By on May 5, 2020

The pursuit of safety can lead an individual down many paths. To a self-defense course. To a gun store. To a withdrawn, frightened existence well removed from the warm confines of relationships and social gatherings. And even to a car dealership.

Yes, owning and driving a car puts you more at risk of dying in a crash than riding the train or bus to work every morning, but in these strange times, a car can be more than just a convenient way to get to work on time (or not). It can be a sanctuary.

Say you want just such a sanctuary. You’re not picky. You don’t want to buy a used jalopy from someone who’s holding back the truth. But you’re not exactly loaded.

Data is piling up that the global populace is ready and willing to change their ways and get behind the wheel of a car — often for the first time — in order to physically distance themselves from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It stands to reason, yet it might not come to pass. However, let’s put all that aside for now.

YOU are now in the shoes of this scared, safety-seeking individual. And you’ll feel especially safe in a vehicle with a warranty, hence your need to buy something with zero miles on the odometer. Now, getting into debates about wildly variable credit scores and financing a bigger vehicle at a lower rate will muddy this exercise, so let’s make some ground rules.

Given your desire for a warranty and new-car smell, the vehicle you’ll be looking for is new. And you’ll be looking to have it satisfy as many needs and desires as possible. You’re still you. However, your price cap in a measly $20k. That’s after destination, but not before tax, admin, other fees, etc. You can cross that MSRP threshold by a handful of dollars, but not a grand or more.

Pretty small list, eh?

Certain auto journos bemoan the death of cheap cars, but they’re still out there, and a vanishing few of these hectoring voices ever actually put their money towards one. If the under-35 crowd really does desire a personal vehicle more than ever before, surely there’ll be an uptick in sales on the affordable end of things. Time will tell.

So let’s hear your pick. There’s a couple of not-hot hatch holdouts in the form of the Chevrolet Spark and Mitsubishi Mirage. The Ford Fiesta’s gone, sadly. Moving up, there’s a new Nissan Versa, and the even fresher Sentra also makes the cut in base form. Hell, Nissan’s Kicks is a contender. So is the entry-level Chevrolet Trailblazer, for that matter. Hyundai and Kia have product they’d like to parade in front of your eyes.

It’s not High Country or King Ranch territory, but it isn’t Trabant, either. What’s it gonna be, B&B?

[Image: Hyundai]

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65 Comments on “QOTD: Best Bare-bones Escape Capsule?...”


  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    There are used cars in that price range that will still have warranty left. But honestly, if you are this sort of person you care little abut driving or much else, just get the cheapest one.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “driving a car puts you more at risk of dying in a crash than riding the train or bus to work every morning”

    Outside of rare exception, we don’t really have trains in the US… or at least like the ones like you have in GTA, eh.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    https://www.fordofvalpo.com/commercial-new/Ford/2019-Ford-F-150-85c169710a0e0ae86ad90d287d491484.htm?searchDepth=1:163

    Not saying I’d actually buy this, but it is possible to broaden the horizon beyond subcompact car or subcompact CUV.

    • 0 avatar
      whynotaztec

      Not a bad little truck at all! Looks very good in that color even though I normally complain about grayscale.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      I’d take this truck over any of the sub-whatever penalty boxes on offer. After 5 years you’d probably still be able to recoup half it’s value. Good pick

    • 0 avatar
      volvo

      Question said

      “You can cross that MSRP threshold by a handful of dollars”.

      So I don’t think a vehicle with MSRP 29K is a valid choice. But if I were going to spend $20-21K that truck looks like a great choice.

      • 0 avatar
        jack4x

        I saw that statement but I reject the premise of the question.

        MSRP means different things to different manufacturers. For some, it’s laughable, such as on an F150. Other companies think differently.

        If I have $20K to spend and must have a warranty, out the door price is the only thing that matters, not what’s written on a sticker.

  • avatar
    ahintofpepperjack

    The VW Jetta has the best drivetrain under $20k. 1.4 turbo, and a real 8 speed automatic. I regularly see base models listed for $17k around here.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      There’s a leftover 19 Jetta R-Line within driving distance that’s marked down to $17k. Nice suggestion.

    • 0 avatar
      jh26036

      If shopping for 2019 leftovers, VW have some compelling models to offer for sub $20k prices. These come with 6/72k bumper to bumper warranty.

      Can even opt for 6MT Jetta 1.4 for less than $17k.
      Jetta GLI base model, some people are paying around $20k flat for 6MT, a better deal since you’re just getting a cheap GTI with a trunk but with more features.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        A buddy of mine got a 6spd GLI Autobahn for under $24K.

        The base Jetta is certainly the only car I would ever consider for under $20K, but reality is I just wouldn’t buy new at all in that price range. Doesn’t make sense to me.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I think that’s a really good choice, and the 1.4 turbo/manual combination is solid.

      • 0 avatar

        ditto everyone above. We bought at end of lease the Ace of Base Jetta S. Running the 1.4 gasser is a better deal overall than my 2.0 TDi, gets 35 mpg on regular. I don’t miss the 6 speed, the 5 speed is fine. A friend with the SE version and automatic gets over 40, but he drives like an adult. NVH is great, a bit of wind noise, but the engine is almost electric. The 2017 has IRS as well, something lost on the base 2019. I’m amazed at how smooth the drivetrain is. I’ve made two changes to the car-the provided ecotopia tires were hard, loud and didn’t stick- a set of 225/50 Conti DWS on the stock steel wheels fixed that and made the car almost plush, and the OE horn was a loss leader one note horn, so I got the missing high tone from a wrecker and installed it. The wife and child all love “blue” and argued to keep it at the end of the lease. For a base car, power windows, A/C, bluetooth, passable sound system, controls on the steering wheel, disc brakes all around, IRS-great deal. The only thing missing is satellite radio (mama loves it), but I’ve learned to Spotify my way around that.

        The only other option I have to retrofit is the movable armrest the upper versions (and my TDi) had, and remote mount a display for the V1 when they re-open.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I like the Venue in the photo, but unfortunately the Denim trim shown starts around $23k. Lower trims are available under $20k.

    Kicks is a good option, too. Alex Dykes gave the new 20 Sentra good marks, so hopefully it’s better than the 19 I rented last year.

    TrailBlazer: pass.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    The $20,000-odd subcompact crossovers are just downright miserable. Underpowered engines, negligible ground height, and tinniness all abound.

    I will give a pass to the Hyundai Kona, because that was the only one I drove and liked. But I can’t stand the styling.

    Still, my pick for a $20,000 escape capsule would be a midsized sedan. Many of the base models are discounted to below $21K, including the Sonata, Optima, Accord, Malibu, Altima, Fusion and Passat. Why not?

    • 0 avatar
      Zipster

      Kyree:

      You say,”Why not?” Because none of those sedans convey the image that “I” am somebody to be reckoned with.

      • 0 avatar
        Jon

        Zips,

        While i sincerely understand your sentiment, I dont think that anyone looking to escape the bloody claws of the horrible monstrous man killer called Covid-19, is concerned with being seen as “someone to be reckoned with”. They would likely be more concerned with having a wifi signal at their destination or the contents of their playlist as they leave the city.

    • 0 avatar
      crtfour

      Kyree I agree with the sedan. I associate “sanctuary” with relaxing and crossovers at this price point would seem like penalty boxes. Now if I could dip into the used territory, I would find the nicest and lowest mileage 2004-2008 Jag XJ that I could. I used to have an ’04 and really miss that car ; talk about a sanctuary.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’ll play fully by the rules and only base my choices on things with a sub $21K MSRP.

    So I would pick the Hyundai Veloster. Base trim with the conventional automatic comes in at $19,800. Like most H/K products it has a lot of standard features and I like the styling so that should keep me happy for awhile. I think 0-60 is about 8 seconds which is just enough to keep me sane.

    Toyota Corolla Hatch SE with CVT was another thing I looked at but it was $21,350.

  • avatar
    Rnaboz

    2020 MINI Cooper Oxford Edition starts at $19,750.
    Choice of 2 or 4 door, I will take the 2 door

  • avatar
    Jaeger

    The Hyundai Venue pictured with the article is easily one of the best examples of an affordable, safe, and functional commuter vehicle.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I would rather stay where coronavirus at large than run away in one of these

  • avatar
    lstanley

    I like the Spark. I’d never buy one but they make me smile the few times I see them, especially in some of those candy colors they come in…..

  • avatar
    Jon

    Ford Transit Connect. Just as exciting as anything else described above but more functional for the scared below 35er.

  • avatar
    NoID

    “That’s after destination, but not before tax, admin, other fees, etc.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t “after” a simple definition of “not before”? So…before or after destination, tax, admin, and other fees?

    Assuming you meant after destination but before those other things, as much as at pains me to suggest purchasing a Jeep with only two driven wheels, MSRP on a Spitfire Orange Jeep Compass Sport 4×2 MT is $20,275. That would probably be my choice.

    • 0 avatar
      NoID

      On the ground I’m sure I could find something new AND more exciting for less than $20k, but if we’re talking MSRP + Destination – Incentives, this is the best I can do with online shopping tools.

      Given more freedom, I’d try very hard to find a new or VERY mildly used Challenger, Charger, or 300.

  • avatar
    Anchorman33

    Last summer I snagged a 2020 Kia Soul GT Line (think M-line BMW equivalent – all the go fast look, none of the go fast upgrades except “Sport mode” button) for $15.5K + add on that included extending the bumper to bumper warranty out to 100k miles, all told OTD ~$20k. Sunroof, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, leather wrapped flat-bottomed steering wheel and shifter, decent stereo, wireless phone charger. It sits higher than a car and only a couple inches lower than the subcompact CUVs out there. Gets 30+ mpg in the city and close to 35 on the highway. Base models were ~$13k but the seats hurt my back even on a test drive. Made the choice because I was starting a new job where I would be putting 5-600 miles a week on it, sometimes in relatively remote areas and my wife didn’t want to worry about me breaking down in a similarly priced, 5-8 year old mid-sized sedan. While not as plush, it’s comfortable enough and a breeze to park. Also looks great parked on the curb, barely being used now.

  • avatar
    PhilMills

    As long as our hypothethical person is willing to assume /some/ risk in driving, let’s trade a little more risk for a little more safety of our sanity, but still keep a healthy dose of practicality in the world.

    I will take my $20K and plonk it down on a Yamaha FJR1300A. MSRP of $16,400.

    I have an older one. I can still do grocery runs, pick up a bale of toilet paper from Costco, put four 6-packs of beer in the saddle bags, strap a couple of pizzas to the (aftermarket) package deck. I can also do 0-60 in a smidge over 3 seconds and not have to deal with another human in my space for as long as the gas tank holds out (and 6.6 gallons will hold out a looooong time).

    • 0 avatar
      NoID

      Good point. Opening up those options, an H-D Sport Glide or Street Glide comes in comfortably under $20k, with enough room for my usual workplace commute cargo.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    If I have to deal with the constraints I’d take a Chevy Trailblazer Activ. Yeah it’s 3 cyl but its turbo and you get an actual 9-speed automatic and AWD. I bet dealers will quickly be willing to deal.

    I argue the best “escape capsule” is a sports car of some kind. It breaks the budget but I’d much rather have a Jetta GLI, Golf GTI, Miata Club 6-speed, Camaro LT1, Mustang Ecoboost manual, G70 manual… That’s my idea of “escape” and forgetting about the world.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      There are a few brand-new Fiata Classicas around my area priced at right around $20K. Or Lussos like mine for $24K. Just like last year with the ’18s.

  • avatar
    volvo

    Wow tough criteria. Few thousand more opens many more options. But since we are looking at an “escape capsule” not automotive nirvana I would chose either Toyota Corolla L or Hyundai Elantra SE. Choosing the Elantra SEL gets nicer amenities but price rises to just under 21K which I guess is allowed.

  • avatar
    amwhalbi

    I endorse the idea of a base model midsize sedan as my first choice if you can negotiate one under $20K – it’s going to be a more satisfying driver than the compacts. However, sticking with Steph’s rules of $20K list price limit and new as opposed to new, I have 3 suggestions for this safety conscious driver. One, you can get a pretty nice Honda Fit EX for $19,060, that has most of the safety driving features available along with Swiss Army knife versatility. If you want something larger around you with the snowy clime security of AWD, a base Impreza sedan with CVT and Eyesight driving features just squeaks in at $19,995. I would also suggest a Kia Forte LXS as a third option. This would not have the cargo capacity of a Fit or the AWD of the Impreza, but it would offer a 10 year warranty as well as the safety driving features. Different cars work for different drivers, but given the parameters of Steph’s question, this is what I would shop if I was in that position.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      A friend landed a 2020 Forte EX for $19,300 plus ttl. Adaptive cruise, all the safety stuff, ventilated seats, sunroof, leather…quite a nice little piece that’ll last her 10 years…

      • 0 avatar
        amwhalbi

        Sounds like your friend did quite well. I forgot to mention in my post that the LXS lists at $19,290. The higher level EX lists for $22,090. If I were looking for a car within the guidelines of the question, the Forte EX would be pretty darn tempting if I could also get it for under $20k.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    If you want a cheap car, get it from a company that puts some effort into cheap cars. Get it from a company that won’t nickel and dime you for every piece of desirable content. Hello Kia.

    If I get a small car, I’d like a hatchback (headroom, visibility, usability). Hello Rio 5-Door. Only available in one trim (S) – which includes a surprising number of creature comforts. “10-year/100,000-mile warranty.”

    Not a lot of power, but not a lot of weight. A full 4-cylinders of normally-aspirated goodness. And the transmission… hey, check out that powertrain warranty!

    It offers a few options, but I’ll skip the Technology Package.

    2020 Kia Rio 5-Door S Trim with Carpeted Floor Mats. $17,890 MSRP including Destination (we’ll be paying less).

  • avatar
    deanst

    “That’s after destination, but not before tax, admin, other fees, etc. “. Should I interpret that as BEFORE tax, admin, etc.?

    Anyway, you can find an Impreza for that price including destination, or a Crosstrek (if you don’t include destination). A forester is just above 20k before destination, as is a 2019 VW Alltrack. You can also easily find a Ford Fusion for under 20k.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    A $20k USD price limit? Cars, nope. Not at all.
    There is a large number of motorcycles I’d buy for 20k or less.
    A fleet spec Nissan Frontier is just under 20k.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Good choice and it comes as a stick :)

      2019 Frontier King Cab® S 4-cylinder 4×2 5-Speed Manual
      Starting MSRP
      $19,290

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I don’t know what the dealers are doing, but Nissan should be putting out an APB to all its franchises to push the Frontier. They have a rare opportunity to sell something deprecated at great profit to nearly every customer who walks in. Oh I wanted a Rogue… garbage here’s a Frontier for same or less and its actually functional, with a working transmission, and will have better resale. Oh I need passenger room… here’s a quad cab, goodbye. I’m worried about snow… this Frontier offers true 4×4 like SUVs should have, you’re welcome. They only customer not buying one is the Karen who thinks the fake SUVs are cute and whom logic frequently eludes. Sure, put her in the tranny bomb on wheels its fitting after all. But you could probably convert 50-60% of all customers to Frontier esp if you can actually put one out for near Versa money.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        This is why I like trucks, it’s the only vehicle you can still buy ala-cart. Was a time you could walk into a dealer and order your standard car in an infinite combination of options, 4-door/2-door/wagon/V8/6/convert/10 colors/interiors/auto/stick. By the time you were done each car was practically bespoke. Today trucks are the only thing that comes close

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “If the under-35 crowd really does desire a personal vehicle more than ever before, surely there’ll be an uptick in sales on the affordable end of things. Time will tell.”

    Its difficult to tell, but I would not count on it. I suspect what will happen is the lower tiered market may be eliminated altogether in the West.

    • 0 avatar
      jack4x

      Agree.

      $30K is the new $20K. Longer financing terms will keep the magical $300-400 payment that buyers want, and they won’t notice or care that they’re still paying it 7 years later.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        “Longer financing terms will keep the magical $300-400 payment that buyers want,”

        I think this sleight of hand will work at such a level but what I am waiting for is how are they going to handle the $90K pickups that I know are coming. Sure they will be the limited edition super high country big horn duty extended quad cab turbo diesel 6×6 dually seating eight and can tow an Abrams 60 ton tank… but it will exist and as it moves up, so the dollar moves down. I seriously was shocked when I realized the Navigator really could go to 100 grand. Yeah its not that great, I don’t care how malformed the socioeconomic situation is its just not a $100,000 purchase. Some serious money? Sure. Not $100K. Even a Range Rover I have trouble accepting at such a price, but it is imported and hoity toity so its a little more in the ball park. Navi 100K? Nada. Escalade 100K? Not in this life.

        • 0 avatar
          jack4x

          $100K at 0% for 84 is still “only” $1200 a month. Or you can lease them for $800 something. That’s well within the reach of millions of people. Plus there’s enough margin in them to discount to basically whatever is necessary to move metal.

          I agree that it’s absurd but here we are. A GLS580 starts at $98,000. A V8 X7 starts at $92K. V8 Range Rover is $105K. Whether its true or not, GM and Ford believe they play in this league.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      There is just no point in a new hair shirt, when you can buy a MUCH nicer 2-3yo used car for the same money and have the same ownership experience for the length of time most real people actually keep the same car. And the average American buys their cars by the pound.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Not the ugliest but not the most attractive either. The Buick version has nicer styling. This type of vehicle might help me kick my interest in cars. I might not ever buy a new Big 2 vehicle ever again especially if Hyundai comes out with a true compact pickup. As for crossovers I would go either Japanese or South Korean.

  • avatar

    I would rather opt for a bicycle. Bare-bones escape – yes, capsule -not, but I do not want to be squeezed into capsule.

  • avatar
    VWGolfGuy

    My wife bought a new 2018 Spark to commute with after grad school.

    I absolutely love that car. It doesn’t do anything particularly well except fit into small spaces. But it does everything you ask of it without complaint. It looks comical and brings a smile to my face. I will miss that car when it comes time to part ways with it. It has a personality that is absent from other cars, and I love it for that onsite of its flaws.

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