07/10/2004 00:00 | By by Kyle Fortune

Top 10 cars for under £20,000



A £20,000 budget for a new car opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Premium hatchbacks and sports saloons are now within your grasp, as are higher specification models from the mainstream manufactures. Need some help spending it? Then look no further.

Family Hatch – Mercedes A 200 CDI Avantgarde £19,500 est

Family Hatch – Mercedes A 200 CDI Avantgarde £19,500 est

The mainstream marques in the family hatchback category top out at about £17,000, so if you’re happy with a Ford or Vauxhall badge on your bonnet then you really can’t go wrong with either the new Focus or Astra and plenty of change. But you’ve a bit more so you can afford something more desirable, like the new Mercedes A-Class. Forget the poor handling old car, the new A-Class is an accomplished drive, with enormous practicality, prestige and style too. Your budget should get you a range topping model, like the pacy 140bhp A200 CDI turbodiesel in well specified Avantgarde trim. On sale in January, get your order in now.

Read our review of the new A-class here

Premium Hatch – Audi A3 2.0 TDI Sport £19,530

Premium Hatch – Audi A3 2.0 TDI Sport £19,530

The Audi A3 was the car that created this market when it was originally introduced, and it continues to be one of the most coveted cars in this class – for good reason. It’s a beautifully designed car, in either three- or five-door ‘Sportback’ body styles. With the 2.0-litre turbodiesel having all the performance of its petrol relatives with the bonus of improved economy and emissions it’s certainly worth consideration. In Sport trim it comes comprehensively equipped with more sporting suspension and bigger alloys, but if that’s not your thing then the more sober SE is the same price. The BMW 1 Series is also worth consideration, as is the Mercedes A-Class, but for a stylish, indulgent hatchback the A3 is difficult to beat.

Read our review of the new Audi A3 Sportback here

Large family hatch – Subaru WRX 2.0 Turbo Hatch £20,495

Large family hatch – Subaru WRX 2.0 Turbo Hatch £20,495

£20,000 will get you into a wide range of very competent cars from mainstream makers and even entry-level sports saloons from premium marques. The Subaru bridges this gap. A bit of a left-field choice, and slightly over budget, we’re certain you could get this road rocket on your drive within our constraints if you shopa round a bit. A cross between a conventional hatchback and estate car, the WRX has a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine producing 225bhp allowing it to sprint from standstill to 60mph in just 5.8 seconds. Who said family cars should be dull? The interior isn’t the last word in style, it’s functional at best, and it’s perhaps not the prettiest car on the road, but for the money you simply won’t find anything faster or more fun.

Estate Car – Volvo V50 2.0D S £18,913

Estate Car – Volvo V50 2.0D S £18,913

A name synonymous with estate cars the V50 might not be the most practical load-lugger in our price range, but it’s undoubtedly one of the best looking. That Volvo badge is a cut above the mainstream norm too. Brilliant, direct steering and a nicely balanced chassis make it a real pleasure to drive, while the 2.0-litre turbodiesel provides a nice, even spread of power and the potential to return 48mpg – easing the pain at the pumps. Inside it’s a real pleasure, neat details like the ‘floating’ central console, comfortable seats and great ergonomics really adding to its appeal. Not the biggest estate car admittedly, if you’re after an estate with huge capacity then you’d be better with a Vectra, but impressive as the Vauxhall is, we know what we’d go for.

Read our roadtest of the V50 here

Sports Saloon – BMW 3 Series 318i ES £19,995

Sports Saloon – BMW 3 Series 318i ES £19,995

Your £20k gets you into junior executive territory relatively easily, but the majority of cars on offer are the smallest engined derivatives in lower trim levels. BMW offers this gem though, the 318i ES. Perversely, it gets alloy wheels over the standard 318i, yet costs £1,000 less. That’s because it’s a special edition, but it’s no short run model, as it’s destined to remain on the price lists until the current 3 Series is replaced next year. Despite the 318 badge it’s not a 1.8-litre unit, but actually a 2.0-litre engine producing 143bhp. That’s plenty to let you enjoy the BMW’s still unrivalled driving dynamics, the 3 Series bettering all its rivals on the road for driver appeal despite its imminent replacement.

Read our roadtest of the 318i here

Cabriolet – Renault Mégane Coupe-Cabriolet 2.0T Dynamique £19,820

Cabriolet – Renault Mégane Coupe-Cabriolet 2.0T Dynamique £19,820

Rather inexplicably given our climate cabriolets are big sellers in the UK. However, at least the growth in folding hardtop coupe-cabriolet models has added some practicality to the sector. While you can buy Renault’s edgily styled Mégane Coupe-Cabriolet for significantly less than our £20,000 limit, and even opt for a diesel too, the recent addition of Renault’s 2.0-litre Turbo engine gives it 165bhp. That’s enough to turn the Coupe-Cabriolet into a far more enjoyable driving machine. You’ll never tire of that folding hood either, just one press of a button opening you up to the elements. Rivals like the Peugeot 307 CC simply cannot match the Mégane for style, and Renault is always one-step ahead when it comes to specification too.

Read our review of the non-Turbo version

People Carrier (MPV) – Seat Alhambra 1.9 TDI 130 SX £19,277

People Carrier (© MPV)

Despite the proliferation of compact MPVs within our budget, if shifting people really is your motive for purchase then nothing but a full-sized MPV will do. Citroen’s C8 is a worthy contender here, and cheaper than you might think with generous cashback offers, but the Seat Alhambra would still top our shopping list. Exactly the same under its Seat badge and grille as a Ford Galaxy or VW Sharan, the Alhambra is usefully cheaper, and no less the car. Seven are seated in comfort, and all those pews can be moved, or removed depending on your load. With decent equipment levels and a lusty 130bhp diesel engine it’s actually quite an enjoyable drive too, even if it’s advancing in years compared to rivals.

4x4 – Toyota RAV4 2.0 D-4D 5-door XT3 £19,745

4x4 – Toyota RAV4 2.0 D-4D 5-door XT3 £19,745

With our budget the best-selling Land Rover Freelander is comfortably within reach, but we’d recommend you avoid it and opt instead for Toyota’s fantastic RAV4. A great looking machine whether you opt for the spacious and practical five-door version, as we have here, or the sporty looking three-door model. Either provides a drive that’s quite at odds with its lofty 4x4 stance, being very car-like on the road, while should you be so inclined it’ll do a decent job in the mire too. Plentiful equipment, spacious and comfortable cabin there’s a lot to like about the RAV4. That it’s cheaper than its Land Rover rival, and more reliable too, really cements its position as our favourite compact 4x4.

Read our review of the RAV4 NRG here

Sports Car – Toyota MR2 £17,145

Sports Car – Toyota MR2 £17,145

Our £20,000 budget still leaves us just out of reach of cars like the BMW Z4 2.2 or even a Lotus Elise, both commanding a few more thousand to get your hands on the keys. However, there is still plenty of choice out there for sports car fans. Both the Toyota MR2 and Mazda MX-5 are very desirable choices, but for pure driver thrills, admittedly at the expense of practicality, we’d opt for the mid-engined Toyota MR2. As excellent as the Mazda is the Toyota feels that bit rawer, more indulgent and exotic with its engine over your shoulder and be damned with practicality approach. Sure, there’s next to no space for luggage, but, really, who cares? If its not raw enough for you, then try a Caterham.

Read our roadtest of the MR2 here

Coupe – Mazda RX-8 190bhp £20,100

Coupe – Mazda RX-8 190bhp £20,100

In the coupe market there’s nothing to match Mazda’s RX-8 for the money. Okay, so it’s £100 above our budget, but raid your penny bin, or miss a night or two out to ensure you can afford the extra. It’s powered by a rotary engine that’s turbine smooth, but to feel its 190bhp it needs revving. Even so it’s a joy, even if you need to check the oil levels every time you fill up. Enormously practical for a coupe, it’s got rear seats accessed by two rear-hinged doors. Once in the back you’ll find plenty space for children, and adults can squeeze in too for shorter journeys in reasonable comfort. On the road it’s a hoot to drive, with precise steering and lively handling. Really, it’s a coupe without the usual compromises, but all the fun and style. And it’s cheap too.

Read our roadtest of the RX-8 here

Our top 10 for under £15,000
Our top 10 for under £10,000

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