12 Commuter Cars Under $20,000

Inexpensive Cars With Features to Ease Your Daily Drive

Car buyers paid an average of more than $34,000 for their new vehicles in June 2017, according to Kelley Blue Book. That means monthly payments of about $550 on a car loan for five years at 3 percent, with 10 percent down. 

But you can get a really good car for far less. And, if you buy it for 40 or 50 percent less, you’ll save a couple of hundred bucks or so a month that you could put into your retirement account. That doesn’t mean you’ll get half the car, though.

Yes, sub-$20,000 cars tend to have relatively diminutive dimensions outside, although not necessarily inside. You might be surprised at all the standard features you’ll get, including some fancy ones that came only on larger, more expensive vehicles a few years ago. And, generally speaking, a smaller car will get better gas mileage and cost less to keep up.

The dozen sub-$20K cars I’ve listed aren’t bare-bones econoboxes. Each has a 6-speed automatic transmission or a CVT, plus air conditioning—necessities for long commutes. All have power door locks, and most have remote keyless entry. With the exception of the Sonic LS sedan, each has power windows. With the exception of the Elantra SE, each comes with Bluetooth connectivity. (Hyundai made Bluetooth standard for 2018.) And many come with touch-screen infotainment systems, satellite radio, and a rearview camera as standard equipment. 

Keep in mind that the prices (calculated at press time) are manufacturer’s suggested retail prices, including destination fee, for 2017 models, and don’t include any extra-cost option packages. Prices may be a bit higher on the 2018 models.

You’ll have to add taxes and license, too, although these costs could be offset by shrewd negotiating and automaker incentives. 

The cars, in alphabetical order, are:

  1. Chevrolet Sonic LS sedan. MSRP: $17,270. A sophisticated infotainment system, with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone compatibility and a Wi-Fi hotspot, is a Sonic hallmark. 
  2. Fiat 500 Pop. MSRP: $16,985. See Car Reviews.
  3. Ford Focus S sedan. MSRP: $18,745. The Focus S sedan trim features sleek styling, a rearview camera, and a strong, 160-hp engine.
  4. Honda Fit LX CVT. MSRP: $17,765. The Fit’s roomy cabin has innovative flip-and-fold seats that provide versatile seating/cargo arrangements.
  5. Hyundai Elantra SE Sedan. MSRP: $18,985. The Elantra received a major refresh for ’17 and has a generous 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
  6. Kia Forte LX. MSRP: $18,495. See Car Reviews.
  7. Kia Soul Base. MSRP: $18,595. Looking more SUV than car, the upright, boxy Soul provides the cargo/passenger capacity of a crossover.
  8. Mazda3 Sport. MSRP: $19,770. Widely praised for its lively, responsive handling, the Mazda3 comes with such goodies as a large infotainment screen and push-button start.
  9. Nissan Versa Note SV. MSRP: $17,265. Small on the outside but roomy on the inside, the Note boasts plenty of room for four and excellent fuel economy.
  10. Toyota Corolla LE. MSRP: $19,830. Updated this year, the Corolla comes with an impressive array of standard features, including forward-collision warning and emergency-braking safety systems. It’s also exceptionally reliable.
  11. Toyota Yaris iA. MSRP: $17,945. See Car Reviews.
  12. Volkswagen Jetta 1.4 TS. MSRP: $19,815. The German-derived Jetta has a turbocharged engine that delivers lively acceleration with commendable fuel economy.

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