- Even though the Chevy Spark will soon be gone, there are still a few new cars under $20,000.
- Budget-conscious customers have several options.
- You might have to know how to drive a manual.
With the impending demise of the 2022 Chevrolet Spark quickly approaching, the number of budget-friendly new car options has shrunk by one. Thankfully, there are still a handful of vehicles on the market with a sticker price under $20,000 — a perfect price point if you want to keep payments low. Here's a roundup of every car you can buy for under $20,000.
All hail the king of affordability: When the sun sets on the Spark this summer, the Mitsubishi Mirage will assume the mantle of the least expensive car on sale. The base MSRP of the diminutive Mirage hatchback and Mirage G4 sedan rings in at $15,925 and $16,795, respectively.
The fuel economy for the duo is good, with the Mirage expected to consume an estimated 36 mpg in combined city and highway driving, according to the EPA, and the Mirage G4 setting a 35 mpg benchmark. Both figures are with the standard five-speed manual transmission. Opting for the available continuously variable automatic transmission (or CVT) raises efficiency by 2-3 mpg, but automatic models cost a bit more too. That, however, is where the positives end for the new cheapest car in America. The Mirage in any form lacks refinement and is marked by a noisy interior, underpowered three-cylinder engine and poor build quality.
With an MSRP of $16,105, the Nissan Versa is the least expensive new sedan you can buy. Fuel economy with the manual transmission is an estimated 30 mpg in the EPA's combined cycle, while buyers of the CVT-equipped model are treated to 35 mpg combined.
The entry-level Versa is surprisingly roomy for the segment, and it comes equipped with advanced safety aids that are often found only on the top trims of rivals. Even a loaded Versa SR with the CVT carries an MSRP of $19,515 — a few hundred dollars under our budget limit. The Versa is one of the more pleasant subcompact cars for sale today, and it's far superior to the Mirage hatch for only $180 more.
The Kia Rio is another economy car available as a sedan or hatchback. The starting MSRP for the sedan is $17,275, while the hatch starts at $18,215. Both come standard with a CVT automatic, which costs extra on the Mirage and Versa. Like the Nissan, the Rio is best when you move further up the trim ladder, where the car remains relatively affordable but comes equipped with a generous suite of active safety technology.
Fuel economy is estimated at 36 mpg — slightly less than the miserly Mirage with its CVT — but the Kia is a superior package overall. The Rio is mechanically related to the Hyundai Accent (below) but was refreshed for 2021, while the Accent has been sporting the same look since 2018.
If we had to pick a leader in the under $20K segment for driving feel, it would be the Hyundai Accent. Though the Accent isn't sporty in the traditional sense, it handles fairly well for an economy car. The Accent sedan has a starting MSRP of $17,690 and comes standard with a CVT automatic this year. The fuel economy for the Accent mirrors that of the Rio, with an estimated 36 mpg combined.
Even the base model is a step up from the economy cars of yesteryear, but we like the Accent best in the midtier SEL trim ($18,945). Included among its many upgrades is convenient Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration and a 7-inch touchscreen. That inclusion alone makes this feel like a more expensive car, especially when you consider the Accent's comfortable ride and solid build quality.
The Subaru Impreza is the only all-wheel-drive vehicle you can get for under $20,000. The MSRP starts at $19,790 for sedans equipped with a manual transmission, with the optional CVT overshooting our budget cap at $21,090. Fuel economy for this compact sedan takes a noticeable hit over the subcompacts listed here, with an EPA estimate of 26 mpg combined. Paying extra for the CVT bumps the combined estimate to a much more reasonable 32 mpg combined.
There are indications that a fully redesigned Impreza is on the horizon, even as early as next year, so Subaru shoppers might want to wait before committing. Still, the existing Impreza remains a smart choice for buyers who want an affordable car with all-wheel drive. That said, if all-wheel drive isn't as much of a priority for you, there are several options that are not only cheaper but more efficient and better equipped for the money.
Despite the loss of another entry-level car, there are still a few options for customers looking for affordable transportation.