Now more than ever, it’s important that your hard-earned money goes as far for you as possible. When it comes to buying a new car, that can be tough since cheap cars are not always known for providing their buyers with the best driving or ownership experience. Still, you may be pleasantly surprised what a starting price of around $20,000 or less can get you.
Some of the best cheap cars provide more than just bare-bones transportation. Many offer several advanced safety features, some come standard with a turbocharged engine, and many feature attractive styling that does not make you feel like you just bought a glorified cardboard box.
Of course, many are truly basic, which also may not be a bad thing given that their simplicity can save you even more money in maintenance costs down the road. Regardless, not all base model cars are bad, some are surprisingly fun, and most are built to save you money during the entirety of your ownership experience.
2022 Kia Soul
With a base price of $19,290, the Kia Soul offers quite a bit for your money. Many do not like its boxy shape and polarizing styling, but you do get copious amounts of cargo space, a ton of passenger space, Kia’s excellent 10-year/100,000-mile warranty, and a subcompact crossover SUV that has proven to be reliable.
Additionally, the base model Kia Soul LX comes with a 2.0-liter engine, 147 horsepower, a continuously variable automatic transmission, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, an 8-inch touchscreen, and Kia’s easy-to-use UVO infotainment system, and a rear-seat alert system. An EPA-estimated 33 MPG on the highway is not great for a car of its size, but it is not bad either.
Solid handling and its superior overall practicality are just icing on the cake for those who choose to buy the Soul. It may not be packed to the brim with the best tech or the newest safety features, but it does offer quite a bit compared to some of its cheap rivals on this list. 2023 models are starting to hit showroom floors, but the 2022 model year Souls are still less expensive.
2022 Chevrolet Spark
You could choose to see the Chevy Spark as the cheapest new car on the market with little to no amenities to keep its drivers and passengers happy. You could also choose to see the Spark as a sub-$14,000 subcompact hatchback that can achieve up to 38 MPG on the highway, works great in a busy city, and has a good infotainment system.
Of course, at its low price point, you should also keep your expectations reasonable. Its small size makes it fidgety on the highway, hard to squeeze adults in the rear seats, and difficult to transport much cargo. Its styling is underwhelming, its interior feels sparse, and you have to know how to drive a manual transmission if you want the cheapest version.
Fortunately, its simplicity can be your friend should something break. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto both come as standard too, a must in today’s market. A 94-horsepower four-cylinder engine propels the Spark forward. Do not fear, though. If you really want more car, you can still buy the top trim level 2LT for much less than $20,000 and get some better features.
2022 Nissan Versa
The Nissan Versa has been a longstanding member of the cheapest car club. It does well to combine its low price with its comparatively upscale build quality, interior design, and features. Even though the more spacious Versa Note hatchback was discontinued for the 2020 model year, it was also completely redesigned for that same model year, keeping it fresh for buyers.
Safety features like automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, pedestrian detection, and forward collision warning are standard, even on the base model. A four-cylinder engine produces 122 horsepower and comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission. With it, you can achieve 27 MPG in the city and 35 MPG on the highway.
The cheapest Versa starts at just a hair over $15,000. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and the more fuel-efficient CVT transmission come with added costs, but you will still come in at under $20,000 if you choose those options. Even well-equipped models will not break your bank account, and all Versa models come standard with a comfortable ride for their passengers.
2022 Nissan Sentra
If the Nissan Versa is too small for you, you can step up to the Nissan Sentra. As one of the cheapest compact sedans on the market, you only have to pay around $19,500 to get into one. That is a bit more than the slightly smaller Versa, but it will be well worth it to some buyers.
A complete redesign in 2020 brought fresh Altima-like styling, added safety features, and 25 more horsepower than the outgoing model to the table. Standard automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and pedestrian detection, in addition to its high safety scores, really help boost its small family appeal.
A 149-horsepower engine, continuously variable automatic transmission, EPA-estimated 39 MPG highway rating, standard Apple CarPlay, and standard Android Auto only help reinforce its value in the market. It is certainly not the poshest vehicle in the segment, but what it has to offer is more than enough to give buyers many reasons for consideration.
2022 Hyundai Accent
Hyundai and Kia have both set out to offer value-oriented vehicles to the market in the past decade. They have been able to achieve their goals while slowly getting rid of the “cheap car” stigma they used to have. The Accent is a good example. It is a smart little car with roomy seats for its size, a comfortable ride, proven reliability, and excellent gas mileage to boot.
Unlike some of the smallest cars on our list, you do not have to choose a manual transmission if you want to save the most money possible. You get a 120-horsepower four-cylinder that sends power to the front wheels via a CVT. And at an EPA-estimated 41 MPG on the highway, you will be saving even more money after only spending around $16,000 to get one.
Like the Versa, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto do not come standard. Also, like the Versa, you can climb the trim level ladder to get more features and still come home spending less than $20,000. Unlike its Japanese rival, Hyundai’s excellent warranty helps it contend for buyers’ consideration.
2022 Hyundai Venue
The second crossover SUV on our list, the Hyundai Venue is not too unlike the Kia Soul in that it caters to a more youthful market, it comes with love-it-or-leave-it styling, and a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty comes with its purchase. It does have less power and cargo space than its boxier corporate cousin, but it also has the same great safety ratings and a sub-$20,000 starting price tag.
With only 121 horsepower and front-wheel drive, the Venue is not going to win any speed records, but its rear seats are quite spacious for a vehicle of its size, you can achieve a combined 31 MPG, and you get an easy-to-use infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard.
Excellent safety ratings on top of standard automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, driver attention alert, and automatic high beams help make it a good choice for small families on a budget. Surprisingly, the Venue is also quite nimble, though, it loses some steam when you have to get on the freeway.
2022 Mitsubishi Mirage
The Mitsubishi Mirage has gotten some flack in the past for being unrefined, cheap, dangerously slow, and not very nice to drive. With a starting price of only $14,645, some of these things can be expected, especially with a three-cylinder engine that only makes 78 horsepower. The Mirage does have some tricks up its sleeves, though.
It comes with an excellent 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, over 40 MPG on the highway regardless of your transmission choice, standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, standard automatic emergency braking, and the choice to buy the Mirage G4 Sedan in lieu of the hatchback for only $1,000 more.
Exterior styling is underwhelming, interior styling and build quality make the car feel like its low price tag, and driving dynamics are nearly non-existent, but if you need a cheap car, the Mirage can certainly be your friend. Its stellar fuel economy and warranty help it stand out. Additionally, its top trim level still comes in at under $20,000.
2022 Kia Forte
With a styling refresh for the 2022 model year, a sub-$20,000 starting MSRP, and a ton of standard safety and tech features, the Forte is a great compact car pick for the segment. It comes with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a large 15.3-cubic foot trunk, a 147-horsepower engine rated at over 40 MPG on the highway, and an excellent warranty.
Automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and lane-keeping assist are all standard on the base model Kia Forte FE, the model to have if you want to spend the least amount of cash. It also has one of the best interiors in the class, even for its price point.
You will have to dish out a bit more cash to get into the 201-horsepower turbo Forte, but the base model still rides comfortably, handles well, and is able to carry four adults in relative comfort. 2023 models are starting to hit showroom floors, but, except for trim shuffling, not much has changed from the last model year. Seek a leftover 2022 model for the best deal.
2022 Volkswagen Jetta
The Jetta cheats a little bit since its starting price spills slightly over our $20,000 mark, but there is something about a Volkswagen that is special. Despite its cheap-feeling interior and lack of spritely handling, the Jetta is on the large size of the compact car segment.
A Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert all come standard. Along with a punchy 1.5-liter turbocharged engine that produces 158 horsepower and a standard six-speed manual transmission that will cater to the enthusiast, there is a ton to like about the base model Jetta.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Jetta is tuned for comfort. Sharp handling is an afterthought, but that will cater to more buyers who appreciate a comfortable ride. A standard 8-inch digital cockpit might just spur on the most tech-savvy, yet budget-conscious buyers to consider the Jetta as their next vehicle.
2022 Hyundai Elantra
The Hyundai Elantra is the Kia Forte’s corporate cousin. They are similar enough to share many of the best traits like sharp exterior styling, an emphasis on value while not feeling as cheap as it actually is, and their shared warranty. They even share the same base drivetrain: A 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, putting 147 horsepower to the front wheels via a CVT transmission.
Starting at just under $20,000, you still get standard Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and an 8-inch touchscreen. Things on the safety front are even better with standard blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, safe exit alert, and a driver drowsiness monitor.
Gas mileage in the Elantra bests the Forte by just a tad, with EPA ratings of 33 MPG in the city and 43 MPG on the highway. Even though the 2023 model year Elantras are starting to become available, there are no major differences between them and the 2022 cars. Pick a base model 2022 Elantra to save the most money.
2022 Ford Maverick
With a starting price of $20,995, the Ford Maverick is a bit above the “cheap line” of $20,000, but it is the cheapest pickup truck money can currently buy. That is good news for those who want one, but you should not expect a heavy-duty work truck that can conquer the ranches and farms. Still, there are a ton of things to love about this tiny truck.
A 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, an electric motor, and a continuously variable automatic transmission work together to put 191 horsepower to the front wheels. The consequence is 40 MPG in the city and 33 MPG on the highway. A Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto come standard on base Maverick XL models.
On the truck side of things, you can haul up 1,500 pounds in the 4-foot 6-inch bed. You can also carry up to five people in the standard four-door crew cab, though taller adults in the rear seat might have some legroom issues. Forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, and automatic high beams are standard.
2022 Toyota Corolla
It is odd to only see one Toyota on a list like this, but the venerable Corolla makes it by a hair. Its base price is a few hundred dollars over our $20,000 limit, but it is still one of the cheapest options on the market, and it undercuts its chief rival, the Honda Civic, by almost $2,000. The Civic does have many advantages over the Corolla, but the Corolla still has much to offer.
A 7-inch touchscreen, Amazon Alexa, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, LED headlights, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control highlight its list of standard features. A 139-horsepower four-cylinder engine, front-wheel drive, and a CVT help the base model Corolla L achieve up to 41 MPG on the highway.
Toyota does not offer as long of a warranty as some other rivals, but good predicted reliability and good track record for the same will compel the Toyota faithful – and many others – to give the Corolla a good look.
2022 Mazda Mazda3
Another cheater on the list, the Mazda Mazda3 has a starting price of just over $21,000. Still, that is one of the cheapest cars available today, and it still undercuts the Honda Civic by a good margin. It is well worth the little bit of extra cost as the Mazda3 is beloved by reviewers and owners alike for its gorgeous exterior styling, athletic handling, and upscale interior.
Standard tech features include an 8.8-inch infotainment display, push-button start, and remote keyless entry. A 155-horsepower engine and a six-speed automatic transmission power the base model Mazda3, helping it achieve EPA estimates of 28 MPG in the city and 36 MPG on the highway.
While the rear seats are a bit smaller than others in the class, there are few that can match Mazda3’s fun factor. Do not worry, though. As an IIHS Top Safety Pick+, the Mazda3 has stellar safety ratings with standard automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and a driver attention monitor to ensure that you have fun without having to worry about too much more.
2022 Kia Rio
The last of several Kias on our list, the Kia Rio is a worthy alternative to the Nissan Versa and its corporate sibling, the Hyundai Accent. It is not as attractive as either of those vehicles, nor is it as fun to drive as the Mini Cooper, but it certainly has its own advantages. A sub-$17,000 price tag is the largest one.
It cannot quite match the Versa for passenger space, cargo space, or starting price, but the Rio has a much better warranty, a more upscale interior, and more standard features. The Rio’s 120-horsepower engine and CVT help it get over 40 MPG on the highway, and its comfortable ride helps buyers get past its overall small size.
If a sedan is not your body style of choice, you can get a Kia Rio as a hatchback. It is a little more expensive, but it still comes in well under $20,000, you get more cargo space, and you get a few more features as you must step up from the base model LX into the Kia Rio S.
2022 Subaru Impreza
The Subaru Impreza is the only vehicle with a sub-$20,000 price tag that features standard all-wheel-drive. That alone is enough to sway some buyers, but the Impreza is not just a one-trick pony. In addition to its low price, it comes with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, great safety ratings, and comfortable seating, even for taller passengers that have to sit in the back.
A standard 152-horsepower boxer engine is paired with a five-speed manual transmission, neither of which is the most refined. In its standard setup, it returns EPA estimates of 24 MPG in the city and 31 MPG on the highway. Opting for the optional continuously variable transmission brings fuel efficiency up, along with the starting price.
Interior quality is fair for its low price point, and its exterior styling is attractive among other compact car rivals. In its base form, the Impreza is quite bare bones, but it remains truly unique among cheap cars, spurring many buyers to choose it over rivals like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Hyundai Elantra.