Great American Cars of 2015 — Under $25,000

© Perry Stern, ACE;© Ford Motor Company; ©FCA; © General MotorsGreat Time to Buy American
Depending on your age and perspective, you might remember a time in U.S. automotive history when buying an American-made vehicle was an exercise in extreme patriotism — unless your vehicle of choice happened to be a pickup truck. Not long ago, the U.S. “Big 3” offerings for cars and SUVs had difficulty competing against import brands in everything from reliability, to fuel economy, to looks and price. But in the last few years we’ve witnessed a turnaround from U.S. automakers — there are now some great choices in just about every vehicle segment from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. The following cars are some of the best options on the market — and with prices starting below $25,000, it’s never been easier to Buy American.

© General MotorsChevrolet Spark
Starting Price: $12,270
Finally there is an attractive, efficient fun-to-drive small car from an American car company, and clearly people have been waiting for this choice — more than half of Spark buyers are new to General Motors. The Spark is Chevrolet’s smallest offering, but it doesn’t feel that way inside. Thanks to smart use of space and a high roof, the car doesn’t feel claustrophobic — even for tall folks. And while inexpensive, the Spark doesn’t feel cheap, either. On the safety front, Spark delivers with 10 airbags – and it was an IIHS Top Safety Pick in 2014. This fall, look for an updated Spark with more power, fresh styling and new safety features.

© General MotorsChevrolet Sonic
Starting Price: $14,245
More fun in a small package, the Sonic is further proof that you don’t have to buy a boring econobox to save money. As with all of its vehicles, Chevrolet has equipped the Sonic with a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, making it possible to connect up to seven devices. The integrated media system can have photos or video projected on the 7-inch display screen — but only when the car is stopped. The surprisingly roomy 5-passenger sedan or hatchback features a 60/40 split-folding rear seat for added versatility, and the hatchback gets a hidden storage compartment in the cargo area. Choose the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine and a manual transmission for the most fun behind the wheel.

© Ford Motor CompanyFord Fiesta
Starting Price: $14,455
Never willing to let General Motors earn too much of U.S.-brand subcompact car sales, Ford has their own fine offering in the Fiesta. Available as a sedan or versatile hatchback, the Fiesta lets the driver make a statement with a variety of bright colors including Blue Candy, Race Red or Green Envy. Fiesta is also available with Ford’s first 3-cylinder EcoBoost engine that gets you 123 horsepower and an estimated 43 mpg on the highway. At the other end of the scale is the Fiesta ST — with almost 200 horsepower on tap, the ST is an absolute blast to drive while retaining Fiesta’s versatility.

© General Motors  Chevrolet Cruze
Starting Price: $16,170
Ignition issues notwithstanding, after a spate of not-so-great small sedans Chevrolet scored a win when it introduced the Cruze for the 2011 model year. Cruze has a comfortable, attractive interior, proving that an inexpensive small car doesn’t have to feel cheap. Exterior styling has been updated for 2015 with a number of feature upgrades. The standard engine is a 1.8-liter 138-horsepower four cylinder, but the Cruze really stands out from the crowd with the availability of a clean diesel. The 2.0-liter turbodiesel puts out up to 280 lb-ft of torque for quick acceleration, and is rated at an impressive 46 mpg on the highway.

© FCA USDodge Dart
Starting Price: $16,495
Not since the Dodge Neon has Chrysler had much in the way of success in the small car arena, but the 4-door Dart seems to have done the trick. Dart offers a bit more power than some of the other compacts — its 2.4-liter Tigershark MultiAir2 4-cylinder engine is standard on the SXT, Limited and GT trims, putting out 184 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque for spritely performance. The high-efficiency 1.4-liter turbo — standard on the Dart Aero — produces 160 horsepower while boasting up to 41 mpg on the highway. With plenty of standard features and sporty styling that echoes the best of the Dodge lineup, Dart is certainly worthy of consideration.

© Ford Motor CompanyFord Focus
Starting Price: $17,170
For years American drivers had to make due with a Focus that was mediocre at best while we read and heard about the sexy small offering in Europe. Now Focus is a world car — the same version that sells in Europe is also sold here, and Focus has evolved into a world-class car. In fact, Focus is the best-selling car in the world. Available as a sedan or hatchback, Focus variants range from the basic S to the high-performance ST to the efficient Focus Electric. An impressive array of safety technology is available for Focus, including a rearview camera, a blind-spot warning system with cross-traffic alert and a lane-keeping system.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceJeep Renegade
Starting Price: $17,995
The newest member of the Jeep family, Renegade is the brand’s first entry in the small SUV segment. Unlike some competitors, which are often referred to as “cute utes,” the Renegade is built to handle tough off-road terrain as well as snowy or slick roads. The front-drive-based Renegade is available with two 4WD systems and features the Jeep Selec-Terrain system, providing up to five modes (Auto, Snow, Sand and Mud modes, plus Rock mode exclusive to the Trailhawk) that set up the Renegade for best performance based on conditions. Two engines are available: a 1.4-liter 160-horsepower turbocharged four cylinder teamed with a 6-speed manual transmission, or a 2.4-liter 180-horsepower unit teamed with a 9-speed automatic transmission. No question that the Renegade is deserving of the Jeep brand.

© General MotorsChevrolet Colorado
Starting Price: $20,120
American brands have basically owned the full-size pickup truck market for years, but imports have done quite well with the compact truck market. Chevrolet is hoping to change that with the introduction of the all-new Colorado. Colorado looks the part of the tough pickup truck and has the specs to back up the good looks. Two engines are available: a fuel-efficient 200-horsepower four cylinder or a 305-horsepower V6. The latter gives the new truck a 7,000-pound towing capacity — currently the best in its class. But Colorado is more than a work truck; it can be equipped with a large color touchscreen display, a rearview camera, heated front seats and 4G LTE connectivity with a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot.

© General Motors  Chevrolet Trax
Starting Price: $20,040
An all-new crossover for the 2015 model year, Trax is Chevrolet’s smallest SUV offering. Already on sale in 66 global markets, the Trax is Chevrolet’s seventh small vehicle launch in the last four years. The 5-passenger crossover provides plenty of versatility, with a large cargo area that is easily expandable via a 60/40 split-folding rear seat as well as a number of storage compartments throughout. Trax also boasts high-tech features including 4G LTE connectivity with an integrated Wi-Fi hotspot, Siri Eyes Free integration for iPhone, and Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system with a 7-inch touchscreen display. Available with front- or all-wheel drive, Trax is powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine producing 138 horsepower and achieving an estimated 34 mpg on the highway.

© General MotorsGMC Canyon
Starting Price: $20,955
The twin sibling of the Chevrolet Colorado, Canyon features the bold GMC grille and slight variations in packaging. Like the Colorado, Canyon buyers get a choice of two engines: a 2.5-liter DOHC four cylinder producing 200 horsepower, or a 3.6-liter V6 that boosts output to 305 horses. Both are actually quite fuel efficient, with an estimated highway rating of 25 mpg and 24 mpg respectively — with 4WD. Canyon is available in three configurations: extended cab, crew cab, or crew cab with a long bed. With the tailgate down, the longer bed can handle eight-foot long items without any overhang. With its impressive capability and easy-to-drive size, Canyon buyers won’t feel the need for a full-size pickup anymore.

© FCA USDodge Grand Caravan
Starting Price: $21,595
At one time each of the major American car companies had a minivan offering, but as crossovers became more popular, Ford and GM dropped theirs. Blame it on the stigma of driving one or simple burnout — minivans have fallen out of favor, although many still say vans are the best option for a family vehicle. The Grand Caravan was the first on the market, and it is fair to say that Chrysler has perfected the formula. Not only is the Grand Caravan the least expensive minivan, it boasts exclusive Stow ‘n Go seats — all rear seats can be folded completely flat into the floor using just one hand. A 283-horsepower V6 engine is standard across the line, so there won’t be any complaints about driving an underpowered minivan. The rumor mill says next year a new minivan will be introduced and it will only be sold under the Chrysler brand, portending the demise of the Grand Caravan — we’ll have to wait and see.

© FCA USChrysler 200
Starting Price: $21,895
Chrysler has had a run of mediocre midsize cars, but that thankfully ended when the company introduced the all-new 200 for 2015. Slightly smaller than most midsize sedans but larger than a compact, the 200 comes well equipped with a number of convenience and safety features. The base-level LX is the only 200 priced below $25,000, powered by a 2.4-liter 184-horsepower engine. Teamed with a segment-first 9-speed automatic transmission, the 200 gets an EPA-estimated 36 mpg on the highway. A more potent 295-horsepower V6 and all-wheel drive are also available, but they push the price closer to $30,000.

© Ford Motor CompanyFord Fusion
Starting Price: $22,500
The Ford Fusion is one of the best-looking midsize sedans on the market; if shoppers tend to choose cars based on first impressions, that would explain how Fusion sales keep climbing, and recently passing the once-invincible Honda Accord. Even the entry-level Fusion S is well equipped with Ford’s SYNC voice-activated communications and entertainment system, as well as a power driver’s seat, an AM/FM stereo with MP3 capability and a rearview camera. The S gets a 175-horsepower engine rated at 34 mpg on the highway. For a bit more than $25,000, Fusion is also available with AWD or as a plug-in hybrid.

© Ford Motor CompanyFord Transit Connect
Starting Price: $22,330
It’s not quite a minivan — in fact Ford refers to it as the “un-minivan” — but the Transit Connect offers the versatility of a minivan in a much smaller package. With seating for up to seven in the long wheelbase version (five in the standard wheelbase), and with its tall roof design, Transit Connect offers great space for people and cargo. Dual sliding doors make entry and exit easy, and in back buyers have the option of either a standard liftgate or side-hinged swing-out doors. Transit Connect’s small size makes it a unique family hauler that’s easier to drive and maneuver while still feeling spacious inside.

© General MotorsChevrolet Malibu
Starting Price: $22,465
Chevrolet introduced the Malibu name back in 1964 — when it was a top-line version of the Chevelle — making it the longest running midsize nameplate in the industry. The current version is the eighth generation, introduced in 2013; however, there have been ongoing improvements and additions in the last couple years. The stylish sedan offers a roomy rear seat, spacious trunk, and a number of conveniences including a secret storage location behind the touchscreen radio. The 2015 Malibu is the last of the current generation — an all-new 2016 Malibu was recently introduced at the New York Auto Show and arrives in showrooms this fall.

© FCA USJeep Wrangler
Starting Price: $22,895
The Wrangler has been a part of American lexicon since 1941, and the iconic off-roader has remained true to the original concept of Go Anywhere, Do Anything. The Wrangler’s design hasn’t changed all that much over the years, staying with the same basic silhouette and featuring the vertical grille with round headlights — except for a short time in the 1980s when square headlights were introduced (there was so much outcry that a few years later Jeep went back to round headlights). Known throughout the world for its legendary capability, Wrangler is now available with all the expected modern amenities as well as the option of four doors. For a vehicle that can handle just about any terrain, there really isn’t anything on the market that can beat it — especially below $25,000.

© FCA USJeep Cherokee
Starting Price: $22,995
In the world of midsize car-based crossovers, most of which were never meant for any meaningful off-roading, it’s nice to know there is one that can handle the tough stuff if called upon to do so, while still offering a fuel-efficient, comfortable ride on pavement. The original Cherokee was discontinued after the 2001 model year, but it had such a great Jeep reputation that the company wisely brought the name back, albeit on a vehicle that looks nothing like the original. In fact the styling of the new Cherokee has been quite polarizing. But with three available 4WD systems, almost nine inches of ground clearance and an array of safety and convenience features, the new Cherokee is certainly deserving of the legendary name.

© General MotorsBuick Verano
Starting Price: $23,380
The Buick name has been around since the early 1900s, but in recent years the brand hasn’t made big waves in the American market — in fact, General Motors sells more Buicks in China than in the U.S. That said, the compact Verano is certainly worth a look. Verano is the entry into the Buick lineup and offers a premium interior, quiet ride and attractive styling in a compact sedan. Verano feels like a step up from other compacts, with features such as pushbutton start, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, a rearview camera and a 7-inch touchscreen display. The standard 180-horsepower engine provides more than adequate power, and unlike the soft, squishy Buicks of the past, the Verano actually handles quite well.

© Ford Motor CompanyFord Mustang
Starting Price: $23,600
This one squeaks under the $25,000 mark — which is great news for someone who wants to get into this iconic American sports car. Ford has been building Mustangs continuously for the last 50 years, and the 2015 version is all new. The V6 Mustang may be entry level, but it’s certainly no slouch. It boasts 300 horsepower with a 6-speed manual transmission, and looks awesome with its low, wide stance, HID headlights and signature sequential rear turn signals. While there are styling cues all around tying this Mustang to the original, there are plenty of high-tech features to remind you that the 2015 iteration is a thoroughly modern pony car. Goodies include pushbutton start, available SYNC with MyFord Touch, and Track Apps. Track Apps is standard on all Mustangs and includes launch control, g-force display and performance readouts with acceleration, braking and countdown starts.

© General MotorsChevrolet Camaro
Starting Price: $23,705
The famed Camaro has gone through a number of iterations since its introduction back in 1966, but the car was dropped from Chevy’s lineup in 2002. Chevy made up for the eight-year gap with the introduction of an all-new model in 2010. With styling reminiscent of the original from the 1960s, the new Camaro garnered considerable attention. Today only the Camaro 3.6 1LS limbos under the $25,000 bar, but this base Camaro is still worthy of the name. The 3.6-liter V6 engine puts out 323 horsepower yet still delivers 28 mpg on the highway. While the V6 can provide plenty of smiles, if you’re willing to spend more there are a variety of high-performance options available, including the ZL1 that boasts a 6.2-liter V8 putting out 580 horsepower and an amazing exhaust note. The excitement around Camaro should continue — an all-new 2016 model is slated to debut in May.

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