These are some of the best first-time buys on the market.
Passing your driving test and getting behind the wheel of a car on your own for the first time is a momentous occasion. The point at which you can legally drive unaccompanied ranges between 16 and 18 years of age depending on the state you are in. While not everyone will be fortunate enough to get a brand-new car, the safety and reliability benefits of buying something out of the box can outweigh the financial savings of going used.
We have selected some of the best first-time buys that offer a great mix of safety, perhaps a dash of style and some desirable features all for a decent price. Don't worry though, we have also catered for the aspiring gearhead with a few sporty (yet mostly sensible) options too.
The Versa won't be the car to get members of the opposite sex lining up to go for a drive and it certainly does not offer much in the way of performance from its 109-hp 1.6-liter engine. The reason it makes it onto our list is thanks to its extremely keen pricing, comfortable ride quality and an interior and trunk that offers more space than just about any of its competitors. At $15,840 for the mid-level SV trim you get a USB port, cruise control and power windows. There is more fun to be had elsewhere but if all you want is a solid mode of transport then the Versa is a surefire choice.
Honda has earned itself an enviable reputation for quality and reliability and this trait extends to even the smallest cars it builds. The Honda Fit is a great option if you have a short daily commute, the CVT transmission option also returns a commendable 36 mpg combined average which will keep running costs low. The base price is $16,190 for the LX trim but stretch to the EX trim, which is $18,160, and you get a 7-inch touchscreen display, smartphone connectivity, power moonroof and the Honda Sensing safety system as standard.
If your budget allows it then the Civic hatchback is a worthwhile upgrade from the Fit. Prices start at $20,050 and for the extra cash you get a much more powerful turbocharged 1.5-liter engine (best sampled with the standard 6-speed manual) and a lot more interior space. Dynamically the Civic is also a lot more rewarding and you only really need to add the $305 wireless phone charger option.
Despite the recent dieselgate debacle, the VW Golf is still an undeniably accomplished compact hatchback. The powerful GTI and R models may get all the attention but a 170-hp 1.8T base S trim model is a superb option for a first-time buyer. $20,910 will get you a pretty basic interior but a USB port, rearview camera and 6.5-inch touchscreen are included. For another $2,500 or so you can move up to the SE trim which adds a larger 8-inch touchscreen, panoramic sunroof and some additional safety features.
Small convertible sports cars do not come much better than the superb Miata. If you are more interested in great driving dynamics rather than practicality and can stretch to the Sport trim's $24,915 asking price then this should definitely be on your shortlist. You get LED headlights, keyless entry and cruise control as standard. Make sure to pick the 6-speed manual transmission to get the best out of the little 155-hp 2.0-liter motor.
Stylish and fun, the base Mini Hardtop is the extrovert's choice. It is a great first car that offers sharp handling and some cool personalization options. The base price for the 2 door is $22,950 and once you have added the checkered flag mirror caps, volcanic orange paintwork, dark truffle leather trim and fancy 18-inch wheels, that figure will be a lot closer to $30,000 than you may think. Stick to a few sensible options though and the Mini is an upmarket alternative to the more mainstream subcompact hatches out there.
The Soul is a funky little crossover that can be had in a variety of trim configurations from affordable and nippy to fast and a bit pricey. The base trim is $16,200 but you will want to spend $20,400 for the next one up as that gives you an additional 31-hp for a total of 161-hp, a 7-inch touchscreen, smartphone compatibility and a number of other desirable convenience features. Colors options like Inferno Red, Wild Orange and Alien 2 (a bright green) will guarantee that you get noticed wherever you go.
For those that frequently venture outdoors and need a bit more ground clearance for mild off-roading, the CX-3 is a modern looking and affordable option. $20,110 is what the base Sport trim starts at, the FWD version returns commendable 29/34 mpg city/highway consumption figures and the 146-hp 2.0-liter engine is smooth and capable. The cool looks are further enhanced by the available Soul Red and Machine Gray metallic paint.
Subaru built its reputation on the world's rallying scene. This all-conquering off-road ability can be found in its more mainstream products to this day and while the base Impreza may not have a ridiculous power output, it does have a capable AWD system and a very attractive price tag. If you live in an area where snow and bad weather are regular occurrences then an Impreza could be your ideal first car. The base model is $18,495 although you may want to stump for the Premium sedan trim, which at $21,795 adds some useful safety features such as blind-spot detection and lane change assist and can be fitted with the EyeSight driver assistance package too.
EcoBoost Fastback The Mustang may not seem like the most practical first car purchase but in its base EcoBoost Fastback trim it is safe, comfortable and quite affordable too. For your $25,585 you get LED head and taillamps, 6-speed manual transmission a rear-view camera and keyless entry. Most importantly, the independently sprung rear end makes the car far more forgiving in the corners and the 310-hp 2.3-liter turbocharged motor offers just about the right level of performance for an aspiring gearhead.