Best Compact Cars Under $20K

Economic uncertainty is causing consumers to keep their vehicles an average of 11 years before replacing them, and facing sticker shock when they do go to trade them in.

Eleven years ago, $20,000 would buy what, in today’s market, costs around $30,000. The good news is that there are still a lot of good values in the $20,000 range.

Today’s compact vehicles are roomier, and offer many of the same features found in mid-sized vehicles costing up to $10,000 more according to the new Compact Car Challenge study conducted by USA TODAY, and  MotorWeek magazine.  Features commonly found in vehicles in the $20,000 range include backup cameras, all-wheel drive and sophisticated navigation and infotainment systems.

Today’s compact cars also offer great fuel economy. Most approach and some actually exceed, 40 miles per gallon.

The object of the Compact Car Challenge was to identify the best, most fuel-efficient compact vehicle available under $20,000.  Contenders included the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Ford Focus, Nissan Sentra and Subaru Impreza.

Not surprisingly, no single model exceeded in every area of the challenge.

Judges deemed the Ford Focus to be the best handling of the contenders, and with a sticker price of $18,200, it was also the lowest-priced model reviewed. It also lacked some of the features found in other vehicles and was found to have excessive road noise.

At the other end of the price spectrum was the Nissan Sentra, with a sticker price of $19,945. The Sentra featured a navigation system, backup camera and a refined interior.  Handling, however, was less than ideal.

Priced at $19,737, the Subaru Impreza was family-friendly and was the only contender to offer all-wheel drive.  Judges, however, deemed it excessively noisy and found its Bluetooth technology to be lacking.

In short, the judged agreed that choosing the right $20,000 or under compact model is ultimately a matter of deciding which compromises you’re willing to make, and which ones are deal-breakers.

If you’re not the compromising type, and you have an extra $2,000 to $3,000 to invest, it might make more sense to move up to a base model mid-size vehicle. You should keep in mind, however, that these cars tend to retain less of their resale value than the compact models in the challenge.

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