I bought a new Sunfire in 2005. I paid about 19k after taxes. The only cheaper new cars I could've bought at the time here in Ontario were the Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Toyota Echo, or Chevy Aveo, all of which are much smaller and way slower than a Sunfire. A base model Civic would've been about 1.5k more, and had only 115 horsepower compared to the Sunfire's 140.
The Sunfire is a very reliable vehicle and performance-wise it's above average for an economy car. The engine has lots of pep and is good on the highway too. It does not match German or Japanese brands in fit and finish, however. If you care about fit and finish and want to drive in luxury and comfort, you might be better off considering an import. However, if all you need is a reliable car with decent performance (for its class) and great fuel economy, I would strongly recommend a Sunfire. GM cars depreciate fast and a used Sunfire can be had for much less than you'd pay for a Civic or Corolla of the same year and mileage, which is great news for you if you're looking to buy a used car for a low price. Make sure your Sunfire is a 2003 or newer, because only the 03+ have the new Ecotec engine, which is considered one of the best 4 cylinder engines in the world and is now found in all the new GM compact cars.
Although I've been satisfied with my Sunfire I will soon be replacing it with something more upscale, as I've recently landed a new job which pays significantly more than my previous one. I am considering a BMW 3 series, a Lexus IS, or an Infiniti G35.