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Top Ten Cheapest Cars with Active Safety Features

The trickle-down theory may be best known for its economic application, but it's an idea that's relevant to the automotive sphere as well, especially in regards to safety. Features like antilock brakes, airbags and stability control first came about in high-end luxury sedans and gradually propagated to more mainstream vehicles before eventually becoming required standard equipment in all cars sold in the U.S. These days, active safety technologies are making their way into more affordable, mainstream cars and are even factored into the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's vehicle safety ratings.

We compiled a list of the least expensive new vehicles that are equipped with a basic suite of active safety technologies. Each qualifying car had to be equipped with the following: a blind spot monitor (BSM), a lane departure warning system (LDW), forward collision warning (FCW), and a backup camera. Just as a refresher, we'll explain what each of these systems do.

- Blind spot monitor (BSM): uses lenses or other sensors to detect if another vehicle has entered in either the left or right blind spot areas. It then displays a visual and/or audio warning to alert the driver of the other vehicle's presence.

- Forward collision warning (FCW): uses radar, laser, and/or camera sensors to detect an impending collision. From there, systems vary on what action is taken. Some notify the driver with flashing lights and an audio warning, whereas some also ready the seatbelt pretensioners in the case of a crash. Higher-end FCW systems can also engage the brakes to help lessen the impact speed or avoid the collision altogether.

- Lane departure warning (LDW): cameras are able to detect lane markings and alert the driver if the car is drifting outside of the lane without the driver signaling. More complex versions of LDW can also intervene and use the steering to correct the car's course and keep it in its lane.

- Backup camera: mounted on the rear of the vehicle, this camera provides an image of the area behind the car on a central display screen on the dashboard.

Pricing for this list was determined by adding up all options and/or trim levels needed to get the aforementioned features. As it turns out, the average price of entry for these features is right around $30,000, undercutting the average new car transaction price which is now above $31,000. We were also surprised to see that seven out of our ten vehicles come from American automakers.

2014 Buick Verano Convenience Group: $25,795

The 2014 Buick Verano is the least expensive car on our list by a margin of more than $3000. A backup camera is the only one of these features to come standard on the Verano, but buyers of this compact premium sedan only need to step up one trim level from the base model to get the full suite of active safety technologies included on the Convenience Group trim.

Another General Motors vehicle comes in as the second cheapest, the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu. A backup camera is standard on the mid-grade 2LT trim, and the three other active safety features come with a reasonably-priced $890 Advanced Safety Package. This package also requires opting for the $1000 Leather Package and $1175 Electronics and Entertainment Package, but all in this nicely-equipped Malibu still comes in at a reasonable $29,105.

2014 Mazda 3 s Grand Touring: $29,390

The 2014 Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback have an impressive set of technology features, but FCW and LDW systems only come on the top-trim Grand Touring model in a special $2600 GT Tech package. That makes for an expensive little compact. You do get a lot for the money, though, as we are impressed with the Mazda 3's upscale interior and best-in-class driving dynamics. If you can't quite afford this loaded-up 3, the backup camera and BSM system do come as standard on lower-priced trim levels like the i Touring and Grand Touring.

2014 Buick Encore Premium Group: $29,890

Buick's compact SUV has trim levels that are structured slightly differently than on the Verano sedan. To get FCW and LDW systems, you have to step up to the Encore's top trim level, called Premium Group. This loads the Encore up with lots of other luxury and convenience features, but it still comes in under $30,000 with front-wheel-drive.

2015 Chrysler 200C: $30,475

Chrysler just introduced the new 200 at the 2014 Detroit auto show, and this midsize sedan is thoroughly modernized with a more stylish look. The new Chrysler 200 also ups its technology game, with a $1295 SafetyTec Package optional on the 200C that adds not only the required safety systems for this list, but also adaptive cruise control and a parking assist feature. This safety package does require the addition of $795 Premium Lighting Group and the $1395 Navigation and Sound Group, but a Chrysler 200C with these options only just tops $30,000. The Chrysler 200 will go on sale this spring.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Limited: $30,645

Next up is another Chrysler product, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee crossover. To get the option of selecting the $2155 Technology Group package, Cherokee buyers have to step up to the Limited trim level. This package adds the required active safety features, along with adaptive cruise control and parking assist, just like in the Chrysler 200. The Limited comes standard with front-wheel drive and a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine; adding four-wheel drive adds $2000, and opting for the 3.2-liter Pentastar V-6 costs $1495.

2014 Nissan Rogue SL: $30,920

Nissan first got into the idea of affordable active safety features with the Altima sedan that sourced its optional LDW, BSM, and moving object detection all from the same rearview camera. The Altima lacks FCW, which keeps it off this list, but the recently redesigned 2014 Nissan Rogue does have FCW and earns a spot here. A backup camera is standard on all 2014 Rogues, and a $1990 Premium Package available only on the top-trim Rogue SL adds FCW, BSM, and LDW.

2014 Ford Fusion SE 2.0 EcoBoost: $31,700

The 2014 Ford Fusion is available with a whole host of luxury features that drive its price up into the high-$30,000 range, but Ford offers its full set of active safety features in the mid-range Fusion SE when equipped with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine. Fusion buyers must opt for the $1200 Driver Assist Package to get BSM and LDW, and FCW comes along with the $995 adaptive cruise control. This also requires adding the $2350 Equipment Group 202A which adds leather, fog lights, and a power passenger's seat.

The 2014 Chevrolet Impala is one step up from the Malibu in size and price, and offers a similar $890 Advanced Safety Package that adds FCW, LDW, and BSM on top of the standard rearview camera on the Impala's 1LT trim. Adding this package also requires the $940 Convenience Package. At this price, the Impala is powered by a 195-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine; to get the optional 305-hp 3.6-liter V-6, buyers have to step up one trim level to the 2LT model.

2014 Mazda 6 Grand Touring: $32,570

Like its Mazda 3 little brother, the 2014 Mazda 6 packages most of its active safety features into the $2080 GT Technology Package available on the highest Grand Touring trim. This adds FCW and LDW to the backup camera and BLIS that come standard on the lower-trim Mazda 6 Touring. Other features like adaptive cruise control and Mazda's i-ELOOP fuel-saving technology are also included in this package.

Honorable Mention: 2014 Honda Accord Sedan EX-L: $29,060

The 2014 Honda Accord doesn't quite make it onto our list because it does not have a full blind spot monitoring system. We wanted to give it some credit thanks to an interesting substitution, the Honda LaneWatch system. LaneWatch is a camera mounted below the passenger side mirror that projects a video feed to the central display screen showing an expanded view of the car's right side. While it doesn't display a visual alert like other blind spot monitors, LaneWatch provides an extended field of vision that helps diminish the car's blind spot on the right side of the vehicle. All Accords offer a backup camera as standard, LaneWatch comes as standard on all Accords EX and up, and LDW and FCW systems come on the EX-L trim level and up.