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Top 6 Distinctive Compact Cars for $20,000

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2012 Ford Fiesta

author photo by Jeffrey Archer

Although many automakers offer highly competent compact cars for under $20,000, car shoppers interested in making a splash on the road may be disappointed with the traditional styling offered by many of today's most popular sedans and hatchbacks. To help buyers who are looking for a little flair, we've made a list of our favorite reasonably priced compact cars. These six combine the practicality, efficiency and reliability of a compact car with eye-grabbing styling that's sure to turn heads.

Ford Fiesta Hatchback

While the styling of Ford's recently released Fiesta sedan is certainly a break from the norm, the most exciting model in the subcompact's lineup is the practical five-door hatchback. Available from just $14,895 after destination-and before any incentives-the five-door Fiesta is sure to get noticed on the road thanks to an overly aggressive front bumper, dramatic rear styling and sculpted character lines that run down both sides. But for shoppers who are concerned that the Fiesta is still too traditional, we recommend the SES hatchback, which features luxurious standard equipment and flashy alloy wheels. We also suggest a jazzy color. Our favorites are the mac-and-cheese lookalike Yellow Blaze metallic or, for the truly brave, the hatchback's signature bright green hue, which Ford dubs Lime Squeeze metallic.

Honda CR-Z

Honda's sporty CR-Z Hybrid barely squeezes into our budget-it starts at $19,545 before shipping-but we think it won't be hard for buyers to talk a dealer into selling them a base model with a manual transmission for $20,000 out the door. If that's true, the hatchback is certainly a great value thanks to standard automatic climate control, 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, an iPod hookup and, best of all, a 122-horsepower hybrid powerplant capable of nearly 40 mpg on the highway. Despite its generous equipment list and surprisingly potent engine, the CR-Z's best asset is its eye-grabbing styling, which still turns heads nearly two years after the hatchback's debut. And while there's no bad color on the CR-Z, it's hard to turn down Milano Red, which highlights the car's black A-pillars and exterior trim.

Hyundai Veloster

Thanks to its unique three-door setup, highly sloped roof line, steeply raked windshield and striking alloy wheels, the Veloster is certainly not a car that will be missed in traffic. But with a base price of around $18,000 after destination, it's also surprisingly affordable, especially considering fuel economy ratings of up to 40 mpg in highway driving. Although $20,000 isn't quite enough cash for the hatchback's all-new 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder powerplant, we think the standard 138-hp mill provides everything an attention-seeking compact-car shopper needs. That's particularly true when the hatchback is dressed in Hyundai's extravagant Electrolyte Green or Marathon Blue.

Kia Soul

Kia's compact Forte sedan may be a reliable, well-equipped compact sedan, but it's hard not to prefer the automaker's unique Soul hatchback instead. In addition to a reasonable base price of less than $15,000, the Soul somehow manages to offer unique, eye-catching styling without verging on offensive or even ugly. For car shoppers looking to stand out, our choice would be a top-of-the-line Soul !, which features stylized 18-inch wheels, a power sunroof, a rear-view camera and Kia's new UVO information and entertainment system-all for a base price of just over $20,000 with shipping.We'd also pick the Soul's distinctive Alien Green paint finish, which is sure to get noticed at traffic lights.

Nissan Cube

If you can get past the distinctive Cube's asymmetrical love-it-or-hate-it styling, you'll find that the hatchback actually offers an exceptional combination of cavernous interior space, miserly fuel economy and generous equipment. Priced from less than $16,000 after destination, the Cube features a 122-hp 1.8-liter 4-cylinder that achieves up to 30 mpg on the highway with an available continuously variable automatic transmission. It also offers nearly 60 cubic feet of cargo volume with its seats folded flat, which lags only slightly behind compact SUVs like the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4. Best of all, the upscale Cube 1.8SL offers luxurious standard features like automatic climate control, automatic headlights and push-button start for less than $20,000-although we prefer the quirky hubcaps included on base-level 1.8 and midrange 1.8S models.

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Volkswagen Beetle

It's been available for more than 10 years, but Volkswagen's charming Beetle still turns heads on the road. Despite a 2012 redesign, the latest Beetle retains all of the same exaggerated flair as its predecessor, albeit with a few new design cues. Among them are a flattened roof that implies a slightly more masculine design, LED lamps that shine brightly from the headlight cluster and standard 17-inch throwback wheels that spread the hatchback's retro design theme from floor to ceiling. But underneath its rounded exterior, the Beetle is also a competent four-seat hatchback thanks to a long list of standard equipment, top-notch build quality and a 170-hp 2.5-liter engine capable of achieving up to 30 mpg in highway driving.

What it means to you: You don't have to spend a lot to get an exciting new car that turns heads.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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Top 6 Distinctive Compact Cars for $20,000