You don't need to spend $30,000 to get a great small car to run around town in. A Suzuki Swift GL Navigator from $17,690 plus on-road costs ($1000 more for the auto) makes for an excellent choice, with a surprisingly roomy interior, a refined, frugal and lively engine, great handling and superb reliability. Great value for money, in other words.
Moving on from there, to the next size up and in our order of preference, are the Mazda 3, Ford Focus Active, Volkswagen Golf, Toyota Corolla Hatch, Honda Civic (turbo only) and Subaru Impreza. All are quality small cars that should fit the bill perfectly.
There's also merit in considering a small SUV, chiefly because their higher roofline and loftier seating positions make them easier to get in and out as well as see out of. Our value pick is the Kia Seltos S with Safety Pack. The Mazda CX-30 and Toyota C-HR are also high-quality and refined choices, though they're right at the cusp of your budget so you may have to search for a discounted demo model. Going small SUV does mean extra outlay, but they do generally offer better resale value, as their popularity seems endless.
As you can see, there's lots of choice, so take your time, drive the ones you like the look of, and see which feels best. Out of scores of alternatives, these 10 are our top recommendations at under $30K.