"Consumers are oftentimes resigned to getting something mundane and pretty boring if they buy an inexpensive car, but I think they'll be pleasantly surprised by what's out there," says Jack Nerad of Kelley Blue Book, which released its 11th annual Coolest New Cars Under $18,000 list Thursday.
Nerad says the rundown, which a panel of KBB staffers and outside experts compiled, recognizes 2013 models that are cool looking, fun to drive and/or "superpractical."
"These are good cars for young people, consumers on a budget or anyone who wants something that's pretty inexpensive but more interesting than the norm," he says.
Nerad says manufacturers are packing more and more features into low-cost cars these days because firms realize cool entry-level vehicles can attract buyers for life. "Car companies want to get young people into a brand when they are just starting to buy cars," he says.
Here's a look at the ten vehicles that top this year's list, presented in order of judges' rankings. All dollar figures refer to KBB's Fair Purchase Price, an analysis of what consumers in the firm's home state of California actually paid in recent weeks to buy base versions of each model (excluding taxes and fees)