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Special Used Car Feature Fun-to drive Cars for Under $20,000

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Open up any car magazine and it seems that all they feature are fast cars no one can afford. Either that or there’s an article comparing the newest family sedans, minivans or SUVs. Boring!

What you’re dreaming of is a car that combines the best aspects of all of those types of vehicles: something fun-to-drive, with the responses and power of a sports car; something practical, with a useable trunk and rear seats; and finally, something affordable, so that you won’t have to give up your first-born in order to own it.

You could keep dreaming about this perfect car, or you could keep reading to find out which fun and practical used cars are available for a very affordable $20,000 or less. To be considered for inclusion in this article, a car had to possess a sporty flair – no run-of-the-mill family sedans or economy cars need to apply. Also, the only candidates considered had to have useable seating for at least four people and a cargo area large enough to hold a week’s worth of groceries or luggage for a weekend road trip. The final criterion is the price stipulation mentioned above: each car had to be available on the used market for under $20,000. For the purposes of this article, we used the Canadian Red Book as our source for the value of each car.

What’s that, you say? Dream on? Au contraire! Read on to see which cars shatter the myth that fun, practicality and affordability have to be mutually exclusive.

The last Mazda to bear the Protegé nameplate was introduced in 1999, and it won praise right from the start from auto writers and everyday enthusiasts for its ability to combine great handling and driving dynamics with a roomy interior. However, many wished it had more power than the uplevel 1.8 litres (early models, 122 horsepower) and 2.0 litre (later models, 130 hp) four-cylinder engines produced. In 2003,

Mazda finally answered those wishes with the MazdaSpeed Protege, which packed a 170-hp turbocharged version of the 2.0 litre under its hood. That added punch, a limited-slip differential and firmer springs and shocks showed what this practical little sedan was capable of. MazdaSpeed Proteges was only built for two years – 2003 and 2004 – but only the 2003 model comes in at less than 20 grand, at $18,650.

While this article deals with used cars, there are a few vehicles mentioned here that are still being produced. All of them are worth more than the $20,000 price ceiling I’m using as the upper limit, but there’s one car here that a keen negotiator might be able to pick up new for less than 20 grand.

The M.S.R.P. for the 2005 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V is $21,998, so it’s conceivable that a buyer at the right dealership at the right time might be able to knock a couple of grand off the price, especially considering this sporty car has been around since 2002. That said, if you’re not confident enough in your negotiating skills to pull that off, a used 2004 Spec-V is worth $18,000 and 2005s come in barely over budget at $20,200.

Something to keep in mind is that while all Spec-Vs feature a six-speed manual transmission, base SE-Rs from 2002 and 2003 got a five-speed, and a four-speed auto was optional. In 2004 and 2005, however, all base SE-Rs were automatics.

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