You can buy a lot of car for less than $20,000 - and we're not talking used, either. The new car market has exploded with a crop of affordable, high quality compact and subcompact automobiles that cram as many features as possible under the $20k cutoff. There has never been a better time to be shopping for an entry-level vehicle, and even buyers on a budget have an excellent list of potential candidates to choose from before spending their hard-earned dollars. Let's take a look at 10 of the best new cars under $20,000.
1) 2015 Chevrolet Cruze
It would be impossible to put together a list of the best new cars under $20k without mentioning the 2015 Chevrolet Cruze, and it’s even been treated to an exterior refresh for this model year. The Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan has been an absolute home run for General Motors, as the good-looking and well-designed automobile has helped to erase the memory of decades of sub-par entry-level efforts from the company. The Chevrolet Cruze, like many affordable cars, also boasts excellent fuel mileage: its optional 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine returns 28 mpg in city driving and 42 mpg on the highway while producing 138 horsepower. Likewise, its 1.8-liter base engine offers the same output while providing fuel mileage that checks in at 25 mpg city and 36 mpg highway.
2) 2015 Ford Focus
The 2015 Ford Focus brings European design into Detroit showrooms. When shopping for new cars under $20,000 that are available in both hatchback and sedan form, the Ford Focus stands out. The Focus delivers exceptional handling for its price point, along with the availability of features like the Ford SYNC vehicle interface. It also offers a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that develops 160 horses and 140 lb-ft of twist on its way to posting fuel mileage numbers of 26 mpg in stop-and-go driving and 38 mpg on the highway. Ford treated both hatchback and sedan forms of the Focus to a mild exterior and interior refresh for 2015.
3) 2015 Honda Civic
The 2015 Honda Civic is a mainstay of the new cars under $20k category, providing more of the same for loyal buyers. Conservatively styled, the Honda Civic is offered in sedan and coupe editions and features improved interior room for driver and passengers as well as new options for those who want to push the price tag higher. The Civic's base 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine provides 140 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque, and it also lists a fuel mileage rating of 29 mpg around town and 41 mpg on the highway when found in the special HF edition.
4) 2015 Hyundai Elantra
The 2015 Hyundai Elantra echoes the rest of the Korean brand's extroverted styling language, providing those looking for new cars under $20,000 with beautifully-sculpted sheet metal at an equally attractive price. Not all of the Hyundai Elantra's development dollars went into its exterior design, of course - under the skin the Elantra provides a composed and quiet ride and features an Active Eco mode that helps the vehicle squeeze out as many miles per gallon as possible. For 2015, Hyundai discontinued the coupe version of the Elantra, but the rest is tried and true. The Hyundai's 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine generates 148 horsepower and 131 lb-ft of torque, and fuel mileage is listed at 28 mpg in city driving and 38 mpg on the highway.
5) 2015 Ford Fiesta
The 2015 Ford Fiesta is a surprising subcompact in the sense that it imbues a sense of fun into what had previously been a dour segment for Ford. The Ford Fiesta, whether found in hatchback or sedan body styles, is intended to offer a level of handling and refinement that was previously unheard of from the automaker. The Fiesta is also ultra-efficient thanks to its lightweight design and the availability of the Super Fuel Economy (SFE) package. The latter, which is similar to the SFE package found with the Focus, makes aerodynamic improvements to the car and reduces mass wherever possible in order to help the Ford achieve 29 mpg in city driving and 40 mpg during highway cruising. All Fiestas are equipped with a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine that is good for 120 horsepower and 112 lb-ft of torque.
6) 2015 Subaru Impreza
The 2015 Subaru Impreza is unique on this list of the best new cars under $20,000 due to that fact that it features standard all-wheel drive. This means that those who live in harsher winter climates don't have to shell out a lot of cash in order to benefit from the added security - and traction - that the Subaru Impreza has to offer. The Impreza wagon and hatchback are built around a 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that delivers great fuel mileage for an all-wheel drive car. This unit is capable of achieving 28 mpg in stop and go driving and 37 mpg on the highway.
7) 2015 Mazda Mazda3
The 2015 Mazda Mazda3 base model features a peppy 2.0-liter four-cylinder that holds its own, even when cruising around with five passengers. Both versions of the Mazda3, the sedan and hatchback, were redesigned in 2014, so this popular sub-$20k car still looks and feels fresh and new. The engine returns fuel economy of 29 mpg city and 41 mpg highway, and despite its thriftiness, the Mazda3 is often praised as one of the most fun-to-drive vehicles in the class, thanks to great handling and finely-tuned steering.
8) 2015 Volkswagen Jetta
The 2015 Volkswagen Jetta is intended to appeal to those shopping for new cars under $20,000 who are looking for as much comfort as they can get. The Volkswagen Jetta is large for a compact car, offers a reasonably supple ride, and can be optioned up past the $20k mark relatively quickly. The most affordable models can be matched with either a 115-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, or a 1.8-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder unit that is good for 170 horses. Of the two, fuel mileage is better with the latter model, although not by much: the 2.0-liter returns combined ratings of 27 mpg when equipped with the automatic transmission, while the 1.8-liter turbo with the auto is rated at 29 mpg combined.
9) 2015 Jeep Compass
The 2015 Jeep Compass isn't technically one of the best new cars under $20,000 - it's actually a crossover SUV. That being said, the Jeep Compass is a definite winner when it comes to utility, thanks to its generous cargo hauling capabilities and its roomy interior. The Jeep Compass can also be matched with optional four-wheel drive in order to make it a legitimate off-road contender, which is unusual in its class. The Compass is provided with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that provides 158 horsepower, and fuel mileage for the crossover is reported as 26 mpg in stop and go driving and 30 mpg on the highway.
10) 2015 Fiat 500
It's tiny, it turns heads, and it's not all that expensive. The 2015 FIAT 500 squeaks in well below the price limit of our best new cars under $20,000 list, and it provides perhaps the most recognizable profile of all the vehicles featured here. The Fiat 500 might be small inside, but for two passengers it represents a good mix of practicality (due to its folding rear seat) and economy. The Fiat 500 is powered by a 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that puts out 101 horses, and fuel economy for the very light hatchback is rated at 30 mpg city and 38 mpg highway.