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Best small cars under $20,000

It's not a great time to be a new car buyer with a budget of $20,000 or less, with only five brand-new automatic options.

In the last six months of 2021 things have only become worse for new car buyers with a budget of $20,000 or less. Prices have crept up, pushing many previous favourites out of our top five list. In fact, thanks to the price increases of the last quarter, there are now only four new cars available to buy in automatic form wearing MSRPs of under $20,000.

As such, for the first time, we’ve been forced to include some manual options, with the Kia Rio S manual coming in as our new position five, for those remaining buyers who can still drive with three pedals.

There’s seemingly no point waiting for global supply shortages to ease up either, with no new under-$20k models headed our way for the foreseeable future. Only time will tell if the current crop of ageing small cars like the Kia Picanto and Mitsubishi Mirage will be the last of their kind, heralding the end of the sub-$20k new car bracket in Australia.

For now, check out our updated ranked list of remaining options below. We’ve again taken the time to rank them based on their updated price, features, and overall value to make your buying journey a little easier.

01. Kia Picanto S

The Picanto S might be ultra-compact, but it packs a lot of gear and it’s pretty good to drive, too. At $17,290, it’s also the cheapest car on this list.

Importantly, the Picanto S is one of only two cars on this list to score auto emergency braking, and it’s also the cheapest car in Australia to offer wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity on a huge 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen.

Kia backs its little city-car with a stellar seven-year warranty, so if you can look past its tiny boot and small but appropriate 1.2-litre 62kW/122Nm it’s now the best small car under $20,000 by quite a margin if you can deal with its small dimensions.

 

Kia Picanto

Kia Picanto
3.7
From
$15,990
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

02. Suzuki Baleno GL

The Baleno GLX which previously featured on this list is now priced over $20,000, so the base GL auto replaces it wearing an MSRP of $19,490. There are still no modern active safety items available on this car, but it’s the largest of its rivals on this list with the most cabin and boot space (355 litres) offering a price-leading practicality alternative for budget conscious buyers.

Still included is a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, although it misses out on alloy wheels and makes do with a pretty average combination of a 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine (68kW/130Nm) and antiquated four-speed automatic. I know we’re sticking to a strict budget on this list, but if you don’t need the extra boot space we’d really recommend stretching to the Swift GL auto with an MSRP of $21,890 for a better-to-drive car with at least some active safety.

03. Mitsubishi Mirage LS

The Mitsubishi Mirage is next in line on this list to reach the graveyard which will probably trigger yet another update to this list, but for now it’s a surprisingly compelling option given the top-spec LS auto’s trim $19,490 price tag, auto emergency braking, and LED headlights. It also scores 15-inch alloys and a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android auto connectivity.

A tiny boot (235L) and a relatively low-on-power 57kW/100Nm three-cylinder engine dull this car’s otherwise decent features, but it makes up for it with Mitsubishi’s new conditional 10-year warranty.

04. MG3 Core

Re-born British automaker MG breaks into our list for the first time with its tiny 3 hatch. It’s now the best-selling car in the segment, and it’s easy to see why with the base model Core starting from just $16,990. It looks appealing with standard 15-inch alloys, vibrant colour options, and a massive Apple CarPlay compatible 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen and isn’t even bad to drive with a relatively decent 1.5-litre four-cylinder producing 82kW/150Nm.

What’s not so great is the 3’s complete lack of modern active safety features (and the only measure of its safety being a three-star EuroNCAP rating from 2014) as well as its annoying lack of Android Auto support.

The boot is a decent 307-litres and it is also offered with a seven year and unlimited kilometre warranty much like the list-topping Kia Picanto.

 

MG MG3 Auto

MG MG3 Auto
3.6
From
$17,490
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

05. Kia Rio S manual

As year-on-year price increases have now forced even the base automatic Suzuki Ignis GL out of this list, we’ve been forced to consider manual cars with MSRPs under $20k.

You can also choose some other previous list favourites if you are willing to shift yourself, like the Suzuki Swift or Ignis, but the best pick of practicality and features amongst them is the Kia Rio S, especially since the base Volkswagen Polo 70 TSI manual has also recently ended its run in Australia.

The base Rio wears a before-on-road price-tag of $19,090 while offering wireless CarPlay and Android auto hosted on a large screen, as well as relatively generous interior and boot dimensions (345L). The 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine (74kW/133Nm) is a tad breathless but shifting yourself will help make the most of the limited power rather than rely on the old-school six-speed auto in the over-$20k automatic version.

 

Kia Rio

Kia Rio
3.6
From
$19,690
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)