15 new cars you can buy for less than $200 a month

Itching for a new car but feel you can’t afford one?

If you can squeeze $200 a month out of your budget, you can — and we’re not talking about a lease or the choice between one or two tiny sedans you’ve never heard of.

Thanks to the bargain “friends and family” deals now popular with U.S. manufacturers, as well as aggressive pricing on some entry level models among foreign manufacturers, there are at least 15 new car and truck models that can be bought for $200 a month or less.

But first, here’s the math on the $200 car payment:

Here are our assumptions: You have $2,000 cash you can put in as a down payment, and you can afford a payment of $200 a month.

Current loan rates for a 60-month term are averaging 6.47 percent. At that rate, a $10,200 loan would cost $199.43 a month. Counting your $2,000 down payment or trade value means you can afford a car that costs $12,200.

Of course that doesn’t include such things as sales tax, license fees or other charges that may be unique to your state. That could mean you’ll need $700 to $800 more in cash to close the deal, or if you roll it into the loan it could push your payments up by about $14 a month.

And you may have to shop hard for the right car, since in most cases we’re talking about cars without a lot of options — although many are equipped with air conditioning and some have automatic transmissions.

So what can you buy for $12,200 before taxes and fees?

  • Chevrolet Cavalier — At Chevrolet, there are two vehicles that meet our $200 a month threshold, the 2005 Aveo and the larger 2005 Cavalier. Although the Cavalier has been replaced by the Cobalt (which just barely missed the $200 a month limit), there are still Cavaliers on dealer lots. Roomy for a compact, a Cavalier with air conditioning and a five-speed manual transmission can be bought for $11,862.
  • Chevrolet Aveo — A subcompact sedan, the Aveo easily falls within our parameters. An LS
    four-door sedan can be bought for $10,404. Add an automatic transmission at $850, and you’re still driving out with a payment
    of less than $200 a month.

  • Dodge — DaimlerChrysler’s Dodge division has the familiar Neon sedan, and under that company’s Employee Pricing Plus deal, a Neon SE that lists for $14,395 can be bought for $11,624. Add air conditioning and you’ll be at the limit for the $200 payment.

  • Ford Focus — How about a 2005 four-door Ford Focus? Under Ford’s Family Plan pricing, a Focus ZX4 with a base list price of $14,620 can be bought for $10,816 after all applicable discounts and incentives. Add in air conditioning and an automatic transmission and the sales price should come in right at our $12,200 target price.
  • Ford Ranger
    — Need a pickup? Check out the Ford Ranger XL two-door, two-wheel drive
    model. It lists for $15,245. After taking the $2,500 rebate and the Ford Family Plan deal, that truck would cost $11,597. That won’t get you air conditioning or much in the way of extra trim, but it’s a solid work truck at that price.
  • Honda Civic
    — While the Japanese manufacturers aren’t offering so-called employee pricing, they are dealing to try to keep pace. Some hard searching and hard bargaining can land a Honda Civic DX four-door sedan, which lists for $13,775 but can be bought for $12,200. You won’t get a version with automatic transmission or air conditioning, but you’ll get a Honda.
  • Hyundai Elantra
    — Korean manufacturers have been the leaders in bargain-basement pricing, so they offer a wide range of cars that can be bought for $200 a month or less. Consider the Hyundai Elantra GLS, which is a compact-sized sedan that lists for $13,844. Thanks to a $1,500 rebate offer, an Elantra with a long list of standard features, from power windows to air conditioning, can be bought for $11,656.
  • Hyundai Accent
    — Need something less expensive? Hyundai also has the small Accent, which, equipped with air conditioning lists for $12,039, can be bought for about $10,625 after a $1,000 rebate.
  • Kia Rio
    — Because this car’s list price is so low ($10,735), it’s possible to add in automatic transmission, air conditioning and power windows and locks and still buy it for $11,627.
  • Kia Cinco Rio wagon
    — This is the only station wagon that makes our list, and while it’s not large enough to compete with a sport utility vehicle, it will carry a lot of stuff on weekend errands. With air conditioning and a manual transmission, expect to pay about $11,887 after a $1,000 rebate.
  • Kia Spectra
    — Larger than the Rio, this sedan can be equipped with air conditioning and a five-speed manual transmission for $12,218 after $1,750 in rebates and incentives.
  • Nissan Sentra
    — A good bargain should be available at a Nissan dealer on the Sentra, which lists for $14,280 with an automatic transmission. But with dealer discounts and the $2,500 cash back and rebates Nissan is offering can be bought for as little as $11,295. You can even step up to the S model Sentra, which carries a base sticker price of $15,480 but comes with air conditioning and other convenience features, for as little as $12,039 after rebates and incentives.

Pontiac Sunfire
— The Sunfire coupe may be the bargain of the year, provided you can find one on a dealer’s lot. It has a sporty look, even if it’s not the most refined. With special manufacturer rebates and employee deals, it’s possible to get a manual transmission Sunfire with air conditioning for $10,792.

  • Saturn Ion
    — Yes, you can even own a Saturn for $200 a month. A Saturn Ion 1 sedan, with automatic transmission, can be bought for $10,619 after rebates and the GM employee discount deal.
  • Toyota Echo
    — If Saturn being on this list is a surprise, it may be even more of a surprise to find a Toyota for $200 a month. The Echo is Toyota’s smallest sedan, and its styling is a little funky. But the price is right: With air conditioning and a manual transmission, it’s possible to grab an Echo for $11,901. But these cars are not widely found on dealer lots. Toyota has announced this will be the last year of the Echo; a new car called the
    Yari replaces it next spring.

Terry Jackson is the author of six automotive books and has been writing about cars for 25 years. He is the former editor-in-chief of AMI Auto World Magazine and NOPI Street Performance Compact. He has written for many newspapers and magazines including Automobile, Road & Track and AutoWeek. He races a vintage Mustang in SCCA competition and evaluates as many as 100 new cars each year.

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