If you’re in the market for a new vehicle but are finding that your options for entry-level models seem very different than the last time you went car shopping, you’re not making it up.
Several car brands have dropped out of Canada’s traditionally popular subcompact and compact car segments in the last few years, choosing to focus instead on small crossover and SUV models. While those satisfy the marketplace’s fast-growing appetite for utility vehicles, that shift means there are fewer options available to new-car shoppers on a tight budget.
We decided to take a closer look at the new models available to budget-oriented buyers. To do so, we set a price limit of $19,999 – just under the $20,000 line that, in our minds at least, has separated true entry-level vehicles from those with nice-to-have features.
What we found surprised us: Among 2021 models, there are just 11 vehicles you can buy brand-new for less than $20,000. Here they are, listed in order from cheapest to those that brush up against our price limit.
2021 Chevrolet Spark — $10,398-$19,498
With a starting price within spitting distance of $10,000, the Chevrolet Spark city car is Canada’s least-expensive new vehicle. Coincidentally, it’s also one of just two cars on our list with less than 100 hp: its 1.4L four-cylinder engine makes 98 hp and 94 lb-ft, and comes with either a five-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable automatic (CVT).
The Spark is also the only car on this list whose entire lineup starts below the magic $20,000 mark. Its top 2LT trim level comes with leatherette seating, a sunroof, cruise control, keyless entry, air conditioning, and electric mirrors and windows.
Chevrolet estimates the Spark’s fuel consumption at 7.7/6.2 L/100 km (city/highway) with the CVT, and 8.0/6.2 L/100 km with the five-speed manual transmission.
2021 Mitsubishi Mirage — $13,858-$17,158 (ES, SE)
Next up is the Mitsubishi Mirage, a city car that got a noteworthy styling refresh for 2021. That update left the Mirage’s powertrain as-is, with a 1.2L three-cylinder engine putting 78 hp and 74 lb-ft to a five-speed manual or a CVT.
The Mirage’s ES and SE trim levels fall under our sub-$20,000 threshold, while the top GT model just misses the cut, at $20,158.
In the Mirage ES, you get A/C with automatic climate control, power mirrors and windows, LED taillights, and auto on/off headlights.
The SE’s additions are alloy wheels, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with smartphone integration, and power locks with keyless entry.
If you’re willing to put a toe over the $20,000 line, the GT gets front and side collision avoidance assist; LED headlights with automatic high beams; heated front seats, steering wheel and side mirrors; passive keyless entry; leather-trimmed steering wheel and shifter; and fog lights.
Mitsubishi rates the Mirage’s fuel consumption at 6.6/5.6 L/100 km (city/highway) with the CVT, and 7.1/5.8 L/100 km with the five-speed.
2021 Nissan Versa S and SV — $16,498-$19,498
Next, we move up a size class from city cars to subcompacts with the Nissan Versa. The Versa made a comeback in 2021 with a new sedan model; the previous generation sedan went away after 2014, and Nissan discontinued the Versa Note hatchback after the 2019 model year.
The Versa’s S and SV trim levels carry starting prices of less than $20,000, for which you get a 1.6L engine with 122 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque. S trim is standard with a five-speed manual transmission that you can option to a CVT; the CVT is included in the SV package.
Versa S has cruise control, power-adjustable side mirrors, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, forward collision and lane departure warning, rear automatic braking, air conditioning, power windows, and keyless entry.
SV adds automatic climate control, heated front seats, and smartphone integration.
Nissan also offers the Versa in an SR trim priced at $20,998.
Regardless of trim, the Versa’s fuel consumption ratings are 7.4/5.9 L/100 km (city/highway) for CVT models, and 8.6/6.7 L/100 km for versions with the manual transmission.
2021 Kia Rio hatchback — $17,295-$19,995 (LX+/LX Premium)
Next is another subcompact, the Kia Rio hatchback, whose LX+ and LX Premium trims make our cut with prices ranging from $17,295 to $19,995.
Standard in both is a 1.6L engine (120 hp/113 lb-ft) which in LX+ is mated to a standard six-speed manual. LX+ can be optioned with a CVT, and that automatic is included in the LX Premium.
LX+’s features include keyless entry, heated/power-adjustable side mirrors, heated front seats, air conditioning, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with smartphone integration, keyless entry, cruise control, and power windows.
Move up to LX Premium and Kia adds alloy wheels, LED signature lighting, a sunroof, heated steering wheel, and a blind spot monitor.
The Rio’s top EX Premium package misses our price cutoff thanks to its $22,495 MSRP.
Kia rates the Rio’s fuel economy at 7.2/6.0 L/100 km (city/highway) with the automatic transmission, and 7.7/6.1 with the manual.
2021 Hyundai Venue Essential — $17,599-$18,899
In the number five spot is one of two crossover models to make our list. Hyundai introduced the Venue in 2020 as a new entry-level model to replace the Accent subcompact car. Notably, the Venue is the least-expensive crossover model you can buy today, thanks to its Essential trim level’s $17,599 starting price.
The Venue is powered by a 1.6L engine (121 hp/113 lb-ft), and the base price includes a six-speed manual transmission, along with an 8.0-inch touchscreen, air conditioning, heated front seats, power windows/locks/heated side mirrors, and auto on/off headlights. If you add the automatic CVT for $18,899, Hyundai also throws in cruise control.
Despite its crossover categorization, the Venue does not offer AWD. And you’re out of luck if you want Hyundai’s collision-avoidance features, which are only offered starting in the $21,599 Preferred trim.
Fuel consumption estimates for the Hyundai Venue are 7.9/7.0 L/100 km (city/highway) for the CVT, and 8.6/6.8 L/100 km for the stickshift version.
2021 Kia Forte LX sedan — $17,895-$19,495 (manual/automatic)
Kia makes our list again with the Forte compact sedan, whose LX trim is the only version of the car you can get for less than our $20,000 cutoff.
The Forte uses a 2.0L four-cylinder engine (147 hp/132 lb-ft) matched with a six-speed manual transmission for $17,895, or an automatic CVT for $19,495.
Notable standard features are heated side mirrors, heated front seats, leather-trimmed shifter and steering wheel, air conditioning, an 8.0-inch touchscreen with smartphone integration, keyless entry, and power windows.
The Forte’s advanced safety features are limited to its $21,195 EX trim and higher. Kia also sells a Forte5 hatchback, but it starts at $22,245.
Kia estimates the Forte’s fuel consumption at 7.8/5.9 L/100 km (city/highway) with the CVT, or 8.7/6.6 L/100 km with the stickshift.
2021 Hyundai Elantra Essential sedan– $17,899-$19,929 (6MT/automatic)
Hyundai also makes a second appearance with the Elantra compact sedan, which was redesigned into its seventh generation for 2021.
Under the Elantra’s hood is the same 2.0L engine (147 hp/132 lb-ft) used in the Kia Forte; the entry-level Essential trim is standard with a six-speed manual transmission ($17,899) and can be optioned to an automatic CVT for $19,799.
Elantra Essential’s standard features include alloy wheels, auto on/off headlights, heated/power side mirrors, heated front seats, power windows, keyless entry, air conditioning, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen.
The Elantra’s other comfort and advanced safety features are only available in the car’s higher trims, starting with the $21,899 Preferred package.
Hyundai’s fuel consumption estimates are 7.5/5.7 L/100 km (city/highway) with the CVT, and 9.1/6.3 L/100 km in cars with the stickshift.
2021 Nissan Sentra S 6MT — $19,198
The Nissan Sentra is the second of three Nissan models to make our list of cars priced below $20,000. This compact sedan’s most basic version is the only one that satisfies our price cutoff, with a $19,198 price that includes a 2.0L engine (149 hp/146 lb-ft) and a six-speed manual transmission. There’s an optional CVT, but adding it takes the Sentra S’s price to $20,898.
Notably, the Sentra’s base price includes a full suite of driver safety assists: front and rear collision alert with forward and reverse automatic braking, lane departure and blind spot warnings, and backup sensors. Other standard items are heated side mirrors, heated front seats, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with smartphone integration, air conditioning, and power windows and locks.
The stickshift Sentra S’s fuel consumption estimates are 9.3/6.3 L/100 km (city/highway).
2021 Toyota Corolla L 6MT — $19,350
Number 9 is the Toyota Corolla, the only model that brings the brand’s reputation for durability to the sub-$20,000 crowd. If we had compiled this list last year, it would have also included the now-discontinued subcompact Yaris.
The Corolla – like its competitor the Nissan Sentra – only qualifies for our price cutoff in its most basic L trim with a six-speed manual transmission. Adding the optional CVT bumps the price to $21,150.
For $19,350, you get a 1.8L engine (139 hp/126 lb-ft), forward collision avoidance assist, automatic high beams, radar cruise control, and lane departure alert; also included are keyless entry, smartphone integration in a 7.0-inch touchscreen, power windows, air conditioning, heated side mirrors, and LED headlights. The most notable omission is heated front seats.
The Toyota Corolla L and its six-speed stickshift come with fuel consumption ratings of 8.0/6.0 L/100 km (city/highway).
2021 Nissan Kicks S — $19,898
Nissan’s final model on our list is the Kicks, the brand’s smallest and least-expensive crossover, which enjoys refreshed styling for 2021; its entry-level S trim squeaks under our price limit at $19,898.
The Kicks shares its 122-hp, 1.6L engine with the Versa sedan, but does not offer the Versa’s manual option; the only transmission is an automatic CVT. Like the Hyundai Venue, the Kicks only comes with front-wheel drive, despite Nissan’s marketing it as a crossover.
Standard features include forward and rear collision avoidance assist with automatic braking, lane departure warning, backup sensors, automatic high beams, and blind spot monitoring. The Kicks S also gets air conditioning, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, power windows/door locks, and a six-speaker stereo. Notably, heated seats aren’t part of the deal until you move up to the SV trim for nearly $23,000.
The Nissan Kicks’s fuel consumption estimates are 7.7/6.6 L/100 km (city/highway).
2021 Subaru Impreza Convenience sedan — $19,995
Last but not least is the Subaru Impreza which, along with being among the few new cars under $20,000, is also the least-expensive all-wheel vehicle you can buy today. Significantly, Subaru has held the Impreza’s starting price at $19,995 since 2012.
As with a few other cars on this list, that price applies to a single version of the Impreza: the four-door sedan in Convenience trim with a five-speed manual transmission, which is mated to a 2.0L engine making 152 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque.
Standard features include fog lights, auto on/off headlights, LED taillights, a 6.5-inch touchscreen with smartphone integration, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and side mirrors, and keyless entry.
Here’s what you don’t get: the Subaru EyeSight advanced safety system only comes on Impreza Convenience models with the optional CVT, which costs $21,995. If you want heated seats, you have to move up to the $22,795 Impreza Touring sedan. You also can’t get the Impreza hatchback for our sub-$20,000 price limit: it starts at $20,995 in Convenience trim.
Subaru’s fuel consumption estimates for the Impreza five-speed are 10.1/7.6 L/100 km (city/highway).