The End of Affordability: There’s Only One New Car Under $20,000

Good news if you're looking for a Mitsubishi Mirage

2023 Mitsubishi Mirage in gold sitting parked at a curb
In the category of "new cars under $20,000," the Mirage stands alone.

If you’ve spent enough time looking at vehicles over the years, you’ve probably noticed a growing trend: in the U.S., cars and trucks are getting bigger. There are a number of reasons for this, up to and including the cyclical effect of drivers opting to buy larger vehicles over concerns about safety should another massive vehicle crash into them. It’s like a nuclear arms race, but with absurdly large SUVs.

There’s another aspect to the growing market for larger vehicles in the U.S., and it has to do with what new cars cost. As the Associated Press reports, if you’d like to spend under $20,000 for a new car right now, your options are limited. Very limited. Very, very limited. Specifically, you have all of one vehicle to choose from, and if you’re not interested in buying a Mitsubishi Mirage — average price: $19,205 — you’re out of luck.

As the article notes, even if you are interested in buying a Mirage, you may soon be out of luck as well. The AP cites reports that this car will soon cease production altogether. That’s a more drastic step than, say, Honda nixing plans to sell the Fit in the U.S. as of 2020 but keeping the model going overseas — but it does seem of a piece with the “bigger is better” ethos automakers have embraced in the U.S.

As the owner of a Honda Fit, I can attest to the occasional moments of surrealism that come from parking beside SUVs whose windshields begin at around the place where my car’s roof ends. (I was also advised by a gas station employee to get a bigger car once; it was weird.)

The AP’s Tom Krisher does cite some data suggesting that smaller cars have been selling better this year to date than in previous years — though it isn’t yet clear if this is a sign of shifting automotive trends or something more isolated. There are a lot of reasons to root for inexpensive cars to make a comeback; perhaps this year in automotive trends has some surprises in store.

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