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Best Cars Under $20,000

Best Cars Under $20,000

The best affordable cars & SUVs — new & used

Vehicles are getting more expensive every year, making it more and more difficult to find a well-regarded car or SUV for under $20,000. In fact, there are only a few new cars that sticker for less than $20,000. That said, there are quite a few vehicles that are well worth considering that only require you to extend your budget minimally.

To that end, Edmunds is here to help with a guide that highlights the best new and used cars and SUVs for around $20K. We base our recommendations on our extensive testing and detailed rankings. Now in the post-COVID-19 era, which has underscored the value of affordable and reliable transportation, zeroing in on the best cars under $20,000 can help you get a great car and the peace of mind that comes with it.

Jump To: Best car under $20K | Best cars just over $20,000 | Best SUVs near $20K | Best used cars under $20K | Best used SUVs under $20K

Best car under $20K

While most subcompact sedans and hatchbacks start well below our budget cap, they generally aren't top performers in our vehicle testing, and their diminutive dimensions mean they aren't practical for all buyers. In fact, that's where every car that starts under $20K for 2023 finds itself. There's really only one from a small group of just three cars we could genuinely recommend. Note that the starting MSRPs (manufacturer's suggested retail prices) below include destination and handling charges, and while we may recommend a trim that costs a bit more money, savvy negotiators may be able to whittle the price down to fit their budget.

2024 Nissan Versa

2024 Nissan Versa

2024 Nissan Versa

Starting MSRP: $18,915

With such a small number of sub-$20K cars to even take a look at in 2024, the obvious choice is the Nissan Versa. Both the Mitsubishis that are on sale in this price category are ages old, lack technology and any real comfort, and score poorly in our rankings. As such, the Versa is by default the best car under $20,000 on sale right now. It offers a large suite of driver aids as standard equipment, recently got a refresh that helps keep its exterior looks current, and has an interior that perhaps feels ever-so-slightly more expensive than its starting price suggests.

Best cars just over $20,000

2024 Kia Forte

2024 Kia Forte

2024 Kia Forte

Starting MSRP: $20,915

Not only is the Kia Forte the least expensive compact sedan on the market, it's also one of the best choices in the class. The interior is nicely appointed, with well-shaped seats and materials of a higher quality than what you'll find in other small four-doors. The Forte comes with an impressive array of standard tech features, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, forward collision warning and lane keeping assistance. And while its base powertrain won't be setting records at the local dragstrip, we found it easy to match the EPA-estimated fuel economy in the real world.

2024 Hyundai Elantra

2024 Hyundai Elantra

2024 Hyundai Elantra

Starting MSRP: $22,590

The Hyundai Elantra is a big player in the inexpensive compact segment. It's a well-rounded offering and a refresh for 2024 made it a significantly more handsome sedan. A large suite of driver aids, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty all come as no-cost goodies on the Elantra. We also found that, despite being sluggish, the Elantra's engine sipped fuel to the tune of more than 41 mpg over the course of our test loop. Hyundai's value remains strong and the Elantra is a great, inexpensive option for those seeking a new car.

2024 Toyota Corolla

2024 Toyota Corolla

2024 Toyota Corolla

Starting MSRP: $22,995

The Toyota Corolla is, for many, the default choice when it comes to inexpensive transportation from a brand with a reliable reputation. The Toyota Corolla is a smart pick in the small sedan class. We give it high marks for its smooth ride comfort, high-quality interior, and comprehensive list of advanced driver assist features. It's also easy to get in and out of, features a more intuitive tech interface thanks to a recent refresh, and in our testing well exceeded its EPA estimate of 34 mpg combined. (We saw more than 40 mpg in our real-world testing.) If you want the safe, sensible choice here for a starting price that won't break the bank, the Corolla is easily worthy of your short list.

Best SUVs near $20,000

Sadly, there is not a single new SUV on sale for 2024 that squeezes under our cost ceiling, and that means our only choice is to recommend the best ones that get near the $20K mark. Our other choices here might cost a bit more than $20,000 — we've prioritized high ratings in our testing over the absolute lowest MSRPs — because we want to recommend what we believe is the best you can get for the money.

2024 Kia Soul

2024 Kia Soul

2024 Kia Soul

Starting MSRP: $21,315

The 2024 Kia Soul stretches the definition of SUV to its limits — ground clearance is similar to that of a car, and all-wheel drive is not offered. However, the Soul has more storage space than a typical hatchback, and its boxy profile affords generous headroom akin to what you'd find in an SUV. The Soul packs a lot of functionality into its diminutive footprint — there's a surprising amount of rear headroom and legroom, and the interior is intuitively laid out. If you can get past the boxy, almost toy-like looks of the Soul, it's going to give you plenty of utility for the money.

2024 Nissan Kicks

2024 Nissan Kicks

2024 Nissan Kicks

Starting MSRP: $22,155

Value is the name of the game for this segment, and the Kicks is ahead of the class thanks to its low entry price and relatively inexpensive cost to upgrade to a fully loaded higher trim. We don't like the acres of plastic used on the door panels and dash area, but there are enough premium materials in other areas of the cabin to create a more pleasant experience. There's also all of the tech features a modern car buyer would expect and the EPA says it will do 33 mpg combined. Its suspension is a little on the firmer side, but it helps keep the Kicks' body motions in check. It's even what you might describe as fun, and in this segment that's quite rare.

2024 Chevrolet Trax

2024 Chevrolet Trax

2024 Chevrolet Trax

The Chevy Trax is reborn for 2024 and it's far, far better than the dinky SUV it replaces. Now imbued with handsome looks and a far more posh interior space, the new Trax is good — no asterisks needed. Inside the Trax's new interior there's plenty of space in both rows. Four typical adults can fit comfortably inside without front passengers having to scoot their seats up to accommodate those in the rear. And for its class, the Trax's cargo area is massive. At 25.6 cubic feet, it's both significantly larger than before and larger than most other cargo holds in the segment. Chevy also outfits the Trax with a lot of the same advanced driver assistance features that you'll find on more expensive SUVs. Features such as standard automatic emergency braking and optional blind-spot warning are welcome and only help make the Trax really stand out.

Best used cars under $20,000

If you don't mind starting with a few miles on the odometer, there's an entire world of lightly used cars that will fit a $20,000 budget. In our search for the three best used cars under $20,000, we whittled down our choices to an all-around excellent family cruiser, a fun and engaging sports car, and even a luxury sedan. All three are widely available with relatively low mileage for under $20K. Additionally, all three have earned high marks in our consumer reviews from owners who drive them every day.

2020 Honda Accord (inventory)

2020 Honda Accord

2020 Honda Accord

The Honda Accord has been a solid choice for decades, and the previous-generation model (2018-2022) carried on that tradition. From a usability standpoint, the Accord is tough to top thanks to its cavernous back seat and massive trunk. We were also impressed with the Accord's interior design, which is clean, sophisticated and surprisingly upscale, even in lower trims. The standard turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine is peppy and smooth, and the Accord's infotainment system is one of the best around. Since the previous generation is a little bit older, it might be possible to find high-spec models for less than $20,000. Sport models are also fairly common, and we recommend this trim for its upgraded audio system, larger touchscreen and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility. Also, it's worth noting that we think the previous-generation Accord is better to drive than the new one.

2018 Mazda Miata (inventory)

2018 Mazda Miata

2018 Mazda Miata

The Miata might be the last car on sale today where the driver is just as important as the car itself, and that's why anyone who wants an inexpensive rear-wheel-drive sports car would consider one. It's easy to get the hang of quickly, and it's easy to put the top down and wind your way up and down a good piece of road in a second. It's also relatively fuel-efficient for a sports car, the clutch and manual transmission is easy to learn for first-timers, and small brakes matched with skinny tires means the price of consumables is also kept down. Cars sold from 2016 to 2018 are a little down on power compared to cars sold from 2019 onward, so they might feel a little on the sluggish side. But power has never been the Miata's attraction — its charm lies in the way it forces you to engage with it and drive it well. There's a reason the Miata has such a fervent following, and we'd be remiss if we didn't mention it as a great used sports car option for almost anyone who enjoys driving.

2018 BMW 3 Series (inventory)

2018 BMW 3 Series

2018 BMW 3 Series

You don't have to venture into the distant past to get one of the luxury market's coolest cars under $20K. The BMW 3 Series has been a perennial favorite of ours, and most of our editors actually prefer the previous-generation 3 Series (2012-2018) to the newest model. This 3 Series was well regarded for its ride quality, sharp driving dynamics and user-friendly infotainment system. Buyers looking for an inexpensive entry into luxury-sedan ownership would have a hard time doing better than this excellent all-rounder. Any year of this generation is worth a look, though 2017 models introduced a new version of the iDrive system and added Apple CarPlay as a stand-alone option. The midtier (and most popular) turbocharged four-cylinder engine also got a slight power bump for 2017 that led to a name change from 328i to 330i. Though you can find some examples of the hybrid, diesel and six-cylinder powertrains in the under $20,000 range — the six-cylinder 335i is unquestionably one of the best fast cars under $20K — the gas-powered four-cylinder 320i and 328i/330i models will be the most common. We recommend upgrading to the 328i/330i, since the base 320i offers middling performance by luxury standards and comes with fewer features.

Best used SUVs under $20,000

If you're willing to go with a lightly used SUV, you'll find your dollar goes a lot further than if you limit your selection to new crossovers. Included in our selection of the best used SUVs under $20K is a sporty compact, a roomy midsize SUV and even a well-rounded luxury crossover. The models listed below are widely available with relatively low mileage for under $20K, and we've vetted them against our consumer reviews to make sure there's not a lemon in the bunch.

2020 Mazda CX-5 (inventory)

2020 Mazda CX-5

2020 Mazda CX-5

As crossovers have become the de facto choice for car shoppers, standing out from the crowd has become increasingly difficult. That's no problem for the current-generation Mazda CX-5 (2017+), whose distinctive, shark-like sheetmetal immediately sets it apart from other compact SUVs. But as much as we like its expressive design, the CX-5's interior is truly where it shines. The cabin is decked out in high-quality synthetic leather and soft-touch plastic, giving it an air of sophistication from the moment you step inside. We also love its superlative handling and steering, making the CX-5 the driver's choice in the segment. Most models under $20,000 will be the base Sport model, though midtrim Touring examples shouldn't be too hard to find. The Touring model includes the i-Activsense suite of advanced driving aids that is optional for the Sport, plus many other goodies. While tech lovers will note that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto weren't included until the 2019 model year, you can add both to 2018 models via a dealer-installed upgrade.

2019-20 Ford Edge (inventory)

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2019-20 Ford Edge

2019-20 Ford Edge

It might not be the avant-garde vehicle that its name suggests, but the current-generation Ford Edge is undoubtedly one of the best used SUVs under $20,000. This hulking midsizer offers far more room than the CX-5 listed above, even if it's not as lithe or stylish. There's ample room in both rows, and the cargo area is impressively large. Comfortable seats are another highlight of this eminently practical crossover. Though the second-generation Edge was introduced in 2015, a refresh in 2019 brought it right up to date with rivals. It features a much more contemporary exterior look and feel, an updated (and slightly nicer) interior space, and more standard safety features. We definitely recommend looking for a 2019 model or newer.

2016 BMW X3 (inventory)

2016 BMW X3

2016 BMW X3

Can you really get a luxury SUV for under $20,000? Yes, and a recent one with low miles at that. The BMW X3 was last redesigned in 2018, which isn't that long ago, but the previous generation (2011-2017) is now quite affordable and is still relevant thanks to cutting-edge tech for its time. The X3's inclusion shouldn't come as a shock since it shares a common platform with the 3 Series already named here as the best luxury car under $20,000. While not quite as sporty as its sedan sibling, the X3 offers far more passenger and cargo room, making it a practical choice for a small family. From a technology perspective, advanced driving aids were available throughout the previous X3's lifespan, with more features added in later years. In typical luxury-brand fashion, these aids were included in packages, so it might be difficult to tell at a glance whether a specific piece of inventory has the safety features you want. Note too that Apple CarPlay was only available during the 2017 model year, and it was an optional extra.

Edmunds says

While a vehicle budget of $20,000 doesn't go as far as it used to, there are still lots of choices if you're looking for a new or used vehicle that won't cost an arm and a leg. From a mint small sedan to a lightly used luxury SUV, you can easily find one of the best cars under $20,000 right here on Edmunds.

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