Bottom Line/Personal: What is the best used car you can buy for $10,000 or less in 2015?

I’m Steven Kaye, Editorial Director at Bottom Line Publications, and today my guest is auto analyst Karl Brauer, Kelley Blue Book Senior Director. Karl is going to show us how there are some surprisingly nice cars out there, and surprisingly new cars out there, for $10,000 or less.

Karl, thank you for coming.

Karl Brauer: Yeah, great to be here. And you nailed it. That’s the good news here, is that people would think “I can’t get anywhere near a new car experience for $10,000 or less,” but you can.

Bottom Line: When you think about the average transaction price now for a car that actually is new, it’s up into the thirties, yes?

Brauer: Yes.

Bottom Line: That’s average. $10,000 or less, you’d think that you would have to make some big sacrifices. But not really, if you know where to look in the marketplace and which cars to go for.

Brauer: You’ve got to be a little strategic, but you don’t have to get some kind of old, rusting, worn-out vehicle to get a less than $10,000 car. You can actually get a vehicle that feels pretty much like a brand new car.

Bottom Line: Okay, so you’ve chosen in the under $10,000 category, a 2010 vehicle, a 2011 vehicle, and a 2012 vehicle. Why don’t we start with the 2010?

Brauer: Yeah, that’s the Kia Soul. The Soul has been one of the most successful vehicles for Kia because of the utility that it packs in as well as just the driving dynamics and overall execution. This was a really successful vehicle, and it deserves to be given credit as a new or used vehicle. It’s very unique in the marketplace. People like the styling, they like the functionality that you get, they like the fuel efficiency that you get.

Bottom Line: So how does the Soul drive?

Brauer: It drives really well. That was, I think, one of the reasons that it did so well in the marketplace – and it continues to do well; the newest version does well, too. Because it drives somewhat sporty, despite that kind of brick or block styling on it. It drives well, it’s got more than adequate power, it gets good fuel efficiency.

And that boxy style gives it lots of interior functionality and space. If you fold those rear seats down behind the front seats, you end up with a big amount of area. If you had to move somebody, move yourself or move your kid to a college or something like that, or just carry a lot of things home from a store furniture-wise, you can do that in the Soul.

Bottom Line: And you can get a nice 2010 for under $10,000.

Brauer: Yeah, with less than 40,000 miles on it, meaning plenty of coverage left for the warranty, and plenty of life left in that car.

Bottom Line: All right, terrific. You also picked a 2011 vehicle that you can get for under $10,000. Which one is that?

Brauer: That’s the Nissan Versa. You can get it in either hatchback or sedan. Either one of them is a very high-quality, functional vehicle with new car ownership experience because of the warranty coverage that still exists on the vehicle.

This is going to get you a lot of MPG, a lot of fuel efficiency out of the car. A lot of the modern conveniences that you want to get in a new car, even though you’re buying used, with Bluetooth and a relatively high quality audio system. So this is, again, a way to get into a vehicle for a relatively low cost that feels a lot like a new car.

Bottom Line: And comfortable for four. Maybe a little bit of a squeeze for five, but you can get five people in there.

Brauer: Yeah, and if you get the hatchback version, you get some extra cargo space, too.

Bottom Line: Excellent. And then finally, we’re talking about a 2012 vehicle, which is possibly going to seem very new.

Brauer: Yeah. A 2012 vehicle is going to feel like a brand new vehicle, probably, unless it’s really been abused. This particular one’s very fun, too; it’s the Fiat 500. So you’re getting a near-new, fun to drive vehicle. You’re going to enjoy, again, warranty coverage on the vehicle, you’re going to enjoy good fuel efficiency, you’re going to enjoy in this case probably some attention in terms of style and stuff. You’ll have people looking at the car. People really like these Fiat 500s.

They’re more roomy inside than you think, too. A lot of people feel like the car is obviously going to only be a two-seater even though it’s got a technical rear seat. But the interior packaging, like a lot of modern cars, is very impressive on the 500.

Bottom Line: This is a seriously small car. It’s a little bit hard to tell from this angle, but it is quite short. But you’re saying that the way it’s packaged inside, you can actually sit people in the backseat?

Brauer: Yeah. I mean, if you had a tall person in the front and then a tall person trying to sit behind them, you might be in trouble. But if the front people can not have the seats all the way back – and you don’t have to have them all the way back even if you’re like 5’8” or 5’10” – I mean, I’m almost 6 feet, and I don’t have to have the seat all the way back – then you could have another adult behind you.

Bottom Line: My first car was a Fiat, a Fiat 124, and I came to think that the name was apt because that’s how many miles you could drive in between needing to fix it. That was a long time ago.

Brauer: Yes, and that’s a concern a lot of people have.

Bottom Line: And Fiat left the U.S. market; they came back just a few years ago with this car. You see them on the road, but how are they doing in terms of reliability?

Brauer: Yeah, it’s something that everyone who remembers the first version of Fiats, the first gen of their sales here, wonders about, and I wondered about when I knew they were coming back. But it does really feel like a whole different car company in terms of the quality of the vehicle.

I think Fiat knows they couldn’t even sell cars here if they didn’t have something that could compete with the other high quality vehicles that the U.S. has. So they came back to this market, but they came back ready to compete with the high quality vehicles that have no issues.

Bottom Line: And Fiat has some high-end names in its corporate stable. They do know how to make a good car. How does this thing drive?

Brauer: It drives really well. It drives like you want it to drive. You look at this car and you see fun and sporty and maybe a little offbeat, and the car lives up to that. It gives you something that you want to get in and drive every day.

I think that’s why I was excited to see how well you could price them, even below $10,000 if you’re willing to go just slightly used. Because I think if you’re not just looking for a car, but for a fun car for under ten grand, this car will do it.

Bottom Line: And that’s a 2012, and it’s under $10,000.

Brauer: Yeah. Pretty new car.

Bottom Line: Terrific. Okay, thanks very much, Karl.

Brauer: Absolutely.