According to Kelley Blue Book, average new car transaction prices are up considerably — to over $39,000 in 2020 — and part of the blame for that skyrocketing figure is the disappearance of cheap new cars.
And some of our favorite “go-to” low-cost options aren’t even returning for 2021. Don’t go looking for a 2021 version of the Honda Fit, Chevrolet Sonic, or Toyota Yaris. All three subcompact cars were dropped for the 2021 model year.
The irony here, you’ll have better luck finding a car with a list price of $200,000 or more — there are nearly twice as many ways to spend that much on a brand new car. That list includes names like Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, and Rolls-Royce.
There is a silver lining if you’re trying to keep to a sub-$20,000 budget, though. Kelley Blue Book found that the average transaction price of a subcompact or compact car was less than any other type of vehicle. In November 2020, consumers spent an average of $18,733 on a subcompact such as a Hyundai Accent or $21,945 for a compact such as a Toyota Corolla, a savings of around $7,000 or more compared to a similarly-sized SUV.
Here’s a look at what’s left — the list of cars that will cost you $20,000 or less, including destination charges but prior to any dealer discounts or incentives. Some of these are leftover 2020 models, which are still on dealer lots.
2020 Chevrolet Sonic – $17,595
The second-smallest Chevy is no longer for the 2021 model year, but you may be able to find a leftover 2020 Chevrolet Sonic. The little Chevy sedan has decent interior room and great road manners for a small car, and its tech story is better than some cars costing thousands more. It’s also turbocharged, though at 138 horsepower don’t expect to burn too much rubber. Find a 2021 Chevrolet Sonic on Autotrader
2021 Chevrolet Spark – $14,395
The itty-bitty 2021 Chevy Spark is a high-energy subcompact that just happens to be the cheapest new car on sale in the US. Less than $14,500 buys you one with a five-speed manual transmission, a touchscreen head unit with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and 10 airbags. Find a 2021 Chevrolet Spark on Autotrader
2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer – $19,995
Squeaking in just under our $20,000 budget, the base 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer L is the cheapest SUV on the market. Its tiny little turbocharged 3-cylinder engine musters just 137 horsepower, but this small package is loaded with crash-avoidance tech and a high-end infotainment system. Find a 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer on Autotrader
2020 Honda Fit – $17,185
We’re going to miss the versatile 2020 Honda Fit when the last one finally rolls out of the automaker’s showrooms. This subcompact hatchback has a flexible interior with surprising space, and it’s a hoot to drive with the standard 6-speed manual gearbox. Right now, there are nearly 5,000 new Fits on Autotrader, so you still have time to get one. Find a 2021 Honda Fit on Autotrader
2021 Hyundai Accent – $16,400
The 2021 Hyundai Accent has upscale styling and a comfortable, well-appointed interior with plenty of space, power features, a convenient touchscreen, and it’s covered by Hyundai’s unusually comprehensive warranty. Find a 2021 Hyundai Accent on Autotrader
2021 Hyundai Veloster – $19,905
Cheap and fun don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive. The base Hyundai Veloster offers decent punch, great handling, and a surprisingly practical body — plus it’s loaded with tech for under $20,000. Find a 2021 Hyundai Veloster on Autotrader
2021 Hyundai Venue – $19,935
The 2021 Hyundai Venue is a crossover-like small car that has a higher seating position than a typical sedan or hatchback, though it comes only with front-wheel drive and isn’t meant for off-road use. Still, for less than $20,000, it comes standard with automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assist — plus Hyundai’s 5-year warranty. Find a 2021 Hyundai Venue on Autotrader
2021 Kia Forte – $18,765
The 2021 Kia Forte is among the largest cars you’ll find for less than $20,000. This compact sedan has sporty styling inspired in part by the Stinger, and it comes standard with a six-speed manual gearbox and a slew of crash-avoidance features. Find a 2021 Kia Forte on Autotrader
2021 Kia Rio – $17,045
The 2021 Kia Rio takes everything we like about the Hyundai Accent and gives it more expressive styling and a few more features such as a larger screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Find a 2021 Kia Rio on Autotrader
2021 Kia Soul – $18,885
Somewhere between the Forte and Rio lies the expressive 2021 Kia Soul, a toaster-shaped tall hatchback with tons of personality. It’s sized about like the Rio but the tall body gives it more interior space like the Forte, and of course it’s as quirky as any mainstream car can be. Find a Kia Soul on Autotrader
2021 Mitsubishi Mirage – $15,290
Long the cheapest car in America, the 2021 Mitsubishi Mirage is now number two. The practical hatchback version costs a little less than the oddly-styled sedan (though let’s be honest, the hatch isn’t exactly sexy). Still, the 3-cylinder Mirage is surprisingly well-equipped and Mitsubishi includes a 10-year powertrain warranty. Find a 2021 Mitsubishi Mirage on Autotrader
2021 Nissan Versa – $15,855
Forget the dour Nissan Versa that once populated the $19-a-day section at every rental car counter in America. The 2021 Nissan Versa is sharply styled, equipped like a much more expensive car, and remarkably polished to drive. It’s a real standout among subcompacts, and Nissan wants less than $16,000 for one. Find a 2021 Nissan Versa on Autotrader
2021 Subaru Impreza – $19,720
The 2021 Subaru Impreza is a cheap way to get all-wheel drive. If you live in a snowy or rainy place, start and end your shopping here. Even with its standard all-wheel drive, it’s fairly fuel-efficient, and it boasts a spacious interior as well as lots of tech. The only downside is that the base 5-speed manual that comes in under $20,000 lacks the company’s crash-avoidance tech. Find a 2021 Subaru Impreza on Autotrader
2020 Toyota Yaris – $18,705
Toyota had a secret with its 2020 Toyota Yaris, a subcompact hatchback and sedan lineup built and designed by the gearheads at Mazda. Maybe Toyota should have blabbed a little, or else we wouldn’t have had to write the eulogy for this shockingly fun lineup of small cars. Find one while you can — there aren’t many left. Find a 2020 Toyota Yaris on Autotrader
2021 Volkswagen Jetta – $19,990
If you can stretch your budget all the way to $20,000 — minus a tenner, that is — the 2021 Volkswagen Jetta is hard to beat. It’s a pleasant-driving sedan with tons of rear-seat room, lots of safety and convenience features, and ride-and-handling that bests some cars costing twice as much. After all, its platform is shared with the rorty VW GTI. Find a 2021 Volkswagen Jetta on Autotrader