Size isn't the only factor changing hearts and minds. So is price. The average sale price of a new car may have held steady for the past few years, but the economic malaise of the past four years has shifted many buyers down into the economy class. That means the $20,000 price point is as relevant as ever--maybe more so.
Good thing, then, that the choices among $20,000 small cars have never been better. Whether it's a compact or a subcompact they have in mind, budget-minded consumers have never found safer, sportier, or more feature-rich new cars on the showroom floor.
The best of these? The following compact and subcompact cars score best in TheCarConnection's overall vehicle ratings, and sport a base price of less than $20,000.
2012 Honda Fit – 8.0
Peppy and fun to drive, with a space-efficient seating arrangement thanks to the second-row fold-flat Magic Seat, and massive 20.6 cubic feet of cargo volume, the 2012 Honda Fit is well-configured, affordable transportation that also comes with a pretty generous list of features. The base Fit includes air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, cruise control, keyless entry, a USB input, and an MP3-compatible CD sound system. The small, tall hatchback is priced from $16,125 with five-speed automatic and $17,060 for the Fit Sport with five-speed manual. Fuel economy is EPA-rated at 28 mpg city/35 mpg highway (base Fit automatic) and 27/33 mpg for Fit Sport (manual and automatic).
2012 Chevrolet Sonic – 8.0
A completely new global small car, the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic is also an extremely safe car, garnering Top Safety Pick status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and a five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Our review finds the Sonic “supremely roomy, comfortable, refined, tight, and quiet for a small car.” Along with 10 standard airbags, there are other surprise standard features on all models, including alloy wheels, remote keyless entry and air conditioning. For around $15,000, you can get a pretty well-equipped Sonic that delivers 35 mpg highway fuel economy with the base 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. Step up to the 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and the highway fuel economy increases to 40 mpg.
2012 Ford Fiesta – 7.6
Available in sedan and hatchback models, the 2012 Ford Fiesta offers buyers great styling, responsive and nicely weighted steering, and a nimble, maneuverable feel. Hatchback models provide added versatility. The base Fiesta S sedan starts at just $13,995 and includes a split-folding back seat, rear heater ducts, air conditioning, power locks, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, a decent sound system with auxiliary input, and even a driver’s knee airbag. The Fiesta SE hatchback begins a $16,465. Fuel economy is rated at 28/38 mpg across the board.