Australia’s best affordable cars under $20,000

By Tony O’Kane, 19 May 2017 Car Advice

Australia’s best affordable cars under $20,000

Buying a good car doesn’t necessarily mean you have to break your budget – here are three of the best cars you can buy for under $20K.

New cars come with a great many benefits – a factory warranty, unspoiled interior and completely fresh mechanicals among them – but that’s balanced out by cost. If you want something that’s factory-fresh, it’s a five-figure sum or nothing.

But let’s say you’re set on making your next car a brand-new one – what are your options for something good that won’t put you in financial strife? Assuming you’re able to shop for cars up to $20,000, here are three of your best options:

Mazda 2 Neo manual - $14,990

The Mazda 2 may be middle-aged by now, but it’s still a great choice for keen drivers. In base model Neo manual form, you get to enjoy one of the best H-pattern manual shifts on the market (and not just in the light car segment either) and an engaging chassis that’s as enjoyable to push hard as it is comfortable out on the road.

Accident-avoiding Autonomous Emergency Braking is now standard on 2017 Mazda 2s, as is Mazda’s handling-enhancing G-Vectoring Control system. Engine outputs are modest at 79kW of power and 139Nm of torque, but the Mazda 2’s 1.5-litre petrol loves to rev and has a perky personality that encourages those with a few drops of petrol in their veins.

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Its interior is also one of the smartest-looking at this end of the price spectrum, with the Japanese-built Mazda 2 boasting great build quality. The only downside of the base model Neo is that you miss out on a full-featured infotainment system and reversing camera – the latter of which would be helpful, considering the Mazda 2’s small rear windows.

But considering the Mazda 2 Neo’s retail price of $14,990, it’s an incredibly fun little hatchback for not a whole lot of money.

Peak power is 79kW, peak torque is 139Nm and claimed average fuel economy is 5.4L/100km

Kia Picanto S automatic - $15,690

The Picanto is a new nameplate to this country, having only popped up in local showrooms in the second quarter of 2016. Since then Kia has moved fast with the Picanto micro car, speeding a new-generation model to market that makes a convincing value-for-money proposition.

Priced at $15,690 drive-away, the Picanto comes with a strong standard equipment list for a micro car. A high-set touchscreen infotainment screen is a highlight, with smartphone mirroring allowing sat-nav maps to be displayed and music to be streamed to the car’s speakers from your phone.

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Mod-cons like rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, power windows on all doors and cruise control are standard-issue as well, features that aren’t common in the micro car segment. It also happens to drive well too, with excellent ride comfort and roadholding considering its small stature.

The best part, though, is the price tag. The Picanto S automatic wears a national drive-away price of $15,690, which is very sharp value considering the equipment on offer. It’s the smallest of this trio, but it’s got the most features-per-dollar.

Peak power is 62kW, peak torque is 122Nm and claimed average fuel economy is 5.8L/100km

Suzuki Baleno GL - $16,990

Suzuki’s Baleno straddles the light and small car segments, and though it may have a slightly shorter wheelbase than the Mazda 2 it absolutely dominates it for interior volume. The boot is sizable, there’s plenty of leg, knee and foot room in the back seat, and the Baleno’s wide body means there’s less elbow-rubbing between occupants, too.

In other words, it’s the best option for those who need to carry more than one passenger on a regular basis.

And at $16,990 drive-away for the standard five-speed manual or an extra $1000 for a four-speed automatic, it’s cracking value. Your back seat passengers will likely assume you’ve spent a lot more.

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Cabin plastics are hard and shiny and performance is modest, but the Suzuki’s light weight gives it exceptional fuel consumption performance. The base GL’s equipment list is healthy, with a rear camera, 7.0-inch colour touchscreen infotainment display, cruise control and power mirrors being standard.

Smartphone mirroring is offered too, but with the Baleno scoring integrated satellite navigation as standard – the only one in this group to enjoy that feature - many may find they won’t need it.

Peak power is 68kW, peak torque is 130Nm and claimed average fuel economy is 5.1L/100km