One of the benefits of the rapid pace of technological advancement is that economies of scale are achieved relatively easily. Sounds boring, but this means that the high-technologies of a few years ago have already found themselves in much more affordable cars.
Once this meant heated rear screens and power steering, but today it includes everything from dual-clutch transmissions and lightweight construction materials. Here's our seven-point rundown of the highest tech in the cheapest cars.
Torque-vectoring AWD: Nissan Juke, from $21,070
Torque vectoring all-wheel drive is instrumental in giving cars like the Nissan GT-R unbeatable traction despite monumental power. Happily, Nissan has seen fit to let drivers at the lower end of the market have a taste too, and a similar system is available on the Juke crossover. With 180hp it's not quite a GT-R, but you'll have a lot of fun regardless, with extra security in adverse road conditions.
2011 Nissan Juke in New York's Catskill Mountains, January 2011
Hybrid powertrain: Honda Insight, from $18,200
The Insight's hybrid system may not be as sophisticated as that found in the 2011 Toyota Prius and an EPA combined mileage of 41mpg not much to shout about, but it's still the cheapest brand new hybrid on sale in the United States, over $5,000 cheaper than the Prius. Even with the Toyota's better economy, it'd take a while to overcome that difference in gas savings.
2010 Honda Insight - 57 mpg
Folding metal roof: Mazda MX-5 Miata PRHT, from $27,150
Mercedes-Benz was first on the scene with its 1997 SLK model, but Mazda is bringing it to the masses with the MX5 Power Retractable Hard-Top. Quieter and more secure than the soft top and quick to lower and raise, it'll suit you whether the climate is hot or cold - and all year round you'll have a car that's great fun to drive.
2010 mazda mx5 facelift 015
Dual-clutch transmission: Ford Fiesta S Sedan auto, from $15,090
Once the preserve of more expensive models in the Volkswagen-Audi Group's portfolio, you can now have a dual-clutch gearbox on one of the cheapest cars on sale. Just over $15,000 is all you need to buy a fun little Fiesta sedan with a six-speed dual-clutch transmission, which is a fantastic bargain.
ford fiesta sedan 001
Aluminum construction: Audi TT, from $38,300
Audi has been first with a few of the technologies found here - LED headlights, dual-clutch gearboxes and active stability control to name just a few - but in the absence of a cheaper aluminum-bodied car on sale, the TT coupe is the cheapest you'll find. The benefits of the lightweight technology can be felt in its sharp handling and strong performance.
Audi TT RS
Safety assist systems: smart fortwo pure coupe, from $10,990
The 2011 smart fortwo pure coupe proves that you don't need to sacrifice safety even at the bottom end of the market. It features ABS braking, Electronic Stability Program, Corner Brake Control, electronic brake assist, acceleration skid control and engine torque control, as well as hill-start assist and eight airbags. Also worthy of a mention is the $12,445 2012 Hyundai Accent GLS, which offers most of the features found in the smart, but higher performance and more space.
2011 Smart Fortwo
LED headlights: Toyota Prius, from $23,520
Use of LED units for headlights is becoming more widespread. They offer bright and reliable lighting, and manufacturers like Audi are demonstrating how adaptable they can be with light patterns that change depending on the road you're driving on. The Prius is currently the cheapest car with LED units, though many other makers now use LEDs as daytime running lights.
2011 Toyota Prius