The Best 2018 Cars Under $20,000
Everything you need without breaking the bankby Jonathan Lopez, on
Finding the right car for you isn’t exactly easy. From horsepower to mpg, interior room to standard equipment, there’s a lot to take in and consider. Of course, doing your homework is critical to finding that perfect ride, and luckily, if you’re looking for something under the $20K-mark, we’ve got you covered right here.
Continue reading for the full list.
Although it’s matched up against well-established (and more expensive) competition, the Kia Forte still manages to hold its own.
Although it’s matched up against well-established competition from the likes of Toyota and Honda, the Kia Forte still manages to hold its own and go toe to toe with more expensive models in the segment, and as a result, it’s racked up a huge number of sales in the U.S. market.
The latest third generation was recently introduced for the 2019 model year, gaining both a sharper exterior style and a more luxurious interior spec. Offered in both a hatchback and coupe body style, we think the Forte is definitely much more attractive this time around, especially with regards to the cues taken from the hot-to-trot Kia Stinger GT. LED lighting adds a premium touch, and the exterior dimensions are a bit bigger as well.
Inside, there’s an upright infotainment screen on top of a two-tier dash, plus some chrome trim. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay add infotainment goodness, while cargo space is rated at 15.1 cubic feet, which is pretty good for the segment. It also gets a number of high-tech safety systems, all of which helped it to achieve a Top Safety Pick+ award from the IIHS for 2019.
Power comes from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which makes upwards of 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. Previous model years also included a 164-horsepower option, while the SX hatch offers a turbo 1.6-liter four-banger doling out 201 horses. Be advised though, if you do go for the turbo, pricing jumps to nearly $24,000.
Transmission options include a six-speed manual and a new IVT, or Intelligent Variable Transmission, which is similar to a traditional Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), but comes with less of the usual “rubber band feel” normally associated with the transmission type. Fuel returns are estimated at a combined 35 mpg.
|2018 Kia Forte LX||$16,800|
|2018 Kia Forte S||$19,400|
|2018 Kia Forte EX||$21,700|
|2018 Kia Forte5 LX||$18,300|
|2018 Kia Forte5 EX||$22,200|
|2018 Kia Forte5 SX||$23,900|
Read our full review of the 2019 Kia Forte.
The Elantra looks to be many things to most people, and impressively, it makes it work.
The Hyundai Elantra is another one of those plucky outliers geared to take on more established rivals. So far, Hyundai has found a good deal of success with the Elantra, posting figures that make the nameplate one of its best-sellers.
The latest sixth-generation debuted at the 2016 Los Angeles Auto show, bringing more refined styling thanks to drawn-back, narrow headlight housings, and a hexagonal central intake. The interior is also quite refined, offering up a pair of heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto through a 7.0-inch touchscreen.
Providing the motivation is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, which is identical to the Forte. However, if you wanna save at the pump, there’s also the 128-horsepower Eco trim that manages upwards of 40 mpg on the highway. Transmission options include a six-speed manual as standard, with a six-speed automatic and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic rounding out the options list.
Indeed, the Elantra looks to be many things to most people, and impressively, it makes it work.
|2018 Hyundai Elantra M/T||2.0L 4-cylinder||6-speed Manual Transmission||$16,950|
|2018 Hyundai Elantra SE||2.0L 4-cylinder||6-speed Automatic Transmission with SHIFTRONIC®||$17,950|
|2018 Hyundai Elantra SE||2.0L 4-cylinder SULEV||6-speed Automatic Transmission with SHIFTRONIC®||$17,950|
|2018 Hyundai Elantra SEL||2.0L 4-cylinder||6-speed Automatic Transmission with SHIFTRONIC®||$18,850|
|2018 Hyundai Elantra SEL||2.0L 4-cylinder SULEV||6-speed Automatic Transmission with SHIFTRONIC®||$18,850|
|2018 Hyundai Elantra Value Edition||2.0L 4-cylinder||6-speed Automatic Transmission with SHIFTRONIC®||$19,850|
|2018 Hyundai Elantra Value Edition||2.0L 4-cylinder SULEV||6-speed Automatic Transmission with SHIFTRONIC®||$19,850|
|2018 Hyundai Elantra Eco||1.4L Turbo GDI 4-cylinder||7-speed EcoShift® Dual Clutch Transmission w/ SHIFTRONIC®||$20,550|
|2018 Hyundai Elantra Limited||2.0L 4-cylinder||6-speed Automatic Transmission with SHIFTRONIC®||$22,100|
|2018 Hyundai Elantra Limited||2.0L 4-cylinder SULEV||6-speed Automatic Transmission with SHIFTRONIC®||$22,100|
|2018 Hyundai Elantra Sport||1.6L Turbo GDI 4-cylinder||6-speed Manual Transmission||$21,800|
|2018 Hyundai Elantra Sport||1.6L Turbo GDI 4-cylinder||7-speed EcoShift® Dual Clutch Transmission w/ SHIFTRONIC®||$22,900|
Read our full review of the 2018 Hyundai Elantra.
The Cruze is a quiet, comfortable, and well-equipped little compact with just the right stuff to help you along in your daily commute.
The Cruze is a quiet, comfortable, and well-equipped little compact from the Bow Tie badge, offering just the right stuff to help you along in your daily commute.
Chevy dropped the second generation for the 2016 model year, blessing the nameplate with more space and fresh looks. More recently, the Cruze received a mid-cycle facelift for the 2019 model year, with updates including the addition of the more-affordable LS trim level in a hatchback body style, as well as a new third-generation MyLink infotainment platform, and a refresh for the sportier RS package. Chevy is also ditching the six-speed manual transmission option moving forward, replacing each of the three-pedaled models with automatic iterations.
Inside, you get a 7.0-inch touchscreen and an available 8.0-inch option, with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay both equipped as standard. There’s also optional Wi-Fi, plus available safety and convenience tech like lane keep assist, forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert, and blind spot zone alert. Heated front seats and a heated steering wheel add even more loveliness.
Under the hood, the Cruze gets a 1.4-liter four-cylinder, which produces upwards of 153 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. The run to 60 mph takes about 8 seconds, while fill-ups will net you a combined 32 mpg. There’s also a turbodiesel engine option if you crave even more fuel efficiency. And, as previously mentioned, the old models came with a six-speed manual, but a six-speed automatic should be the only transmission option with the arrival of the 2019 model year.
Chevy has yet to release pricing for the latest Cruze, but we’ve listed the outgoing model’s MSRP below for reference all the same.
|2018 Chevroler Cruze L Manual||$17,850|
|2018 Chevroler Cruze LS Manual||$19,400|
|2018 Chevroler Cruze LS Automatic||$20,400|
|2018 Chevroler Cruze LT Manual||$21,795|
|2018 Chevroler Cruze LT Hatch Manual||$22,195|
|2018 Chevroler Cruze LT Automatic||$22,395|
|2018 Chevroler Cruze LT Hatch Automatic||$22,795|
|2018 Chevroler Cruze Premier Automatic||$24,395|
|2018 Chevroler Cruze Diesel Manual||$24,695|
|2018 Chevroler Cruze Premier Hatch Automatic||$24,895|
|2018 Chevroler Cruze Diesel Automatic||$26,295|
|2018 Chevroler Cruze Diesel Hatch Manual||$26,395|
|2018 Chevroler Cruze Diesel Hatch Automatic||$26,795|
Read our full review of the 2018 Chevrolet Cruze.
If you feel the need for extra output, opt into the SR Turbo trim level, which ditches the 1.8-liter in favor of a boosted 1.6-liter four-cylinder.
The Sentra is Nissan’s take on the compact sedan segment, and it comes loaded with more standard equipment for the 2018 model year. Standout features include a rear backup camera, automatic emergency braking, automatic headlights, and a 5.0-inch display for the cabin.
Higher in the range, you can get good stuff like 17-inch alloys, a Bose audio system, a moonroof, leather upholstery, and more. It’s also worth mentioning the Sentra offers a good amount of space inside, including room for passengers and cargo.
The Sentra’s standard spec equips a 1.8-liter four-cylinder, with output rated 124 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. At the pump, expect an average of about 29 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway - decent, but not great. It’s also pretty slow, taking 9.5 seconds to hit 60 mph. Both a CVT and a manual can be had on the transmission front, with the six-speed stick offered as standard.
If you feel the need for extra output, opt into the SR Turbo trim level, which ditches the 1.8-liter in favor of a boosted 1.6-liter four-cylinder producing 188 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. The newfound motivation helps to slash the 0-to-60 mph time to just 7 seconds flat.
|2018 Nissan Sentra S||1.8 Liter I4||M/T||$16,990|
|2018 Nissan Sentra S 1.8 Liter I4||Xtronic||$18,275|
|2018 Nissan Sentra SV||1.8 Liter I4||Xtronic||$19,085|
|2018 Nissan Sentra SR||1.8 Liter I4||Xtronic||$20,500|
|2018 Nissan Sentra SL||1.8 Liter I4||Xtronic||$23,440|
|2018 Nissan Sentra SR TURBO||1.6 Liter I4||M/T||$22,200|
|2018 Nissan Sentra SR TURBO||1.6 Liter I4||Xtronic||$22,490|
|2018 Nissan Sentra NISMO||1.6 Liter I4||M/T||$25,790|
|2018 Nissan Sentra NISMO||1.6 Liter I4||Xtronic||$25,790|
Read our full review of the 2018 Nissan Sentra.
The Focus is one of the Blue Oval’s most established and well-respected nameplates, and it’s lined up for a fourth generation for the 2019 model year.
The Focus is one of the Blue Oval’s most established and well-respected nameplates, with a presence in the compact segment that stretches back to the late ‘90s. Now, the Focus is lined up for a fourth generation as it heads into the 2019 model year, bringing with it an updated interior, more technology, and a new platform as well.
Outside, the Focus gets a restyled fascia with a premium-looking LED lighting signature. However, the changes are more than skin-deep, as the fresh underpinnings shave nearly 200 pounds from the curb weight.
The new platform also blesses the Focus with a longer wheelbase, something you definitely notice in the cabin thanks to an extra 2.8 inches of legroom, an extra 2.5 inches of shoulder room, and an extra 2.0 inches of knee room. No word on cargo space, but considering the previous model offered 23.3 cubic feet of cargo behind the rear bench and 43.9 cubic feet with the seats folded flat, you can bet the 2019 model year will get a nice little boost here as well.
We’re still waiting on specs for the updated U.S. model’s powertrain, but for now, the Focus gets a standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder producing 160 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. There’s also an optional turbocharged 1.0-liter three-cylinder with 123 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque, which is the more efficient choice of the two, returning upwards of 30 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway as compared to the four-cylinder’s 26 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway.
Finally, transmission options include a six-speed automatic, while a five-speed manual is offered on the sedan models.
|2018 Ford Focus S Sedan||$17,950|
|2018 Ford Focus SE Sedan||$19,245|
|2018 Ford Focus SE Hatch||$20,540|
|2018 Ford Focus SEL Sedan||$21,470|
|2018 Ford Focus SEL Hatch||$21,670|
|2018 Ford Focus Titanium Sedan||$24,270|
|2018 Ford Focus Titanium Hatch||$24,470|
Read our full review of the 2019 Ford Focus.
The Impreza stands out thanks to its standard AWD, which makes it particularly well-suited for those buyers living above the snow line.
While every other entry on this list comes with FWD, the Impreza stands out thanks to its standard Symmetrical AWD (a Subaru specialty), which makes it particularly well-suited for those buyers living above the snow line. The latest fifth-generation vehicle was introduced in 2016, and comes in both sedan and lift-back hatch iterations.
The latest model year comes with a newly reshaped exterior, with LED lighting signatures and sportier lines. The wheelbase is also an inch longer than the previous generation.
Inside, the cabin gets a standard 6.5-inch touchscreen in the dash, with the option to upgrade to an 8.0-inch unit. Above the screen is a secondary information display, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto add extra infotainment goodness.
On the power front, the Impreza comes standard with Subaru’s iconic boxer engine layout, rocking a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder tuned to produce 152 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual comes as standard equipment on the base model and Sport trim, while a CVT is optional, added as a standard spec higher in the line. Fuel returns come to 24 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway, while the CVT ups those figures to 28 mpg and 38 mpg respectively.
Go for the hatchback, and you’ll get 20.8 cubic feet behind the rear bench, with 55.3 cubic feet offered with the rear seats folded flat.
|2018 Subaru Impreza 2.0i||5MT||$18,495|
|2018 Subaru Impreza 2.0i||CVT||$19,495|
|2018 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Premium||CVT||$21,295|
|2018 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport||5MT||$22,095|
|2018 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport||CVT||$22,895|
|2018 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Limited||CVT||$24,195|
Read our full review of the 2018 Subaru Impreza.
We like the Veloster for its funky, sporty attitude, and its surprising amount of equipment, all of which can be had for a very reasonable price tag.
Our next entry is the sporty Veloster, once again hailing from the South Korean brand Hyundai. All told, we like this thing for its funky, sporty attitude, and its surprising amount of equipment, all of which can be had for a very reasonable price tag.
Outside, the Veloster looks good thanks to LED lighting signatures and flared fenders on top of a long-roof hatch body style. Options include a two-tone paint scheme and plus-sized 18-inch wheels. Indeed, the Veloster is definitely unique, with a funky 2+1 door layout that places one door on the driver’s side and two doors on the passenger’s side.
Despite the weird and cool exterior door design, the Veloster still seats up to four passengers thanks to its decently sized rear bench. Up front, there’s a sporty interior layout and horizontal dash. A 7.0-inch digital screen comes as standard, while optional equipment tosses in a 8.0-inch touchscreen and a high-tech heads-up display as well. The Veloster also includes something called Active Sound Design, which enhances the car’s natural intake and exhaust note for even more excitement behind the wheel.
The base model Veloster comes equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder spinning out 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. Transmission options here include a six-speed automatic and a six-speed manual. Higher in the range, Hyundai offers a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder making 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque, which is upped to 202 pound-feet with the overboost function activated. Sweet!
|2019 Hyundai Veloster 2.0 M/T||$18,500|
|2019 Hyundai Veloster 2.0 A/T||$19,500|
|2019 Hyundai Veloster 2.0 A/T PREMIUM||$22,750|
|2019 Hyundai Veloster TURBO R-SPEC M/T||$22,900|
|2019 Hyundai Veloster TURBO DCT||$25,400|
|2019 Hyundai Veloster TURBO ULTIMATE M/T||$26,650|
|2019 Hyundai Veloster TURBO ULTIMATE DCT||$28,150|
Read our full review of the 2019 Hyundai Veloster.
If you’ve got your heart set on a premium German four-door, but don’t wanna break the bank to get it, then the Jetta is a surefire winner.
If you’ve got your heart set on a premium German four-door, but don’t wanna break the bank to get it, then the refreshed 2019 Volkswagen Jetta is a surefire winner. This sedan is clearly aimed at providing buyers with a more premium feel than before, hitting the scene with a clean look, both inside and out.
As for the exterior design, Volkswagen looked to the larger Arteon and more expensive Audi A4 for the inspiration. LED lighting comes as standard, while the R-Line package adds more sportiness.
There’s also a new MQB platform under the sheet metal, and the dimensions are both longer and wider than the preceding model year.
Stepping into the cabin, the Jetta definitely reminds us of an Audi thanks to its premium asymmetrical dash layout. The central stack and infotainment screen are angled towards the driver, while the layout is cleverly done to minimize clutter and maximize ease of use. Options are plentiful, and include heated and ventilated seats, leather upholstery, 10-color ambient lighting, and a dual-zone automatic climate control system, not to mention a Volkswagen Digital Cockpit gauge setup.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto help in the infotainment department as well, while safety gear like Autonomous Emergency Braking, High Beam Control, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Forward Collision Warning help to ease the mind.
As for motivation, the Jetta comes equipped with a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder, which is boosted to produce as much as 147 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Standard spec throws in a six-speed manual transmission, while an eight-speed automatic is offered as optional equipment. Expect the latter of these two transmissions to return as much as 40 mpg on the highway.
|2019 Volkswagen Jetta S six-speed manual||$18,545|
|2019 Volkswagen Jetta S eight-speed automatic||$19,345|
|2019 Volkswagen Jetta SE||$22,155|
|2019 Volkswagen Jetta R-Line||$22,995|
|2019 Volkswagen Jetta Jetta SEL||$24,415|
|2019 Volkswagen Jetta SEL Premium||$26,945|
Read our full review of the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta.
While pricey, the latest Toyota Corolla Hatchback definitely left us feeling impressed.
Granted, we’re just barely skimming the pricing cutoff here, but we think the latest Toyota Corolla Hatchback is worth it. With a whopping 11 generations and a nameplate the stretches back to the mid ‘60s, it’s hard to believe this thing feels so fresh - but believe it you should, as this thing definitely has us impressed.
Outside, the Corolla hatch actually makes Toyota’s infamously large grille design work, with an attractive profile, narrow headlights, and sizable roller designs up to 18 inches in diameter balancing the nose-heavy aesthetic without issue. LED lighting can be found in the front and the rear, while the dimensions are lower, shorter, and wider than the preceding iM hatch.
Inside, all is well thanks to a very clean dash design. Hard buttons and other clutter-inducing items are at a minimum, with standard spec tossing in Apple CarPlay, a six-speaker stereo, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen. Options include Qi wireless charging, a 7.0-inch driver’s info display, and an eight-speaker audio system. It’s also surprisingly quiet and roomy, as well.
Behind the large grille, Toyota mounts a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which creates as much as 168 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. Transmission options include a six-speed manual with newbie-friendly automatic rev-matching, as well as a sequential Shiftmatic CVT with 10 simulated gears.
Throw in a sport-tuned suspension, and you call us fans.
|2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback SE 6MT||$19,990|
|2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback SE CVTi-S||$21,090|
|2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE 6MT||$22,990|
|2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE CVTi-S||$24,090|
|2019 Toyota Corolla L CVTi-S||$18,700|
|2019 Toyota Corolla LE CVTi-S||$19,135|
|2019 Toyota Corolla LE ECO CVTi-S||$19,535|
|2019 Toyota Corolla XLE CVTi-S||$22,135|
|2019 Toyota Corolla SE CVTi-S||$20,645|
|2019 Toyota Corolla SE 6MT||$21,865|
|2019 Toyota Corolla XSE CVTi-S||$22,880|
Read our full review of the 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback.
Offering an ideal blend of comfort, practicality, and efficiency, the Civic is very good at many different things.
Like several other entries on this list, the Civic is an absolute icon for its respective manufacturer, touting an incredible 10 generations to its name. The latest was introduced in 2016, and it comes with a wide variety of updates and new gear.
Offering an ideal blend of comfort, practicality, and efficiency, the Civic is very good at many different things. Engine options include a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 158 horsepower and a turbocharged 1.5-liter making 174 horsepower, while the slightly spicier Sport trim level is boosted to 180 horsepower. Both a six-speed manual and CVT can be had to route the power to the front axle. Fuel return figures round up to 40 mpg on the highway.
Optional equipment includes larger wheels, leather upholstery, and a whole lot more. The styling is certainly unique as well, with a ton of individual lines and aesthetic elements helping it stand out from the compact crowd.
High-tech safety features include stuff like Collision Mitigation Braking, Road Departure Mitigation, Adaptive Cruise Control with Low-Speed Follow, and Lane Keeping Assist.
|Civic LX Sedan 2.0 L||6-Speed Manual||$18,940|
|Civic LX Sedan 2.0 L||CVT||$19,740|
|Civic LX Sedan w/Honda Sensing 2.0 L||CVT||$20,740|
|Civic EX Sedan 2.0 L||CVT||$21,340|
|Civic EX Sedan w/Honda Sensing 2.0 L||CVT||$22,340|
|Civic EX-T Sedan 1.5 L Turbo||Manual||$21,700|
|Civic EX-T Sedan 1.5 L Turbo||CVT||$22,500|
|Civic EX-T Sedan 1.5 L Turbo w/Honda Sensing||CVT||$23,500|
|Civic EX-L Sedan 1.5 L Turbo||CVT||$24,000|
|Civic EX-L Sedan 1.5 L Turbo w/Honda Sensing||CVT||$25,000|
|Civic EX-L Sedan 1.5 L Turbo Navi||CVT||$26,000|
|Civic Touring Sedan 1.5 L Turbo||CVT||$26,800|
Read our full review of the 2018 Honda Civic.
Out of all the cars listed above, there are some that seem to rise above the rest.
Let’s start with the Hyundai Elantra, which manages to stuff in a ton of value for the money, offering loads of equipment and options for not much outlay.
We’re also big fans of the Ford Focus, which manages to pull off the commuter role while still offering up a good amount of fun when the road gets twisty. Hatchback practicality is a big plus as well.
Then there’s the Impreza, the only model in the list that offers standard AWD. In addition to solid equipment and a decent engine lineup, the extra driven wheels should make this one a no-brainer if you see white stuff every winter.
If refinement and high quality are what you’re after, then the Jetta is certainly a worthy choice, pulling from the Volkswagen Group’s massive parts bin to create something that’ll have everyone else thinking you paid a whole lot more than you actually did.
Finally, the Civic is the best “all-rounder” of the group, touting a perfect balance in all the areas that matter.