You love the idea of purchasing a car that offers a singular and superlative sound system. After all, whether it's hip-hop or alt-rock, music is the universal healer. There's just one catch: Your funds are on the low side. Game over? Not at all. Simply check out the list we've compiled below. All these economy cars offer satisfying audio systems, and all are priced at around $20 grand or less.
Keep in mind that while each of these cars' audio systems has something unique to offer, these picks don't necessarily represent the absolute best choices on the market if evaluating purely on the basis of sound quality. You'd need to pony up some serious Mercedes coin to enjoy the privilege of exploring a truly premium soundscape. Still, for the money, these systems have the features and overall competence necessary to keep most listeners happily grooving along as the miles go rolling by.
1. Ford Focus
The Focus is distinguished by its innovative Microsoft-developed Sync system. This unique setup works as a Bluetooth connection for your phone; it also functions as a voice command interface for digital music players. With Sync, saving voice tags or building lists of phone numbers isn't necessary since the system is able to wirelessly access your device's phonebook. Sync is offered as a $395 option, but keep in mind that it's not offered on base editions, and is only available on SE and SES models. Pricing on these models starts at $15,225.
2. Honda Civic
The MSRP for base DX Honda Civic models is $14,810 for coupes and $15,010 for sedans. For a truly superior sound system, though, you'll want to invest in the upgraded stereo that comes with EX models. This inflates the price by another four or so thousand dollars, but it's money well spent. EX models offer a 350-watt system with seven speakers including a subwoofer, RDS, an auxiliary jack and speed-sensitive volume control; sound quality is very good for a car in this price range. Add the navigation system for another $950 and you get a memory card slot and an XM radio-ready head unit.
3. Nissan Versa
The Nissan Versa starts at a dirt-cheap $12,710. Clamber up to top-of-the-line SL CVT-equipped models, though, and you get to enjoy a killer $300 audio package; these models go for $15,810. This package includes a premium speaker upgrade that allows buyers to savor the intoxicating thump of a 100-watt Rockford Fosgate subwoofer. A useful iPod interface system is also offered, for an additional $290.
4. Scion xB
If you love getting a lot for less, you'll flip your lid for the xB. This savvy Scion comes at a base price of $15,750, and offers standard features designed with audiophiles in mind. Included is an impressive six-speaker Pioneer stereo with a CD/MP3 player. The system offers both an auxiliary MP3 jack and a dedicated iPod jack that enables the user to guide iPod playback via the head unit controls.
5. Mini Cooper
For the base Cooper's $18,050 price tag you'll get a six-speaker stereo with an auxiliary jack and a single-CD player. The good stuff, however, is on the Mini's options sheet. For $500 you can opt for the Mini Hi-Fi audio system which adds four speakers for a total of 10. To get the most of the upgrade, consider checking the "HD radio" box, which gives the car the capability of receiving AM and FM stations via a digital signal for improved audio quality. It adds another $500 to the total tally, but the sound-quality upgrade will no doubt be worth it to those who want the best but can't always afford to pay top dollar.
Skip the base Caliber SE if you want the sweetest ear candy. The Caliber SXT starts at $16,620, and offers an optional stereo upgrade for an additional $495. For this extra coin, you get six Boston Acoustics speakers with subwoofer and a Musicgate Power sound system. You also get two articulating rear liftgate speakers. This unique feature allows you to adjust the speakers so they face outward from the liftgate, thus making it easy to throw a tailgate party should you feel so inclined. The Caliber R/T starts at $18,395, and offers this upgraded sound system as standard equipment.
7. Jeep Compass
Optional (at a cost of $795) on the Jeep Compass base Sport trim is a premium Boston Acoustics sound system. This setup boasts two articulating liftgate speakers; like those offered on the Caliber, they flip outward for those moments when you're in need of open-air entertainment. You'll also find six Boston Acoustics speakers with subwoofer, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Sirius Satellite Radio with a 1-year subscription provided by Sirius, and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. A stripped-down version of this package — featuring just the two articulating liftgate speakers and six Boston Acoustics speakers with subwoofer — is offered for $495 on the more luxuriously outfitted Limited trim. The base-model Compass goes for $16,475.
8. Mazda Mazda3
There's nothing really fancy about the Mazda3's audio system; it just offers superb sound quality. Base models start at $13,895. All trims offer an optional six-disc CD changer for $500, and Sirius Satellite Radio is also offered for $430. Step up to the Grand Touring version and you can have the option of a 222-watt Bose audio system with a subwoofer. It's bundled with a six-disc CD changer and a moonroof. At $1,335, it raises the price of the car considerably but if great sound quality is what you're after this is the way to go. When all is said and done, the Mazda3 Grand Touring with the Bose audio system will run you just over $20,000.
The Jetta starts at a frugal $16,990. For a true aural treat, though, you'll need to step past the base S model and invest in the SE, SEL or limited-edition Wolfsburg trims; these models start at $20,875. With these trims, you get an ear-pleasing standard 10-speaker sound system with a six-CD changer and auxiliary input. You also get Sirius Satellite Radio.
10. Scion tC
If you love the sweet Pioneer sound system that's standard on the xB but can't quite embrace that car's bread-box aesthetic, perhaps a tC would be more to your liking. This Scion delivers all the sonic excitement that the marque is known for, with a six-speaker stereo that offers CD and MP3 playback, and iPod integration. It also comes to the table with an exterior that considerably more low-key than that of your typical Scion.