Cars today have gotten expensive. The number of ones under $25,000 has been shrinking quickly. But stretching the budget a little bit to $30,000 can significantly expand your options. And fortunately, there are some rather excellent choices to pick from. They range from cars to SUVs and even, remarkably, a couple of trucks. 

The variety really is impressive. In addition to an array of body styles, this list includes both really efficient hybrids and even some sporty and fun options. All-wheel drive is on the table, too. And since the last time we updated this list, we’ve seen additional models from the U.S. join the list, which is a welcome change of pace. 

There are limits in some cases. Some of these options only slide in with the most basic trim levels and options, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth checking out. But that’s enough preamble, let’s get to the list.

2024 Buick Envista

Base price: $23,995

Why it stands out: Great styling; very refined; punchy engine; affordable at all trim levels
Could be better: No AWD option; fastback shape limits cargo space

Read our Buick Envista review

The Envista might be the first Buick in some time that really would have people asking the question from the brand’s ads, “That’s a Buick?” Not only is it a great looking Buick, it’s one of the best crossover “coupes” (or more appropriately, a fastback) we’ve seen, with low, sleek lines and a wide stance. Besides the great exterior styling, the interior features large, bright screens for instruments and infotainment, and it’s all very easy to use. It has a spunky turbo engine that feels more potent than the numbers would suggest. The automatic transmission is smooth and quick enough for what it is. And every trim is available for less than $30,000. We just wish all-wheel-drive was an option. 

2024 Chevy Trax

Base price: $21,495

Why it stands out: Great styling; very refined; punchy engine; affordable at all trim levels
Could be better: No AWD option

Read our Chevy Trax review

The Envista’s close cousin, the Chevy Trax, has pretty much exactly the Envista’s positive traits. It’s not quite as striking as the sleek Buick fastback, but that’s damning with faint praise, as the Trax still looks great, and much more traditionally crossover-y. Plus it’s conventional hatchback gives it a slight edge in cargo space and practicality. The interior is also arguably more successful design wise, with a dash design that features more interesting designs and has less blank space between screens. And while the numbers aren’t huge, the Trax is sprightly, composed and refined for such a small crossover. And just like the Envista, every single variant is available for less than $30,000. Again, though, a lack of all-wheel drive, even as an option, is a bit disappointing.

2022 Ford Maverick Hybrid

2024 Ford Maverick

Base price: $26,055

Why it stands out: It’s a pickup; it’s cheaper than all other pickups; distinctive interior design; exceptional hybrid fuel economy; strong turbo power
Could be better: Some cheap interior materials

Read our Ford Maverick review

Meet the first of two trucks on this list, the Ford Maverick. It’s not quite as cheap as it once was, but you can still get every powertrain combination from front-drive hybrid to all-wheel-drive turbo for under $30,000. The hybrid delivers a still impressive 37 mpg combined, and the turbo model has a hot-hatch-rivaling (or at least warm hatch) 250 horsepower. 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 also feels a bit cheap, but makes up for it with fun colors and textures, plus it’s pretty roomy. It all makes for one of the best values on this list and in the broader car market.

Honda AccordHonda Accord

2024 Honda Accord

Base price: $28,990

Why it stands out: Class-leading back seat and trunk space; class-leading ride and handling
Could be better: Hybrid unavailable under $30,000; only base trim available under $30,000

Read our Honda Accord review

The Accord is our top choice among midsize family sedans. It stands out thanks to superior handling and a well-balanced ride, a well-made cabin, unmatched back seat and trunk space, and an extra-efficient powertrain lineup. Unfortunately, the phenomenal hybrid is no longer available for under $30,000. The only option available at this price point is the turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder in the base LX trim. But it’s still quiet, comfortable, spacious and even handles pretty well. That being said, you can get more feature content by going one rung down the ladder with the still-big Civic, and the Civic also offers the practicality of an optional hatchback. It also means the Accords in question won’t be as fancy as those pictured above, which are top-of-the-line Touring trim level cars.

2024 Honda Civic

Base price: $25,045

Why it stands out: Attractive and well-made cabin; sharp driving manners; excellent engines; ample space; sedan and hatchback body styles
Could be better: Road and wind noise is a little on the loud side, Si just tops the $30,000 mark

Read our 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. That’s the case when we were talking about it for under $25,000, and it gets even better at this price point as it opens the door to the exceptional 1.5-liter turbocharged engine offered by the upper trims. Sadly the Si now breaks the budget, but the regular ones are no slouch, and you can still get the hatchback with a manual transmission for under $30,000. 

2024 Hyundai Elantra N Line2024 Hyundai Elantra N Line

2024 Hyundai Elantra

Base price: $22,775

Why it stands out: Comfortable; spacious; available hybrid and sportier turbo models
Could be better: Hot N model breaks the price cap; regular model isn’t particularly engaging

Read our Hyundai Elantra review

The Hyundai Elantra, in its basic form, isn’t especially exciting, at least beyond its chiseled looks. But it is impressively spacious and comfortable, plus it’s quite affordable and well-equipped. Every purely internal-combustion model can be had for our price cap, except for the extra-hot N model. And while the N isn’t available, the turbocharged N-Line is. And with around 200 horsepower, the N-Line is a perky sedan in its own right. Though arguably the Elantra to get is the hybrid, which has literal Prius-rivalling fuel economy. The base model is the only one that comes in under $30,000 (the Limited is just a tad more), but it has the best fuel economy at 54 mpg combined.

Hyundai Kona SELHyundai Kona SEL

2024 Hyundai Kona

Base price: $25,625

Why it stands out: Groovy styling; spacious interior; available AWD; good ride and handling; great infotainment
Could be better: Turbo and EV options are above $30,000; base engine is a little sluggish

Read our Hyundai Kona review

Joining the long list of little crossover SUVs on this list the Hyundai Kona. It’s been redesigned and improved in many ways. The styling is still unique and bold, but the interior is far more spacious than before. In fact, it has cargo space among the largest in its class. While a bit softer than before, it still has responsive handling, it just happens to have a little more comfy ride. The base engine is all you’ll be able to afford for our price cap, and with less than 150 horsepower on tap, it’s still a little pokey. But all-wheel drive is still available under budget, and it brings with it multi-link rear suspension.

Hyundai Santa Cruz SEHyundai Santa Cruz SE

2024 Hyundai Santa Cruz

Base price: $28,745

Why it stands out: Stylish; great handling; open-bed practicality
Could be better: Turbo and AWD models top $30,000; small bed; small backseat; a bit thirsty

Read our Hyundai Santa Cruz review

The only other truck on this list comes from Hyundai. Hyundai doesn’t necessarily call it a truck, but it has an open bed, so we’re calling it a truck. The swoopy, curvy styling is really striking and fun, and it’s a surprisingly nimble and playful handling vehicle. It’s just a shame that neither the turbo powertrain, nor all-wheel drive are available under $30,000, particularly as the turbo engine is very fun. And while the bed is useful, it’s still rather small, as is the back seat. Fuel economy is a bit disappointing on the base naturally aspirated engine, too.

Hyundai Sonata SELHyundai Sonata SEL

2024 Hyundai Sonata

Base price: $28,650

Why it stands out: Distinctive style inside and out; exceptional infotainment and safety technology; abundant space; available hybrid
Could be better: Not as sharp to drive as Accord and others in the segment; Only base trim and engine for under $30,000

Read our Hyundai Sonata Review

The Sonata’s bold design was recently updated, and it’s still quite bold and probably for everyone. But we say that’s better than past midsize family sedans that were deadly dull in order to appeal (or not offend) the largest group of people as possible. Fortune favors the bold, and indeed, Hyundai’s boldly styled midsize sedan has all the ingredients to be a success: its infotainment and safety technology are best in class, its back seat and trunk space are basically second to only the Accord. Though like the Accord, only the base SEL trim and its naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder with front-wheel drive squeaks under our $30,000 bar. Still, it’s another comfy, roomy option with loads of style for not a huge amount of money.

Hyundai Tucson SELHyundai Tucson SEL

2024 Hyundai Tucson

Base price: $28,875

Why it stands out: Spacious; classy interior; good infotainment
Could be better: Hybrid and AWD don’t fit under budget; unexceptional base powertrain

Read our Hyundai Tucson review

There are only a few crossover SUVs of the typical compact variety on this list, as many have become too expensive. Fortunately the Tucson is not only affordable enough, but a solid choice regardless of price. It has a very elegant interior that looks a step above a mainstream vehicle, and its one that’s enormous inside. It’s also fairly comfortable. It’s just a shame that you can’t get all-wheel drive or one of the excellent hybrid powertrains for less than $30,000, especially as the standard engine is just adequate at best. 

Jeep Compass SportJeep Compass Sport

2024 Jeep Compass

Base price: $27,495

Why it stands out: Powerful turbo engine; stylish interior; standard all-wheel drive; great infotainment
Could be better: A bit small inside

Read our Jeep Compass review

Despite being a broadly rather old crossover, the Compass has seen some huge improvements over the last couple years that make it worthy of inclusion on this list. Firstly, they all now come with a newer turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 200 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. That makes it one of the more potent options in the segment, plus it’s vastly smoother and quieter than its predecessors. Its 8-speed automatic works surprisingly well, too. The interior was significantly revamped, too, and even the base one gets some unique and cheerful fabric accents on the dash and a better infotainment screen. And this year, the base price dropped enough that you can get one for under $30,000. The main downside is that it’s a bit tight inside, particularly considering that it’s among some of the larger options when it comes to the outside.

Kia K5 GT-LineKia K5 GT-Line

2024 Kia K5

Base price: $28,145

Why it stands out: Styling with flair; refined driving experience; 
Could be better: Turbo and AWD options not available under budget; looks like a hatchback, but isn’t a hatchback

Read our Kia K5 review

All the praise we have for the Hyundai Sonata applies to the Kia K5, too. Why? Because it’s pretty much the same machine in a different wrapper. Arguably it’s a more attractive wrapper, but that’s subjective of course. We do wish it actually had a hatchback like its long roofline suggests. Regardless of what design you prefer, you’ll get a comfy, roomy and refined sedan, albeit not necessarily an exciting one. At least, it won’t be exciting without the turbo engine, which falls beyond our price range for this piece. Surprisingly, you can get the turbo model’s looks for this price, as the GT-Line still comes in under $30,000.

Kia Niro LXKia Niro LX

2024 Kia Niro

Base price: $28,135

Why it stands out: Lower price than other hybrid SUVs; obviously better fuel economy than similarly size SUVs; user-friendly tech; striking styling
Could be better: AWD is not available; it’s a smaller SUV and therefore it has less space

Read our Kia Niro review

The Niro is different than the other compact SUVs (Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, etc) because it’s smaller and cheaper. There are pros and cons to its unique positioning. A price tag that starts a couple thousand dollars less than other compacts is the most significant pro. It also comes standard as a hybrid, and with fuel economy between 49 and 53 mpg combined, it’s more a competitor to the Prius than other hybrid crossovers. In between pro and con is the styling. The somewhat recently redesigned Niro has extremely bold styling, particularly the available contrast side blades. It’s a pro if you’re into that, and very much a con if not. The downside is that although it’s still reasonably spacious, there’s no denying how much passenger and cargo room the Niro gives up to the far more family-friendly options including its Kia siblings, the Seltos and Sportage. It’s not especially quick in hybrid guise either. But with distinct styling, amazing fuel economy and a reasonable price, the Niro is very much worth a look. It’s just unfortunate that the plug-in hybrid and EV models top the budget threshold.

Kia Seltos EXKia Seltos EX

2024 Kia Seltos

Base price: $25,865

Why it stands out: Surprising space; user-friendly tech; distinct design details; available all-wheel drive
Could be better:
Some cheap interior bits; turbo breaks $30,000

Read our 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. Basically, it provides even more value beyond Kia’s usual extra-long features list and warranty. Like the Mazda CX-30 and VW Taos, we’d actually consider the Seltos before many of the compact SUVs that didn’t make the cut on this list or that of our best small SUV list. The turbocharged model breaks the bank now, which is unfortunate as it’s a nice powertrain. But you can still get all-wheel drive for this budget, and even the well-equipped EX trim is available in the $30,000 price range.

Kia Sportage LXKia Sportage LX

2024 Kia Sportage

Base price: $28,565

Why it stands out: Spacious; extremely comfortable; cool interior
Could be better: Base trim only for this price; base engine a bit sluggish

Read our Kia Sportage review

Similar in some ways to the aforementioned Hyundai Tucson, the Kia Sportage is one of the few traditional compact SUVs that you can get for our budget. And one of the most impressive things is how enormous it is inside. The version we get in the U.S. is actually the longer version in other markets. As such this may be the most practical option on the list. The interior is also rather stylish, and the Sportage generally is extremely comfortable and quiet. Unfortunately, only the base trim is available at this price point, and without all-wheel drive. It gets a rather sluggish 187-horsepower engine, and quite basic infotainment and trimmings. But if you need as much comfort and space for the money, the Sportage is a great way to go.



2024 Mazda3

Base price: $25,355

Why it stands out: High-quality and high-fashion interior; beautiful styling; fun to drive; two body styles; available all-wheel drive
Could be better: Back seat space; hatchback rear visibility; some may not like lack of a touchscreen

Read our Mazda 3 review

For less than $30,000, you can get a car that could easily pass as a Mercedes, BMW or Lexus competitor. Seriously. 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 (and doesn’t it all look great in red?). 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. The only downside, besides a cramped rear seat, is that the manual hatch, and all the turbo variants are more than $30,000. But the standard 186-horsepower four-cylinder is still plenty potent and not hampered too much by the six-speed automatic. Plus, all-wheel-drive is available under our price limit.


2021 Mazda CX-30 Grand Touring in gray

2024 Mazda CX-30

Base price: $26,415

Why it stands out: Luxurious interior; best-in-class driving dynamics; standard all-wheel drive
Could be better: 
Interior space is more hatchback than SUV; those plastic fender flares have to go

Read our 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. If you can live without the muscular turbo engine only available over $30,000, the CX-30 seriously makes for a compelling alternative to a BMW X2 or Audi Q3. You get the same sort of “budget Porsche” driving experience you’d get with the mechanically related Mazda3, and its captivating modern interior design is accented in distinctive blue or brown 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. This is a seriously nice SUV, even for less than $30,000. And it gets all-wheel drive as standard.

Nissan Leaf SNissan Leaf S

2024 Nissan Leaf

Base price: $29,280

Why it stands out: Well-executed driver assistance features; low price with base battery; standard DC fast charging
Could be better: Dull to drive; Only 150-mile model available for price; ChaDeMo limits fast charging options

Read our Nissan Leaf Review

Given the move toward electric cars, we felt it important to include pretty much the only remaining option for less than $30,000: the Nissan Leaf. The Chevy Bolt EV has since been discontinued, and the Mini Cooper SE is just a little over the limit and not eligible for tax incentives. And the Leaf is a bit of a mixed bag. On the plus side, it’s roomy and practical with four doors and a hatchback. It’s comfortable, though not quick, and it has a user-friendly interior. Only the base model with 150 miles of range is available for under $30,000. It does have a 50-kW DC fast-charge port, but it’s the ChaDeMo design that isn’t as widely available as CCS and NACS ports. Nissan does have a long-range Leaf Plus with more than 200 miles of range, but even with tax incentives, it can’t reach our price cap. But with $3,750 of credit available, you can get your new Leaf for just over $25,000.

Subaru Crosstrek interior

2024 Subaru Crosstrek

Base price: $26,540

Why it stands out: Best-in-class ground clearance; standard all-wheel drive; cargo space and functional roof rails
Could be better: 
Slow base engine; CVT transmission; roly-poly handling; optional engine not available for price

Read our Subaru Crosstrek Review

The Crosstrek is a bit of an oddball, which is probably a big reason why it’s so appealing and successful. It’s basically just an Impreza hatchback with some styling tweaks and a massive lift (its 8.7 inches of ground clearance is way more than most crossovers), but that’s actually good enough to better many vehicles that were built from scratch to be a small SUV. Besides that ground clearance, the Crosstrek has become a darling of the outdoor adventure set for its manageable size, easy-to-use interior, sturdy and easily reached roof rails and a comfort-oriented driving experience that serves it well on longer drives. The biggest complaint is that the standard 2.0-liter engine is pokey, and the CVT doesn’t help it on the refinement front. Unfortunately, the more powerful 2.5-liter engine is just a bit more expensive than our $30,000 limit.

Toyota Prius LEToyota Prius LE

2024 Toyota Prius

Base price: $29,045

Why it stands out: Incredible looks; incredible fuel economy; finally fun to drive
Could be better:  Noisy engine; styling restricts interior space; AWD and PHEV above price cap

Read our Toyota Prius review

After decades of being slow, noisy and weird-looking, the Toyota Prius has undergone a radical transformation. Now it sports a wild, wedge-like shape more associated with supercars than economy cars. It also finally has good power at nearly 200 horsepower. And it’s even pretty fun to drive. If it weren’t for the fact that it still delivers its signature high fuel economy (up to 57 mpg combined in the base trim), we’d say it should be called something else entirely. It’s not perfect, though. The gas engine can still be noisy and rough sounding when demanding full throttle. And the sleek body does hurt head room and cargo space. But those are small trade-offs for an otherwise seriously impressive package.

Toyota Camry LEToyota Camry LE

2024 Toyota Camry

Base price: $29,495

Why it stands out: Amazing fuel economy from standard, improved hybrid system; improved infotainment
Could be better: Available AWD and sportier SE trims exceed $30,000 

Read our Toyota Camry review

Even as it was getting old, the Toyota Camry remained an excellent family sedan choice. Then Toyota gave that generation a big overhaul, and while it did away with the enthusiast favorite V6, it brought about a more powerful, more refined hybrid powertrain for every trim level. And that’s good for the whole of the Camry line, even if we miss that big six-cylinder. The fuel economy is amazing, with 51 mpg combined on the base trim that  fits our budget. It’s quieter and smoother going between electric and gas modes now, and it has more power than the old hybrid. It also retains the old model’s stiff and playful chassis. We only wish that the even sportier SE and XSE trims could be had as cheaply as the LE, and the same for the all-wheel-drive option.

2024 VW Jetta and GLI

Base price: $22,660

Why it stands out: Spacious; affordable; refined; available manual; loads of fun in GLI trim
Could be better: Bland styling

Read our VW Jetta review

One of the car lines with the lowest base price here, also turns out to be one of the best all around. The Jetta in its basic form is one of the more spacious small sedans you can get, and it offers impressive comfort and quiet for the segment. Its base turbo engine punches above its rating, and can even be mated to a manual transmission. The automatic option isn’t bad either. Perhaps more impressive, though, is the fact that you can get the hot GLI for just under the $30,000 price cap. For that you get, effectively, a GTI with a trunk, even down to the 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque and mechanical limited-slip differential. And it’s a GTI that you can still get with a manual transmission. It’s possibly the best performance deal on the market right now. If we had any complaints about the Jetta line, it’s mainly that it’s a bit dull looking.

2024 VW Taos

Base price: $25,420

Why it stands out: Segment-leading back seat space; huge cargo area; strong power and fuel economy; available AWD
Could be better: 
Pretty bland to drive; looks more rugged than it is

Read our Volkswagen Taos Review

The Taos is the most family friendly of the midcompact SUVs thanks to a back seat that’s shockingly big enough to fit rear-facing car seats without scrunching those up front into the dash. There’s also a giant cargo area that only falls short of the pricier Bronco Sport, which is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, the Taos has more interior space than quite a few compact SUVs that are larger on the outside. When you can get that while enjoying the benefits of a smaller vehicle (better maneuverability and fuel economy, a lower price), that’s called a win-win. We also like that the Taos isn’t as conservatively styled, inside and out, than other recent made-for-America Volkswagens (Atlas, Passat, Jetta) and has VW’s older, more user-friendly interior controls than the maddening ID.4 and GTI. Even its “could be betters” listed above are hardly what we’d call deal breakers. This is a winner.  

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