While average car prices may appear to be higher than in the past, today’s new vehicles are often loaded with safety options and standard features, even at the base trim level. As automakers battle for consumer dollars, the prerequisite of an entry-level vehicle include once-extras like power windows and door locks, keyless entry and tech features like wireless Bluetooth connectivity.
The heightened consumer expectations for even the lowest-priced vehicles has steered the market in a positive way for shoppers. The competition between manufacturers to deliver great vehicles at the best possible prices has made the availability of affordable family-friendly transportation better than ever.
Today we will look at four viable new cars that are family friendly and start at less than $20,000. There are certainly other alternatives for the price, but my picks offer seating for five, room for at least a couple of easily accessible child seats and enough cargo space that you can run errands and even shuffle off for a weekend adventure without needing a roof rack. All five also offer excellent fuel economy, which means that the budget-friendly car payments are complemented with savings at the pump.
2016 Honda Civic LX Sedan
With a base price of $18,640 for the manual and $19,440 for the continuously variable transmission (CVT), the all-new 2016 Civic meets our criteria in the base trim with a little room to spare. Powered by a 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, the spacious five-passenger Civic is rated at up to 31/41 mpg city/highway. The base Civic includes a high level of standard equipment including a rearview camera with guidelines, a 5-inch color display, Bluetooth, a capless fuel filler and more.
Honda sets itself apart from much of the competition by offering the brand’s active safety technology as an option, even on the base model. The base Civic LX with Honda Sensing adds forward collision warning, lane departure warning, collision mitigation braking and road departure mitigation. Even loaded with active safety features, the Civic LX with Honda Sensing starts at $20,440. Granted, adding those features breaks our $20,000 limit, but the enhanced safety might make the Civic with Honda Sensing my personal top pick.
2016 Ford Focus SE Hatchback
Before the crossover became the family vehicle du jour, dads and moms drove their children around in station wagons. They usually looked like a sedan with an extended roofline that terminated at the rear bumper. A magnificent rear door would swing out to the left or toward the sky on a set of hinges, revealing enough cargo space to comfortably pack up a college dorm room. While there are still examples of station wagons on the market today, the closest direct comparison that we see in our price range is an affordable compact hatchback.
The 2016 Ford Focus SE hatchback easily fits within our pricing standards at $19,015. Equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission, the Ford Focus achieves 26/36 mpg city/highway. Adding the optional six-speed automatic slips the base price just above our limit at $20,110, but improves fuel economy to 27/40 mpg.
The Focus SE hatch arrives with plenty of standard features including a USB port, Bluetooth, Ford’s voice-activated Sync system and a rearview camera. Like the Civic, the capless fuel filler adds to the busy parent convenience of a useful family-friendly vehicle. The 23.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the back seats is more than enough for a cross-country vacation for a small family, and if you need extra room the rear seats fold down to provide almost 45 cubic feet of space.
2016 Kia Soul +
If there was a way to vote for 2016’s new-vehicle buzzword my guess is that “crossover” would receive the most votes. What started with a small number of vehicles has spread across almost every major automaker. However, even with the incredible variety of family-friendly crossovers currently available, only a few fall under our $20,000 price ceiling.
Fortunately, the 2016 Kia Soul’s boxy dimensions make it a viable crossover alternative. The Soul starts at $15,900, making it the least-expensive vehicle on our list. The base soul is powered by a 130-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that’s mated to a six-speed manual transmission. Fuel economy for the base model is rated at 24/30 mpg city/highway. Thanks to Kia’s value-oriented approach, the base Soul is equipped with plenty of standard features including alloy wheels, a six-speaker audio system, satellite radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity and much more.
Moving up to the Plus (+) trim adds curb appeal, safety features and options without breaking the bank. Starting at $19,400, the Soul + has a more powerful 164-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode. The Soul + also includes an active Eco system that helps you save fuel and 17-inch alloy wheels that impress. A 4.3-inch color touch screen and a rearview camera are standard, as are keyless entry and automatic headlights.
The Soul’s impressive 24.2 cubic feet of cargo space with all the seats in place expands to a utility-laden 61.3 cubic feet when the rear seat is down. The Soul has plenty of room for two child seats, and easy ingress and egress makes helping your child into the seat fairly easy on your back.
2017 Hyundai Elantra SE
The only 2017 model on the list, the Hyundai Elantra is a compact sedan represents excellent value. The base SE model with the 147-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a six-speed manual transmission starts at $17,150. The six-speed automatic adds $1,000 to the price tag. Even adding the optional $800 Popular Equipment package and $1,300 Tech package keeps the final price under or close to the $20,000 limit, depending on your transmission choice.
The all-new Elantra SE is an easy choice for our list. Providing the fuel economy of a subcompact (up to 29/38 mpg city/highway) and the interior volume of a midsize sedan, the Elantra strives to offer the maximum utility possible. Its nimble handling also makes the Elantra pretty tough to beat for an affordable family car.
When equipped with the Popular Equipment and Tech packages the 2017 Elantra SE includes features that rival many vehicles that cost thousands of dollars more. Alloy wheels, satellite radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, automatic headlights and proximity key with push-button start are included. Safety features include a rearview camera and blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert.
The Elantra’s spacious back seat is great for child seats and teenagers. Cargo space is limited compared to the hatchbacks on the list, but at 14.4 cubic feet there is still plenty of room for grocery shopping and back packs. Add in a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty (something that it shares with the Kia Soul), and the Elantra promises years of trouble-free service.