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5 Best Cars Under $20,000

Budget Rides: What Are The Best Cars Under $20000?

Updated October 6, 2018

In 2015, the average new car purchase price creeped up to $33,560, and the price of new cars will continue to push upward. This doesn’t leave too many great options for buyers looking for inexpensive and reliable transportation for less than $20,000.

Understanding the challenge of wading through the disposable cars in this low-cost segment, we took it upon ourselves to create a list of the five car that we think are best for under $20,000.

Honda Fit

Best Cars Under $20000 - 2015 Honda Fit

If you’re not worried about speed or agility and you’re just looking for one of the most useful cars on the planet for less than $20,000, then you have to check out the Honda Fit. Completely redesigned for the 2015 model year, the new Fit does everything that a compact hatchback can do (sometimes more) with a subcompact footprint and price point.

The Fit is far from a speed demon due to its 1.5-liter engine that produces 130 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque. This engine is, however, great on fuel as it gets up to 41 mpg highway with the optional continuously variable transmission.

What’s more, this tiny hatchback swallows passengers and cargo like magic. Its rear seats have a whopping 39.3 inches of legroom, so even taller adults fit with ease, and its cargo area can handle an SUV-like 52.7 cubic-feet with the rear seats folded.

All of this and the 2015 Fit starts out at only $15,650. You can even get the EX-L trim with its leather upholstery and still be at just $19,925.

Nissan Frontier

Best Cars Under $20000 - 2015 Nissan Frontier

Yes, the Nissan Frontier is old and decrepit at this stage of its life, and there is a redesign looming. However, if you need a pickup truck for under $20,000, the Frontier has you covered. The only trim you can get under budget is the base-level Frontier S at $17,990.

Unfortunately, the Frontier S comes pretty well stripped down, but it does come with 16-inch steel wheels, a tailgate spoiler, tinted rear glass, seating for four, and plenty of airbags. You can even add in some dealer-installed options or the Preferred Package, which includes a CD player, cruise control, air conditioning, Bluetooth, overhead console and more, and remain under $20k before the delivery fee.

Under the hood of the base Frontier is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 152 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque. With this engine, the Frontier can tow up to 3,500 pounds, making it ideal for small boats and trailers.

Mazda3

Best Cars Under $20000 - 2015 Mazda3

The Mazda3 is another bang-for-your-buck car, and it is even available in two body styles for less than $20,000. With its new KODO design, the Mazda3 looks like a far more expensive vehicle, and it rides like one too. The Japanese automaker spent countless hours developing the perfect suspension that is sporty and comfortable at the same time.

Under its hood, the Mazda carries a standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 155 horsepower. There is a more potent 2.5-liter available, but it puts the 3 over the $20,000 mark. With this engine, the Mazda3 sedan gets up to 41 mpg highway and the hatchback gets 40 mpg on the highway.

Opting for the sedan allows for more features or the money, as you can move into the i Touring trim level, which adds in things like alloy wheels, fog lights, a rear spoiler, advanced keyless entry, and more for just $19,595. If you prefer the added cargo room of the hatchback, the highest trim you can get is the base i Sport for $18,945.

Subaru Impreza

Best Cars Under $20000 - 2015 Subaru Impreza

If you need all-wheel-drive, the Subaru Impreza has you covered for just under $20,000. What’s more, you can even choose between a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback. In addition to the choice of bodies, the base Impreza also features standard keyless entry, a rearview camera, Bluetooth integration, a 6.2-inch touchscreen, and a USB port.

The downside is that you can only get the 2.0-liter engine if you’re trying to stay under $20,000. This engine produces just 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. The upside is that it is pretty fuel efficient at up to 37 mpg, This is even more impressive given its standard all-wheel drive.

Sure, it may be a little bland on the outside, but there have to be some compromises considering its standard all-wheel drive and the list of features the Impreza comes standard with.

Volkswagen Golf

Best Cars Under $20000 - 2015 VW Golf

Do you want German engineering for under $20k? If so, the Volkswagen Golf is the car for you then. Sure, it’s no BMW or Mercedes, but it does share some hardware with Audi. What’s more, the recently released seventh-generation Golf is sportier than ever, even in its lower trim levels.

To get under the $20,000 mark, you’ll have to stick with the Golf 1.8T and its 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces a respectable 170 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. The engine ships the power to the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission. There is a six-speed auto available, but it tips the MSRP just over the $20,000 mark. Not only is this engine powerful for its class, but it also gets up to 37 mpg on the highway.

Two Golf trim levels come in under budget, and they are the $17,995 Launch Edition and the S trim for $19,295.

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Calvin Escobar
About Calvin Escobar

The Car scene is so diverse Where I come from, most enthusiasts recognize the amazing engineering (particularly the engines). The bulk of the ridicule originates from the manner in which many of the vehicles are modded/maintained. Thus, the jokes and or hate tends to be aimed more at the owner rather than the machine. All of which makes seeing properly sorted old Toyota's and Hondas at car meets, auto shows, and track days all the more refreshing.

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