New York Auto Show: Forget Drifting. New Cars Are Thrifting.

Budget cars with better fuel economy out in force, while SUVs and Luxury take a back seat

Thrift isn't a word you hear much anymore. It's a word that came into popularity as a result of the Great Depression. It also came to be a synonym for "savings and loan," a kind of local bank that usually financed mortgages and encouraged savings and Christmas Club accounts.

"Thrift" is definitely the word and theme of the 2011 New York International Auto Show. Sure, Rolls Royce and Bentley are here. Audi has a new gorgeous $60,000-plus A7 coupe. But, this year, the halls of Manhattan's Javits Center seem full of cars aimed at Groupon addicts.

Hyundai, Mazda, Nissan, Kia, and Subaru have all introduced redesigned versions of their budget cars with smarter, slicker designs and higher fuel economy. "Style, value, features...a lot of car shoppers today are looking for everything they want at more economical packages," says auto industry consultant Dennis Keene. "If people are trading down to a less expensive car or brand because they are tightening their belt, they don't want to give up much in the way of comfort, style, features, connectivity with their smart-phone."

Hyundai's Accent sub-compact, until now, was a ho-hum, plain-Jane car with very few features or style. No more. The styling reflects the new classy, sculptured looks of the Hyundai Sonata and Elantra. Under the hood is an all-new 1.6-liter direct-injected "Gamma" four-cylinder engine, rated at 138 horsepower. Power is sent to the front wheels through a standard six-speed manual or an optional six-speed automatic. Hyundai is proud of the Accent's EPA fuel economy ratings, as its newest vehicle delivers best-in-class fuel economy of 30-miles per gallon (city) and 40 mpg (highway), besting the Honda Fit in both categories.

View Gallery: Best Of The 2011 New York Auto Show

While the vehicle has been completely redesigned, with new technology and more safety features (six airbags and standard VSM, ESC, TCS, ABS, BA and EBD), the automaker has held pricing from the prior generation. The entry-level Accent GLS (6MT) will start at $12,445 with the range-topping Accent SE (6AT) starting at $16,795. The 2012 Accent rolls into dealerships this summer.

Hyundai is taking the thrift message further than just its products. The Korean company announced its Assurance Trade-in Value Guarantee, which, as its name suggests, guarantees future trade-in values on new car purchases. The program gives buyers a solid number to determine what their car will be worth two to four years down the line. "We have better residual values right now than Toyota, but people don't know that and it's hard to crack through perceptions, so we hope the guarantee drives it home with people," says Hyundai Motor Sales John Krafcik. The new initiative will be go into effect starting in May, and affects all Hyundai models.

Read more about the 2012 Hyundai Accent at Autoblog

The 2012 Mazda3 has officially made its debut at the 2011 New York Auto Show, and it's brought along the first production use of the long-awaited SkyActiv fuel-efficiency tweaks. That means the newest Mazda3 is good for a whopping 40 miles per gallon on the highway thanks to the addition of this new SkyActiv-G four-cylinder engine mated to either a new six-speed automatic or manual transmission.

Previously, the Mazda3 has only been good for up to 33 mpg in its most efficient form, but the new drivetrain advancements will go a long way toward making the model more competitive against ever sharper metal from Ford, Chevrolet, Hyundai and Honda. Mazda says that the new 2.0-liter, direct-injection four-cylinder is good for 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque.

Read more about the 2012 Mazda3 at Autoblog

The Subaru Impreza has suffered from two negatives when compared with more popular vehicles like the Honda Civic and Ford Focus: price. And the fact that it's all-wheel-drive system and design made the car heavy and non-aerodynamic, which cost it and its owners on fuel economy.

Subaru engineers, though, went to work on both, and the new Impreza, still with standard all-wheel-drive, gets 36 mpg on highway. That is a massive improvement from the lousy 20 mpg city/27 mpg highway the current car achieves. The new price has not been set yet, but it will likely be equal to or less than the $18,000 starting price of the current model, but with
all that added fuel economy.

Read more about the 2012 Subaru Impreza at Autoblog

The Nissan Versa sedan had the reputation of being the ugliest sedan in the sub-compact market. The hatchback is not too bad at all, and not surprisingly, has accounted for some 75% of sales. Nissan is out to change the mix to more like 50-50, and is introducing an all-new design that can legitimately compete for aesthetics with Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent and the new Chevy Sonic.

The new budget car, which Nissan sells globally, achieves 30 mpg city and 37 mpg highway, for a starting price of just $10,990. Nissan's executive vice-president of the America, Carlos Tavares, said that this "is a real car, complete with air conditioning, vehicle dynamic control, CD/radio, electric-assisted steering and 15-inch wheels and tires." You want more features, like satellite radio? They're available of course, but they'll cost you a bit more.

Read more about the 2012 Nissan Versa at Autoblog

The 2012 Kia Rio sports a new design and stop-and-go idling, which is a system that stops the engine at stoplights and then automatically restarts when the driver touches down on the gas pedal. That latter feature pushed the Rio's fuel economy up to 30 mpg in city driving and 40 mpg on the highway. The car's four cylinder 1.6 liter engine produces 138 horsepower.

The car is a little bigger than its predecessor, making it all the more desirable for college students who might be driving it to campus this Fall. The car comes in a sedan and a handy hatchback, and should be priced close the current Rio's MSRP, $12,295 to start, when it hits showrooms later this year.

Read more about the 2012 Kia Rio at Autoblog

Even Mercedes-Benz is going thriftier. The German luxury maker confirmed that it will bring the A-Class to the U.S. within the next couple of years. This small hatchback will be Mercedes's new entry-level car, and especially aimed at younger (under 35) car buyers who want Mercedes brand cachet, but at a lower price in a more fuel efficient package.

Read more about the Mercedes-Benz A-Class at Autoblog

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