Our latest list disproves the notion that shoppers on a budget can only afford the smallest cars available. We've listed several of our favorite compact cars--like the Toyota Matrix--that include room for your friends, your family and your gear. Best of all, we've capped our budget at $20,000, ensuring each of our choices are affordable for many of today's car buyers.

Ford Focus

While the four-door Ford Focus sedan outsells its hatchback counterpart, we recommend the hatch for buyers who want to combine cargo capacity and passenger room. With a starting price of around $19,000 including destination, the Focus hatchback is highly affordable, and it even includes several convenient features, such as automatic headlights, remote keyless entry and power windows. It also offers nearly 45 cubic feet of space with its rear seats folded, giving it some of the best cargo capacity in its class. Another selling point is the Focus's 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, which is capable of achieving EPA-rated fuel economy figures of up to 40 miles per gallon in highway driving.

Honda Fit

The five-door Honda Fit subcompact may look small from the outside, but the hatchback actually offers a surprising amount of room for passengers and cargo. Starting around $16,000 including destination, the Fit boasts a whopping 57 cu ft of cargo space with its seat folded down--a figure that even trumps larger rivals like the Ford Focus thanks to the Fit's higher roofline. But while its cargo area is large, the Fit includes ample room for up to three rear passengers. That lets the Fit haul both gear and people while returning up to 35 mpg with its available automatic transmission.

Kia Soul

The  unconventional Kia Soul hatchback boasts several important features that make it a highly competitive compact car. For one, it offers tremendous fuel efficiency, returning nearly 35 mpg with either a standard 6-speed manual or an available 6-speed automatic transmission. It also includes impressive cargo room, boasting a terrific 23 cu ft of space with its rear seats in place, or more than 50 cu ft with the seats folded flat. Rounding out the Soul's strong package is a striking appearance, which helps buyers stand out while they're carting around passengers and gear efficiently.

Mazda3

The sporty Mazda3 hatchback's base price of just over $20,000 including destination stretches our budget, but many shoppers will likely consider the handsome compact worth it. In addition to offering a large cargo area, low load floor and room for five, the Mazda3 includes a peppy 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine capable of reaching 33 mpg on the highway with its standard 5-speed manual transmission. For buyers who can make do with something slightly smaller, the subcompact Mazda2 also offers a four-door hatchback design but boasts a base price of just $15,000 including destination.

Nissan Versa

Both versions of the subcompact Nissan Versa offer tremendous fuel economy and excellent interior room for well under $20,000. While the Versa hatchback still uses the model's previous body style, its practical cargo area gives it an advantage over sedan competitors--especially with its rear seats folded down. Meanwhile, the larger Versa sedan provides ample leg room for rear passengers while retaining nearly 15 cu ft of space in back. With a starting price of just over $11,000 including destination, the Versa is also among the least expensive cars available today, a fact that guarantees affordability for a range of car shoppers.

Toyota Matrix

With four full-size doors and a starting price of around $19,000 including destination, the compact Toyota Matrix is a great choice for budget-minded shoppers who often carry passengers. The Matrix is also a great choice for buyers who haul lots of gear, since it features nearly 50 cu ft of cargo space with its rear seats folded, or around 20 cu ft with all seats in place. And unlike many rivals, the Matrix offers the year-round security of available all-wheel drive, making it a great choice for budget-minded shoppers who live in snowy northern climates.

Volkswagen Golf

Although the four-door Golf's base price of $19,795 means it barely slides under our budget, the hatchback is a great choice for shoppers interested in a compact that can carry people and equipment with ease. In addition to offering passenger room that rivals its Jetta sedan stable mate, the Golf includes a huge cargo area with more than 45 cu ft of space. It also comes standard with more equipment than nearly every rival, and a 170-horsepower 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine that returns more than 30 mpg on the highway with its standard automatic transmission. For shoppers who don't usually carry passengers, Volkswagen offers a two-door Golf that achieves slightly better fuel economy thanks to a standard 5-speed manual transmission.

What it means to you: Even shoppers on a restrictive budget can buy a roomy new car for $20,000.

author photo

Jeffrey Archer is fortunate to have turned a passion for cars into a career. His wide-ranging automotive experience includes work for automakers and dealers in addition to covering the news. When not writing, he spends his time searching for unique cars on AutoTrader.com.

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