Value-conscious consumers (and who isn’t concerned about value these days?) take their savvy shopping sense with them when they’re in the market for the best small car for the money. After all, if you’re going to spend about $20,000 on some wheels, you want to know you’ve snagged a great deal.

As always, what constitutes the “best” of anything depends on the criteria and the individual consumer. We take the view that the best means a car that offers a few unexpected surprises, one that’s fun to drive, has good reliability, looks good and feels comfortable, offers a lot of standard safety features, and is easy on the wallet when it comes to fuel costs. It doesn’t hurt when automotive reviewers tout its merits as well.

Here, then, is our pick for Best Small Car for the Money:

Hyundai Elantra

For a 5-passenger compact sedan, the 2010 Hyundai Elantra offers good handling dynamics, one of the most spacious and comfortable cabins in the class, excellent fuel economy (35 miles per gallon highway in Blue), and, according to the automaker, “America’s best warranty,” (10 years/100,000 miles powertrain warranty). Available in Blue, GLS, and SE trims, Elantra’s 2010 manufacturer’s suggested retail prices start at $14,145, $16,895, and $17,845, respectively.

Head room and legroom are generous in the front, with 40.0 inches and 43.5 inches, respectively. Seat and steering wheel adjustments enhance driver comfort. In the rear, the numbers are 37.6 and 35.0 inches, respectively. Plush cloth upholstery is a nice surprise, especially given Elantra’s economic pricing. Another plus is the blue dashboard lighting. Total interior volume is 112.1 cubic feet, while the trunk cargo volume is 14.1 cubic feet.

Look for a full complement of standard safety features, including anti-lock brakes, 6 airbags, tire pressure monitoring system, and active front head restraints. Electronic stability control is standard on SE.

AOL’s New Car Test Drive comments: “The Hyundai Elantra is a compact car with handsome styling, a notable complement of safety features, commendable driving manners, a responsive and fuel-efficient powertrain, a strong warranty and above-average value for the money.”

Consumer Guide says “Elantra matches any class rival for refinement, space, comfort, and standard safety features. A robust feel, attractive prices, and Hyundai’s strong warranty also make Elantra well worth consideration.”

Kelley Blue Book remarks: “A value-packed and inexpensive alternative to the segment-leading Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, the 2010 Hyundai Elantra makes a great first (or even second) car. The spacious and fuel-efficient Elantra can comfortably and safely pack in a family of four (five in a pinch) and its cargo. From front to rear, the Elantra’s sharp styling, roomy interior and quality-conscious engineering qualifies this fourth-generation version as a fully contemporary, yet affordable, sedan.”

Summing it all up, perhaps Edmunds puts it best: “The 2010 Hyundai Elantra is one of those cars that will make you feel like you’ve found something special… The unassuming Elantra aces just about every test that really matters for economy car buyers. For a price comparable to the Honda Civic, Mazda 3 and Toyota Corolla, the Elantra delivers much more space and comfort for passengers. To further sweeten the deal, the Elantra comes with a slightly lower price, respectable fuel economy, a capacious trunk and a generous warranty.”

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