I miss the Yugo. It was no automotive masterpiece, but you have to give it this much: It was a new car for under $4,000. People spend that kind of money on TV sets these days.
Adjusted for inflation, the infamous '86 Yugo hatchback—named the "GV," for "Great Value"—would still cost less than $7,500 today. And it would indeed be a great value! You simply can't find a new car for that price anymore. Just a single car in the 2007 model year lists for less than $10,000 (the Chevy Aveo, the Yugo of the new millennium), and even it comes in at an eye-popping $9,995.
It turns out most bottom-of-the-line cars these days will run you more like $12,000 to $17,000. This is disappointingly luxe for a car cheapskate like me. (I drive a '96 Saturn with 103,000 miles on it.) But here's the good news: There are some nifty little cars to be found in that price range. The whole economy category has been jump-started by today's crushing gasoline costs (which are spurring demand for smaller, cheaper cars), and Japan's big players have rushed to design brand-new models (the Honda Fit, the Toyota Yaris, and the Nissan Versa).