Although the average transaction price for a new vehicle today is above $36,000, the cheapest compact cars can offer a great way to save money. In fact, going by MSRPs, a couple of these cars are literally half as expensive as that $36K benchmark. That doesn’t mean you’re stuck in the penalty box, though. Some of the least-expensive small cars can still provide high-end cues like advanced safety technology, all-wheel drive, and LED lighting. We’ve also managed to put some compact hatchbacks on our list, so you can take advantage of extra cargo space without needing to pay more money to get an SUV. Finally, just to be clear, these are all cars from the industry’s compact class. Smaller subcompacts, with smaller prices, could be the best fit for shoppers on tighter budgets.
2020 Kia Forte
We went back and checked — more than once — but it’s true. The 2020 Kia Forte Sedan opens at a mere $17,790, making it the very cheapest of today’s cheapest compact cars. You also get plenty of bang for your buck from Kia. In the mix for the base Forte model are standard technologies such as automatic forward emergency braking, a forward collision warning, lane-keeping assistance, an 8-inch touchscreen, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay. Even dual-zone automatic climate control is standard. Moreover, the least expensive model gets the Forte’s highest EPA ratings: 31 mpg city/41 mpg highway/35 mpg combined. About the only thing missing for most people is an automatic transmission, but you can order the Forte with a CVT and still stay under $19,000.
2020 Hyundai Elantra
Not only is the 2020 Hyundai Elantra Sedan one of the cheapest compact cars in the country, but it’s also one of the biggest bargains. Consider: With an MSRP of $18,950, the Elantra sedan now carries the Hyundai SmartSense package as standard equipment. This bundles automatic forward emergency braking, a driver attention monitor, a forward collision warning, a lane-departure alert, and lane-keeping assistance with a rearview camera — one that has dynamic guidelines for guiding you in reverse. The Elantra comes with a standard blind-spot mirror on the driver’s side, too. In the cabin, Hyundai’s sub-$19,000 price tag covers dual-zone automatic climate control, a 5-inch touchscreen, and a six-speaker audio system. It’s also worth noting that the base Elantra relies on a standard continuously variable automatic transmission, not a manual.
2020 Volkswagen Jetta
VW vehicles are often thought of as being more expensive than other mainstream rides, but that’s not the case for the 2020 Volkswagen Jetta. It competes against the cheapest compact cars with a starting price of only $18,895. No, the Jetta doesn’t have a wealth of driver-assistance features at that point. Yet it does have a standard mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, which is a technology that you won’t find even on some Lexus models. LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, and LED taillights are standard for the Jetta as well, as is a 6.5-inch touchscreen. VW also caters to drivers with a standard turbocharged engine and a six-speed manual transmission. Rather not shift for yourself? The 2020 Jetta is available with an eight-speed automatic for $19,695.
2020 Subaru Impreza Sedan
The 2020 Subaru Impreza is also an especially strong value among the cheapest compact cars. As a starting point, remember that the Impreza includes standard all-wheel drive with its MSRP of $18,695. Just one rival offers that advantage at any price. The Impreza further checks in with standard Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen. Of course, part of the reason for the Impreza’s low cost is its standard five-speed manual transmission. But you can add a continuously variable transmission and stay under $20,000, and Subaru boosts the car’s standard safety technology at the same time. So for $19,995, the Impreza sedan combines a CVT with adaptive cruise control, automatic forward emergency braking, a forward collision warning, a lane-departure warning, and lane-keeping assistance.
2020 Toyota Corolla Sedan
A perennially popular choice, the Toyota Corolla sedan is packed with standard features for 2020. They naturally include a Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 package with automatic forward emergency braking, pedestrian and cyclist detection, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, and more. For 2020, Toyota also steps up its infotainment game. As a result, the Corolla is configured with the latest Entune 3.0 setup. This next-gen technology blends standard mobile Wi-Fi, Apple CarPlay, support for Amazon Alexa, a 7-inch touchscreen, and an app-based navigation system. A high-tech new exterior design matches those features with LEDs for the headlights, daytime running lights, and taillights. However, despite all of that, the Corolla joins our list of the cheapest compact cars with a sticker price of $19,600.
2020 Subaru Impreza Hatchback
There’s one thing that all of our cheapest compact cars have had in common up to this stage: They’ve all been sedans. If you’re looking for maximum cargo space in a compact footprint, you have to check out the hatchbacks. And here you might be in for a surprise: The compact hatchback with the lowest entry point — $19,195 — is the 2020 Subaru Impreza. Again, a standard five-speed manual transmission is the key. The good news is that the Impreza hatch boasts standard content such as a Starlink infotainment system with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay. You can also enjoy an SUV-like 20.8 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seat and 55.3 cubic feet with the back seat folded down.
2020 Honda Civic Sedan
There are two more choices likely to be under $20,000 for the 2020 model year. The first is the 2020 Honda Civic sedan, which stickers from $19,750. Even at that sensible MSRP, you can count on a standard Honda Sensing safety package, complete with automatic forward emergency braking and other advanced active safety features. A CVT automatic is also available for the Civic sedan, and that adds about $800 to the cost of the car.
2020 Toyota Corolla Hatchback
The cheapest compact cars with hatchbacks also include the 2020 Toyota Corolla hatch. It actually introduced Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 and Entune 3.0 technology as standard content in 2019, a year before the Corolla sedan. Another notable advantage for the hatchback is a wide-open 17.3 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats. The back seats are also foldable to open up more cargo space. (Unfortunately, Toyota doesn’t tell us how much more.) In terms of cost, the hatchback checks in with an MSRP of $20,290 with a manual transmission. An available CVT raises that outlay to a still-affordable $21,390.
2020 Hyundai Elantra GT
Don’t be fooled by its name, as the 2020 Hyundai Elantra GT is not simply a hatchback version of the Elantra sedan. Instead, the GT is the U.S. version of the Hyundai i30 that’s sold internationally. A key difference is the sportier driving experience with the GT. Opt for this model and Hyundai provides a peppy standard engine with 161 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. That’s nearly 10 percent more horsepower and almost 14 percent more torque than you get in the standard sedan. The GT’s standard benefits also include a six-speed automatic transmission, an 8-inch touchscreen, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and up to 55.1 cubic feet of cargo space. An MSRP of $20,650 then makes the GT one of the year’s cheapest compact cars.