| Business

Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

There's some spiffy new vehicles for less than $20,000 out there

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

On the Grid

From the shale fields to the cooling towers, Trib Total Media covers the energy industry in Western Pennsylvania and beyond. For the latest news and views on gas, coal, electricity and more, check out On the Grid today.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Larry Printz
Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

The average price paid for a new car or truck in the United States this year is $30,748, according to

Sound spendy?

It is. Especially if your new car budget is smaller — say, $20,000 or less. This doesn't mean that you can't drive a vehicle that meets your needs and makes you smile every time you climb behind the wheel. Consider this sampling of cheap fun.

• Chevrolet Sonic: $14,765. Opt for the five-door over the four-door notchback, and you get more than style; you'll have an extra five cubic feet of cargo space. The Sonic's quick steering, poised suspension and athletic feel are a kick. For a real hot hatch, choose the turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine.

• Dodge Dart: $15,995. Dodge's first small car in seven years revives a name that many will remember, affixed to a stylish new car that's based on the platform of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. The new Dart is roomy enough to be classified as a midsize car, yet returns as much as 41 mpg, depending on engine.

• Fiat 500 Turbo: $19,500. Like the Mini Cooper, the Fiat 500 reinvents an iconic car for the 21st century. This is a little slice of la dolce vita — slathered in style as only Italians could muster.

• Ford Focus: $16,200. No matter which Focus grabs your eye — the four-door or five-door — the Focus has the solid feel one expects of a small European car, and that's because it is one. Its behavior is almost unheard-of in small cars with American nameplates.

• Honda CR-Z hybrid: $19,695. The cheaper Honda Insight has more space, while the Toyota Prius C returns higher mileage. But the CR-Z hybrid looks better than either of them, channeling the classic look of the Honda CRX. No, the CR-Z is not as sporty to drive, but no one will notice.

• Kia Soul: $14,400. The Soul received a new one for 2012: upgraded engines. Base models get a 138-hp four-cylinder, while others got a new 164-hp four-cylinder — up 22 hp from 2011. Both powerplants are now available with a six-speed transmission.

• Mazda3: $15,200. At just over 15 big ones, you'll get the four-door sedan, not the five-door hatch, but the latter costs almost $20K. Regardless, all Mazda3s have quick reflexes and precise steering. They're amazingly fun to drive, even in base form, despite being somewhat noisy and delivering a very firm ride.

• Nissan Frontier: $19,010. Ordering the base model of a compact pickup means a standard cab with little space behind the front seat, aside from the pickup bed. That's where the Frontier stands apart from its competitors: rear jump seats are standard on the base model. And it tows 3,500 pounds. Nice.

• Nissan Juke: $19,990. The Juke, a word that means “to deceptively outmaneuver something or someone,” is aptly named. Once behind the wheel, you'll discover that its perfect size, raised-ground height, practical shape, all-wheel drive and rowdy turbo engine are a riot.

• Volkswagen Beetle: $19,795. It's hard to reinterpret a classic, but VW managed by injecting a dash of Porsche into the Beetle's new design. Now lacking a bud vase on its dashboard, the car is safe for those with y-chromosomes. Base models get the Jetta's five-cylinder engine, but turbo and diesel options are offered.

Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. He can be reached at

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.



Show commenting policy

Most-Read Business Headlines

  1. Post-Gazette offers voluntary buyouts in bid to avoid layoffs
  2. Range Resources cuts workforce 11%
  3. U.S. Steel CEO expects rebound
  4. United Airlines hack coincided with incursion into government employee data
  5. Voice-assisted technology raises privacy concerns
  6. Gold continues to fall further out of favor with investors
  7. PPG puts brand 1st in strategy to reach commercial paint market
  8. EPA ordered to ease limits on cross-border air pollution that involves Pennsylvania
  9. Muni bond funds stressed
  10. Travelers find direct Web route to Priory’s spirited past in North Side
  11. Fed holds steady on rates