Best New Cars Under $20,000
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Best New Cars Under $20,000

By Matt DiGiulio | March 17, 2021

You could be a commuter, a parent, a college student, or a thrifty shopper. You are looking for an affordable new car. You want something that has modern technology and good fuel efficiency, plus other noteworthy features to make everyday driving easier. Fortunately, there are new cars available for less than $20,000.

There are, in fact, many cars and even a few SUVs that are available under that reasonable price point. Unfortunately, $20,000 does not buy what it used to, and some cheap cars feel just that: Cheap. Thankfully, not all vehicles under $20,000 feel their price; some even feel like more expensive cars. It is possible to get a car with more of the latest tech and safety features than comparably-priced used vehicles.

We compiled a list of the 10 best new cars and crossovers to help give a sense of some of the best options out there. All of these cars excel somehow, separating themselves from the pack with above-average comfort and versatility. Some have impressive efficiency. There are even a couple of sportier choices among them. Whatever you may be looking for, this list offers a good range of options for your next wallet-friendly car purchase.


1. 2021 Kia Soul

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The Kia Soul is the least-expensive car on this list. While there are a handful of new vehicles for sale that are cheaper than this hatchback, few are better cars. Pricing for the 2021 Soul starts at $17,590 MSRP for the entry-level LX trim with a six-speed manual transmission. You can also select an automatic transmission without going over the $20,000 price point.

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The Soul gets its motivation from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. It comes with a lengthy 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty for peace of mind and the prospect of low maintenance costs.

What makes the Soul particularly special is its design. It has a now-iconic exterior that is box-like yet sporty. It provides class-leading passenger and cargo space, making the Soul one of the most practical small cars. The roomy little hatchback delivers excellent headroom and legroom in both rows, which is rare.

There is also 24.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity, and flip down the back row for a remarkable 62.1 cubic feet. The Soul has more space, comfort, and refinement than cheaper rivals like the Chevy Spark and Mitsubishi Mirage while maintaining a distinctive style other drivers will notice.

Browse 2021 Kia Soul listings here.


2. 2021 Subaru Impreza

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Subaru has a well-deserved reputation for building practical cars that can handle bad weather. The current Subaru Impreza is the brand's most affordable car, yet it still displays all of the things we have come to love about the brand.

The base 2.0i Sedan has a starting price of $18,795, or you can get it as a five-door hatchback for $19,295. A 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 152 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque is the sole engine option.

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The Impreza's distinctive characteristic on this list is the standard all-wheel-drive, making it perhaps the best all-weather vehicle for under $20,000. And the Impreza is designed for durability. The interior plastics are mostly hard and have a rugged feel, though some of the tech and features are starting to look outdated.

A bonus? The standard AWD doesn't hurt its fuel economy too much. At an estimated 31 mpg combined city and highway rating, it's better than some two-wheel-drive compact sedans.

The Impreza also impressive crash-test scores, with the IIHS' highest rating of Good in most tests and five stars overall from NHTSA. And Subaru makes its driver assistance features such as automatic emergency braking widely available.

Browse 2021 Subaru Impreza listings here.


3. 2021 Hyundai Veloster

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The first of two Hyundais to make this list, the Hyundai Veloster is a small hatchback that is sporty and designed for young people. It is one of the most fun to drive cars for under $20,000, with its nimble handling, standard disc brakes, and a limited-slip differential.

Meanwhile, it comes standard with driver assistance systems and front-wheel-drive, giving it a dose of sensibility. Pricing starts at $18,900 for the 2.0 trim with a manual transmission.

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It sports a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque that's backed by Hyundai's lengthy standard warranty. One of the things that makes the Veloster unique is its charming body style, a three-door layout that gives it a coupe-like appeal while offering a more accessible ingress to the rear seats.

That is thanks to a small back door on the passenger side. Heated outside mirrors, Bluetooth, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration come standard, too. The Veloster proves that not all inexpensive cars have to be boring.

Browse 2021 Hyundai Veloster listings here.


4. 2021 Volkswagen Jetta

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The only European car to make it onto this list, the Volkswagen Jetta has the more premium ride and style unusual to find anywhere near its price of $18,995. That includes a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine producing 147 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, LED headlights, a WiFi hotspot, and two years or 20,000 miles of complimentary scheduled maintenance.

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But it isn't the Jetta's features that separate it from the pack. Instead, it is the way the car drives and the way the cabin is built. The ride feels stable even at high speeds, and the Jetta does not roll or wander in tight turns like other budget cars. While it won't shame an Audi or BMW, the VW gives off a more substantial feel than similarly priced sedans.

It's surprisingly quiet inside, and the Jetta exhibits above-average quality reflected in cabin materials and available technology. One reflection of the Jetta's solidity is its crash test scores, achieving a five-star overall safety rating from NHTSA.

The standard turbocharged engine provides an elegant balance between driving performance and fuel economy, returning an EPA-estimated 41 mpg in highway driving.

Browse 2021 Volkswagen Jetta listings here.


5. 2021 Nissan Sentra

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Another car that punches above its weight class is the Nissan Sentra. Redesigned in 2020 for its eighth generation, the latest Sentra is a compact sedan with impressive comfort and interior style. While a car like the Volkswagen Jetta has a European sports sedan's formal appearance, the Sentra tries to impersonate a compact luxury car — and with a lot of success.

It has a low starting price of $19,460 with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 149 horsepower and 146 lb-ft of torque.

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The Sentra benefits from a completely redesigned interior that shares some subtle resemblance with entry-level Mercedes-Benz cars. Like other Nissans, the Sentra has maybe the most comfortable front seats in its class.

Upscale features like keyless start are included, as are a range of driver-assist technologies. In its quest for ride comfort, the Sentra ends up lagging top competitors like the Honda Civic and Mazda 3 in sportiness and agility. That results in the Sentra being less spry around tight turns and maneuvering into parking spots.

Browse 2021 Nissan Sentra listings here.


6. 2021 Kia Forte

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Sharing its powertrain with the Kia Soul, the Kia Forte is a small sedan that costs only a little more, starting at $17,890 in its FE trim level.

Like the Soul, its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine produces 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, and it has Kia's superb warranty coverage. But while the Soul emphasizes funky styling and unexpected interior space, the traditionally-shaped Forte sedan looks more athletic, sensible, and fun to drive.

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Standard features include forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane-keep assist, helping drivers avoid collisions and minimize damage should they occur. The upmarket interior features a large 8.0-inch touchscreen that handles all of the vehicle's infotainment system settings.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard for seamless smartphone integration. For a little over $20,000, the Forte's top-of-the-line GT variant includes a turbocharged engine making 201 horsepower, and it is available with a manual gearbox. That trim has fancy amenities like leather seats, wireless smartphone charging, and a Harman Kardon premium audio system.

While the subcompact Kia Rio is less expensive, the Forte delivers a higher comfort level and quality for not much more money.

Browse 2021 Kia Forte listings here.


7. 2021 Nissan Kicks

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Subcompact SUVs are all the rage, thanks to their combination of a car's fuel efficiency and livable size with the added ride height and cabin space of an SUV. Pricing starts at $19,500 for the S trim, with all models powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine producing 122 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque. Automatic emergency braking and keyless start are also included for that low base price.

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The Kicks has many of the things drivers want out of their small SUV. Its cleverly designed body conceals a large cargo capacity — 25.3 cubic feet with the seats up and 53.1 cubic feet with the seats flipped down.

There is also excellent front headroom and legroom, accompanied by Nissan's exceptional seat comfort and support. The legroom in the back of the vehicle is snug, meaning tall adults won't be comfortable for long trips.

Around town, the Kicks' light curb weight and tiny size make it a breeze for shuttling from one place to the next.

Browse 2021 Nissan Kicks listings here.


8. 2021 Hyundai Elantra

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Perhaps no other car under $20,000 offers just so much comfort, practicality, efficiency, and tech as the Hyundai Elantra. It's a hard-to-beat option for small families and commuters needing a daily driver.

The Elantra SE trim goes for $19,650 with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), and its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine produces 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque.

It has hybrid-like fuel efficiency levels, getting an EPA-estimated 43 mpg on the highway and 37 mpg in mixed driving.

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Redesigned for 2021, the Elantra also has a modern new look and feel. It comes with a full slate of driver safety aids, like blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning.

The sedan's long and sleek exterior straddles the line between the compact and midsize segments, providing excellent interior space for under $20,000. The front headroom and legroom are particularly generous.

The Elantra rounds out its appeal with the best warranty coverage of any car in its class, making it one of the best values on the market today.

Browse 2021 Hyundai Elantra listings here.


9. 2021 Ford EcoSport

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The Ford Ecosport small SUV comes within a hair of the $20,000 price point, starting at $19,995 in its entry-level S trim with an automatic transmission. The EcoSport employs a tiny motor to get its power, a turbocharged 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine producing 123 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque.

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Its tall proportions and elevated ride height provide drivers with a good view out. Simultaneously, the EcoSport's agile handling and compact proportions make it easy to pilot around busy city streets.

The base trim lacks many tech features that are standard on other cars on this list, or rivals like the Chevrolet Trax, though you do get a wireless internet hotspot.

The top-of-the-line EcoSport Titanium trim with available four-wheel-drive costs no less than $27,945, coming with amenities like leather upholstery, heated front seats, navigation, a Bang & Olufsen premium sound system, and a sunroof.

Browse 2021 Ford EcoSport listings here.


10. 2021 Toyota Corolla

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Okay, this one is not technically under $20,000, but it's close. The base Toyota Corolla has a starting MSRP of $20,025.

And on a value for money measurement, the Corolla should be at the top of any buyer's list for an economical and practical new car. For that amount, buyers get a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine producing 139 horsepower and 126 lb-ft of torque, with two years or 25,000 miles of complimentary scheduled maintenance.

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The Toyota Yaris was the automaker's cheapest car, but it was discontinued after last year. That leaves the Corolla the brand's budget model, which is far from a knock on it. The Corolla is one of the best-selling cars in the world, thanks in part to its reputation for reliability, excellent crash-test ratings, and plenty of standard features.

Standard driver-assistance systems include adaptive cruise control and lane-centering assist. These and other technologies work together to give the car semi-autonomous driving capabilities on the highway, making it a near-perfect commuter. LED headlights, automatic climate control, a WiFi hotspot, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa all come standard.

Though the Corolla barely misses the $20,000 threshold, those looking for a car under that price would be sorely remiss not to check out this incredible Toyota.

Browse 2021 Toyota Corolla listings here.