Around $20,000 gets you a lot of sedan on the used market.
If you're in the market for an affordable compact sedan, you can't go wrong with a Toyota Corolla. Pricing for the new 2020 model has just been revealed with the base L model starting at $19,500. For that, you'll get a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine producing 139 horsepower, LED headlights and taillights, fabric seats, a seven-inch infotainment system, six-speakers, and the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 suite of driver assistance systems.
While most practical shoppers will love the Corolla's standard suite of safety technology and Toyota's infallible reputation for reliability, enthusiasts will undoubtedly yearn for more power and performance. We have come up with seven used sedans, all of which cost less than a new Corolla and deliver the performance enthusiasts crave.
The Volkswagen Jetta has often been referred to as the German Corolla but for less than $20,000, you won't have to settle for any garden variety Jetta. For less than the price of a 2020 Corolla, you can get an Mk6 Jetta GLI, which is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder producing 210 hp. Transmission choices include either a six-speed manual or DSG automatic and the sprint to 60 mph takes around 6.6 seconds. You can pick up a high-mileage example for as little as $6,000 or a low-mileage, certified pre-owned example for around $19,000.
The Jetta GLI may have defined the sporty compact sedan segment for many years but starting in 2017, Hyundai threw its hat into the ring with the Elantra Sport. The Elantra Sport shares its 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with the Veloster Turbo and this little mill produces 201 hp going out through either a six-speed manual or seven-speed DCT. Since these cars are only a few years old, they haven't had as much time to depreciate. You can still pick one up starting at around $14,000.
The Buick Regal is the first luxury model on our list and has been one of our favorite performance bargains for a while now. Under the hood is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder producing 260 hp, making it the second most powerful model on this list. Power goes out to the front wheels through a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic - all-wheel-drive is also available on automatic models. 0-60 mph takes around 6.2 seconds and used examples can be picked up for as little as $7,000 with high mileage.
We expected to find plenty of examples of the last generation Civic Si but were surprised when several examples of the current 10th generation car cropped up for less than $20,000. The current generation Civic Si is powered by a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder producing 205 hp, going out to the front wheels through a six-speed manual transmission. The Si is available as a coupe or sedan, with used prices starting around $16,000.
Although it may not have all of the safety features found in the new Corolla, the Subaru WRX is the most powerful sedan on this list. Power comes from a 2.0-liter flat-four Boxer engine producing 268 hp and the WRX is the only car here to offer standard AWD, with power being sent through a six-speed manual or continuously variable transmission. In addition to being the most powerful, the WRX is also the quickest with a 5.5 second 0-60 mph time. Expect to pay at least $16,000 for a good example because the WRX hold its value extremely well.
Compared to the Toyota Corolla, we probably wouldn't give the Nissan Sentra a second thought. In 2017, however, Nissan introduced a Sentra Nismo version, which produces 188 hp from a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Power is sent to the front wheels through a six-speed manual or CVT and used prices for a certified pre-owned example start as low as $15,000. It may not be the most powerful car on this list but we didn't want you to forget about the Sentra Nismo.
Our final selection is a bit of an oddball. Perhaps you aren't shopping for a standard Corolla, but are instead looking at the fuel-efficient Corolla Hybrid. The 2020 Corolla Hybrid starts at $22,950 and produces just 121 hp. Its main advantage over a standard Corolla is excellent fuel economy ratings of 53/52/52 mpg city/highway/combined.
The Lexus HS 250h was only sold in the US for two model years but used examples can now be found between $7,500 to $17,000 depending on mileage. The HS's ratings of around 35 mpg don't come close to the new Corolla Hybrid but we'll forgive it considering it can cost less than half as much. Although it isn't as efficient, the HS 250h is much more powerful than the Corolla with 187 hp on tap.