Cars aren’t getting any less expensive. Price reductions are rare in the industry, and constantly evolving tech means there’s always something new to price up. With that said, there is still a variety of affordable European offerings with some fun and luxurious equipment. If you’re keeping a tight budget this year and need new personal transport, here are some of your best options.
VW Jetta - $21,435
We’ve already established that the 2024 VW Jetta is one of the most fuel-efficient new cars available today, if not the most efficient Euro sedan. But it’s also the cheapest option for anyone looking to get into a new European car. At just over $21,000, the Jetta remains as accessible and practical as ever while bringing just enough technology that you’re not left in the ‘90s with your budget acquisition.
The most modern part of the current Jetta is its 1.5L turbocharged inline-4 engine. While relatively small, its peak 158 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque are plenty for a family compact, and the 42 mpg on the highway is nothing to laugh at. Luckily, there can still be some fun as a six-speed manual remains the standard equipment; an eight-speed auto is a two-pedal alternative. Peak figures and acceleration times are very similar to the Honda Civic and Mazda 3, so the VW offers more value for less out-of-the-box. Suspension and braking attributes aren’t exactly sporty—the top GLI trim handles that—but it’s not an awful place to be; it's ideally suited to daily duty.
Elsewhere, the Jetta provides what you’d expect and maybe a little extra. New for the 2024 model year is VW’s IQ.Drive driver assistance suite as standard equipment on the base S trim. It includes all the modern safety features, including Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Assist, Forward Collision Warning, and Autonomous Emergency Braking. Infotainment is slightly less advanced, utilizing a 6.5” touchscreen with a couple of physical knobs, but the appearance of the latter might be a bonus for those fed up with capacitive touch buttons. Cloth seats also respect the humble pricing but are at least heated. LED head and taillights just about round out the features worth noting.
Overall, the Jetta provides a safe, if vaguely boring, choice for anyone looking for a low price and a full warranty. Higher trims like the Sport and SE offer a handful more (i.e., better) standard equipment for a couple of grand more, so they’re certainly worth considering as they’d still be the least expensive model you can buy new.
VW Taos - $23,995
The VW Jetta will work for most people, but the compact SUV has such a stranglehold on the American psyche that the Taos will likely be the more popular choice. The two models are understandably similar as they’re the entry-level choice for their respective body types. Engines, equipment, and trim levels are nearly identical, which may work to your advantage if you’re cross-shopping the two. Sticking to the best deal is smart unless the Taos in question offers the only thing the Jetta doesn’t: all-wheel drive.
Under the Taos’ hood is the same 1.5L EA211 evo2 engine, making the same 158 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque as the Jetta. With a minimum of 300 lbs over the Jetta in weight, it doesn’t match the sedan in acceleration or economy figures, but they’re enough to challenge rival compact SUVs. The two transmission options determine the drivetrain; front-wheel drive models receive an eight-speed auto, while the 4Motion all-wheel drive comes with a seven-speed DSG. There’ll be a minor hit to efficiency with the latter, but the potential for better traction in poor weather should offset that.
With the difference in drivetrain comes a significant difference in the rear suspension. FWD models receive a simpler and cost-effective torsion-beam design; AWD ditches the torsion beam for a multi-link. The multi-link is much better for performance dynamics, but the comfort and geometry benefits aren’t enough for most people to notice, so don’t be put off by the torsion beam. The bits you’ll regularly think about, like the seats and infotainment, are identical no matter the drivetrain, so your best bet is to select your trim first.
Speaking of, the S trim is the most basic on offer. IQ.Drive is new for 2024 models, bringing along all of the safety features—like lane assist and emergency braking—a modern car should likely have. Standard upholstery is a two-tone cloth with Titan Black trim, and there aren’t other options. The same goes for the 6.5” touchscreen infotainment. If you’re looking for leather upholstery, two-zone climate control, an 8” infotainment screen, ventilated seat, or the BeatsAudio, start shopping for the SE trim. Luckily, you don’t need any of that to safely get you and your family to and from wherever you want, and the most basic Taos will excel at that.
MINI Hardtop 2-Door - $25,800
Oh, ye faithful of small and iconic, rejoice as your freshly resigned beloved is still relatively cheap. The MINI, in one form or another, has been around for over sixty years, and while not nearly as compact as previous, it’s managed to retain its pluckiness through weight gain typical of aging. BMW engineers have worked their seemingly vanishing magic with this newest generation (F66) of the “Hardtop 2-Door,” so as long as a subcompact can fit your lifestyle, the MINI makes a strong case for purchase.
The Cooper has always been somewhat of a fashion statement, and this newest model isn’t any different. Its classic lines and beloved shape are as modern as ever without sacrificing its roots, so everyone will know what you’re driving, and the optional extras are so immense that speccing a car as you see fit can culminate in a truly unique package. There may not be a Union Jack Roof option any longer, but you can still choose between six free paint colors, four roof/mirror cap treatments, and add “bonnet” stripes, à la the BTCC Coopers of old. Interior upholstery is similarly customizable, with three materials and several colors, but those are more dependent on the selected trim package.
In keeping with the compact theme, the Cooper Hardtop’s base engine is an uncommon-for-the-states inline three-cylinder strapped with a turbocharger, specifically the BMW B38A15. Low cylinder count aside, its 1.5L punch equals a healthy 134 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque, which should be enough to keep driving fun. Obviously, that’s not the million horsepower fun every modern performance car seems to have, but more of a sixties-esque flickability lost on the larger vehicles of the 21st century. Transmission options are a six-speed manual or a seven-speed DCT, so there’ll be plenty of driver engagement if you want it.
Out in the world, the Hardtop 2-Door can be as fun as it looks—thanks to a relatively firm suspension—but still return nearly 40 mpg without breaking much of a sweat, regardless of the fitted gearbox. Inside, passengers should be reasonably comfortable, though those in the back will be short on useable room. Front-seat occupants have lots of useable space and an 8.8” infotainment display with SiriusXM to play around with. Apple CarPlay is available as an option, but Android Auto isn't. Storage space is understandably small with the rear seats up, but fold ‘em down, and you shouldn’t have any trouble transporting anything smaller than a TV or couch.
Volvo EX30 - $34,950
Surprisingly enough, there’s an EV right in the mix. Volvo’s upcoming EX30 compact SUV is available for pre-order before deliveries begin in mid-2024, and its base price is right in the mix among the most affordable new European models. That represents a shift in the marketplace as previously range-topping tech and hardware are now available for the average new car buyer, something not yet seen by the Europeans.
The EX30 can partly thank its shared Geely underpinnings for its reasonable asking price. Modular automotive platforms have simplified engineering as a single architecture can be expanded and modified to fit several vehicles. SEA-E is the EX30’s platform and the first model to utilize it in the US. Initial reports are good, with a long-time news outlet calling it “firm…but balanced and agile on twisty roads.” Those aren’t typically words used to describe an EV SUV, let alone an inexpensive one. Paired with a 64kWh battery, the entry Core Single-Motor model makes do with 268 hp and 253 lb-ft of torque and a maximum range of 275 mi.
On the other hand, its low entry cost can also be applied to its interior construction. The seats, interior panels, and dashboard all feature the quirky but ergonomic Scandinavian design we’ve benefitted from for decades. However, this time, the focus is on the materials rather than design. There are four interior schemes, each using a different material for its upholstery. Whether plastic bottles, old jeans, or flax seed, each is a sustainable carbon-neutral approach to comfort that keeps costs down.
Low price aside, the EX30 carries the advanced safety features you’d expect from a Volvo, like adaptive cruise control with lane-centering, automated emergency braking, and lane-keep assist. The warnings and settings for those features are configurable on the 12.3” center display that acts as the car’s instrument cluster and infotainment screen. It runs a Google-based software designed for Volvo and pumps sound through the soundbar running across the top of the dashboard. That’s something we’ve never seen before from an automaker, so its effectiveness will surely be scrutinized. That’ll only be a minute detail, though, as the EX30’s value on paper speaks for itself and will likely be hard to ignore for many consumers.
Audi A3 - $35,400
With the removal of the A220 Mercedes from the US market, the A3 is now the only luxury compact sedan from Europe available for under $40,000. It’s a bit of a shame, but not one unforeseen by many, as compact SUVs have primarily replaced the small sedan. Luckily, the A3 still presents a modestly powerful, nicely styled approach to a sensible, small, everyday commuter.
For almost-forty grand, you get the same basic drivetrain from nearly every A3. Under the hood sits a turbocharged 2.0L inline-four that puts power down through the front wheels. Quattro AWD is available but at a several thousand dollar upcharge. The particular 2.0L engine in this A3 is the fourth generation of VW’s tried and true EA888. In the Audi, it’s mated to a 48-volt mild-hybrid system and uses a modified Miller cycle. All that means is that the A3 has superb fuel economy in all areas. Performance figures are mild at 201 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque, but the standard dual-clutch gearbox should make the most of the power.
The rest of the A3 is similarly adequate. Premium trim models receive leather seating surfaces on 8-way power seats, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (10.3” display), a panoramic sunroof, and adaptive cruise assistance with lane guidance as standard. Beyond that, though, there isn’t much you can add. Additional options are comprised of the Black Optics sport package and the Convenience package. The former swaps all of the shiny exterior trim for black, adds larger 18” wheels, and replaces the standard suspension with a stiffer and 15mm lower sport set. The latter contains features you might expect to find, like auto-dimming and power-folding mirrors, park assist, Audi advanced key, and driver’s seat memory.
Beyond that, your individual choices are slim. Seven colors make up the A3’s palette, but only one isn’t grey, white, or black. Upholstery is black, beige, or brown on the only seats you can have. Not exactly the variance you might expect from Audi, but how can you complain without any competitors in the price range? At the very least, you’ll have a fantastic-looking sedan that manages 40 mpg without much sweat and can be safely modified for more power with a simple ECU retune.
Although those are the least expensive new models, there are still plenty of deals to be had secondhand on a smaller budget. CPO lease returns provide excellent value for any buyer and can offer some exciting packages thanks to initial buyers. No matter what kind of car you end up with, you can be sure we here at FCP Euro will have the expertise and parts to keep your car on the road instead of in a shop. Follow along with the DIY Blog and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more great content!
Car and motorsports-obsessed writer/editor for FCP Euro's DIY Blog. Constantly dreaming of competing behind the wheel or searching for another project. Owner of a turbo Subaru Forester and a ratty Porsche 914, neither of which are running.