The term "Econobox" just doesn't mean what it used to anymore. These days, you can get a lot more in a small box than anyone would have thought just a few years ago.
For less than $18,000 - or more than 30% less than the cost of the average car - you can get stuff that was only available in upscale cars a decade ago, including power windows and door locks. In fact, you can get stuff that wasn't even invented a decade ago, like Bluetooth phone connections and satellite radio.
Performance is also much better at this price today. Lightweight bodies, sophisticated suspension and more powerful engines make driving a fuel-efficient small car fun. And they're safer, too. Several cars in this list of earned "Top Safety Pick" awards from the Insurance Institute for Highway safety. (That's not to say the others aren't extremely safe cars, as well.)
Among the best of the best today is the Nissan Versa, a car that feels paradoxically roomy inside despite its tiny size. The back seat is especially generous, but the ride can get a little bouncy back there. The ride is smooth up front, however, and performance is good, if not exactly exciting. The interior is also richly appointed. You'll easily forget you're driving a small economy car.