Best Cars for $20,000
"What's the best car you can buy?"
As car reviewers, we get asked that question all the time. But responding literally with "Ferrari Superfast" isn't exactly helpful.
Instead, we turn the question around and ask, "how much money can I spend?" That usually provides more helpful results so we decided to put those answers into this series, selecting cars from a variety of vehicle types at each price point. We didn't just look at starting MSRP, either. We considered trim levels and at what price point each car becomes desirable, as well as the prices of actual cars on sale at dealerships using our new car dealer inventory pages here on Autoblog.
2018 Honda Fit
For $20,000, you can get an awful lot of Honda Fit. And at any price, the 2018 Honda Fit is an awful lot of car. Perhaps nothing else on the market gets the most interior space out of its exterior footprint, offering genuine adult-friendly back seat space and a cargo capacity that rivals that of small SUVs (let alone compact and midsize sedans). At this price point, you'll also be getting a lot more equipment than the other cars here, including heated leather seats, two USB ports, keyless push-button start and a sunroof.
Research the 2018 Honda Fit
2018 Kia Soul
The Kia Soul is spacious, stylish, packed with features and, although it's not marketed as an SUV, it's arguably more appealing than many subcompact models that are in this price range. Sure, it's not available with all-wheel drive, but the majority of subcompact SUV buyers don't actually opt for it (and if you do want all-wheel drive, see our next entry). Really, it's hard to get more style, practicality and feature content at this price point.
Research the 2018 Kia Soul
2018 Subaru Impreza
Available in sedan and hatchback body styles, the Impreza is a well-rounded compact car that offers a lot more than just standard all-wheel drive. It's not a powerhouse, but it is comfortable, handles well and has an excellent touchscreen tech interface. We even named it one of the best new family cars introduced for 2017. But as it does have all-wheel drive, it has a clear leg-up on its compact car competitors, as well as the bigger midsize cars on this list, for those who live where things get slippery.
Research the 2018 Subaru Impreza
2018 Mazda 3
Admittedly, the Mazda 3 is more desirable at higher price points where it benefits from near-luxury levels of equipment and a more powerful engine. But for $20,000, its base Sport trim level is still one heck of car. It is one of our favorite compact cars to drive (some editors rank it No. 1), as it possesses excellent steering and handling, along with a responsive four-cylinder engine that achieves thrifty fuel economy without resorting to a fun-sapping continuously variable transmission. You can even get a sweet manual transmission.
Like the Impreza, the Mazda3 is available in sedan and hatchback body styles, but the latter has some extra equipment and will likely fall out of the $20,000 price range unless you get one from the previous model year (say a 2017 when 2018's are arriving in dealers).
Research the 2018 Mazda Mazda3
2018 Chevrolet Malibu
Yes, you can get a 2018 Chevrolet Malibu for $20,000. And no, they aren't some rental-spec tripper L versions. The 2018 Malibu's we found on our Autoblog dealer inventory pages are the LS trim, which comes with alloy wheels, keyless push-button start, a 7-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and 4G LTE WiFi. There's more standard tech than the other cars here. The Malibu also boasts a large, midsize sedan interior and is one of the best in its class to drive, too.
Research the 2018 Chevrolet Malibu
Nissan Rogue Sport
The Nissan Rogue Sport may not be on anyone's list of most desirable SUVs, but it nevertheless delivers an awful lot to those seeking a new SUV for $20,000. The S base model should be easily found on dealer lots for less than 20 grand, but we also found a few SV upper trims in this price range. That's definitely worth searching for since it adds a wealth of desirable features like alloy wheels, push-button start, dual-zone climate control, a power driver seat and a handy cargo management system. Every trim offers more passenger and cargo space than subcompact SUVs (Jeep Renegade, Chevy Trax), above-average interior quality for the price and a superior driving experience to the bigger, regular Rogue.