Your parents or grandparents might have been shocked to see you searching online for a list of the best new cars under $20,000, since they probably would only have paid $10,000 or $5,000 for a top-of-the-line model in their day.
Times change, of course, but the goal always remains the same: finding a new car that’s well-designed and well-built, reliable and dependable, capable of delivering outstanding gas mileage – and hopefully, fun to drive as well.
This is a good time to be shopping for new cars under $20K. Dealerships have an enormous selection available, and even models you wouldn’t think could come in at that price point can be “stripped down” to give you a real bargain. It’s true that many autos in the $10K-$20K range are likely to be subcompacts or compacts, but you can also find sedans, coupes and even some that are quite sporty, even if they’re not true sports cars.
Here’s our rundown of the 20 best new cars under $20,000 that you can buy right now.
Kia Forte LXS
The Kia Forte LXS doesn’t have the best power or performance, but it’s a great vehicle for drivers who want a lot of space, a good fuel economy, and a lot of tech. The trunk space in seemingly endless when compared to other compact cars, and if you’re planning on filling up the back seat, everybody will have plenty of leg room. The 2.0-liter inline-four gives you 30 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway, making this a great choice for a daily driver as well.
As for tech, buyers will be impressed with the touch-screen infotainment system, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, lane assistance, automatic emergency braking, driver attention monitoring, and many other standard features. While you may be considering other car options for a more powerful engine, keep in mind that it would probably cost thousands above MSRP to fully equip them with the same technology you can find within the Forte.
Ford Focus SE
Another American car with a European feel is the Focus, which was designed overseas with echoes of an Aston Martin design. It looks good, but don’t expect this to be an exotic ride; it’s one of the world’s most popular “everyday” vehicles because of its solid, practical attributes. For just under $20,000 you’ll get a 2.0-liter, 160 horsepower engine with five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, in your choice of sedan or hatchback. The pickup isn’t spectacular, particularly in the larger sedan, but handling is well above average, there are lots of interior “extras,” and you’ll get well over 33 mpg combined.
A German sports car under $20,000? Not really, but pretty darned close. The Mazda 3 has been a standard on “best new car” lists over the years because of its combination of stylish looks and tight handling. To stay under budget you’ll have to go with the base trim of the 2018 model, as the 2019 model is about $1,000 over the $20K limit. Even so, you’ll still get lots of interior and storage space, a rear-view camera and a MAZDA CONNECT infotainment system, a car that looks like it cost $10K more – and a comfortable, very sporty ride.
Honda Civic LX
Even the base Civic is almost too expensive for an “under $20,000” list, but you can still grab this all-time reliability machine right at our maximum price point. We don’t have to tell you the Civic is reliable, comfortable, and may outlive you, but the new Civic has been redesigned to look and drive sportier, with more features (like automatic climate control and speed-sensitive stereo volume control) and improved fuel economy (42 mpg highway). You’ll have to “settle” for the 2.0-liter four with a six-speed manual to get in at $20K, but with a Civic, you always know it will be worth it.
This car isn’t for everyone, because it’s somewhat funky-looking – and it’s a station wagon. For those who want a roomy ride with decent handling for less than $20,000, though, it fits the bill. The $16,000 1.6-liter base model has very little pep so you’ll want to opt for the 2019 Soul+, which adds another $4K to the price but also adds a 2.0-liter with 164 hp that makes this Kia enjoyable to drive. Included extras like hands-free Bluetooth operation and satellite radio turn the Soul+ into an odd-looking but well-equipped and spacious ride – at least, for those who don’t think it’s ugly. The 2020 model for the Soul is also available, but you’ll have to go with the base LX trim to get it under budget.
Strictly on their merits, we’d choose a Civic over a Fit. Those who prefer a smaller car, however, would be very happy with a Fit. This model delivers more zip than you might predict, thanks to its 1.5-liter 130 horsepower engine and small size, which work together smoothly with a six-speed manual or gearless CVT automatic transmission. Its handling is well above-average, too. The LX model includes a hands-free mobile Bluetooth setup and some other goodies but stays below our budget limit, and there’s a lot more space inside than you also might predict. The LX model is the base trim and will come in about $2,000 under budget. If you want to push all the way up to the cap, you can go for the Sport trim with Honda Sensing. It comes with more safety features, more technology, and sneaks in just under $20,000.
Lots and lots of room; that’s the reason to go for the Cruze. This four-door coupe (which also comes in a hatchback) looks and feels like a bigger car, and it’s not an optical illusion. There’s lots of head and legroom, ample storage space and a wide wheelbase to boot. The engine isn’t overly impressive (it’s a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder) but the acceleration is good thanks to a lightweight construction, and the ride is extremely smooth. You won’t call this a “fun” car to drive, but you’ll definitely find the experience and comfort quite similar to that of driving a larger model.
In addition to plenty of standard safety features, the Cruze also comes with a teen driver safety program. When this is enabled, the Cruze will track different statistics while your teen is driving. It will give report cards based on performance and show information such as top speed, fuel economy, braking efficiency and more!
The Hyundai Accent offers quite a bit to buyers, all while staying within a reasonable price range. The base model goes for around $16,000 with plenty of standard features, but if you’re looking for more, you can easily upgrade. There are two trim levels about the base trim—both of which are below the $20,000 threshold—but the starting trim will give you the most bang for your buck.
The Accent comes with a standard 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine capable of producing 130 horsepower and can be paired to a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. This offers a quality driving experience for small car lovers, but if you’re looking for a lot of tech or luxury, you may want to consider other vehicles on this list.
Just as with the Civic, you know what you’re getting with a Corolla; it’s not exciting, spacious or groundbreaking, but it’s dependable and efficient. The current L model is available right at our maximum price point and has a 1.8-liter four that generates 132 horsepower for your trips to work or the store, along with a gearless CVT automatic transmission. It has a combined fuel economy of 33 mpg and comes with phenomenal standard safety features. It’s hard to think of a Corolla as “new” but they do make slight changes every year to this venerable car, so it qualifies as one of our 20 best new cars under $20,000.
Subaru has been upping the Impreza’s game in recent years, and the newest model is more powerful, larger, better looking – and safer, according to the automaker – than its predecessors. There’s now a direct-inject 2.0-liter Boxer four under the hood, the sedan is longer and wider than in the past, and the all-wheel drive is a very nice feature, particularly with a 37 mpg highway rating. The interior doesn’t have anything that will make you say “wow,” but even so, the Impreza is finally worth of a top-20 rating.
The Elantra has been around for a quite a while, and the 2019 model is more refined than most vehicles in its class. Whether you’re looking for an eco-friendly vehicle, a standard sedan, or some sportier performance and handling, the Elantra has multiple trim options that are worth taking a look at it. After you’ve settled on a trim, you can browse through long lists of available features to make sure you’re building your dream car.
While it may not be as fast or sporty as some of its competitors, the Elantra easily offers the most bang for your buck. It comes with plenty of standard tech, along with a five-year/60,000-mile warranty which will keep you covered for quite a while.
Chevy Sonic LT
The Chevrolet Sonic is a decent car, but it really won’t be worth purchasing unless you go with the LT trim. For standard features, you’ll be getting an infotainment system, smartphone integration, a Wi-Fi hotspot, satellite radio, upgraded seats from the base trim, and a six-speaker stereo. You can also browse a few different packages and get yourself access to extra driver assistance technology and performance upgrades.
If you’re looking for automatic transmission for the sedan, you’ll be paying an extra $700 over the manual transmission, bringing the price to about $18,600. If you would rather go with automatic transmission in the hatchback, you would be in the $19,400 range. The additional packages you pick up would all be dependent on how strict your budget is, as well as your starting price point based upon your body type selection.
Nissan Sentra SV
You normally think that you know what you’re getting with a Sentra sedan, but the newest models have upgraded to provide more interior room (particularly in the rear) and a slightly snazzier look that resembles the Altima. Once you get past that, though, you really do know what you’re getting: a small family car that drives well but doesn’t have the power or handling to set it apart from the pack, except for the new CVT automatic transmission that does let you accelerate better than with previous models. Simply put, it’s a Sentra, and Sentras are good cars in the under-$20K class.
Formerly known as the Yaris iA, the 2019 Toyota Yaris offers a fun, fuel-efficient driving experience to buyers. Thanks to its 1.5-liter inline-four engine giving you 32 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway, you won’t be visiting gas stations nearly as frequently. Being a rebadged Mazda2, you can expect to have some serious fun in a sub-$20,000 sedan.
If you’re looking to upgrade, you should be able to add nearly every single feature offered while staying below budget. Tech users will be satisfied as well, as the Yaris comes with keyless entry, two USB ports, voice recognition, Bluetooth technology, and a seven-inch touch-screen infotainment system.
Although it may not be the most exciting car to look at, the Volkswagen Jetta offers plenty of space, a quality interior and a six-year/72,000 mile warranty that’s one of the best available for its class. It also comes with a 1.4-liter turbo-four standard, giving it plenty of pep and speed. If you’re looking for even more performance, you can consider higher trim options that should still keep you under $20,000.
Unfortunately for the Jetta, the tech is a bit lacking. The infotainment system is definitely dated, and although it has some modern features, it doesn’t really compare to competitors when it comes to technological luxury. The exterior is also very simplistic, which can be another major turnoff for buyers.
The Veloster is one of the sportiest options you can get under the $20,000 price limit. Known for being a standout in the sea of hatchbacks, the three-door Veloster is sure to make people turn their heads. With one door on the driver’s side and two on the passenger’s side of the vehicle, the Veloster was designed with the younger generation in mind.
The hatchback gives you plenty of space when compared to competitors, and the sporty feel of the vehicle will make every drive a ton of fun. While there are other cars available that will give you more speed or better handling, the competitors’ prices are all around the $25K range. If you’re looking to have fun and drive a unique vehicle, the Veloster is the way to go.
The Chevrolet Spark is a great choice for drivers who are looking for a very small subcompact vehicle that can stand out in a crowd. The Spark is without a doubt the smallest vehicle in Chevrolet’s lineup and comes packed with personality. With a list of vibrant colors to browse, the latest technology available and a great fuel economy, this little car will make some drivers very happy.
If you’re looking for size or any kind of traveling practicality, you should look at other options on this list. The Spark is designed to explore the concrete jungle. It’s great for city driving and makes life incredibly easy when there aren’t a lot of parking spots available. With great maneuverability and a small body, the Spark can fit just about anywhere.
Much like the Spark, the Ford Fiesta will be a great fit for drivers with a specific need. Although Ford has tried some different ideas when it comes to their subcompact vehicles of the past, the Fiesta is a great example of what the automaker is capable of. If you’re fine with the base model of the vehicle, which starts a little over $14,000, you can feel free to go with that. But if you really want to get the most out of this vehicle, the ST is where you should be looking.
The ST trim stays under budget and really takes the performance of the Fiesta to the next level. The base trim is good, and it can certainly get the job done, but the ST brings a little bit more adrenaline to the table. The addition of a turbocharger, sport suspension and larger wheels will turn the Fiesta into a 197-horsepower sports car. When compared to competitors in its class, the Fiesta ST blows them all out of the water.
In recent years, buyers have been looking high and low to find the perfect crossover to fit their needs, and the Hyundai Kona is here to fill that empty hole in their heart. Taking over the Tucson’s position as Hyundai’s smallest crossover, the Kona is a fierce competitor to the Jeep Renegade and the Honda HR-V. It comes in at a lower price point than both of the aforementioned vehicles, and just barely fits within the sub-$20,000 threshold that we’re aiming for.
The only trim available under budget is the base SE, which will give you a whopping $10 left over to buy yourself some lunch. The crossover offers 28 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway, and is one of the highest rated crossovers available right now. If you’re looking for a crossover that handles well and comes with a unique design, the Kona is worth taking a look at.
We close with one more option in the $15,000 range which offers a lot for the money. The Kia Rio is a subcompact that makes the most of its 1.6-liter four, generating 138 horses and powering you up the highway on-ramp without an issue. This is definitely more of a pick for somebody who doesn’t want to spend the full $20,000. You’ll be missing out on a lot of features that come standard on other cars in this list, as well as size. The Kia Rio is a good car for the price point, but if you’re not afraid to go right to the edge of the budget, there are better options for you.
$20,000 Is a Lot Of Money
Shopping for a new car after driving your old one into the ground can be a shock when you find that most of the price stickers start with the number “2.” It’s still quite possible to find a great new vehicle for $19,999 or less, however, and this rundown of the 20 best new cars under $20,000 should give you a great start.
If you still aren’t finding exactly what you’d hoped for in this price range, of course, there’s always another option: checking out the best used cars under $20,000. You’d be amazed at how much used car your budget will buy.
Article Updated: April 8, 2019