The Best Cars for $40K or Less You Probably Missed in 2020

From the sporty BMW turbocharged 228i xDrive Gran Coupe to the off-road-ready Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara.

Top: BMW, Bottom: Kia

As Pandemic 2020 slowly merges into the lane of Pandemic 2021, you might not be driving as often as you did — especially if you live in one of the more lockdown-happy states like California and New York. If you’re not out there on the roads as often, you probably missed a lot of the 2020 model year. And don’t get me started on the likelihood that you went car shopping in amid Covid-19

To that end, find herewith assembled a list of the some of the more interesting cars test-driven in the past year.

Ford Expedition Platinum 

Ford

The biggest people carrier Ford makes, short of a be’seated Transit van, the $80,000+ Expedition Platinum offers an elite trim level with every conceivable bang and whistle. It’ll carry 2-6 people in enviable comfort, but it requires confidence and some mettle to drive its bulk, even with Ford’s suite of driver aids.

BMW 228i xDrive Gran Coupe

BMW

One of my favorite test drives of the year, this BMW squeezes every bit of zip out of its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. It’s well-balanced and grounded, as every Beemer must be, and it’s tech-packed. Still the most wonderful reality of this coupe is you can drive it home for less than $40,000

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara

Jeep

Is there anything that should motivate a red-blooded man to get outside during a pandemic more than a proper Jeep? It was a pleasure to extend a knighted middle finger to the virus and misbehave a bit in the Wrangler Unlimited Sahara. To send it into the desert, Jeep adds a better sound system, street tires, 18-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, fancier trim and heightened fenders — all for less than $40,000.

Kia Seltos S Turbo AWD 

Kia

Arguably not amongst the more well-known Kia models like the Forte or the Sorrento, the Seltos can be a bargain at just a tick above $20,000. One of those vehicles that deliberately rides the razor’s edge between a small crossover and a bigger hatchback, the Seltos is Kia’s entry level, turnkey small SUV. As is the Kia tradition, the automaker packed in the tech features in this inexpensive vehicle.

Ford Escape SE Sport AWD

Ford

In recent years, Ford went all-in on electrification. They started building every car in their short of the biggest trucks and SUVs with some hybrid or full-on electric version. They electrified the cafeteria in Dearborn, and the CEO is a robot now. You get the idea. The Ford Escape will get up to 44 MPG highway and cost less than $30,000. The Sport package throws in 19-inch aluminum wheels and a 12.3-inch display panel.

Subaru Outback Touring XT 

Subaru

A brand known for its ruggedness and reliability, Subaru offers its outback as its best selling crossover. With a price coming in under $30,000, it’ll take you anywhere you want to go on or off-load (within reason), and it’ll max out the MPG en route at 33. It also packs a full suite of safety functions included to keep up with its tough reputation.

Ram 2500 Laramie Crew Cab 

RAM

A full-size pickup with enough pulling power to tow a grade school, the Ram Laramie will run you just a tick above $40,000 for the 2020 model. Equipped with a diesel engine, its reliable power plant shan’t scare away anyone who’s more accustomed to gasoline. The most impressive feature of this big vehicle is how Ram’s driver-assisting tech makes driving it as easy as any car if you can adjust to the machine’s size.

Ford Edge ST AWD 

Ford

If you’re going to buy this Ford hatchback, the sport tuned ST is the only one to choose, even at more than $40,000. Engineers add turbo power to the vehicles and tighten the suspension. The only disappointing element of the Edge ST is I fear Ford’s obsession with green driving and electrification is making its vehicles less fun. I track-drove previous Edge STs, and I recall past incarnations being more thrilling to drive.

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John Scott Lewinski