DETROIT (WWJ) - The economy is at a near-standstill and gas prices are through the roof, but regardless of financial constraints or economic hardships, the simple fact remains that car shoppers want their new ride to be cool.
That's why the expert editors from Kelley Blue Book's www.kbb.com put together a list of the 10 coolest cars under $18,000 that's in tune with the times, providing a great selection of cars that are not only affordable, but also fun.
"While there are many affordable new cars available today for less than $18,000, the list gets much more narrow and exclusive when you view it through the difficult-to-describe lens of what is cool," said Jack R. Nerad, kbb.com's executive editorial director, said in a release.
Two criteria — fun-to-drive and fun-to-own — are critical among the deciding factors of what the editors freely admit is a very subjective "cool factor," the over-arching number-one criterion for a vehicle to place on this list.
Each vehicle is available for purchase at $18,000 or less, using Kelley Blue Book's exclusive Fair Purchase Price as the yardstick (the Fair Purchase Price is the price consumers typically are paying for a car, based on actual new-vehicle transactions and updated weekly for changing market conditions).
Kbb.com's 10 Coolest New Cars Under $18,000 for 2012:
10. 2012 Volkswagen Jetta
Intrigued by the idea of a European sedan at an econobox price? Instead of rolling the dice on a 10-year-old Bimmer, you can get European driving feel – along with a full warranty and digital connectivity – in Volkswagen's best-selling model. Priced and sized for American tastes, the Jetta is also wrapped in clean, tasteful styling that will look sharp for years to come.
9. 2012 Scion iQ
The pint-size Scion iQ packs a full-size punch. Inside, this featherweight fireball can accommodate three and a half men - or two and their golf bags. And with a wheelbase shorter than most NBA players, the iQ's unique brand of urban acrobatics provide remarkable maneuverability around the most meddlesome inner-city obstacles.
8. 2012 Kia Soul
A unique blend of funky style and practical packaging, the Kia Soul cranks up its cool quotient for 2012 with even more high-value appeal. Nose and tail tweaks add an edge to its appearance while drivetrain enhancements bring double-digit horsepower gains plus better mpg figures to its new 1.6-liter direct-injected base engine and the available 2.0-liter upgrade.
7. 2012 Honda Fit
Considering the Honda Fit has been a perennial favorite on our coolest cars list since its American debut, it's easy to conclude we're fans. And because it's fun to drive, has a cool back seat that flips and folds for handy storage solutions and looks like nothing else on the road, it's easy to see why.
6. 2012 Ford Fiesta
Small and bold don't usually pal around together, but you can find them hanging out in the sub-compact Ford Fiesta. With an aggressive grille, big lamps, sharp lines and pronounced fenders, the Fiesta is a styling standout. Even the inside is richer and more stylish than its competitors. European-like driving dynamics and highway fuel economy of 38 miles per gallon (40 mpg for the SFE version) solidify its cool cred.
5. 2012 Chevy Sonic
Chevy's new subcompact deftly combines sporty exterior styling, motorcycle-inspired interior gauges and peppy yet fuel-efficient engine choices to create a competent and cool urban runabout. In either hatchback or sedan form, the Sonic booms with exuberance.
4. 2012 Mazda 3
Sporty looks and joyful driving dynamics have made the otherwise practical Mazda3 an omnipresent figure on the list. For 2012 the Mazda3 appears once again, now with an optional "SKYACTIV" powertrain that enables Mazda's plucky compact to return up to 40 mpg on the freeway.
3. 2012 Fiat 500
Catch even the briefest glimpse of the Fiat 500 and just try not to smile at this Italian-designed cutie that's tiny in size but massive when it comes to personality. Available as a hatchback or convertible, the perky 500 is the first new Fiat to be sold in America in nearly three decades.
2. 2012 Hyundai Veloster
Packed with a unique brand of versatility, innovative technology and left-field styling, the Hyundai Veloster challenges the status quo to a duel. The 3-door Veloster - one door on the driver's side, two on the other - is among the most distinctive cars available at any price. The Veloster has a starting sticker price of $18,075, but the Fair Purchase Price reflects a real-world base price of around $17,300 as of June 2012.
1. 2013 Dodge Dart
First true collaborative effort between the Chrysler Group and parent company Fiat, the 2013 Dodge Dart's enticing combination of style, performance, features and value has earned it the top spot in our 2012 coolest cars list. With exceptional interior space and loads of personalization potential, the all-new Dart will definitely make its presence felt in the ultra-competitive compact sedan segment.
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