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Best small cars under $20,000

We rank the five best cars under $20,000.

The amount of new automatic cars coming in under $20k was already a rapidly shrinking list, but stringent ANCAP requirements and a poor Australian dollar have contributed to the segment suffering further casualties in late 2019 and early 2020.

Once popular nameplates like Honda’s Jazz and Hyundai’s Accent have found the chopping block, while some cars which used to live on this list, like the Mazda2 and Skoda Fabia have been forced into the above $20k category.

Here’s our revised top five for the first quarter of 2020.

01. Suzuki Swift GL Navi (w/ Safety Pack) - $19,690

The Suzuki Swift takes top honours on our list as the best value small car under $20k. The GL Navi with the Safety Pack comes in at $19,690 and has the most expansive safety offering on this list. Included is freeway-speed auto emergency braking (AEB), adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and lane keep assist.

The Swift also has a great multimedia offering with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support and built-in navigation.

Bonus points are awarded for standard alloy wheels and its good looks.

On the downside, the Swift has an average 66kW/120Nm 1.2-litre engine and the smallest boot out of all the cars on this list. The five-year warranty is also conditional on you servicing it every six months (too often) at a Suzuki dealer.


02. Toyota Yaris Ascent (w/Safety Sense pack) - $17,570

Get 'em while they’re hot. The outgoing Yaris in base form is still outstanding value, and there’s no telling what the high-tech new-generation car might start at.

It lost points for the lack of a decent media system (with no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto), annoying six-month service intervals and the underwhelming 1.3-litre 63kW engine paired with an archaic four-speed automatic.

It also has the second smallest boot on this list, but outranks the Rio thanks to the presence of active safety items.


03. Kia Rio S - $19,590

The Kia Rio continues to be a great looking little hatch and has one of the most spacious cabins in this segment. We also love it for its stellar multimedia system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, as well as its best-in-class seven-year warranty.

It still lacks auto emergency braking in this base S form, and its ancient 74kW 1.4-litre engine is combined with a four-speed automatic to make for a less than impressive drive experience.

We also found it to be a tad thirsty, but it does make points back for its great locally tuned ride.


Kia Rio

Kia Rio
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

04. Kia Picanto GT-Line - $17,290

Kia Picanto GT Line 2017

The Picanto might be small, but the GT-Line is a highly-specified punchy little car with so much to love.

Understandably, the Picanto might be a little small for many buyer’s needs, and some may see its circa $17K price tag as rude for something so small, but the Picanto's spec and personality make up for it.

Unlike its Rio sibling, you can have auto emergency braking at this compelling price, as well as the same swish multimedia suite as the rest of Kia’s range.

Little luxuries help set the Picanto apart from its rivals, like a leather bound steering wheel, sporty bodykit, and LED DRLs.

The 1.2-litre engine can make use of 62kW/122Nm and while that’s more than enough given this car’s size, our testing found it to be surprisingly thirsty nonetheless.


Kia Picanto

Kia Picanto
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

05. Suzuki Baleno GLX - $19,990

Suzuki Australia has launched the 2019 Suzuki Baleno without the former 1.0-litre turbocharged engine in the GLX Turbo.

The Baleno scrapes into the top five, knocking off Honda's now-discontinued Jazz and City pair.

In base GL form the Baleno features Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and built-in nav. Plus you can have a top-spec GLX drive-away for $19,990 (at the time of writing), which brings keyless entry, climate control, and 16-inch alloy wheels into the mix.

The downsides? The Baleno is hardly inspiring to drive with its 1.4-litre engine producing 68kW/130Nm mated to an antiquated four-speed automatic.

Unlike its Swift sibling, there’s also no option for advanced autonomous safety features in the Baleno range.