When it comes to cars, nothing is free. You can upgrade the performance, comfort, or fuel economy of your chariot, as long as you’ve got the cash.
That rule doesn’t seem to apply to in-car technology though.
Perhaps in deference to the jobless Millennials they know will be most interested in these features, carmakers have begun to build lineups of connected cars from the bottom up. That means a lot of great tech is available in entry-level models for a relatively low price.
We’ve rounded up the best of what you can get for under $20,000. While not all of the equipment mentioned here is standard, it should still be available for less than that although local dealer supplies may vary.
To appeal to young customers who want tech, but don’t have a lot of money, General Motors has been concentrating features at the bottom end of its lineup.
That’s why the Chevrolet Sonic has enough to gadgets to make an Apple Store blush. The available MyLink Radio package includes Pandora, TuneIn, and Stitcher, plus the Siri Eyes Free voice-recognition system for compatible iPhones.
The Sonic is also one of the many GM models that gets OnStar 4G LTE, and its built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, for the 2015 model year. The hotspot can handle up to seven devices (not that you’d ever get that many people in a Sonic), with service provided by AT&T.
The Spark offers all of the same tech as the Sonic, but in a slightly smaller package at a slightly lower price point. The electric Spark EV is also worth a look, although it exceeds our $20,000 budget (before incentives are factored in), and is only available in California and Oregon.
The littlest Ford packs plenty of tech from its big brothers. The Fiesta comes standard with Sync voice control and the Sync Applink bridge feature for smartphones. Buyers can also upgrade to the full MyFord Touch infotainment system (expect the new Sync 3 system soon), HD and SiriusXM Satellite Radio, and navigation with SiriusXM Traffic and TravelLink.
For the paranoid, there’s also MyKey, which allows owners to restrict how the car is used with settings like a speed limiter and audio-system mute when other people are driving it.
The Honda Fit is a spacious, fun-to-drive pod for carrying around your smartphone. The available 7-inch touch-screen, and Honda Link smartphone integration make sure that phone is doing more than just sitting in a storage cubby, while Bluetooth streaming audio and Pandora capability can provide a soundtrack for any drive.
Related: Most tech-savvy cars under $30,000
For better or worse, the Kia name has always been synonymous with affordability, so naturally one of the Korean carmaker’s products earns a spot on this list. The 2015 Kia Forte can be had with SiriusXM-capable audio (on the top EX trim level) as well as the UVO infotainment system with eServices telematics within our budget. Spend a little bit more, and you can also get a 4.2-inch LCD display in place of a traditional gauge cluster.
Nissan Versa Note
The Versa Note is the most attractive version of Nissan’s subcompact yet, but that’s not saying much. What is truly worth noting (no pun intended) are the tech features available at the Versa’s low price point.
Even the base S model comes standard with Bluetooth, while the top SL gets NissanConnect with Mobile Apps, Nissan’s version of the smartphone connectivity features many of its competitors are already hawking. Bluetooth streaming audio, hands-free texting, and navigation round out the roster of connected features.
There’s something to be said about a very basic car that strips away comfort and nonessential fluff to keep the price down. In this age of increased in-car tech, that’s harder to do, but the 2016 Scion iA manages to strike a good balance.
Scion’s new sedan is about as basic as a car can get, but it still manages to squeeze some tech features in as standard equipment. That includes a 7.0-inch touchscreen display, voice controls, a rearview camera, and a pair of USB ports. Like the rest of the iA, it’s not fancy, but it provides a decent level of functionality at a low price. And at $16,495 (including destination), the iA is priced very low indeed.
After years of neglect, Scion is adding two new models for 2016. The second part of that duo, the iM hatchback, also offers a decent amount of tech for the price. That includes a six-speaker Pioneer audio system with 7.0-inch display screen and iPod connectivity, as well as a 4.2-inch TFT information display that supplements the analog gauges. A rearview camera and Bluetooth are standard as well.
For the 2015 model year, Subaru’s compact Impreza got a refresh that includes some notable tech upgrades. The Impreza now comes standard with an infotainment system featuring a 6.2-inch touchscreen, HD Radio compatibility, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, and Subaru’s Starlink app system with Aha integration.
If you’re willing to spend a little bit more than $20,000, the standard system can be upgraded with a 7.0-inch screen that features tablet-like swipe controls, as well as a navigation system.
Subaru’s EyeSight system is also available as an option. It uses a windshield-mounted camera to enable adaptive cruise control and automatic braking.
With the latest Corolla, Toyota hopes to effect a more youthful image, so it’s emphasizing connectivity to get those whipper-snappers behind the wheel.
The midlevel Corolla LE comes standard with Entune Audio, which includes a 6.1-inch touchscreen display, voice recognition, and streaming via Bluetooth. There’s also an Entune Premium Audio upgrade bundled with navigation that includes HD Radio and Toyota’s App Suite, which includes Facebook, Pandora, and Yelp.
That should get those kids’ attention.