Car shoppers in search of a cheap but reliable ride know the age-old debate of new versus used. Now, factor in some recent wrinkles: used car prices, while still lower than new, are on the rise, plus manufacturers are eliminating several low-cost sedans and hatchbacks from their lineups.
But there’s hope. There are still bargains for drivers willing to trade size for a lower price tag, especially if you sacrifice “luxury” features — do you mind manual-drive transmission and windows you crank by hand? If you don’t, you can find a 2019 model for less than half of the average price of a new car.
Choosing one of the cheapest new cars available today can be a smart financial decision. You get the reliability and manufacturer warranty of a new vehicle without going broke.
Shopping around for a car loan
It’s wise to shop around and compare offers on auto loans before heading over to the dealership. Consider starting with an online comparison platform such as our parent company, LendingTree. They have dozens of lenders in their network. You simply fill out one short form and can compare up to five auto loan offers in minutes. Some of the lenders on their network may perform a hard pull on your credit, but keep in mind that multiple hard pulls at one time will only count as one pull, as long as you do your loan shopping within a two-week window.
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The 11 cheapest new cars under $20,000
According to LendingTree, the average transaction price for a new car rose to $37,185 in May 2019. Most buyers don’t have that kind of money in the bank to purchase a car in cash. In fact, Americans owe about $1.2 trillion in auto loans, according to the Federal Reserve. Because most people rely on car loans, buyers are stuck with monthly payments and long repayment terms. For new car buyers, the average loan payment is $554 spread out over 69 months. Such a long loan term can add hundreds or even thousands of dollars in interest charges.
But you can dramatically reduce the debt you take on and lower your monthly payment by selecting a less expensive vehicle. Today, cheap new cars can be reliable and safe; you just might have to skip extra features such as a leather interior or premium sound system. We looked at the least expensive cars available today and ranked them by base price. We also considered ratings from Kelley Blue Book (KBB) experts, consumers on Edmunds as well as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Cars that offered standard technology and safety features you might find on pricier vehicles also received greater weight in our selection.
Here’s our list of the 11 cheapest new cars you can buy right now, all of which are under $20,000.
- 2019 Chevrolet Spark LS
- 2019 Ford Fiesta sedan
- 2019 Chevrolet Sonic
- 2019 Honda Fit
- 2019 Kia Soul
- 2019 Kia Forte
- 2019 Chevrolet Cruze
- 2019 Subaru Impreza
- 2019 Toyota Corolla
- 2019 Volkswagen Jetta
- 2019 Honda Civic
2019 Chevrolet Spark LS
- MSRP $13,220
- 3.8 out of 5 by KBB experts; 4.9 out of 5 by consumers on Edmunds (10 reviews)
- 29 city/38 highway/33 combined MPG
Chevrolet gave the Spark a new infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as USB ports and an upgraded front-end style with the 2019 model. Although manual drive is standard, you’ll get a nice package of features in an ultra-affordable brand-new hatchback. While this car has lower KBB ratings than other cars on this list, it’s highly rated by consumers on Edmunds. And while it hasn’t been rated by NHTSA, it received “good” ratings from IIHS though the agency only gave it “acceptable” marks for its child seat anchors and a “basic” grade for front-crash prevention. This car is tiny, so cargo space and rear legroom may be limited.
2019 Ford Fiesta sedan
- MSRP $14,260
- 4.2 out of 5 by KBB experts; not yet rated by consumers on Edmunds
- 27 city/35 highway/30 combined MPG
- 4 stars NHTSA
The Fiesta comes in several different shapes, the lowest priced of which is the sedan, but goes up to the “hot” hatchback, the Ford Fiesta ST, for about $21,000. Though the car earned 4 stars from NHTSA, the agency notes a safety concern during side crash tests indicating a higher likelihood of thoracic injury in a crash. Critics, however, praise the Fiesta for its sporty ride, capable four-cylinder engine and an “infotainment” system that offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Plus, this may be one of your last opportunities to get your hands on a new Fiesta — the Mustang and Fusion will be Ford’s only passenger cars in 2020.
2019 Chevrolet Sonic
- $15,420 MSRP
- 4.3 out of 5 by KBB experts; 4.0 out of 5 out by consumers on Edmunds (1 review)
- 5 stars NHTSA
- 27 city/38 highway/31 combined MPG
A subcompact sedan or hatchback — the sedan is cheaper — the Sonic sips gas and has a lot of technology to offer. The base model of this car may surprise you with what comes standard — and what doesn’t. A 7-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, keyless entry and rear view camera are standard; yet power windows and automatic transmission are not. So you could roll down your windows by hand while telling Siri to play your favorite track. Of course, you could add power windows, automatic transmission, cruise control and other tech features for an additional cost. Prefer a hatchback? The hatchback pricing starts at $18,020.
2019 Honda Fit
- $16,190 MSRP
- 4.6 out of 5 by KBB experts; 5.0 out of 5 by consumers on Edmunds (3 reviews)
- 5 stars NHTSA
- 29 city/36 highway/31 combined MPG
The Fit knows how to make the most out of a small space. A subcompact hatchback, the Fit is one of the smallest new cars available, but the “magic” back seat can segment in a 60/40 split and flip entirely up and down to allow you to carry things long or tall in addition to passengers. The least expensive Fit comes with a 5-inch touch screen, a rearview camera and keyless entry.
But it also comes with a manual transmission, which you can upgrade to an automatic for $800, which still leaves the price under $17,000 and offers the choice of adding safety features in the Honda Sensing suite.
2019 Kia Soul
- $16,490 MSRP
- 4.3 out of 5 by KBB experts; 4.5 out of 5 by consumers on Edmunds (20 reviews)
- 5 stars NHTSA; IIHS Top Safety Pick
- 24 city/30 highway/27 combined MPG
With a strong boxy look, most people seem to love or hate the Soul’s styling. A subcompact hatchback/SUV crossover, the Soul’s silhouette means there is plenty of headroom, even in the back seat. The overall effect of the styling is that the Soul seems bigger on the inside, which, besides being a neat trick, causes some owners to call their Kia Soul a TARDIS, in reference to the cult-favorite TV series, Doctor Who.
The base model Soul includes Bluetooth, voice recognition, a rearview camera and a 5-inch touch screen. An automatic transmission however will set you back another $1,700, which puts the lowest price for an automatic Soul at $18,190, still under ourt $20,000 limit. The Kia Soul EV, however, is well over this budget, at $33,950.
2019 Kia Forte
- $17,790 MSRP
- Not yet rated by KBB experts; 4.6 out of 5 by consumers on Edmunds (5 reviews)
- Not yet rated by NHTSA; IIHS Top Safety Pick+
- 27 city/37 highway/31 combined MPG
While the compact Kia Forte may at first look like a nondescript sedan, it does have a cool “tiger nose” grill and some of the highest safety ratings in the industry. And all Kia cars, including the previously-mentioned Soul, come with a basic warranty of five years, 60,000 miles, with roadside assistance, which is considerably more than the common three years, 36,000 miles. Standard on all trims is an 8-inch touch screen, daytime running lights and Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Although KBB experts have yet to rate the 2019 Forte, they gave the 2018 model 4.2 stars. The 2018 model also received 5 stars from NHTSA.
2019 Chevrolet Cruze
- $17,995 MSRP
- 4.2 out of 5 by KBB experts; 2.5 out of 5 by consumers on Edmunds (2 reviews)
- Not yet rated by NHTSA
- 28 city/38 highway/32 combined MPG
Barring any changes by General Motors, this will be the last year of the Cruze; it is one of the models Chevrolet announced in November 2018 that it is cutting. While it’s available, the Cruze comes as a sedan and as a hatchback, the latter of which has a base price of $19,620. Critics say both vehicles have a great ride quality that is usually only expected from a larger vehicle. Automatic transmission is standard, along with Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth and a 7-inch touch screen. You could also opt for a diesel engine on this car, a rarity these days outside of luxury vehicles or trucks. Though the 2019 Cruze lacks an overall rating from the NHTSA, the safety agency gave it 5 stars in front crash tests and 5 stars in rollover crash tests.
While the car has much lower ratings from consumers than other vehicles on this list, the Cruze only had two consumer reviews as of publication. The 2018 model had a 4.1 out of five rating by 25 consumers as of publication.
2019 Subaru Impreza
- $18,595 MSRP
- 4.3 out of 5 by KBB experts; 4.6 out of 5 by consumers on Edmunds (10 reviews)
- 5 stars NHTSA; IIHS Top Safety Pick+
- 28 city/38 highway/32 combined MPG
Notably, all-wheel-drive (AWD) is a standard feature on the Subaru Impreza in both forms: a sedan, which we focus on here, and a hatchback, which Subaru calls a 5-door. Standard features for both include a 6.5-inch touch screen, smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and a rearview camera. With this practical technology and the highest safety scores in the industry, the Impreza is a great practical choice. But it will not give you a premium feel unless you want to pay to add on extras on top of the highest trim. The price of the highest trim by itself does not include leather seating a moonroof or premium audio. Critics note that downsides include slow acceleration and interior materials that are inferior when compared with rivals.
2019 Toyota Corolla
- MSRP $18,700
- 4.6 out of 5 by KBB experts; 4.3 out of 5 by consumers on Edmunds (16 reviews)
- 5 stars NHTSA
- 28 city/36 highway/32 MPG combined
The Toyota Corolla has been a bestseller for years thanks to its combination of quality, affordability and safety. The 2019 Toyota Corolla also comes as a hatchback at a slightly higher price, $19,990, just under our $20,000 limit. But for purposes of this list, we focus on the 2019 sedan — a 2020 version is now available with a redesigned look and a new version of driver aids for a higher price. It also comes as a hybrid model ($22,950). The 2019 model, however, still has bells and whistles such as a standard safety package including features like pre-collision warning and lane departure alerts with steering assistance.
2019 Volkswagen Jetta
- $18,745 MSRP
- 4.4 out of 5 by KBB experts; 4.2 out of 5 by consumers on Edmunds (39 reviews)
- Not yet rated by NHTSA
- 30 city/40 highway/34 combined MPG
The Jetta is a compact, German-designed sedan with quick acceleration, a large trunk, and Apple CarPlay or Android Auto as a standard feature. It also has a surprisingly long basic warranty: six years, 72,000 miles. What’s not standard is an automatic transmission, which costs $800 more. Even higher trim levels come with a “digital cockpit” for the driver, which includes a configurable screen over a foot long on the dashboard, behind the steering wheel. Although the 2019 Jetta is thus far lacking a rating by the NHTSA, the 2018 model received 5 stars.
2019 Honda Civic
- 4.6 out of 5 by KBB experts; 4.6 out of 5 by consumers on Edmunds (20 reviews)
- 5 stars NHTSA
- 25 city/36 highway/29 combined MPG
Just squeaking in under the $20,000 threshold, the Honda Civic sedan comes standard with a manual transmission and Honda’s safety suite: Honda Sensing. The Civic also comes as a coupe and hatchback, but both slightly exceed the price limit with a base MSRP of $20,650 and $21,450 respectively, although you could check for rebates in your area that could knock the price down. Like most base models in this price range, the base Civic has Bluetooth, a rearview camera and a 5-inch screen.
Buying a new car
Buying a new car doesn’t mean you have to be in debt for six years or more. By looking at compact and subcompact vehicles, you can buy a brand new car without taking on a lengthy auto loan. All 11 of the cheapest new cars on this list offer a lot of value for their price, making them a smart choice when you’re on a budget.
If you’re ready to buy, you can time your purchase to take advantage of dealership and manufacturer incentives and save thousands.
MSRPs in the article are accurate as of the date of publishing.
Jenn Jones contributed to this report.