in the top half of the U.S. News Best Cars and Trucks rankings to assure the quality of our choices. Then we selected models with above-average affordability, reliability, and fuel economy -- attributes that affect your out-of-pocket costs both today and tomorrow. We made sure to include cars for a wide range of needs and budgets, from subcompacts to SUVs to big sedans. And of course we included a couple of sports cars, too -- hey, we're still allowed to have fun while we're cutting back, right?

For a closer look at these affordable deals, see our slideshow.

Car

Class

MSRP

Ford Escape
Affordable Midsize SUVs
$18,770
Kia Rio5
Affordable Compact Wagons
$13,540
Chrysler 300
Affordable Large Cars
$25,270
Nissan Altima
Affordable Midsize Cars $20,705
Hyundai Santa Fe
Affordable Midsize SUVs
$20,995
Toyota Yaris
Affordable Small Cars
$11,960
Mazda MX-5 Miata
Affordable Sports Cars $21,220
Honda Odyssey
Minivans
$26,495
Audi A4 Upscale Midsize Cars
$29,675
Volkswagen GTI
Upscale Small Cars
$23,300