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5 New Cars Under $20,000 Perfect for the Returning Student

Tis the season to buy a new car.

With Autumn comes the return of routine, which means students returning to colleges and universities across the country.

After a summer full of work, this is a perfect time to buy a new vehicle—or to lean on the generosity of Mom and Dad—to ensure classes are never missed and that there’s a reliable ride for weekend road trips.

We take a look at the best vehicles for students, with a few specific criteria:

• It has to be $20,000 or less. We want it to be affordable and not add an unbearable debt load
• It must have Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. Smart connectivity is a must
• It should have room to comfortably fit four adults. What’s the point if your friends can’t come along?

The rules pushed out a number of vehicles I initially thought would make the list: Subaru Impreza, VW Jetta and Chevrolet Cruze didn’t make it because of the price. The Nissan Kicks S trim fits the price range, but doesn’t have Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. And, others were a judgement call: ultimately, I didn’t think vehicles such as the Ford Fiesta and Mitsubishi Mirage had the room to comfortably fit four adults.

Interestingly, the price point gives us a mix of manual and automatic transmission options. So you’re covered regardless if you’re a #savethemanuals supporter or scream “ain’t nobody got time for that!” at the thought of shifting.

At last, here are the five vehicles that made the cut.


2019 Mazda3

Trim: GX

Price: $18,000

New Cars Under $20,000

New Cars Under $20,000

What we like: Mazda continues to evolve its Mazda3—it fits in the classy and sporty category, more so than most in this segment. But, the interior updates are what standout to me after driving. They’ve found a way to create a sleek, sweeping dashboard that’s clean and minimal. All controls are easy to see and ready, and the screen is mounted higher up, making for a very serene cabin.

The entry-level GX trim (manual transmission) is the one that hits all of our marks. 


2020 Hyundai Elantra (automatic transmission)

Trim: Essential

Price: $17,099

New Cars Under $20,000

What we like: I’ll admit, I really wanted the Elantra GT to fit our criteria, but sadly it’s a tad too pricey. The 2020 Hyundai Elantra Essential trim, however, is no slouch. Their Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT) is a smooth operator and still keeps you under our price threshold. The overall feel and styling of the Elantra feels grown up—this vehicle has arrived in a new way.


2019 Honda Civic

Trim: DX

Price: $17,890

New Cars Under $20,000

New Cars Under $20,000

What we like: The Civic is a mainstay on so many lists, and for good reason. Year after year, Honda keeps producing fun, reliable and respected versions of this compact. It never seems to fail. The DX trim gives you a forgiving manual transmission—one of the best to learn on, if you’re in that position!—with arguably the best Civic interior and sightlines of the past three generations.


2020 Toyota Corolla

Trim: L

Price: $18,990

New Cars Under $20,000

New Cars Under $20,000

What we like: Toyota has (finally) given the Corolla an injection of new life. The 2020 model is striking, especially in darker colour options—when’s the last time you could honestly say that about a Corolla? The automaker has done a bang-up job bringing this nameplate back to relevance, and will make any student proud to be cruising campus in it.


2019 Kia Forte

Trim: LX

Price: $18,995

New Cars Under $20,000

New Cars Under $20,000

What we like: Step into the Kia Forte LX and experience how this automaker continues to stay at the forefront of fresh. Inside, the controls are laid out with perfect balance, without unnecessary clutter. Outside, its understated design leans towards timeless rather than trendy, so it will stay relevant over its lifespan.
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