Best Cars For Under $20,000

By Linda McMaken | July 29, 2012 AAA

Some of the best cars, with incredible fuel mileage, good warranties, excellent safety ratings and strong reviews can be found for under $20,000. Whether you're looking for a small SUV, pick-up truck, sedan or even a sub-compact, there are many options for today's buyers. Most of these choices offer enviable fuel mileage, will save you significant cash and are just plain fun to drive.

SEE: The Complete Guide To Buying A New Car


Coupes and Sedans
With a quirky style, good looks and fuel mileage at 40 mpg, the 2012 Mazda3 is a top choice. Featuring a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine backed by a six-speed manual or automatic transmission and 155 horses, it has a lot of pep. Inside the cockpit, you will find Bluetooth, MP3 and side-curtain airbags. It has a base price of roughly $18,900.


Ford has seen monumental leaps in their design and quality, and it shows in their Focus. Inside the Focus, you'll find automatic parking assist, a rearview camera, SYNC to give you hands-free cell phone use, a voice-activated communications system, a navigation system, 911 assist and a feature called "MyKey" that gives you parental controls of the vehicle. Under the hood, there is an I-4, 2.5L Duratec engine backed by a six-speed manual transmission. It has four- and five-star safety ratings with a base price of around $16,700. With its manual transmission, the Ford Focus pulls in a very impressive 40-mpg.

Another very nice sedan is the Hyundai Elantra. Getting a very impressive 33-mpg, it features a 1.8-liter, 148-hp, four-cylinder engine. Boasting a new ActiveECO system that is designed to improve engine and transmission performance, they've also improved the steering calibration and added a six-speed transmission. Inside, the Elantra is spacious and very "driver friendly," with an upscale design that belies its price. The Automotive Lease Guide has awarded the Elantra honors for holding its highest resale value twice; a great package with a base price of $15,200 and a six-speed manual transmission, or $17,500 for the automatic.

Chevrolet is another company that has worked hard to improve its cars, both in design, reliability and performance. The 2012 Cruze fits the bill on all counts. A midsize sedan, the Cruze will seat four adults very comfortably, and unlike other cars in this class, has a very large trunk. Hitting 42-mpg, with a 1.4-liter, turbocharged engine, it has pep and fuel economy. Options like remote start and cell phone connect make this a nice buy with a base price of $18,500.

Sub-Compacts
If you're in the market for a sub-compact under $20,000, there are several remarkably good models to choose from. One you might consider it the Rio5 from Kia. With a 1.6-liter, 138 horsepower engine that features "dual-continuous variable value timing" and idle stop and go, the Rio5 gets 40-mpg. A navigation system, heated front seats, rearview camera and nice trim package, this car is a good deal at about $17,000.

Coming in right at the $20,000 mark is the 2012 Subaru Impreza. For the slightly higher price, you'll be getting an all-wheel drive compact that comes as both a sedan and a hatchback. Checking in at 36-mpg, the Impreza garnered four-star safety ratings and gives you an impressively large and well-appointed passenger area and plenty of cargo space.

SEE: 5 Reasons To Buy A New Car


SUVs
If you need a larger vehicle, you may want to consider the Hyundai Tucson. With a very spacious interior and options that include side-air bags, "hillstart" assist control and downhill brake control, this is a great vehicle choice for families. The Tucson sports a 2.0-L engine, 166-HP, that checks in at 30-MPG. It has received five-star safety ratings, and inside drivers will find hands-free calling features, and a nicely appointed interior.


Another great option in economical SUVs is the Chevrolet Heritage High Roof. A compact SUV with a 2.2-L Ecotec engine, it comes in at 30-mpg. Receiving good overall safety ratings, the HHR is sporty SUV that comes with Bluetooth, MP3 player and lots of room.

Trucks
If you're in the market for a pickup but don't want to break the bank, you have several makes to choose from, starting with the Toyota Tacoma. Inside you'll find Bluetooth and USB ports, a rearview mirror with temp display, compass and reverse camera. With a 2.7-L engine, this truck comes in at 25-mpg highway and lists for $17,125.

The Chevrolet Colorado's base price is $17,400 and you can look forward to 20-mpg highway. Inside you'll find a roomy design, with additional interior lighting, heated leather seats, stereo, MP3, and a "Driver Information Center" that monitors your vehicles systems at a glance. The Colorado is powered by a 2.5-L, I-4 engine that delivers 150-HP, and has increased towing capacity from previous years. Optional automatic or manual transmission and two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive are available.

U.S. News ranked the Nissan Frontier as its number one pick for small pick-ups. The standard four-cylinder engine, gives you 152-HP, backed by a six-speed manual transmission or optional five-speed automatic. With a base price of $19,100, the Frontier offers a roomy interior, although its interior was not as well reviewed as some other small truck models. It does get great reviews for its exterior design, sporty looks and dependability. With optional rear-wheel or four-wheel drive, the Frontier offers 19-mpg and is a solid truck.


The Bottom Line
If you're in the market for a new car, but don't want to spend a significant amount of your income on payments, there are some excellent, inexpensive options available. Whether you are looking for a small coupe, a family friendly SUV or a dependable truck, you don't have to spend top dollar to find a very reliable, dependable or sporty vehicle. If you are willing to forgo a few luxury items and upscale trim and paint packages, you can save money and still get that new car smell.

SEE: New Wheels: Lease Or Buy?


Photo Courtey of Earl-Wilkerson

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