My EX brand new I think was 16,2 sticker.. after going between dealers to get the best pricing, I ended up being done with everything for 16,2 or 16,3 and got 1.9% financing out the door. I did figured out my real life MPG at one time, but I can't remember what it was. I think it was only in the 27 range, but I do drive a bit fast (no, I don't think my civic is a race car).
Anyway, don't count out the Honda/Toyotas. If you buy a LX or base model Civic you can probably be out the door for MSRP or very near it, with taxes and plates - you just gotta bargain and go between dealers. Let them fight for the sale. Even on a cheap car, they all want to sell you somthing and will usually meet your requests. I imagine that Ford or Chevy will also do the same, but like I said.. don't fear the prices, it's not that bad!
Here... how about this. Make a list of cars you might possibly buy that are in your realistic purchase range, then forget about the actual pricing. All that matters is that you can afford all the cars on your list. Take that list and go test drive every car on the list. Find the one that you like to drive the best, or the one that you think is the best value after you've driven all the cars.
Once you find the one you like most, then worry about the pricing and making deals. As long as you know that every car on the list is within your budget, pick the one you actually like to drive.