The best cheap wagons and hatchbacks answer the call for practically priced cargo carriers, but without conforming to the bulkier designs of SUV-inspired crossovers. Now, it is true that that hasn’t been a recipe for sales success in recent years, as fewer and fewer brands are cooking up traditional station wagons, while more and more owners are committing to crossover entries. Yet there is at least one brand-new Wagon choice on the marketplace today, from an aptly named automaker, and there are plenty of nimble hatchbacks available as well to provide low-cost, load-carrying capability. And they’re generally more fuel-efficient than comparably sized crossovers, too. It’s just a matter of searching them out, so that’s what we’ve done here.
Volkswagen Golf SportWagen
When your brand calls itself “Volkswagen,” offering folks a wagon just makes sense. And so does the 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen, which is without a doubt most fuel-efficient, most comfortable, roomiest, and most well-equipped actual station wagon among the country’s best cheap wagons and hatchbacks. Then again, it also happens to be the only actual station wagon among that group, bolstered by its MSRP of $21,395. But be that as it may, the spiffy new SportWagen features the same road-friendly driving dynamics and turbocharged engines—gas and diesel—as the rest of the award-winning next-gen Golf lineup, then adds standard station-wagon-style cargo capacity: 30.4 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 66.5 with those seats folded.
For less than half of the price of the average new car—now more than $32K—drivers can enjoy the superior funkiness of the 2015 Kia Soul, as the latter is priced from a practical $15,190. Further, the Soul’s aggressively angular exterior provides the kind of carrying capacity that station-wagon lovers prefer, in a package that people won’t mistake for a typical SUV or crossover. It all adds up to a distinctive, design-focused choice among today’s inexpensive wagons and hatches, complete with up to 61.3 cubic feet of cargo room. That maximum does require the second-row seats of the Soul to be folded, but owners benefit from 24.2 cubic feet even when rear-seat passengers are in place.
The former face of Toyota’s youth brand, the xB helped import the box-on-wheels design trend back in the day, and it currently qualifies as a high-style, low-cost alternative to the standard station wagon. In fact, backed by a starting price of $17,890 and the ability to fit 69.9 cubic feet of cargo, the 2015 Scion xB not only is one of the best cheap wagons and hatchbacks in the nation, it additionally showcases upscale content for that entry cost, including a standard rearview camera, six-speaker Pioneer display audio with Bluetooth and USB port, and the advantages of the Scion Service Boost—a two-year/25,000-mile complimentary-maintenance program that also delivers two years worth of complimentary, 24-hour roadside assistance.
One of the least expensive new hatchbacks on sale in the United States, the 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage has much more going for it than merely its MSRP of $12,995. For one thing, it’s impressively fuel efficient, featuring a standard, manually transmissioned powertrain that produces EPA ratings of 34 mpg city/42 mpg highway/37 mpg combined; and there’s an available CVT setup that’s good for an EPA line of 37/44/40. Also fairly high is the level of standard content, ranging from seven airbags to air conditioning with rear-seat climate ducts to audio with a USB port. Toss in a total cargo capacity of 47 cubic feet and it’s easy to understand why the Mirage is one of today’s best cheap wagons and hatches.
The driver’s choice in terms of the top cheap wagons and hatchbacks has to be the 2015 Mazda Mazda3. Imbued with the brand’s hallmark passion for zoomy dynamics, the Mazda3 nonetheless is well known for fuel efficiency, too. Indeed, its standard 2.0-liter, Skyactiv engine can supply fuel-economy grades of 30 mpg city/40 mpg highway/33 mpg combined with either a standard six-speed manual transmission or an available six-speed automatic—although the same powerplant also furnishes a satisfying 155 hp and 150 lb.-ft. of torque. Then, when it comes to costs and cargo, the Mazda3 combines an MSRP of $18,945—covering standard content like a Mazda Connect infotainment system with 7-inch touchscreen—and 47.1 cubic feet of space.
A masterpiece of versatile packaging, the 2015 Honda Fit offers five different cabin configurations for a variety of different passenger and package preferences, allowing owners to use the car’s 95.7 cubic feet of occupant space and 52.7-cubic-foot cargo capacity as they see fit. What’s more, that cargo space can, depending on the interior setup, hold items as long as 7 feet 9 inches or as tall as 4 feet. Meanwhile, Honda’s subcompact entry stands out as one of the best affordable wagons and hatchbacks with its entry point of $15,650 and an easy-to-love powertrain: The Fit’s peppy 1.5-liter engine serves up 130 hp and 114 lb.-ft. of torque, complemented by EPA scores that can reach 33 mpg city/41 mpg highway/36 mpg combined.
Here’s a surprise: the 2015 FIAT 500L can out-station-wagon even the Golf SportWagen, showcasing a larger overall cargo capacity than the VW despite its smaller vehicle length. More specifically, the Fiat flouts 68 cubic feet of space for gear and parcels when its rear seats are folded, and that’s even though the car itself being a bit smaller than a typical compact hatchback. Nor does the 500L have a typical standard powertrain, especially when compared to the other top cheap wagons and hatchbacks. Instead, the 500L, priced from $19,345, packs a 1.4-liter turbo that relies on Fiat’s MultiAir engine technology for 160 hp, 184 lb.-ft. of torque and an EPA line of 25/33/28.
The all-new 2016 Chevrolet Spark will leap immediately to the forefront of the best cheap wagons and hatches when it debuts later this year, courtesy of a comprehensive redesign. Among the key upgrades: A new 1.4-liter engine with 16 percent more horsepower than the previous powerplant and a 40-mpg high-water mark for highway driving. The Spark also extends the Chevy brand’s surging reputation for high-tech transportation with available goodies like a mobile wi-fi hotspot, the latest Android Auto and Apple CarPlay systems, and safety measures such as forward-collision alert, lane-departure warning and side blind-spot alert.
Note that pricing for the 2016 Spark will be revealed closer to its on-sale date; as a starting point, the 2015 model opens at $12,270.
The priciest of the best cheap wagons and hatchbacks is the 2015 Ford C-Max, but even here prospective purchasers will find a wallet-friendly MSRP of $24,170. Further, that price of admission does include a high-efficiency hybrid powertrain that returns EPA fuel-economy scores of 42 mpg city/37 mpg highway/40 mpg combined, along with a rear cargo hold capable of handling up to 52.6 cubic feet of gear. And yes, that storage can be easily accessed using Ford’s hallmark hands-free liftgate technology, which requires a slight kicking motion under the rear bumper for the hatch to open. Other notable and available technologies for the C-MAX include Sync with MyFord Touch, premium Sony audio and plug-in hybrid capability.
Capping off this cavalcade of the best cheap wagons and hatches that the industry has to offer is the 2015 Hyundai Accent, hot off its recent victory in this year’s J.D. Power U.S. Initial Quality Study (IQS): The Accent—available in Sedan and hatchback body styles—was rated as No. 1 in the “Small Car” category by J.D. Power consumer respondents, who answered 233-entry questionnaires to help determine which new vehicles show the fewest number of problems during the first 90 days of ownership. Of course, that’s at least partially because the Accent has no problem keeping cargo in the hatchback’s 47.5-cubic-foot rear storage space, while Hyundai’s subcompact hatchback can cost as little as $14,995.