People are spending more money on cars than ever before as new car transaction prices continue to climb. However, several makes and models are cheaper than the $35,000 average new-car transaction price, and are just as compelling as other, more expensive offerings.
So, we had our editors pick the best cars available today that have an MSRP under $30,000. There’s something for just about everybody, including those searching for their next family sedan, , or even a . There are plenty of sub-$30K options available.
(Note: While all of the vehicles listed here have base MSRPs under $30,000, some of them offer fully loaded trim levels that can exceed this price cap. You can also.)
2019 Subaru Forester
There are many, many great cars available in this price category, as you’re about to see. For me, though, I need all-weather performance plus enough room for a couple of big dogs — criteria that sadly rules out the now sedan-only. I also need something that can tow a small trailer, carry a few kayaks on a roof rack and with enough active safety systems to make my life easier when cruising down the highway to the airport at 4 a.m. The best choice for me in this budget? It’s the 2019 Subaru Forester.
It’s not the sportiest car ever, but in Sport trim it at least looks the part, with a fetching white and orange paint job. One-hundred-and-eighty-two horsepower from the 2.5-liter flat-four engine is just enough oomph to keep things interesting, while the CVT is… well, it’s unobtrusive, at least.
I’d tick the box for the $795 tech package, which enhances the (already very good) EyeSight system with blind-spot monitoring and cross-traffic alerts, while also adding the bigger Starlink display. That takes the $28,795 Forester Sport to $29,590. Very, very good value when compared to the closest Volvo.
— Tim Stevens
2019 Honda Accord
With consumers rushing to buy everything shaped like an SUV, people seem to have forgotten about what a wonderful and competent car the Honda Accord is. That’s a small crime in my book, especially as this 10th-generation model (new for 2018) is such a sweetheart. It bundles typically Honda-thoughtful design and engaging drive dynamics with a newfound dollop of refinement and quietness.
Priced from $23,720 plus $920 for delivery, even the base LX model with the 1.5-liter turbo engine and CVT is a winner, but if you’ve got some more coin to spend, the $26,180 Sport is an entertaining-yet-capacious offering for those who enjoy driving, but still need space for their family. The top-flight Touring model costs $34,990 before options, but it looks and feels like something wearing an Acura badge. Check that — it’s an even better car than its TLX relative.
There’s loads of tech available in the Accord, including a head-up display, wireless charging, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a laundry list of advanced driver aids. There’s even a pretty darn good Hybrid model. I only wish the Accord offered optional all-wheel drive, which could help woo more customers away from crossovers and into this sleek sedan.
— Chris Paukert
2019 Ford Ranger
Ford brought back the Ranger midsize pickup for 2019, and it’s already one of our favorite trucks in the class. For most people, a pickup this size offers plenty of capability, and its less-imposing dimensions than something like a Ford F-150 make it easier to drive and live with on the daily.
The Ranger is powered by a 2.3-liter, turbocharged I4 engine, with a healthy 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. A 10-speed automatic transmission handles shifting duties, and a choice of two- or four-wheel drive is available. When it comes time to do truck stuff, the Ranger is one of the best choices in the segment, able to tow up to 7,500 pounds, and haul 1,860 pounds of payload in its bed.
Sure, the cabin looks a little outdated, but it’s a nice place in which to spend time. The seats are comfortable, the Sync 3 infotainment tech is super-easy to use and offers a rich feature set. Overall, the Ranger just feels like a right-sized truck — and at the right time, too.
— Steven Ewing
2019 Mazda CX-5
It’s not hard to find an affordable compact crossover for sale. It is tougher, however, to find one that feels like it could be priced $10,000 higher than it actually is. The Mazda CX-5, by dint of its styling, interior treatment and energetic driving dynamics, performs above its price tag.
Since being refreshed in 2017, the CX-5 has the ride quality and interior quietness to match up with competing crossovers. It’s fuel efficient, easy to drive and plenty spacious for families and their belongings. Mazda also offers all the safety tech you could want, as well as an infotainment system capable of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity.
Most of all, the Mazda CX-5 feels special, whether you opt for the base Sport trim level (from $25,395 with destination) to the $37,935 Signature model, which packs a gutsy turbo engine. In a class of crossovers you buy out of necessity, the CX-5 is the one entry you buy out of desire.
— Jake Holmes
2019 Honda Insight
The 2019 Honda Insight pulls off a surprisingly simple trick: Around town, it doesn’t look or feel much different from a run-of-the-mill Civic. But beneath its stylish — but not standoutish — exterior, it’s hiding an electrified hybrid powertrain that delivers Prius-fighting fuel economy.
The sound of Honda’s series-hybrid motor takes some getting used to, but is worth the economy it returns. In its lightest spec, the Insight is rated at 55 miles per gallon city and 49 mpg highway. However, Roadshow’s editors were able to do even better than those estimates during our testing without any hypermiling tricks or even much effort at all.
The Insight is simply a really good car that delivers great economy without drawing attention to how “green” it is. It’s also a bargain, starting at around $23,000. That leaves plenty of room in the budget to consider the fully-loaded $28,090 Touring model with its better infotainment, LaneWatch safety tech and superior creature comforts.
— Antuan Goodwin
2019 Hyundai Veloster N
I’m a sucker for performance bargains and the Hyundai Veloster N is certainly one, considering its $26,900 base price gets you a punchy turbocharged engine, adaptive dampers, big brakes and rad looks.
In standard trim, the N’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder brings 250 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque to the party. That bolts up to a slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission with automatic rev-matching. The variable suspension offers three settings including Normal for compliant street driving and Sport Plus when you feel like attacking corners.
Optioning the $2,100 Performance Package livens things up further with a different ECU tune enabling the turbo four to spit out 275 horses along with handling upgrades like a limited-slip differential, 19-inch wheels wrapped with sticky Pirelli P-Zero tires and bigger brake rotors. Best of all, the Veloster N in its most potent form still squeaks in under $30K.
— Jon Wong
2019 Jeep Wrangler
Sure, in order to get a Wrangler under $30,000 some concessions to comfort must be made, but you still get the steady 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine good for 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Also included are a two-speed transfer case and a six-speed manual transmission. Plus, you can take off the top and the doors for open-air road trips.
A base Wrangler is a great choice for those who might only occasionally need four-wheel drive. If you’re looking to customize your Wrangler, the base model is a great place to start, too. Why buy a Rubicon if you’re just going to load it up with aftermarket axles and differential lockers? A two-door Sport starts at $28,045, plus $1,495 destination.
— Emme Hall
2019 Mazda3 AWD
The all-new 2019 Mazda3 elevates the game, not just for the compact sedan/hatchback segment, but also for the industry as a whole. The front-wheel drive version is fantastic, from the way it drives, to the way it looks inside and out. The addition of all-wheel drive, however, adds some sweet icing to an already-delicious cake.
Power comes from a 2.5-liter four cylinder engine producing 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque sent through a six-speed automatic transmission and on to all four wheels. While not a performance car, that’s plenty of power for playing through the twisties, while the terrific AWD reads the driver’s inputs and readily apportions power across all four corners.
The little all-weather Mazda is pretty efficient, too. The sedan returns an EPA-estimated 25 mpg in the city and 33 mpg highway. The hatchback returns slightly lower figures, rated at 24/32 city/highway mpg. The all-wheel drive sedan starts at $24,000 (plus $920 for destination), while a loaded AWD hatch starts at $29,820. That puts the Mazda3 on the more expensive side of its competition, but with how well it punches above its weight, the extra money spent is well worth it.
— Manuel Carrillo III
2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
The Jetta is better than it’s been in years thanks to a recent platform switch that gives it access to much of VW’s latest and greatest tech. It’s not the last word in excitement in its base trim levels but when you make the jump up to the GLI, that all changes.
The fully loaded Jetta GLI Autobahn trim offers VW’s Digital Cockpit, which is a bit of tech unheard of at the $30,000 level. Digital Cockpit isn’t quite as slick as the Virtual Cockpit found in Audi’s cars, but it’s still so much better than what everybody else has to offer at this price point. The rest of the stuff we liked about the standard Jetta still holds true for the GLI, like the premium-feeling materials and the solid build quality.
The Jetta GLI is a riot on a back road, a willing track day participant and a faithful freeway cruising companion. It’s a car for any and all situations and you’d be hard-pressed to find something that offers so much for so little while asking for so few compromises.
— Kyle Hyatt
2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Many of the vehicles on this list are bastions of sensibility, but there’s still a number of us who want something fun that doesn’t break the bank.
With 181 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque on tap from its 2.0-liter I4, the 2019 MX-5 Miata is more powerful than it used to be, and that little bump makes it much more palatable for daily driving and highway overtakes.
In addition to its newfound power, it remains one of the most accessibly fun vehicles on sale today. It has the right amount of body roll, making every turn just a little more fun than it should be.
— Andrew Krok
Originally published April 2019.