The Post and Courier

Think of the price as a high water mark for inexpensive new cars: $20,000.

It’s been a consistent figure and one that the auto industry keeps an eye on. Not convinced? Just see how many vehicles start in price in the $19,000s.

Still, fewer models these days land below the figure than in the past. There was a further drop when Suzuki, which rolled out its 2013 models at the end of last year, pulled out of the U.S. market. Five models in its lineup — two sedans, a hatchback, an SUV and a truck — were priced below $20,000.

Also consider that the listed costs for all the less than $20,000 models are base prices that may not offer much beyond a radio and cupholders.

Nonetheless, frugal shoppers can still purchase a slew of cars and trucks for less than $20,000 from a host of carmakers. About 50 models list base prices for 2013 from $11,990 (Nissan Versa) to $19,995. At least half of those brands top 30 mpg on the highway and a few such as the Honda CR-Z and Insight and Toyota Prius c, top 40 mpg (the Prius c gets 53 mpg in the city).

Most if not all of the brands are available among greater Charleston’s more than 30 dealers.

This information was researched through auto analyst but similar statistics can be compiled via, and other online companies.

Here’s what you can wind up with in a new vehicle costing less than $20,000:

• Open top. The choices are limited, but the Fiat 500 and smart fortwo are both available as convertibles. The Fiat goes for $19,500 and up and the smart starts at $17,890.

• People mover. Minivans can be purchased at bargain prices, notably the Mazda MAZDA5 at $19,940, the truck-like Nissan NV200 at $19,990 and the Dodge Grand Caravan for $19,995.

• Pick-em-up. Lower-priced pickup trucks are fairly common, particularly ones without a full back seat. The under $20,000 group includes the Chevrolet Colorado regular cab for$17,775, GMC Canyon regular cab at $17,490, Nissan Frontier king cab at $17,990 and Colorado extended cab for $19,730.

• Reduced gas. Hybrids tend to cost more than similarly-styled all-gasoline counterparts. But at few gas-electric hatchbacks can be acquired for less than $20,000: the Honda Insight at $18,600, Toyota Prius c for $19,080 and Honda CR-Z for $19,975.

• Accessorizing. To keep costs down, spiffs aren’t common with lower-priced vehicles. One exception, for stick shift fans, is manual transmission available on many vehicles costing less than $20,000. It takes some searching, but there are models costing in the teens or less with engines generating 200 horsepower or more, with 40 inch or higher legroom and headroom (Dodge Avenger sedan to name one), with six-speed automatic transmission or with at least 100 cubic feet of cargo capacity.

To be fair, there are a few types of vehicles that just aren’t out there for less than $20,000. Forget the melding of extended legroom, leather seats, high-tech gadgets and ultra smooth suspension: there are no luxury models costing in the teens or less. Also, diesel vehicles remain higher than $20,000, although Volkswagen offers a few below $25,000.

And if you have a fixation on country of origin, no Swedish or British cars fall below the $20,000 threshold.

Then again, there’s always pre-owned cars …

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Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker at