Best cheap cars for 2020
By Adrian Porter
Article 15 of 16
Buying a cheap car doesn't always mean compromising on quality. We reveal some cheap cars that are just as good as their pricier rivals.
A good cheap car can hit that sweet spot between being a reliable, safe, comfortable vehicle that’s easy to drive and not too expensive to fill up, as well as being kind to your bank balance. If you're looking for a great-value car, you can find one – provided you use our test results to help you out.
You may think that skimping and buying a cheaper car will resign you to a fate of breakdowns, sparse interiors and bumpy rides, but that’s not always the case.
We’ve found high-scoring models that cost significantly less than rivals that came off worse in our testing. Equally, we’ve found some shocking models that attempt to woo you with a temptingly low price tag only to disappoint at every turn.
Here, we round-up six cheap cars, each from a different class. They are every bit as comfortable, easy to drive and efficient as some of their more expensive cousins. You'll almost certainly find a car that suits your needs in our list, whether that's a fashionable SUV, sprightly city car or an ideal family hatchback – we've got the popular classes covered.
Plus, we've highlighted three cheap cars you should avoid.
The best cheap cars
You don't need to compromise to get an exceptional cheap car – our experts select models that have pulled well above their weight in our rigorous lab tests.
Best cheap cars
This small hybrid hatchback has all the practicality and ease of use of the standard combustion version, but with much-improved fuel economy. If you’re an urban driver, expect to make significant savings. It’s also one of the easiest small cars to get into and out of, and very reliable as it ages.
It’s easy to see why owners are very happy with this model. Not only is it well built and equipped, it’s as entertaining to drive as sports cars costing three times as much. It’s so much fun that even limited boot space and a tight cabin can’t dampen the ownership experience.
This large car majors on practicality. It’s got a huge boot and plenty of space for passengers both front and rear. It’s also economical and nicely comfortable on long journeys. The interior may not have the stylistic flair of more expensive models, but there’s an impressive array of kit available, and it feels built to last.
Based on the same underpinnings as a more expensive model, this medium hatchback offers a similarly complete driving experience. It’s fun to drive, reasonably economical and practical, too. There’s some noticeable cost-cutting in terms of the cabin plastics, but otherwise this car feels like a high-quality product.
And here are three cheap cars to avoid
Buy the wrong cheap car and you don't just have to put up with something that's annoying to drive. A bad car can be unsafe and cost you more money in the long term, with expensive fuel bills and repair costs.
You can get a cheap car that’s comparable or better than some of its more expensive competition, but there are some that are just cheap and nasty rather than cheap and cheerful.
Here are the cars that offer few benefits other than being easy on your wallet.
Cheap cars to avoid
This model has won plenty of fans with its no-frills approach to motoring. It’s a credible compact SUV, with just the basic equipment. Unfortunately that includes its active safety kit - an area we don’t think you should have to compromise on. With a three-star out of five Euro NCAP safety rating, it’s a definite Don't Buy.
It might be spacious and reasonably practical for its size, but there’s very little else to recommend about this small hatchback. It’s been on sale for far too long, and has fallen way behind the times, particularly in terms of safety. It’s one of the lowest scoring cars we’ve reviewed – avoid like the plague.
How do we separate the good cars from the bad?
When we test any car we leave nothing for granted and we never take a manufacturer at its word. Any new car launch comes with a string of claims about fuel economy, emissions, power and safety, and we put all of them to the test.
Our tests tell us that 98% of cars can't match the mpg stated by the manufacturer. Some cars miss it by a small margin while others don't get near the lofty figure you'll read on the company's website or dealer brochure.
We've found cars that are missing some of the most common safety features, such as curtain airbags and electronic stability control. We don't stop at collisions when we look at car safety, we check avoidance, too. Driving at 56mph, we attempt to swerve past obstacles, something safe cars cope well with.
But our evasion test has found cars where the wheels lock in place, preventing the driver from straightening up. You don't need us to explain the potentially catastrophic consequences of losing control of your car's direction.
A great car isn't all about safety. Our car testing experts have thousands of hours of driving experience in everything from the tiniest city car to the heftiest SUV. So, when it comes to comfort and ease of use, we trust them to tell us whether a car is a pleasure or pain to drive. Each car is driven for more than 500 miles on real roads and on bumpy test tracks that really put the suspension through its paces.
Even the best car is no better than scrap metal if it's always breaking down. That's why we ask tens of thousands of motorists to tell us how reliable their cars are. If a car is plagued with niggling faults or prone to breakdowns, then it will be reflected in its overall score, because anything as expensive as a car should, at the very least, be reliable.
You can find out which cars pass our reliability assessments with flying colours by taking a look at our guide to the most reliable cars.