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10 cheapest cars for 2004

You don't have to be rich to drive a new car. You can enjoy the same shiny paint, new-car smell, a bumper-to-bumper warranty and the same row of zeroes on the speedometer as your wealthiest neighbors for a fraction of the cost.

We're not talking limo, SUV or track star, but we are talking about reasonably roomy, well-built autos with good pedigrees and performance, plus safety features that would have cost you an arm and a leg in the not-so-remote past.

Realize that these are MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price) figures, and typically, there will be another $500 or so in destination charges added. If you're lucky, you might find manufacturer's rebates on some models, so these prices actually could be lower if you negotiate a good deal.

Almost all the numbers here are for base models. Added options or packages will up the price, but, where cost is a factor, these are enjoyable, everyday driving machines that generally get good gas mileage, too.

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Here, then, are the 10 cheapest -- or perhaps we should say "least expensive" -- cars you can buy new for 2004:

2001 SALEEN-S7

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Chevrolet Aveo: $9,455
For less than 10 grand you can get a four-door, front-wheel drive sedan with five-speed manual transmission on a 1.6-liter engine with front disc brakes, stainless exhaust, halogen headlights, tinted glass, dual-stage air bags, tach, clear gauges, four-speaker sound system and tilt steering column.

The Aveo even boasts cloth bucket front seats and a split 60/40 rear seat, AM/FM stereo with four speakers and seek and scan, dual front cupholders and day-night mirrors, all standard. It's a nice-running little sedan at an awesome price.

Kia Rio $9,740
This traditional looker also has a 1.6-liter engine and five-speed manual box, comes with a five-year bumper-to-bumper warranty and 10-year power train guarantee. It's a four-door sedan, with nimble front-wheel drive handling and 27 miles per gallon in the city.

Hyundai Accent $9,999
With useful hatchback and full-folding rear bench seat, the three-door Accent has good cargo access. It brags perked-up handling with gas shocks, a 1.6-liter 104-horsepower mill like its rivals, and both side and front air bags. The makers have carried out some redesigns in appearance, including grille, hood, bumpers, lights and deck lid, losing the old boxy look inflicted on the previous Accent.

2001 SALEEN-S7

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Chevrolet Cavalier $10,135
The Cavalier's a long-proven car, and for 2004 its cheapest model is the two-door, 2.2-liter front-wheel drive coupe, with plenty to offer. Good safety is assured with driver and front-passenger airbags and three-point belts. It's equipped with air conditioning, anti-theft system, power trunk release and electric rear window defogger -- all standard with the special value package.

Toyota Echo coupe $10,245
Toyota gave its entry-level car a wedgy. A wedgy look, that is. The rear passengers sit higher than the driver, who sits pretty high and mighty anyway, considering this isn't a truck. This short wheelbase, lively little car might look slightly odd, but the high roof line makes for great access and good leg room. The cockpit instruments are centered in the middle of the dash, in a stylish, retro way and the model even offers dual, front and rear cup holders. The Echo sedan, at $10,775, echoes the Echo coupe, with extra doors.

2001 SALEEN-S7

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Saturn Ion $10,430
Saturn has worked hard to create a following among the less than ultra-rich crowd and the Ion offers plenty for the buck, once again. This is a four-door, front-wheel drive sedan with a 2.2-liter 140-horsepower inline four engine. The analog tach reaches 8,000 rpm and the speedometer has a 120 mph dial, which seems a trifle optimistic, but hints at a new supercharged model due in mid-2004. New trim, engine-immobilizing anti-theft wizardry and an LCD message center are nice extra touches that cost nothing extra.

Pontiac Sunfire coupe: $10,895
This should be called the Funfire, a car aimed at young people in the market for a first new car. The five-speed manual, 2.2-liter 140-horse Ecotech-four power train gives a sporty ride. Inside, four airbags, air conditioning, rear-seat heat ducts and reclining seats make you feel it's more than a basic box on wheels. Outside, fog lights, a stainless-steel exhaust and driver remote mirror add to the base model's appeal.

Kia Spectra: $11,820
The plain-deal, four-door sedan offers seating for five, a 1.8-liter double overhead cam power plant rated at 126 horse power, monitored in '04 by a tach, and four-wheel independent suspension for a smooth ride. There's an AM/FM/CD deck included, with four speakers. The driver's seat is eight-way adjustable and Kia even provides an overhead holder for your sunglasses.

Nissan Sentra $12,200
Like most in this cut-throat compact market, the Sentra is a front-wheel drive sedan, powered by a 1.8-liter engine guaranteed tune-up-free for 105,000 miles. The body has some hood restyling for '04, the headlights are jewel-type halogen and the car has halogen fogs, too. The Sentra offers four air bags for the driver and passengers, high-strength side-door guard beams and front- and rear-impact crumple zones. Tilt steering column, center console and dual trip meters are nice touches, too.

2001 SALEEN-S7

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Toyota Scion xA : $12,480
The Scion is Toyota's new-car brand, a subcompact hatchback aimed at the youthful set. It will be introduced in California by year's end, and to other U.S. markets by February '04.

The engine is a brisk 1.5-liter plant which develops 108 horsepower. It's equipped with anti-lock brakes, five-speed manual gearbox and sport seats. Also standard: a satellite-ready CD radio capable of playing MP3 files; front air bags, metallic instrument panel, additional storage bins, first aid kit and a cargo cover.

-- Posted: Dec. 9, 2003

2004 Car Guide
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