The best cars under $40,000

The best cars under $40,000

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The Volvo XC40 is a solid SUV in the sub-$40K range.


Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

There are great cars, trucks and SUVs for nearly every budget today. However, new car transaction prices in the US continue to creep upward toward $40,000. If buyers have a bit more cash to spend than average, then they have a ton more choices, too.

We’ve already highlighted cars under the $30K mark. Now, we’re upping the price cap to $40,000, providing a list of the best cars under the price point. The extra dough opens buyers up to several makes and models, including entry-level luxury cars, midsize SUVs, and even long-range electric cars. Here are our editors’ favorites.

(Note: While all of the vehicles listed here have base MSRPs under $40,000, some of them offer fully loaded trim levels that can exceed this price cap.) 

2020 Kia Telluride

I’m going with a somewhat unusual choice for this roundup, because I’ve recently spent a fair bit of time in Kia’s Telluride and I’ve been really, really impressed. It’s remarkably good. I think it looks remarkably good, too, though it has definitely split opinion.

The ride is on the leisurely side of comfortable, but it really is refined, lulling my passengers to sleep on multiple occasions. Meanwhile, the 3.8-liter V6 provides better-than-adequate power and the eight-speed transmission is responsive and unobtrusive, which is really all you can ask for in an automatic in a rig like this.

You can get in a front-wheel-drive Kia Telluride for $33,060 including destination, which is affordable given all it offers. Working within our $40,000 cap, I’d step up to the feature-packed EX trim, which starts at $38,460 and includes Kia’s comprehensive Highway Driving Assist system. Another $2,000 gets you AWD, then you’re just slightly over the $40,000 mark for a big, comfortable SUV that’s as sophisticated to drive as it is to look at.

— Tim Stevens

Read our most recent Kia Telluride review.

2020 Toyota Avalon

I tend to like small, sporty cars. The 2020 Toyota Avalon is neither of those things, so why am I recommending it? Because it’s a fabulously well-done large sedan that’s an epic long-distance cruiser. Its looks may not be for everyone, but there’s no denying its buttery-smooth powertrain and class-above cabin that are among its many strong points.

A 3.5-liter gas V6 comes standard with 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque, offering plenty of power. An optional hybrid model with an electrically augmented 2.5-liter four-cylinder is available for about $1,000 more, but unless gas prices spike enough to make its mid-40s fuel efficiency act as a salve for its power deficit (176 horsepower, 163 pound-feet), I’d recommend sticking with the standard engine.

Pricing starts at $36,830 (including destination) for a well-equipped base XLE, with top-shelf Limited models ringing up at just over $42K before options. At that end of the spectrum, you’re looking at an Avalon sufficiently luxurious enough to make you forget all about this car’s costlier Lexus ES twin. Oh, and if that’s not enough to keep you in the Toyota showroom, know this: The Avalon has an infinitely less annoying infotainment interface, plus you can fold the rear seats down.

— Chris Paukert

Read our most recent Toyota Avalon review.

2020 Volvo XC40

Subcompact luxury crossovers are oftentimes hit-or-miss affairs. Some skimp on luxury and style, while others are duds behind the wheel. Neither is true about Volvo’s XC40. If I were shopping for a small, premium SUV, it’s absolutely the one I’d buy.

The XC40 starts at $34,695 including destination, and I actually like its lowest Momentum trim the best (the same spec as Roadshow’s long-term XC40 test car). Opt for the more powerful T5 engine with all-wheel drive, choose a few option packages, and you’ve got a really nicely equipped crossover for right about $40,000. LED headlights, leather seats, a 9-inch touchscreen infotainment system and a ton of active safety equipment all come standard.

The XC40 impresses with its easygoing, comfortable driving dynamics, spacious interior and high-quality materials. It’s everything I love about Volvo’s larger, more expensive vehicles, all in a pint-sized package.

— Steven Ewing

Read our most recent Volvo XC40 review.

2020 Hyundai Kona Electric

Earmarking $40K opens buyers to a new generation of entry-level EVs, and one of our favorites is Hyundai’s Kona Electric. The subcompact SUV combines generous safety and cabin tech with reasonable spaciousness, all wrapped into a city-friendly footprint and wallet-friendly budget. It starts at $38,310 including destination, but with available electric vehicle incentives, even the feature-rich Limited trim can squeeze in under $40,000.

The Kona’s electric motor sends 201 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque to its front wheels. That’s more get-up-and-go than the turbocharged gasoline Kona, but the heavier EV is a bit slower overall. Without gear changes or revs to build, however, the nearly silent electric SUV should feel more responsive off the line and around town.

Of course, the most important number is the Kona Electric’s 258-mile EPA-estimated range — that should quell most range anxiety concerns. At a DC Fast Charger, the EV can boost its battery to an 80% charge in about an hour. More common, 240-volt, Level 2 home and public stations can juice the battery with a 9.5-hour charge.

— Antuan Goodwin

Read our most recent Hyundai Kona Electric review.

2020 Acura RDX

The third-generation Acura RDX landed last year, offering a number of improvements over its already solid predecessor. More appealing styling, a new turbocharged engine and Acura’s excellent SH-AWD system work together to make the RDX really interesting. Things are nicer inside, too, with a great layout of controls, some of the most comfortable seats in the business and a healthy list of tech offerings. With a base price of $38,825, including $1,025 for destination, it’s not a bad value for a sporty, entry-luxury crossover.

A 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder powers the RDX, producing a respectable 272 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. The latter is available from just 1,600 rpm on up to 4,500 rpm for peppy acceleration from stops and out of corners, and works with a well-calibrated 10-speed automatic. Spring for the optional adaptive dampers and you’ll have a small crossover that can be entertaining to toss around, or comfortable for normal driving at the push of a button.

Acura’s True Touchpad Interface with a 10.2-inch center screen is in charge of infotainment, and it’s intuitive to use after a short get-to-know period. It’s offered with navigation, a 16-speaker ELS audio system, Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities. For safety, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise, lane keep assist and a multiangle rearview camera come standard.

— Jon Wong

Read our most recent Acura RDX review.

2020 Mercedes-Benz A-Class

The A-Class is a great entry point into the Mercedes-Benz brand. This little sedan punches way above its weight with premium materials, a peppy turbocharged engine and plenty of technology.

Mercedes’ MBUX infotainment system comes on an optional 10.25-inch touchscreen, and brings natural voice recognition to the table. Plus, I love the augmented reality overlay that’s available on the navigation. It displays navigation directions directly on top of the real-time video display from the front camera, ensuring you’ll never miss a turn.

The four-cylinder turbocharged engine puts out 188 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque, which is more than adequate in the A220 sedan. A Sport mode can dial up the transmission and throttle response, while Comfort is great for daily driving. Power goes down to the front wheels through a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission, although all-wheel drive is available for those in colder climates.

Overall, the A-Class is a truly premium car — far more so than the last-generation CLA250 ever was.

— Emme Hall

Read our most recent Mercedes-Benz A-Class review.

2020 Genesis G70

The compact sport sedan segment has long been my jam, and the most compelling entry in that field is the 2020 Genesis G70 — it even won Roadshow’s Shift Award for Vehicle of the Year. Any way you slice it, the smallest Genesis (so far) is a solid consideration with a starting price of $38,475 (including $1,025 for destination).

The compact, rear-wheel-drive Genesis comes standard with a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 252 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, connected to an eight-speed automatic or an optional six-speed manual transmission. All-wheel drive is optional. A 3.3-liter, twin-turbo V6 is available, but places the G70’s price north of $40,000. Besides, most Roadshow staffers prefer the 2.0T anyway.

You still get heaps of tech and driver-assistance features with the base car, including an 8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and automatic high-beams. If you want that level of advanced driver assistance from BMW, Mercedes or Audi, you’ll have to pay closer to $50,000.

— Manuel Carrillo III

Read our most recent Genesis G70 review
.

2020 Toyota RAV4

Toyota’s RAV4 has been one of the world’s best-selling small SUVs for a reason. It’s simple, stout, well-built and priced appropriately. And it looks good, too.

The drivetrain options on the 2020 RAV4 may not be the most exciting in the world, but they are efficient and shouldn’t give you many problems going forward. Optional hybrid power in a compact SUV is a great selling point, too.

The RAV4, particularly in Adventure trim, is a handsome SUV that begins to look a little like its more off-road capable siblings without forcing those vehicles’ compromises on its owner. It’s a great crossover, and is more appealing than ever before.

— Kyle Hyatt

Read our most recent Toyota RAV4 review
.

2020 Audi Q3

The 2020 Audi Q3 is on sale, packing some major improvements, and I believe that’ll give this diminutive German the edge over its competitors, many of which are very compelling.

Having sampled the Q3 last year, I can attest to its prowess in the handling department. Wielding the same 228-hp turbo I4 as the Volkswagen Golf GTI, it should also provide enough hustle to back up an on-road demeanor that begs you to have a little fun behind the wheel.

The Q3’s starting price of $35,695 including destination nets you some solid standard equipment, including a 10.25-inch gauge cluster display, a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, two rows of USB ports and automatic emergency braking.

— Andrew Krok

Read our most recent Audi Q3 review.

First published April 2019.

Keyword: The best cars under $40,000

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