Family Sedans Under $20,000
When it comes to family sedans, most people think of Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and so on.
But the sedans just below those big sellers, also known as compact sedans, can be just as useful and handy, as well as cheaper, for families who have only one or two children. Indeed, drive around Europe and it is very common to find a Ford Focus or Toyota Corolla with five people--two parents in front and three kids in back.
With gas, or petrol as it is called in Europe, families often make the choice to go smaller and more fuel efficient, for the purpose of saving Euros.
AOL Autos has ranked ten popular, top selling compact sedans from worst, or bottom of the heap, to the best we have tested.
10. Chrysler 200
Price: $18,995 - $32,595
Fuel Economy: 20 mpg City, 31 mpg Highway
While Chrysler has done a very good job designing and engineering the all-new Dodge Dart, it has a car in its dealerships that we are anxious to see replaced--the Chrysler 200.
This car is a holdover from when Chrysler was owned by Daimler and then private equity-firm Cerberus Capital. It's not that this car is awful, especially since the new Chrysler, managed by Fiat, made a series of improvements. It's that the other cars in this category are so good, and much better designed and engineered.
We hate to call the 200 "the worst" in a ranking, but somebody has to be last. And some may argue that this car belongs in a ranking of mid-sized sedans. But frankly, because of the heavy discounting and closeness of size to some of the entries here, such as the VW Jetta, we thought we'd include it.
The good news for car buyers is that if you want a good deal on a competent car, this may be your next ride. We are seeing transaction prices for the 200 LX start as low as $14,306 in our Best Deals tool. Go ahead and configure the one you want and see how dealers respond. We think you will get very good prices.
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9. Kia Forte
Price: $15,400 - $19,800
Fuel Economy: 15 mpg City, 34 mpg Highway
Snap up 2013 Kia Fortes now that are being discounted because the Korean carmaker is launching a redesigned 2014 Forte this Spring.
Our ranking here is for the 2013 model, which is not by any means one of our favorites. But we have reason to think that the new 2014 model will rate much better next year.
The 2013? The Forte is available in sedan or hatchback body styles. Both feature Kia's distinctive family grille. The Forte is available in three trims; LX (sedan only), EX and SX. The LX and EX trims feature a 156-hp 2.0L four-cylinder and a six-speed manual (standard on LX), or a six-speed automatic transmission (available on LX / standard on EX).
Interior quality and a somewhat punky 2.0 liter engine are the biggest knocks on the outgoing Forte. But if price is your main concern, get thee to the dealership. Our Best Deals tool shows that prices for the 2013 Forte start at $11,768 from some dealers. But we suspect supplies of the old Forte are running thin as the new one is about to arrive.
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8. Toyota Corolla
Price: $16,230 - $18,230
Fuel Economy: 27 mpg City, 36 mpg Highway
My goodness, how could we rank the vaunted spear carrier of reliability this low? For openers, the Corolla is in its 47th year and an all-new one is hitting showrooms in 2014.
The Corolla is one of the most beloved brands in the auto industry, the default choice (along with Honda Civic) for people who want as little drama in car ownership as possible. We aren't sure, but we think the Corolla is the top choice among insurance actuaries, the people who calculate risk when someone is seeking a life insurance policy.
So, why don't we rank the Corolla higher? The 2013 model has been around a while, and the competition is fresher. Also, the current Corolla, we feel, came up short on interior materials. Toyota's finance department seem to be on a rampage cutting costs for a couple of years and it showed.
The Corolla is still a good choice for those who want no drama and steady reliability. The price is right, and our Best Deals tool shows that starting prices for the Corolla, in its last year before a redesign, start at $15,183 from some dealers.
7. Volkswagen Jetta
Price: $15,545 - $28,200
Fuel Economy: 22 mpg City, 33 mpg Highway (gasoline version)
The VW Jetta has long been a favorite among AOL Autos and our editors, as well as driving enthusiasts. This Jetta, launched in 2010, though has drifted toward the middle of the pack when it comes to what we think.
Why? While the car was made bigger, especially for rear-seat passengers -- thus making it an excellent option for families of four -- the German engineers also took out some of the spritely driving characteristics of the car in order to make it more attractive to a larger number of buyers. In that VW has succeeded, as this new Jetta is out-selling the old one even if many journalists prefer the previous version.
The price range for the Jetta goes from 15,545 for the bare bones version to $28,200 for the GLI trim with navigation, and the car now comes in both diesel and hybrid versions. The diesel TDI is rated at 30/42 mpg, while the Hybrid, priced $24,995 to $31,180, is rated at 45/42 mpg. We feel the optimal trim level for the non-diesel Jetta is the Jetta SEL with the 2.5 liter engine. That pencils out at $22,895, but AOL Best Deals tool shows it can be had for $20,370 from some dealers.
The ride? The overall feel and driving character of the Jetta now is more, Toyota-like than VW. That is selling more cars for the company, but it's not making us move the car up in the ranking.
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6. Nissan Sentra
Price: $15,990 - $22,580
Fuel Economy: 27 mpg City/36 mpg Highway (30/39 with CVT transmission option).
The 2013 Nissan Sentra is a newly redesigned compact sedan which, depending on the dealer, is cheaper than all of its competitors. Nissan completely redesigned the Sentra to make it stand out from the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. They picked a good time to try to upset the competition, given the Toyota Corolla is really showing its age and Honda customers might have been turned off by the Civic's bad redesign which ended with the 2012 model year.
The Sentra has been kind of an also-ran in this category for a long time, and Nissan is trying to change that with its aggressive pricing and a design it hopes resonates. The cabin is particularly spacious, especially in the backseat. The roominess of the rear seats is among the best that we've seen in the segment, making it possible to actually fit a full 5 people inside.
See full review here.
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5. Dodge Dart
Price: $15,995 - $19.995
Fuel Economy: 25 mpg City, 36 mph Highway
The Dodge Dart has sporty styling, a very nice interior, and an efficient power-plant under the hood. We also love Chrysler's Uconnect (AOL Autos 2012 Technology of the Year) system that handles all the smartphone connectivity, navigation, etc.
But here's where it gets to be a problem. Like the Ford Focus, the Dodge Dart creeps up the pricing ladder in a hurry when you start checking the attractive boxes. The one we like spec'd out at almost $26,000. Value is important in this category, and as much as we like driving the Dart and recommend it, the car is a little shy on total value for us in this highly competitive category.
Check out full review here.
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4. Ford Focus
Price: $16,200 - $24,200
Fuel Economy: 26 mpg City, 36 mph Highway
The new Ford Focus is much better than its predecessor, but it also has stiff competition--including from cross-town rival GM for the first time in a long while.
We like the versatility of choice between the sedan and the hatchback, the interior design and the latest version of Sync, which makes pairing one's phone with the car much easier.
We also like that Ford invested to offer an electric version of the Focus, which we like a lot, as well as the performance-equipped Focus ST.
Where the Focus bugs us a little is in how the price creeps up in a hurry when you start checking the boxes on the stuff we want. Even the standard Focus in the Titanium trim level we spec'd out in the online configurator would hit our wallet at over $26,000 before destination charges. The SE four-door sedan, though, was a respectable $19,000.
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3. Chevrolet Cruze
Price: $17,130 - $23,550
Fuel Economy: 25 mpg City, 36 mph Highway
The Chevy Cruze Eco, our favorite trim level of the this car, suffers only from name recognition. Chevy has had a terrible time achieving consistency in this category having sold cars named Cobalt and HHR here for a few years before launching the Cruze.
How good is it? Ask Anne K., one of our readers from upstate New York who had never owned a domestic branded car since she bought a Buick Skylark from a neighbor in 1970 for $100. It was all Toyotas, Hondas and Subarus since that time, as well as one misguided adventure with a Fiat in 1977. But now, in year-two of a lease on a Cruze Eco, she is what marketers call a "brand advocate."
"I love the way this car is built and how it drives, and I get 40 mpg on a regular basis without it being a hybrid. We also have a Honda Civic Hybrid, but we prefer the Cruze."
The ECO, with the 1.4 liter, in-line four cylinder engine and a manual transmission, gets 28 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. Even without going Eco, and staying with a different trim and automatic transmission, the real world mileage is above 30 mpg for mixed driving in our experience.
2. Subaru Impreza
Price: $17,895 - $22,995
Fuel Economy: 29 mpg City, 33 mpg Highway
Sometimes we think the Impreza gets lost a bit in the discussion around compact sedans because the preferred body style for the car is the five-door hatch.
Either way, the Impreza is a wonderful piece of work for reliability, quality, driving characteristics and the best all-wheel-drive system in the business. And the company has managed, in this fairly new design, to dramatically improve the fuel economy, compared with the last Impreza, up to 33 mpg in highway driving--very good considering the weight of the all-wheel-drive system that comes standard on each car.
The Impreza, for all those reasons, is a number-one in many parts of the country where the weather tends to be snowy for a good part of the year -- New England, Great Lakes and Pacific Northwest.
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1. Hyundai Elantra
Price: $16,695 - $21,115
Fuel Economy: 28 mpg City/38 mpg Highway
One of Consumer Reports' top-rated compact sedans, the well-rounded Elantra delivers a lot for the money. It's roomier and more refined than a typical subcompact yet gets competitive fuel economy. The Elantra also provides nimble handling, a fairly comfortable ride, a smooth, responsive power-train, and a well-finished interior at an affordable price.
The Elantra is, and has been, a favorite of AOL Editors, too. Last year, and this year, we named it the best vehicle overall under $20,000.
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