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Surprising Car Tech for $20,000

You might be surprised by the extravagant features you can get on a new car at just $20,000. While the 2012 Ford Focus is known for offering a host of equipment once reserved for luxury cars, many other models also include new features that range from infotainment systems to the latest in convenience technology. To highlight some of our favorites, we’ve assembled a list of exciting options that are available in vehicles that cost just $20,000.

Remote Engine Start: 2012 Chevrolet Sonic

Chevrolet’s subcompact Sonic offers several enticing features, such as MyLink infotainment, Bluetooth and a USB port for music, but we’re especially taken by an item that remains almost unique to General Motors: a remote engine starter. Activated by a button on the key fob, the remote engine starter allows drivers to turn on their vehicle as they approach it. While that may not seem revolutionary, it means that on a cold day owners can warm up their vehicles for a few moments or run the air conditioning before climbing in during the summer. The feature is standard on Sonic LTZ models equipped with an automatic transmission, or available for $525 on the Sonic LT automatic, which starts around $17,000 including destination.

MyKey: 2012 Ford Focus

Ford’s innovative MyKey system is a standard feature on all 2012 Focus models. Designed to help parents keep tabs on their teens’ driving behavior, the system allows owners to program a key that can limit the vehicle’s top speed and audio volume. MyKey also encourages seat belt use, provides low-fuel warnings earlier than usual, and can even sound a chime as drivers cross 45, 55 and 65 miles per hour. While Ford says these features are designed to increase safety, they also offer an extra benefit: improved gas mileage. According to the automaker, limiting vehicle speed (and removing the ability to turn off the Focus’s traction control system) means drivers go slower and return better fuel economy overall.

Idle Stop and Go: 2013 Kia Rio

While so-called stop/start technology is now limited to hybrid vehicles and a handful of luxury cars, the Kia Rio subcompact will offer the feature as optional equipment next year. Available for $400 on top of a required $1,150 convenience package, the system–dubbed “Idle Stop and Go” by Kia–shuts off the subcompact Rio at stop lights and during prolonged idles. While the result is only one more mile per gallon in city driving and no fuel economy benefit on the highway, the feature’s inclusion in Kia’s $14,000 Rio is further proof that exciting technology is becoming increasingly available to car shoppers on any budget.

Intelligent Key: 2012 Nissan Versa SL

First developed by Mercedes in the late 1990s and dubbed “Keyless Go,” electronic vehicle access is becoming increasingly common in the automotive industry. While no two systems are exactly the same, most use a proximity sensor to let drivers unlock their vehicles without ever touching the key or key fob. Rather than inserting a key into the ignition, many systems allow drivers to start their vehicles by using a button or twisting a knob. While the technology was once reserved for luxury automakers, Nissan now includes it as standard equipment on the recently redesigned Versa SL subcompact, which starts around $19,000 after destination.

Entune: 2012 Toyota Corolla

Although several automakers offer infotainment technology in their vehicles, we’re especially taken with Toyota’s newly developed Entune system. While Entune offers the same Pandora Internet Radio connectivity as many of its competitors, it also provides apps for OpenTable, and Microsoft’s Bing search engine. Entune also includes traffic updates and information about local weather, stocks and sports. While that may sound like a feature typically relegated to Toyota’s upscale Lexus brand, Entune is available on Toyota’s midlevel Corolla LE for just $1,170–and it even includes voice recognition.

What it means to you: Buyers looking to impress their friends and improve their commutes don’t need to spend a lot for a car with exciting technology.

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