BOSTON (TheStreet) — If you love high-tech but have only a low budget for car buying, here's a look at five 2014 and '15 models that are perfect for you.
"These cars are all packed with the latest features and technology," says Zach Vlasuk of Kelley Blue Book, which recently named 2014's Tech-Savviest Cars Under $20,000.
Vlasuk says automakers are putting plenty of cutting-edge devices into even their entry-level models these days because technology has become so ubiquitous that consumers expect it in their cars. "Manufacturers who don't up their tech game will be digging themselves into a deeper and deeper hole as time goes on," the expert says.
At the same time, he says, the rise of smartphones and tablets means companies can boost cars' capabilities inexpensively by tapping into devices that most consumers carry anyway. For instance, some low-cost vehicles don't have their own GPS systems but tie into those built into drivers' smart devices.
"A lot of people still think of nav systems as costing $1,000, but now you've got access to the best nav in your pocket, and it only costs the automaker around 60 bucks" for software that connects to it, Vlasuk says.
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Read on to check out the five sub-$20,000 models that Vlasuk and other KBB editors believe offer the best high-tech features as either standard equipment or relatively affordable options.
All dollar figures refer to Fair Purchase Price, KBB's calculation of what U.S. consumers are actually paying for given models based on recent sales.
Fifth-most-tech-savvy car under $20,000: 2014 Nissan Versa Note
Fair Purchase Price: $13,993
This budget hatchback has the lowest Fair Purchase Price of any vehicle on KBB's top-five list, which Vlasuk says leaves lots of room for adding some of the great optional tech features that Nissan offers on the subcompact.
"You can get a fully loaded Versa Note for thousands of dollars cheaper than what you'd pay for a larger car," he says.
KBB editors particularly like the Versa Note's optional Around View Monitor, which Vlasuk says is the only 360-degree-view camera available on a compact and subcompact.
Fourth-most-tech-savvy car under $20,000: 2014 Dodge Dart
Fair Purchase Price: $16,231
This compact sedan's tech abilities get KBB's thumbs up because of two great options.
First, a 7-inch liquid-crystal display can take the place of the Dart's traditional speedometer and other gauges while allowing drivers to choose what auxiliary information (outside temperature, miles to empty, etc.) will appear. Vlasuk says the Dart is the only compact or subcompact to offer such a feature.
KBB editors also like Dodge's well-regarded optional UConnect infotainment system, which features its own 8.4-inch touchscreen to control the car's audio and other devices. "UConnect is a very well-though-out system that minimizes driver distraction and doesn't require multiple inputs for a single command," Vlasuk says.
Third-most-tech-savvy car under $20,000: 2014 Honda Civic
Fair Purchase Price: $17,298
The compact Civic has the highest Fair Purchase Price of any vehicle on KBB's rundown, but also comes with perhaps the longest list of standard tech features.
For instance, even the base Civic has a 5-inch LCD, a backup camera, a USB port, Bluetooth phone connectivity, Pandora Internet radio and text-to-audio message reading.
"The price point is a little bit higher on a Civic, but it's one of those vehicles where you don't have to choose between transportation or technology," Vlasuk says. "You get both."
Second-most-tech-savvy car under $20,000: 2015 Honda Fit
Fair Purchase Price: $16,027
This Honda subcompact is a great Fit for drivers who want lots of technology at a low price.
Vlasuk says a fully loaded subcompact Fit comes with all of the tech features that the larger Civic does, but costs thousands of dollars less.
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"You can essentially get everything with a Fit that a Civic has, but for a lot less money," he says.
Tech-savviest car under $20,000: 2014 Mazda Mazda3
Fair Purchase Price: $16,897
KBB editors recently named this sporty compact vehicle as 2014's Coolest Car Under $18,000, and now they've chosen it as the year's most tech-savvy budget model as well.
Completely redesigned for 2014, the Mazda3 gets the nod partly due to a good infotainment system and the fact it's the only car in its class to offer a "heads-up" display. That's an optional see-through screen that pops up on the dashboard to let you see your speed and other information without taking your eyes off of the road.
Vlasuk says the Mazda3 also features a controller knob near the gear shifter that allows the driver to run the car's audio, climate and other systems without fumbling for buttons on the dash.
He says Audis, BMWs and other luxury vehicles often come with these costly devices, "but for a compact car to offer one is really quite remarkable."