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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.

If you’re looking to buy a new small car and have a strict budget limit of $20,000, we have some very bad news.

As pandemic-related supply shortages take hold and currency-related fluctuations continue to affect the Australian new and used car market, there are now fewer than ever brand-new automatic cars wearing before on-road costs of under $20,000.

A pricing update for the 2021 model year has finally ejected our previous list favourite, the Suzuki Swift GL Navigator from the list, as the affordable and good-looking base hatch in automatic form now costs (from) $20,490.

The Honda Jazz nameplate has also finally reached the end of its story in Australia, with remaining supply expected to imminently run out and the available-overseas new-generation car not set for our shores.

You may be surprised to learn our updated list of the best small cars under $20,000 in 2021 below now consists of the only five brand new nameplates available as automatics in Australia. We’ve taken the time to rank them based on their price, features, and overall value to make your buying journey a little easier. Let's find the best small car 2021 on a budget.

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
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 $18,740. 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 at $20,490 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 $17,490 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.


05. Suzuki Ignis GL

The final car available as an automatic under $20,000 is another Suzuki, the characterful Ignis.

It’s far from the most practical choice here despite being the only car marketed here as being an SUV. Truth be told though, it’s more like a Japanese city car.

The Ignis GL auto starts from $19,740 making it one of the more expensive cars on this list. It sports most of the good stuff from the Swift and Baleno range, though, with a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen and peppy-enough-for-its-size 66kW/120Nm 1.2-litre engine mated to a CVT automatic.

Like some other options here, it has quirky looks with fun colour options, and its SUV-like height gives it a more commanding view of the road. However, it has a small 264-litre boot, hardly cheap to service relative the others on this list, and a complete lack of modern active safety items.