The 10 Fastest Compact Cars Under $20,000

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PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

No one will care how fast self-driving cars can go. Let’s just say the speed will be safe. How quickly the cars of the future accelerate will be another moot point. While there are still real cars and lead-footed drivers on the road, we’ll keep rounding up the fastest models in each class.

For this exercise, we turn to the budget vehicle segment with a cap of $20,000, which cuts out most hot hatches and other recognizable speed demons. This price point doesn’t give drivers much interior space, but it will get you an easier car to park and, in certain vehicles, a bit of athleticism under the hood. Here are 10 of the fastest cars available for less than $20K.

Their 0 to 60 miles per hour times were the point of reference, so we listed them from slowest to the quickest to hit 60 miles per hour from a standstill. MSRP is listed before destination charge.

HyundaiAccent

Source: Hyundai

10. Hyundai Accent ($14,745)

The Hyundai Accent would do serious damage to a list of fastest cars under $15K, but it cracks the top 10 here regardless. Packing a 1.6-liter GDI engine capable of 137 horsepower and 123 pounds-feet of torque, the Accent is able to outrun the Ford Fiesta in a race of petite speedsters. In Edmunds tests, the GLS model went from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 9.2 seconds. That might not be Porsche times, but at one-fourth the price of a Boxster the Accent is less than four seconds slower to 60 miles per hour.

2015 Honda Fit

Source: Honda

9. Honda Fit ($15,650)

Another surprise speedster in the compact list is the Honda Fit, a car that looks about as exciting as a laptop. In that neat little package is an inline four-cylinder engine packing a modest 130 horsepower and 114 pounds-feet of torque. As we have seen in the past, that power will suffice if the right weight distribution and aerodynamics are in place. Edmunds took the 2015 Fit EX-L ($19,925) from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 8.8 seconds. The base LX has the same powertrain but does not have the continuous variable transmission (CVT).

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Source: Kia

8. Kia Forte EX ($19,390)

Driving enthusiasts are finding numerous budget options from Kia and Hyundai on the performance menu. In the Kia Forte EX, you will find one of the most impressive outputs in the segment. Its 2.0-liter engine serves up 173 horsepower and 154 pounds-feet of torque. Out on the road with Edmunds testers, the Forte EX ran to 60 miles per hour from a standstill in 8.4 seconds.

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Source: Hyundai

7. Elantra GT ($18,750)

Performance car lovers know the Hyundai Veloster turbo edition is where it’s at, but you can’t get one for less than $20K. Fortunately, the Elantra GT can roll off the lot with the right deal and still hit that mark. On tap is 173 horsepower and an impressive 154 pounds-feet of torque. The folks at Motor Trend put the Elantra GT through its paces in summer 2014 and ran the little guy to 60 miles per hour in 8.4 seconds. In case you had a quarter-mile sprint in mind, testers hit the finish line in 16.4 seconds with the GT.

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Source: Fiat

6. Fiat 500 Turbo ($19,700)

This one will be tough to get for $20K unless Fiat is offering some deals in your area, but there is a bit of Abarth style and performance in the 500 Turbo model. Power specs for such a small car are substantial at 135 horsepower and 150 pounds-feet of torque. As you might expect, that catapults the 500 Turbo to 60 miles per hour ahead of most of its compact peers. Car and Driver hit 60 miles per hour from a standstill in 8.1 seconds. Thank the 1.6-liter, 16-valve MultiAir engine for that.

2014 Chevy Sonic LTZ

Source: General Motors

5. Chevy Sonic LTZ ($17,390)

Push the price range to $25K and the Camaro and base Mustang show up to jostle around the crowd, but in this price range it’s all about the subcompacts. Chevy proved it can get good performance out of the Sonic with 138 horsepower and 148 pounds-feet of torque in the LT and LTZ trims. Automaker testing got Chevy’s engineers to 60 miles per hour from a standstill in “less than 8 seconds,” so we’ll pencil them in at 7.9 seconds for the sprint. Since the Sonic LT ($15,780) has the same power specs, this performance can be had at an even lower price.

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FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

4. Mazda3 ($18,945)

It’s no secret that the Mazda3 is inexpensive, fun to drive, and efficient to boot. The 2.0-liter SkyActiv engine delivers 155 horsepower and 150 pounds-feet of torque while clocking 40 miles per gallon on the highway. If that doesn’t cut it, the performance quotes should tip the scales. Motor Trend ran the base Mazda3 from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 7.8 seconds. While it places fourth (or tied for third) on this list, the 3’s quarter-mile time of 16.1 seconds easily puts it in the top two or three. In short, drivers are not shortchanged in the slightest by “settling” for a Mazda3.

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Source: Volkswagen

3. Volkswagen Golf ($18,995)

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf is popping up on the radar of performance lovers everywhere, but you don’t have to go for GTI or R trims to have a blast on the road. Volkswagen’s base Golf S with the 1.8-liter engine is capable of producing 170 horsepower and 200 pounds-feet of torque, which makes it the most powerful model on this list. Edmunds testers ran the Golf SEL from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 7.8 seconds. (TopSpeed got there in 7.7 seconds.)

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Ford Motor Company

2. Ford Focus SE ($18,125)

Sure, the Focus ST is one of the best dollar-for-dollar power values, but the base Focus is nothing to sneeze at, either. In Car and Driver tests, the Focus SE ran the 0 to 60 sprint in 7.5 seconds and the quarter-mile in 16.1 seconds. Focus runs on the 16-valve, four-cylinder DOHC engine that produces 160 horsepower and 146 pounds-feet of torque. Racers find the design of the Focus chassis the ideal canvas to build a performance vehicle, but Ford already has packaged several solid options for their dealers to sell.

2015 Jetta (640x416)

Source: Volkswagen

1. Volkswagen Jetta ($18,995)

For more space than the average compact, more power, and elite performance in the segment, the Volkswagen Jetta is a solid choice for today’s auto consumers. The base SE trim with a 1.8-liter turbocharged engine provides 170 horsepower and 184 pounds-feet of torque. That formula had Edmunds testers running from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 7.4 seconds, just enough to edge the competition in the segment. Of course, with a Focus or Golf or Mazda3 in the right driver’s hands, these results could be rearranged.

Honorable Mention: Chevy Spark EV

With a price of $19,185 after federal electric vehicle rebate, the Chevy Spark EV deserves a nod on this list. Its 327 pounds-feet of torque powers the mini EV to 60 miles  per hour from a standstill in a mere 7.5 seconds in Motor Trend testing. Only its MSRP of $26,685 stood in the way of the Spark EV taking second or third place on this list.

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