When searching for the best new cars and SUVs for under $25,000, you’re most likely going to be looking at the lower trim levels of compact sedans and hatchbacks, as well as the lower trim levels of subcompact and midcompact SUVs. This list will focus on those (plus a new compact pickup), but if you’re more interested in maximizing feature content for your money, you could easily consider the better-equipped upper trim levels of our choices in our best cars for under $20,000 list.
Note that all the cars we’ve chosen have prices that start under $25,000 when the mandatory destination charge is included. It’s always left out of the MSRP, effectively making the car in question seem cheaper than it actually is. We’ve also considered equipment levels and whether you’d actually want a particular car at that trim/price level. There’s no point in recommending something if it’s really only appealing with $6,000 worth of options and therefore pricier than $25,000.
Best new cars under $25,000
Why it stands out: Attractive and well-made cabin; sharp driving manners; excellent engines; ample space; sedan and hatchback body styles
Could be better: Infotainment system not as good as Hyundai’s
Read our 2022 Honda Civic Review
The Civic was completely redesigned for 2022, taking everything that worked so well for its revolutionary predecessor (ample interior space, sharp driving dynamics, efficient engines) and amplifying with a more grown-up appearance, a slick new cabin, superior technology and general refinements everywhere you look. The Civic is just a terrific car. And the great thing is, it’s still a terrific car when priced under $25,000. The car pictured above is the Sport trim level, which starts at $24,095. It looks great and is nicely equipped. Now, the Sport Hatchback is just a hair over $25,000, but it’s close enough to tout the Civic as offering both sedan and hatchback body styles. Both are also available in base LX trim levels. We may be doing this list alphabetically, but we’d probably start our search in this price range with the Civic anyway.
Why it stands out: Hybrid option; very well equipped for under $25,000; excellent tech; outlandish styling
Could be better: Outlandish styling inherently not for everyone; not as good to drive as Civic or Mazda 3
Read our most recent Hyundai Elantra Review
If you’re looking to get a lot of bang for your buck (and when talking a price tag under $25,000 these days, you probably are), the Hyundai Elantra has always been a great choice. And it’s not just a matter of its generous features list and warranty coverage, the Elantra’s outlandish exterior styling and strikingly modern interior prove that you don’t have to drive something bland and characterless just because you don’t have a ton of money to spend. True, the Elantra isn’t as characterful to drive as our previous selection or the next, but as a commuter car, it brings more driver connection than a Corolla or Sentra, for instance. There’s also the Elantra N Line, which brings more verve and is just a little bit over our price threshold here but still packed with fun-for-you-money value. Ultimately, though, our powertrain choice is the Elantra Hybrid. It gets exceptional fuel economy in a package that’s more stylish and refined than Hyundai’s dedicated hybrid, the Ioniq, while being cheaper than a Prius or Honda Insight.
Why it stands out: High-quality and high-fashion interior; beautiful styling; fun to drive; two body styles
Could be better: Back seat space; hatchback rear visibility; some may not like lack of a touchscreen
Read our most recent Mazda 3 Review
This is perhaps the best proof yet that you don’t have to drive a car that screams “economy car” when paying less than $25,000. Even at this price point, the Mazda3 interior could make a play at the entry-level luxury segment with its handsome minimalist design, high-quality switchgear and convincing faux leather that covers the seats, dash and doors. Driving the Mazda3 offers a similar high-end experience, as its responses to driver inputs through the steering, throttle and transmission are so exceptional that we once again must roll out the descriptor of “budget Porsche” when referring to driving a Mazda. It really is that good. We’re also quite fond of the two body styles: the stylish sedan that boasts a surprisingly large trunk (it can actually hold more than the mechanically related CX-30 SUV) and the Mazda3 Hatchback that really turns up the style dial, albeit at the expense of rear visibility. This is a great car, regardless of price.
Best new SUVs under $25,000
Why it stands out: Fun to drive for a subcompact SUV; stylish exterior and interior; easy-to-use tech
Could be better: Small back seat and trunk even for its segment
Read our most recent Hyundai Kona Review and check out what’s in store for the updated 2022 Kona.
The Kona continues to prove that a subcompact SUV can be fun to drive. It’s certainly not the most spacious model, but its sharp handling, distinctive styling and attractive cabin with user-friendly tech help it stand out from the crowd. Because of the price point, we must leave out the surprisingly punchy 175-horsepower turbo engine upgrade and the agreeable Kona Electric, but the engine you’re left with is surprisingly punchy and delivers better-than-average acceleration. We’ve now driven a number of Konas at this price point and have consistently been surprised at how fun to drive it remains despite the lack of big power and how compelling the interior is despite a lack of leather or extra-fancy doo-dads.
Why it stands out: Ample space and abundant features for the money; unique style
Could be better: All-wheel drive is not available
Our most recent full Kia Soul Review
The Kia Soul definitely didn’t start off as a small SUV, and the term “crossover” is probably better applied to it. Still, what started life as an undefinable funky tall hatchback now finds itself in its third generation with numerous vehicles of similar shape and size that are dubbed “small SUV” or “small crossover.” If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck … call it what you will, but the Soul delivers the goods with a spacious interior, an agreeable driving demeanor, and far more equipment and available trim levels than other subcompact SUVs offer. We also think it’s pretty cool. All of the above helped it win our subcompact SUV comparison test. Now, if there’s one area where the Soul does not satisfy a typical SUV requirement, it’s the lack of available all-wheel drive.
Why it stands out: Surprising space; user-friendly tech; distinct design details
Could be better: Some cheap interior bits
Read our 2022 Kia Seltos Review
Like most choices on this list, the surprisingly good Seltos proves you don’t have to spend a lot of money for both function and fashion. Its price and exterior dimensions fall in between the subcompact and compact SUV segments (we call it the midcompact segment), yet it boasts more interior volume than is expected and an abundance of special design details throughout that successfully counter some of the cheaper bits applied to keep the price down. We especially like the blue-accented dash trim and wool-look gray cloth found on the Seltos S. Basically, it provides even more value beyond Kia’s usual extra-long features list and warranty. Note that at this price point you’ll be considering the base LX trim, which comes standard with all-wheel drive, or the similarly priced Seltos S that swaps in front-wheel drive in favor of extra comfort, convenience and tech equipment. Adding all-wheel drive to the S just barely ticks you over the $25,000 threshold.
Why it stands out: Luxurious interior; best-in-class driving dynamics
Could be better: Interior space is more hatchback than SUV; those plastic fender flares have to go
Read our most recent Mazda CX-30 Review
Like the Seltos, the CX-30 is a midcompact SUV. It also similarly punches well above its weight class, in this case in regards to driving fun and luxury. Although upper trim levels make for a compelling alternative to BMWs and Audis, the base trim level in this price bracket obviously can’t make the same claim. Still, you get the same captivating modern interior design accented in blue faux-leather trim and constructed of high-quality materials. We especially like the sporty steering wheel, and the buttons and knobs that solidly click like a luxury car’s. It’s important to note that the CX-30 is mechanically related to the Mazda3. Although you can get it with all-wheel drive at this price point, it’s similar in size, quality and design to the Mazda3 Hatchback. So, if you can’t find a CX-30 you like for the price (or dislike its unsightly plastic fenders), there’s a very strong alternative that also resides on this list.
Why it stands out: Tons of space and features for the price; costs less than $25,000 fully loaded; best-in-class fuel economy; well-executed safety tech
Could be better: It’s really slow
Read our most recent Nissan Kicks Review
We wouldn’t blame you for not getting excited about the Kicks. It doesn’t have much horsepower, it’s not exactly fun to drive, and its tall hatchback body is still pretty gawky despite an attractive styling update for 2021. That said, the Kicks does a really great job at the basics. It supplies a massive amount of space for a vehicle its size, comes with a wealth of safety features for a vehicle with its modest price, and doesn’t feel like a penalty box to sit in or drive. The interior is handsome and well-equipped with impressive materials in upper trim levels. For those seeking an efficient, inexpensive urban runabout that can swallow enough stuff for a weekend getaway, it just makes a lot of sense. Oh, and unlike everything else on this list, you can get a fully-loaded Kicks for less than $25,000.
Best new truck under $25,000
Why it stands out: It’s a pickup; it’s cheaper than all other pickups; distinctive interior design; exceptional hybrid fuel economy
Could be better: Some cheap interior materials; basically unavailable until 2022
Read our full 2022 Ford Maverick Review
There would not have been a truck available at this price point a year ago, but thanks to the new Ford Maverick there is! Not only does it slide under our $25,000 price threshold, but you can get one that’s not a bargain-basement base model. The mid-level XLT, albeit without options, is well below $25,000 with the standard hybrid powertrain, while adding the turbo inline-four and therefore all-wheel drive, only goes over by about $500. And either way, you’re getting an intriguing new entry in the automotive landscape: a pickup at a price that competes with a Honda Civic or Kia Seltos. Yes, it has crossover architecture and therefore can’t lug that stump out of grandma’s front yard or tow a small house. Its interior, although interesting to look at, also isn’t as well-equipped or well made as most of the other vehicles on this list (specifically in terms of materials quality). Nevertheless, you’re getting a pickup for less than $25,000 that isn’t extremely used or a stripped-down work truck with all the creature comforts of an ox cart. Really, the main problem with the Maverick is availability: It’s already sold out for 2022. So while deserving of its place on this list, it’s also a bit theoretical until ordering opens again in summer 2022 for the 2023 model.