If you don't have a lot of money to spend on a car, but you really want new (as opposed to used), you might feel like you have limited choices that can also deliver some driving fun. I mean, geez, what can you even get for $20K, anyway? Upon first glance, it seems like you're really limited. Toyota Corolla? Boring to look at, as well as drive. Honda Civic? Drives well, looks weird. Ford Focus? Way too dated. Our two choices might get overlooked in the mainstream, but they're both damned good in just about every way, and you can get them for a hair over $20,000. 

2018 Volkswagen Golf 

2018 Volkswagen Golf blue front 34

There are a multitude of reasons why the VW Golf has been on Car & Driver's 10 Best list for ten years in a row. It's just a phenomenal vehicle that feels and drives worth more than its sticker price. You won't even need to upgrade to the Golf GTI in order to extract maximum thrills from this hatchback. The best trim level in terms of affordability and amenities is the Wolfsburg Edition.

2018 volkswagen golf tsi s

At a base price of $21,595, it's barely more than the Sport model ($19,895) and comes standard with such features as a panoramic sunroof, automatic headlights, rearview camera, Composition Media touchscreen sound system, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Monitor, V-Tex leatherette seating surfaces, and heated front seats. But the best part is the driving experience. The 5-speed manual transmission shifts with authority, and the car's balance, braking, and handling are only found in sports cars, which is what makes the Golf so worthy at barely more than $20K. 

2018 volkswagen golf TSI blue rear couple smiling

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2018 Mazda3 5-Door 

2018 Mazda3 5-door red front 34

How Mazda can pack so much into such an affordable package is beyond us. Not only is the hatchback great to drive, it's got features that more expensive cars don't include as standard equipment. Consider this: even the base Sport model ($20,395 base MSRP), comes equipped with a backup camera, pushbutton start, remote keyless entry, G-Vectoring control for improved handling, Bluetooth, voice command, 7-inch touchscreen infotainment, 16-inch alloy wheels, and 37 mpg highway. 

2018 Mazda3 5-door interior

Once you step inside, you'll be amazed at the level of build quality and near-peerless ergonomics. Everything is easy to reach, easy to use, and the cabin is more comfortable than cars costing twice as much. Nothing feels cheap inside, and the Mazda Connect infotainment system is one of the easiest systems to use in the industry. Put the Mazda3 into Sport mode and pair that with a six-speed manual transmission, and you have the makings of a driving experience at this price point that's hard to match (except by the VW Golf, of course).

2018 mazda3 red three people talking

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Both cars present immense value for your money, not just because they're affordable but because they offer such an attractive set of standard equipment, drive better than cars costing much more, offer excellent fuel economy, and provide the practicality of a four-door hatchback. The Golf and the Mazda3 have been praised by automotive critics all over the globe, and they're never viewed as economy cars thanks to attractive design both inside and out. You'd be hard pressed to find cars that are better than these at this price.