Automakers don’t want cheap cars, and thieves want Hellcats

Steven Cole Smith

Goodbye, Kia Rio. Chevrolet Spark, Sonic, and Aveo, we hardly knew ye. Farewell, Ford Fiesta, Mazda 2, Toyota Yaris, Fiat 500, Hyundai Accent, Honda Fit. The Mitsubushi Mirage will soon join them.

So long, cheap cars. All the above are either dead, or in the case of the Mirage and Rio, will be soon.

Leaving: The Nissan Versa, and not much else.

The dream of owning a new car has soared well above the $20,000 mark. The days of being able to write a check for a new car to send your kid off to college with presumed dependability, air conditioning, a solid warranty, a full tank of gas, and a lot of airbags are dwindling.

Make no mistake, I like reviewing higher-end cars, but I’ve sort of specialized in the lower end. You should be able to make me smile for no more than $48,000, roughly the average transaction price of a car now. If I smile after driving a $20,000 car, the designers and engineers have done something noteworthy. And several of those departed or departing cars have achieved just that.

2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback SE Nightshade side profile
Corolla Hatchback Cameron Neveu

Of course, the Honda Civic ($23,950; all prices are before you add on shipping charges), Toyota Corolla ($21,700) and Hyundai Elantra ($20,950) are the gold standard for thrifty—which is different from cheap—new vehicles. I wouldn’t talk you out of any of them; they’re the gold standards for a reason.

One of my choices, too, would be the Volkswagen Jetta, which starts at $20,655 with a manual transmission. Standard is a 158-horsepower, 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. My son’s job requires him to travel regionally, and he loves his Jetta – right up to the time when a gravel truck ahead of him shed a brake drum, which took out the Jetta’s transmission. It’s annoying that his local dealer doesn’t want to work on the car, but that’s nothing against the Jetta.

I’d also add the Kia Forte ($19,690) to the list – it’s similar to an Elantra – and the erstwhile Kia Soul ($19,990). The Hyundai Venue ($19,650) was a pleasant surprise, but I don’t recall if it made me smile or not. The Subaru Impreza ($22,995) is pricier than the rest, but is still a lot of car for the money.

Hyundai Venue denim
Hyundai Venue Cameron Neveu

And that Nissan Versa ($15,980): I tested a top-of-the-line 2023 SR model recently ($19,820, before shipping and without a couple of options I wouldn’t have missed) and it definitely made me smile. If I was looking for an off-to-college car, I think I’d start with a Versa.

So technically, before you add in shipping, there are still some sub-$20,000 cars out there. Now whether or not your local dealer stocks them is another matter: You can option out a Civic to over $32,000 with just a few keystrokes, and suddenly you’re into Accord LX ($27,895) territory. The profit margin on a $20,000 car is pretty slim, so you may have to look around.

Speaking of transportation charges: They have been climbing steadily, now almost all over $1000. I pulled some stickers for a sample of what you have to pay just to get the car to your dealership. And keep in mind, a dealership next to the factory still charges the same transportation cost as a dealer in Key West or San Diego—the misery is spread around evenly. Your guess is as good as mine why, say, Stellantis charges $1595 to bring over an Alfa Romeo from Italy, and $1795 to ship a Jeep from Toledo.

Here’s a sample in no particular order from stickers on the pile, and where the cars are built:

–2024 Mercedes-Benz GLE 450: $1150 (Alabama)

–2023 Chevrolet Colorado crew cab: $1495 (Missouri)

–2023 Chevrolet Bolt: $995 (Michigan)

–2024 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon: $1795 (Ohio)

–2024 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 4×4: $1895 (Michigan)

–2023 Kia Sportage: $1215 (Korea)

–2023 Land Rover Defender: $1475 (Slovakia)

–2023 Toyota Tundra: $1795 (Texas)

–2023 Mitsubishi Outlander: $1345 (Japan)

–2023 Ford Bronco Sport: $1595 (Mexico)

–2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale: $1595 (Italy)

–2023 Nissan Pathfinder: $1295 (Tennessee)

One way to get a car without paying transportation: Steal it. (We neither recommend nor advocate for this approach.) The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has released its most-stolen cars list for 2020-2022 models, and the Dodge Charger Hellcat tops the list.

Does it ever.

2020 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody (Front) and 2020 Dodge C
2020 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody (Front) and 2020 Dodge Charger Scat Pack Widebody (Rear) Dodge

Theft claims for the Charger SRT Hellcat were over 60 times more frequent than the average for all 2020-22 models, relative to their numbers on the road, while theft claims on other Hemi Chargers were more than 20 times higher than average, the Highway Loss Data Institute’s latest whole-vehicle theft report shows.

“Charger and Challenger models with large, powerful engines have featured among the top five most-stolen vehicles since model year 2011, but the frequency of claims has increased at a stunning rate. For 2020–22 Charger SRT Hellcat models, there were 25 whole-vehicle theft claims per 1000 insured vehicle years, up from about 18 for 2019–21 models. For comparison, the most-stolen 2017–19 model, the Infiniti Q60, had only 2 thefts per 1000 insured vehicle years.”

“If you own a Hellcat, you better check your driveway,” said HLDI Senior Vice President Matt Moore. “These numbers are unbelievable.”




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    My daughter needed a new, affordable car, and insisted on a stick (SO proud). The Versa was not only affordable, it was the ONLY choice with a stick for under about 35k. Thankfully it is a very nice choice – if you can find one. It’s a shame that the industry disdains both markets.

    Who needs a brand new car these days when pre-owned cars are so good? Sure, you can get an appliance like a versa in the $20k neighborhood, but what *else* could you get for that if you’re willing to live with 30-40k on the clock? These days 30-40k miles is just broken in…

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