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2006 Entry-Level Buyer's Guide

2006 Entry Level Vehicles Buyer's Guide

by Martha Hindes

Turning sweet sixteen with a first job. Young marrieds saving for a treasured starter home. The daughter's or son's tuition for college. There are dozens of reasons for being price conscious when buying a new set of wheels, especially when other important things in life demand a major chunk of the budget. Not to fear. Automakers, from red-white-and-blue here at home to those from the land of the rising sun and beyond, have taken heed of the needs of the cautious spenders who don't want to skip on style and amenities even if the wallet is somewhat pinched at the moment.

Call it entry level, bargain, or economy. Whatever the term, it has been morphing beyond basic in recent years. Some of today's price conscious vehicles might have tipped the scale of luxury only a few years back. American consumers, conditioned to expect lots of pampering and toys, can look forward to finding some of those treasures (especially in upmarket versions) even when discounting is a prime consideration and front-drive compacts are the average fare.

But other factors can push a sale towards modest as well. High fuel prices have a lot of consumers rethinking the need for macho and considering a more subdued approach to performance potential. Among them: More basic cars or crossovers that might not have earned a second glance in the past. Miles per gallon is becoming as popular as horsepower and torque ratings in the numbers game for many determined to keep driving affordable enough to continue doing it.

With the budget-minded in mind, RTM checks out a bevy of lower priced entries that deserve highest honors for holding costs in check in a road worthy vehicle that keeps a sense of identity and a healthy pinch of personality with a truly respectable nameplate.