The list of cheap cars in is shrinking fast and prices have increased over the past year
Let’s first look prices in American dollars as that is our biggest audience. The Chevrolet Spark will not return for the 2023 model year. It is currently, in 2023, the cheapest new car in America with a base asking price of just $14,495 (including a reasonable $995 destination charge). The Hyundai Accent, too, is jettisoned from the marketplace for 2023, making the Venue mini-ute Hyundai’s least expensive new vehicle.
Those absences mean the Kia Rio, Mitsubishi Mirage and Nissan Versa will be left as the only new vehicles for sale in America that will start under the $20,000 threshold (at least we think so … Kia and Nissan haven’t officially confirmed the Rio and Versa are back for 2023, but haven’t signaled otherwise, either).
Last year, such solid offerings as the Kia Forte (now $20,585 including destination) Kia Soul (now $21,085), Nissan Sentra (now $21,045) Subaru Impreza (now $20,815) and Volkswagen Jetta (now $21,460) all squeaked under the $20,000 bar, but have crept over it for 2023.
So, what will be the cheapest new car in America carrying a 2023 model year?
Best (and only) cars for under $20,000:
2023 Mitsubishi Mirage
Why it stands out: Very cheap; very efficient
Could be better: Terribly slow; unpleasant to drive
With an asking price of $17,290, the 2023 Mitsubishi Mirage hatchback is the cheapest new car we know for sure is returning for 2023. Keen cheap-car observers will note that this price is quite a bit higher than the $15,690 of the 2022 Mirage hatchback, which is because the previously standard five-speed manual has been supplanted by a now-standard continuously variable automatic.
The Mitsubishi Mirage G4 sedan is slightly more expensive than its hatchback sibling with a starting price of $18,290, similarly now equipped solely with an automatic transmission.
Fuel economy from the Mirage is quite good, earning up to 39 miles per gallon combined depending on trim. Unfortunately, the Mirage is painfully slow, as it only makes 76 horsepower. It doesn’t make up for it with handling, which is sloppy and disconnected. We would not recommend this car.
As we mentioned earlier, we don’t have standard asking prices for the 2023 Kia Rio or Nissan Versa, but we expect them to carry price tags not far off from the 2022 editions. The 2022 Kia Rio started at $17,545 in sedan form or $18,485 in Rio 5-Door hatchback form. The Nissan Versa S still has a five-speed manual in 2022, and assuming that sticks around in 2023, the Versa should cost somewhere around the 2022’s $16,675 base price and officially be the cheapest new vehicle available in the United States.
2023 Nissan Versa
Why it stands out: Very cheap; decent styling; efficient with the CVT; refined driving experience
Could be better: Sedan-only; disappointing fuel economy with the manual
The Nissan Versa is an extremely strong budget offering. First off, it’s one of the cheapest cars you can buy, third cheapest in the country. It makes 122 horsepower, which in a car this size keeps it perky enough in traffic, and it’s available with either a five-speed manual or CVT. The manual is a bit inefficient with a combined fuel economy of 30 mpg, but the CVT is good with 35 mpg. The Versa is impressively quiet and comfortable without diminishing handling capability too much. The exterior and interior styling are sharp and feel a bit more polished than other subcompacts. Every trim level comes in under $20,000, so you have room to add options. It’s only available as a sedan, though, and the nearest hatchback offering from Nissan, the Kicks, starts above $20,000.
2023 Kia Rio
Why it stands out: Affordable; choice of body styles; good handling; very efficient
Could be better: A bit slow; ride is a bit stiff
The Kia Rio is basically the Kia version of the Hyundai Accent that is no longer available for 2023. It comes standard with a CVT. And, yes, that means there’s no manual transmission available. However, you can get the Rio in hatchback form (dubbed the Rio 5-Door), which does net you a little extra space along with the hatchback versatility. It’s not a fast car with its 121-horsepower engine, but it has nimble handling courtesy of it’s rather stiff, but controlled suspension. The optional S trim for the sedan is also available for under $20,000, in case you want a few more features. It’s also efficient with 36 mpg combined for both body styles.
And that’s it. There are only expected to be three new vehicles in 2023 available to purchase for less than $20,000. But there are other options if you’re willing to look at the used market.
Best Used Cars Buys for Under $20,000
While the average price for used vehicles in America has been rising right along with new cars, there are still a number of good, gently used options worth considering. Here are a few of our favorites (including some that recently were available new under our $20,000 price cap):
2016-2019 Chevrolet Volt
Our top pick is the second-generation Chevy Volt. It’s a plug-in hybrid, which means the first 50-plus miles will be on electricity (assuming it was plugged in the night before). Put simply, it’s the most efficient way to travel for less than $20,000. It’s also pretty nice to drive, with good handling, a comfortable ride, quiet operation and most of the modern technology you’d expect in a fairly new car. It’s proven reliable over the years, though having separate gasoline and electric powertrains means pricey potential repairs like full battery replacements are a potential worry although they are quite uncommon.
2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback
Any Toyota Corolla is likely to be a solidly reliable vehicle. We like the slightly smaller hatchback, which we think looks better than its sedan sibling. We also like the six-speed manual transmission, but honestly, the CVT in this application is pretty good. Being a Toyota, the Corolla ought to have strong resale value, which is a bonus if you think you might want to sell it and upgrade within a few years.
2019 Ford Fusion
Ford pulled out of the sedan segment entirely, but it sold the mid-size Fusion up until the 2020 model year. They weren’t in strong demand toward the end of its run as a new car, and the resulting low transaction prices mean they are reasonably priced on the used market, too. A Fusion is going to be much larger and likely more comfortable than any of the brand-new small economy cars that it would compare with on a pricing level. It didn’t change much over the last several years of its life, so the actual model year may not matter as much as the mileage and options.
2019 Honda Fit
Honda dropped the spunky little Fit hatchback in America after the 2020 model year. We miss its useful and roomy interior, which was cleverly designed to offer a lot more utility than you’d think based on the Fit’s small exterior dimensions. Its 1.5-liter four-cylinder spun out 130 horsepower, which isn’t a lot, but it’s better and more refined than anything you’ll experience at its price off the new-car lot. The Fit is also pretty fun to drive for those who, you know, like to drive, especially with its optional six-speed manual transmission.
2019 VW Jetta 1.4T
We’ve offered a few American and Japanese options, but if your preferences lean European, there’s one low-cost German car that you should take a look at. The Volkswagen Jetta can be found on the used market with a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and either an automatic or manual transmission. Either way, it’s a spacious package and supremely fuel efficient with ratings of 30 mpg in the city, 40 on the highway and 34 combined.
2018 Kia Sportage
Crossovers are all the rage these days, but it’s not very easy to find a nice one under our $20,000 price limit. The fourth generation of the Kia Sportage debuted in 2017, and you might have to cast a wide net to find one with the options you want and the mileage you’re willing to accept, but deals are out there.
2020 Kia Soul
The Kia Soul is funky and fun, and it used to be pretty darn cheap, too. These days it doesn’t quite qualify as an economy car, but recent model years have fallen enough that it’s a viable under-$20,000 option. The Soul has an agreeable personality, and while it may not be the most efficient car on your list, it may be one of the most versatile and practical. In its most-efficient form, the front-wheel-drive Soul returns 30 miles per gallon, and in its sportiest form offers 201 horsepower and quick acceleration. It’s also very different from other cars; it’s a unique shape that straddles the line between hatchback and crossover, and it doesn’t look like anything else on the road. If you value quirkiness, the Kia Soul should be on your list.
2020 Hyundai Venue
New Venues almost qualify to be on this list, which means gently used ones are comfortably in the mix. It’s a tall, boxy little machine that’s chock full of style, probably more than anything else in the class. Nice details are everywhere, including the unique headlights, the basket-weave grille and the angular details in the taillights. The interior is a bit less bold, but is nicely assembled, and the driving position is very crossover-like: up high with excellent visibility. Despite only having 121 horsepower and mated exclusively to a CVT, the Venue feels spunky, if not truly fast. Fuel economy is decent if not extraordinary at 31 mpg combined. The downside to the Venue is that it’s very small, with cramped rear seats and somewhat small cargo space, though the latter is helped by the flexibility of the high roof and folding seats. Also, despite being a tiny crossover, the Venue can only be had with front-wheel drive.
2020 Subaru Impreza
The Impreza offers a fair bit for the money, and we’re not just talking about its equipment. Being a compact sedan, rather than a subcompact, makes it one of the roomier vehicles on this list. It also features a bright and airy cabin. And it comes standard with all-wheel drive. In base form, the Impreza offers a manual transmission, but since so few people want a manual these days and few dealers carry them, they aren’t easy to find. It’s also offered in both sedan and hatchback form. The manual Impreza isn’t especially fuel efficient with a combined mpg of 26 mpg (the CVT manages 32 mpg), and the 152 horsepower feels pretty pokey.
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