Sedans remain by far the most popular style of family car. It used to be that you would have to go up to the mid-sized level of sedan, such as Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, to get a respectable, well-equipped ride.

But no more. The quality of the sedans buyers can find priced under $20,000 has never been better. And just in the nick of time for car buyers challenged by the wobbly economy.

Consumers in need or want of a new car can respectably trade down from spending $25,000 or so to below $20,000 and not give up very much.

It is true that some true-mid-sized sedans, such as Kia Optima and Volkswagen Passat actually start their sticker prices below $20,000. The Passat, for example, starts at $19,995 if you price it on AOL Autos. But, realistically, these cars wind up costing thousands more by the time they are properly outfitted and destination charges are applied.

So, we are sticking to sedans priced legitimately under $20,000 by the time you drive them away. And we have applied come up with a Top-Five ranking based on our knowledge of the vehicle's quality, diving dynamics, aesthetics, value and track record.

5. Toyota Corolla
  • Image Credit: Toyota

5. Toyota Corolla

MSRP: $16,130 - $17,990
Invoice: $15,243 - $16,674

Fuel Economy: 27 mpg City, 34 mpg Highway

The Corolla virtually defines durability and consistency in the compact sedan category. The current Corolla is well-equipped with disc brakes on all four wheels, a robust offering of both a 1.8 liter, 132-horsepower engine or a 2.4 liter 4-cylinder engine. The more robust XRS version will be an easier trade-down from the mid-sized class for some people. Leather upholstery is available too.

Research the Toyota Corolla
Toyota Corolla Photos & Information
Toyota Corolla Specs
Toyota Corolla Local Dealer Price Quote

  • Image Credit: Toyota

The back seat is fairly accommodating - the Corolla's not the subcompact it once was - and a flat floor across the rear enhances the spacious vibe. The usefully large trunk capacity can be expanded by folding down the rear seatbacks, and elsewhere inside are two gloveboxes, large door cubbies, and an also-capacious storage bin in the center armrest. As a car for the everyman, the Corolla hits all the right notes.

Research the Toyota Corolla
Toyota Corolla Photos & Information
Toyota Corolla Specs
Toyota Corolla Local Dealer Price Quote

4. Mazda3
  • Image Credit: Mazda

4. Mazda3

MSRP: $15,200 - $23,400
Invoice: $14,543 - $21,910

Fuel Economy: 25 mpg City, 33 mpg Highway

We are big fans of the Mazda3's handling and driving fun. It may feel a bit stiff for some drivers, but we like that.

The 2012 Mazda3 comes with a Skayctiv option, which is a 2.0 liter, four-cylinder gas engine rated at 155 horsepower and 148 lbs. feet of torque. It comes in both manual transmission and automatic. The 3 lacks a USB jack for iPod/iPhone and similar devices, which is a bummer. But you can at least pair a phone via Bluetooth hands-free link.

Research the Mazda3
Mazda3 Photos & Information
Mazda3 Specs
Mazda3 Local Dealer Price Quote

  • Image Credit: Mazda

Pricing is a little complicated here. The least expensive Skyactiv model is Sport sedan with six-speed manual transmission, which costs $19,245 including $795 shipping. The least expensive non-Skyactiv, which has less standard equipment, is the SV sedan at $15,995.

The Skyactiv version of the car is expected to get 38-40 mpg on the highway. Combined fuel economy is 31-33 mpg. We got a little shy of that.

Even with a few complaints on features, we still like the way the Mazda3 drives for daily enjoyment.

Research the Mazda3
Mazda3 Photos & Information
Mazda3 Specs
Mazda3 Local Dealer Price Quote

3. Ford Focus
  • Image Credit: Ford

3. Ford Focus

MSRP: $16,500 - $22,700
Invoice: $15,635 - $21,112

Fuel Economy: 26 mpg City, 36 mpg Highway

The styling of the new Focus is light years better than the old model, and now a category leader in our opinion. The sporty front fascia, multiple wheel package combination, sleek, sculptured side views. It's all good with us.

Seating material aside, the Focus uses stylish, easy-to-read gauges that are supplemented by a small LCD screen nestled between the tachometer and the speedometer. The screen can be set up to display everything from fuel economy to your trip meter, average speed and a host of other information.

Research the Ford Focus
Ford Focus Photos & Information
Ford Focus Specs
Ford Focus Local Dealer Price Quote

  • Image Credit: Ford

Ford has priced the 2012 Focus Sedan starting at $16,995 in S trim, though opting up to the five-door in SE guise will set you back $18,790. If your pockets are a little deeper and you like the look of the more polished interior, Titanium trim will go for $22,995 for the sedan.

Driving fun is not as high as Mazda3, but we like the extra niceties in the Focus, which is a better overall package than either the Mazda3 or Toyota Corolla on our list.

With available goodies like MyFord Touch and a hatchback body style if you want, the Focus also delivers more than Honda Civic.

Research the Ford Focus
Ford Focus Photos & Information
Ford Focus Specs
Ford Focus Local Dealer Price Quote

2. Chevrolet Cruze
  • Image Credit: GM

2. Chevrolet Cruze

MSRP: $16,800 - $23,190
Invoice: $16,212 - $22,146

Fuel Economy: 25 mpg City, 36 mpg Highway

Until the Chevy Cruze debuted in 2010, we wondered if Chevrolet was ever going to take the compact-car category seriously. The last offering, the Cobalt, was dreadful and seemed worthy of Chinese highways, but not American.

The exterior of the Cruze is a little conservative, but we can forgive that when we consider what a good package the whole car is inside and out.

In LTZ trim, the dash is dominated by a tech-laden but well-sorted center stack and accented with broad swaths of leather. We're not talking vinyl with real leather grain here, either. GM has also done a great job of making sure that nearly anyone can fit behind the wheel – and we do mean anyone. The driver's seat can be positioned so far back that someone of normal height will have no chance of reaching the pedals or the steering wheel.

Research the Chevrolet Cruze
Chevrolet Cruze Photos & Information
Chevrolet Cruze Specs
Chevrolet Cruze Local Dealer Price Quote

  • Image Credit: GM

Cruze is offered in a few engine combinations: a 1.8 liter four cylinder engine producing 136 hp, 1.4 liter turbo-charged four cylinder and the Cruze Eco, which has the 1.4 liter Turbo engine in both manual and automatic transmission. But Chevy cut weight out of the normal Cruze, lowered the stance, added low-resistance tires and more carefully managed airflow so the car glides through the air easier. Highway mileage is 42 mpg, tops for a non-hybrid or diesel car. We have actually scored 48 mpg in testing.

The Eco costs $1,450 more than a similar non-Eco Cruze: $19,175 with destination charges for manual transmission, and $20,625, automatic.

Research the Chevrolet Cruze
Chevrolet Cruze Photos & Information
Chevrolet Cruze Specs
Chevrolet Cruze Local Dealer Price Quote

1. Hyundai Elantra
  • Image Credit: Hyundai

1. Hyundai Elantra

MSRP: $15,345 - $20,595
Invoice: $14,918 - $19,727

Fuel Economy: 29 mpg City, 40 mpg Highway

As much as we like the Chevy Cruze, and were tempted to call it a tie between that car and the Hyundai Elantra, we opted to give it to Elantra by a nose. We had support, too, as a jury of North American journalists gave the Elantra its Car of the Year award for 2011.

Exterior styling is excellent, and, along with Ford Focus, has set a new standard in the compact sedan category.

For now, there are only two basic trim packages: GLS and Limited. In GLS guise, the interior of the sedan is treated with attractive cloth seats and a two-tone dash with soft-touch materials up top and well-grained plastic down low. In Limited configuration, the center stack is dominated by a massive seven-inch touch-screen that hosts controls for navigation, audio and iPod integration. Thanks to XM NavTraffic and NavWeather, buyers can check the status of everything from traffic congestion to stock prices, weather advisories and sports scores.

Research the Hyundai Elantra
Hyundai Elantra Photos & Information
Hyundai Elantra Specs
Hyundai Elantra Local Dealer Price Quote

  • Image Credit: Hyundai

One of the nicer details in the Elantra interior is the HVAC controls. Designers implemented an intuitive system of stacked dials to control fan speed and temperature, and the system takes little more than cursory glance in order to be able to use without taking your eyes off of the road. The dials feel like quality pieces with nice texturing and a solid action.

Regardless of what trim level buyers decide on, they'll benefit from a drivetrain that returns 29 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. The 2011 Elantra comes with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine producing 148 horsepower and 131 pound-feet of torque. All told, the engine gives the 2011 Elantra more power and better fuel efficiency than competitors like the Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla and Mazda3.

Elantra is the best total package and best sedan pound for pound, dollar for dollar under $20,000.

Research the Hyundai Elantra
Hyundai Elantra Photos & Information
Hyundai Elantra Specs
Hyundai Elantra Local Dealer Price Quote



  List
I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago

  • From Our Partners

    2015 Honda Civic
    MSRP: $18,290 - $26,740
    2017 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500
    MSRP: $32,495 - $54,390
    2015 Nissan Altima
    MSRP: $22,300 - $32,350
    2017 Chrysler Pacifica
    MSRP: $28,995 - $42,895
    2017 Cadillac XT5
    MSRP: $39,395 - $62,895
    Cars for Sale Near You