This has gone on long enough. This thread needs to be brought back on track. The OP is being offered the gift of a NEW car, not a sprucing up of the old car, and not a used car. Any further posts not related to the OP's question on recommendations for a new car in the $20,000 price range will be deleted.
I am waiting on the Elantra GLS manual transmissions to be produced, the latest run is scheduled to begin sometime this month at the Alabama plant according to an email I received from Hyundai customer support. I have an agreement on a price of $16,396 for the GLS with the popular package (air conditioning and 16" steel wheels.) It is frustrating that they are not available.
In the meanwhile the 2012 Focus is showing up and the base S model with a stick lists for $16,895. or thereabouts so it can probably be had for a similar price to the Elantra. The ride is nicer than the Elantras but not by much. You don't get rear disc brakes or the upgraded wheel size and some other creature features but essentially comparable except for the warranty and EPA of 38 mpg.
The SE model with the mpg package comes in around $18,100 I think it is. The base model is not readily available either. I am hoping to test drive an S this weekend if I can find one in the area, one is showing in inventory in Kutztown.
I didn't realize that the MT Focus is rated at 36mpg. I really like the ride of the Focus but the mpg and value of the Elantra MT keeps calling me back. I didn't drive over rough rodes to get the "busy, busy, busy" sensation of the suspension
as reported in several reviews. Does anyone have any deal killing experiences with either the handling or ride of the Elantra? I haven't had the chance to drive the MT either. I'm happy that it is a 6 speed but most reviews don't rate it very well. I'm not looking for a performance car, but a reliable commuter. And this waiting for the MT is getting to me, but I've waited this long.
The deal is I have $18K from my folks for the car and I don't want to finance so $16,396. for the MT Elantra is perfect. The balance of the 20K is going to my son towards his culinary arts education.
Here's a couple of suggestions from what I'd do if I were you. First, I'd take a real serious look at the Civic Hybrid. For 22K you're getting Honda reliablity and 41/42 mpg city and hwy. Finance 2k over two years, and that's about $90 a month.
If you can go higher, look at the Honda CR-Z. This is the 2011 version of the CRX and it gets 35/39 mpg plus it has same great Honda reliability factor. Car looks awesome and drives fantastic. At $24k, you could finance 4k over three or four years and the payment would still be $100 to $150.
If yoo gotta come in around $20k, then go with the Ford Fiesta. Sharp car, great mpg and backed solidly by best car company in America.
I personally think you should also give the Mazda 2 a chance for same FE reasons, looks, styling and reliablity. But lastly, if it were me and my parents gave me $20k, I'd drop it on a Prius in a hearbeat and finance what was left. We had a Prius here in town on the lot for $26k the other day. Was black and she was beautiful. She was sold in about four days.
Sounds like to me, though, your best bet is the Honda Civic Hybrid. It's a sedan, yeah but gosh at 41/42 mpg and Honda reliability for right at $22k, you can't go wrong.
What Honda reliability? The Honda forums are full of complaints about Civic Hybrid battery pack failures and CVT transmission failures - not a very good tradeoff considering the OP would have to pony up an extra $4k over budget to get that questionable reliability. Add in the turn of the millennium Civic and Accord AT failures, and Hondas don't justify any price premium at all.
You haven't ever had to within a tight budget, have you?
Most reliable hybrid out there would be an '04+ Prius, though I'm not necessarily recommending that or any hybrid but for $20K, maybe you could spring for one.. Keep in mind that what ever vehicle you buy, the resale value will be significantly less save for a hybrid vehicle which tend to have very good resale value.