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You can “vote with your wallet” in the political sense, or you can vote with your wallet when it comes to what you drive. For the ultra-economical new car buyer, there is only a literal handful of options for new cars with a starting MSRP of under $20,000. Namely, the Kia Forte, Nissan Versa, Kia Soul, Hyundai Venue and Mitsubishi Mirage. According to 2023 annual sales figures, the best new car under $20,000 thrashes the competition in popularity.

A 2023 Kia Soul parked on display
2023 Kia Soul | Kia

The voters have chosen — it’s the Kia Forte.

The Forte outsold its ultra-economy car class rivals by a huge margin. Kia sold nearly 124,000 units in 2023. That’s more than double the number of Soul’s the brand moved during the year.

Just over 28,000 Venues were sold. The Versa was fourth with 24,807 units despite an 85-percent increase in annual sales. In what is a strapped economy for many, the only sub-$20,000 car to drop in sales was the Mirage. Mitsubishi sold 13,219 in all of 2023, a drop of about 2,600 units from 2022.

The 2023 Kia Forte starts at $19,490 MSRP, and it’s one of the better equipped models in the $20,000 range. Base LX models are fitted with cruise control, selectable driving modes, an 8-inch touchscreen and wireless Android/Apple connectivity. It also sports several safety features, including lane departure warning, automatic forward emergency braking and lane-keeping.

The Forte’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder delivering 147 horsepower and paired with a CVT is also economical at 34 combined mpg.

Those willing to spend a bit more can stay on the Kia lot and consider the Soul. The 2023 model starts at $19,890 MSRP. Opting for a 2024 model increases the price a bit to $20,190.

The Soul was refreshed for the 2023 model year, and it features strong value for its price. Base models get a digital instrument cluster and 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, remote keyless entry, automatic headlights. Safety features are similar to the Forte with the Soul also offering a rear occupant alert and automatic high beams.

The Soul is surprisingly pragmatic for its small dimensions and delivers 147 horsepower from its 2.0-liter four.

The 2024 Versa is the cheapest of the bunch with a starting price of $16,390 with the standard manual transmission. A CVT to pair with the 122-horsepower 1.6-liter ups the base MSRP to $18,060.

Still, there’s a respectable number of features for the Versa’s low price. Standard kit includes push-button start, power windows/door locks, a 7-inch touchscreen, three USB ports, and a 60/40 split rear seat in CVT models. Standard driver aids include automatic forward emergency braking, lane departure warning and automatic high beams.

The Hyundai Venue is the only SUV available for under $20,000. Just barely, that is, with a starting MSRP of $19,900 for the 2024 model.

The Venue delivers a high roof and seating position expected of an SUV, and it’s certainly a value-oriented choice in the subcompact class. Standard features include automatic headlights, remote keyless entry, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, 60/40 split rear seats and six-speaker audio. Additional kit includes an 8-inch touchscreen and wireless CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity. Automatic forward emergency braking, lane departure warning and a rear seat reminder are also standard.

The Venue isn’t quite as practical as its rivals, but it’s notably cheaper without sacrificing value.

Mitsubishi Mirage sales are still relatively impressive given its less-than-glowing reviews. Edmunds outright says it doesn’t recommend buying one. Car and Driver notes, “The Mirage looks like a great deal from afar but its value quickly vaporizes upon closer inspection.”

The Mirage comes with a smattering of respectable standard features like power windows, automatic climate control, a 7-inch touchscreen and Android/Apple connectivity. It also sports a good warranty. Its 78 horsepower, 1.2-liter three-cylinder is far from powerful enough, though. Its cheap interior also underscores its low price.

Additional sources: [Hyundai], [Mitsubishi], [Nissan]