Does anybody make affordable new cars today? That’s the question reader Jules Rosen asked after I wrote about the most interesting and important new vehicles going on sale in the next 12 months.
One person’s affordable is another person’s unattainable, of course, but by Rosen’s yardstick — new cars between $15,000 and $30,000 — there are more good choices coming than you might expect.
Automakers have shifted their emphasis to SUVs because they can charge more for them, but the inexpensive sedan isn’t dead, as witnessed by the brand-new 2020 Nissan Versa, which just went on sale starting at $14,730.
Nissan has a strong value pitch these days. It also builds the SUV-ish — more on that later; see “Hyundai Venue” below — Kicks, a little vehicle that offers lots of features and style for as low as $18,640. All prices exclude destination charges.
“Affordability is an ongoing challenge for the industry, but you can find things that meet most needs below $30,000,” IHS Markit senior analyst Stephanie Brinley said. “Automakers will continue to build vehicles for those customers.”
The vehicles and prices listed are based on my reporting. Some of these vehicles, like the Nissan Sentra and Chevrolet Trailblazer, should start well below $30,000. Others, like the eagerly awaited Ford Bronco off-road SUV, will probably come within an optional floor mat of 30 large. There may also be some new sub-$30K vehicles coming that I don’t know about.
Buick Encore GX
The Encore GX is a bigger and better equipped brother to the little Encore SUV that’s Buick’s best-selling model. Expect prices between $23,00 and $32,000 to fill the gap between Encore and the bigger Envision. The GX should go be on sale in early 2021. Features will include pedestrian detection, automatic front braking, lane keeping alert and assist and video rearview camera. The smaller Encore will remain in Buick’s lineup, possibly to be replaced by a new model in a year or two.
The Trailblazer SUV revives an honored Chevy name — happily without the goofy mid-word capital “B” GM used to insist on — and fills the space between the smaller $21,300 Trax and the Equinox, which starts at $23,800. That’s a narrow slice of prices, so don’t be surprised if the Equinox drops its lowest priced models and Chevy repositions the Trax downward in a year or two to challenge vehicles like the Nissan Kicks and Hyundai Venue.
The Trailblazer’s striking looks include a black roof for a two-tone effect and other elements it shares with the midsize Blazer. Expect the Trailblazer to be roomy compared to direct competitors, a consistent theme among GM’s SUVs.
Ford Escape and Bronco
The 2020 Ford Escape compact SUV goes on sale this fall. With sleek looks, a 2.0L engine and new platform deliver sporty driving, but the return of a hybrid model will probably be the crowd-pleaser. Prices for a 1.5L gasoline-powered Escape start at $24,885. A plug-in hybrid joins the party at $28,255 and goes on sale next year.
Enthusiasts are counting the days until the off road-oriented Bronco SUV goes on sale. A public debut at the Los Angeles auto show in November seems likely, followed by sales early in 2020.
Very little is known about the Bronco, which shares its basic structure with the popular Ranger midsize pickup. Expect a rugged SUV developed explicitly to challenge the Jeep Wrangler. Recent revelations include the likelihood of removable doors for open-air driving. If the doors come off, some sort of open or removable roof seems certain, too.
Wrangler prices start at $28,295, so we can hope for Bronco base prices under $30,000.
The current HR-V — base price $20,620 — is one of the best and best-selling subcompact SUVs. Expect loads of room, class-leading safety and driver assistance features and unfortunately forgettable looks from the new model. The drivetrain layout and interior are unlikely to change much from the successful current format. That makes a hybrid unlikely, despite the fact that Honda sells one in other parts of the world.
Hyundai Sonata and Venue
Hyundai hopes the 2020 Sonata midsize sedan’s looks and new features like unlocking with your smart phone will get some attention from SUV-mad buyers. Features will include big screens for infotainment and plenty of standard safety features. A “digital key” will allow drivers to unlock, start and drive the Sonata using their smartphone instead of a key.
Prices for the 2019 Sonata start at $22,650. Expect the 2020 in the same neighborhood. Sales begin this fall. A hybrid should go on sale in 2020.
Sized and priced below the $20,100 subcompact Kona SUV, the little Venue is SUV-adjacent, offering a tall profile for decent visibility but no all-wheel drive. Hyundai promises “snow mode for front-wheel driving performance,” a word salad best translated as “You’ll never take this off-road, so why pay for AWD?” The FWD Venue has a 1.6L engine and features you don’t see in a lot of entry-level vehicles, including heated front seats, blind spot alert, forward collision alert and automatic braking. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard.
A big grille makes the little Venue look like Hyundai’s flagship, the bigger and more expensive Palisade.
The midsize Kia Optima sedan — 2020 base price, $23,190 — will be replaced by a new model in the first half of 2020. Details are scarce at this point, but expect much of the same technology Kia’s corporate cousin Hyundai offers on its new 2020 Sonata.
Based on the same platform as the striking Mazda 3 compact sedan and hatchback, the CX-30 fits between the CX-3 subcompact and CX-5 midsize SUVs. The CX-30 looks like a magnified version of the striking Mazda 3 hatchback. It’s likely to offer 2.0L and 2.5L four-cylinder engines and upscale materials as the brand tries to move upmarket. CX-3 prices start at $20,390, so look for the CX-30 to start in the mid-$20s and replace lower models of the CX-5.
Mitsubishi Outlander and Mirage
Mitsubishi became a brand to watch when the Renault-Nissan Alliance took control and folded the struggling small company into its product development system a couple of years ago. The 2020 Outlander SUV will be the first Mitsu to use an Alliance platform. It’s expected to be bigger than the current model, with a more useable third row of seats. A regular hybrid is likely to join the lineup alongside the plug-in hybrid the Outlander already offers.
Mitsubishi planned to drop the Mirage subcompact car as its finances faltered, but may now be about to use the established name on a new small SUV based on another Alliance architecture. Migrating a car’s name to an SUV worked fine with Mitsu’s Eclipse Cross Sport, so why not try again?
Whether thanks to a deep philosophical commitment to cars, or just bad timing in the corporate product development cycle, Nissan will follow this year’s high-value Versa subcompact with another inexpensive small sedan. The Sentra will use the same architecture as the Rogue Sport SUV. Expect a huge improvement in safety equipment and connectivity as the aged 2019 compact sedan is replaced with an injection of modern technology. Prices for the 2019 Sentra start at $17,890.
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