As a new driver, getting behind the wheel of a first car is an exciting time. But, before this happens, choosing the perfect ride is essential. With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of cars to consider whether you’re looking for yourself or a loved one.
Any of these vehicles would be a great choice, so we’ve spelled things out in alphabetical order. In some cases, we’ve suggested some model year ranges, but just keep in mind the newer the car, the higher the price. However, a more current car may have more advanced safety features and can be less likely to encounter mechanical issues.
A BMW as a first car? Of course! We’re not talking about something sporty, but rather the automaker’s first zero-emission vehicle, the i3. Inside there’s a surprising amount of room for passengers and cargo. Outside, state-of-the-art frame materials help with safety. Depending on the model, the range for this electric vehicle (EV) can run from 80 to 180 miles per charge (for the maximum range you’ll want the i3 with the onboard gas-powered generator or “range extender” in BMW speak).
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the i3 is its significant depreciation, something to take advantage of like a used car shopper. It’s common to find examples from the first few model years selling for about one-third of the original sticker price.
While it may be hard for a beginner driver to get excited about a four-door sedan, the Ford Fusion stands out for other reasons. It’s mainly a solid car with good safety scores and reliability history (for 2010 and newer models). Plus, with SUVs, so in demand these days, sedans tend to offer a better transportation value. Plus, the Fusion can price out less than a comparable Honda Accord or Toyota Camry as Ford dropped this sedan after 2020.
Depending on budget and preference, the Fusion is available in various trims that range from base versions to models equipped like luxury cars. There are even hybrid versions.
Ask someone what their idea of a first car should be, and you can bet Honda Civic will be a typical response. Its 50 years of history have helped burnish Honda’s reputation for reliability and value. So, picking a Civic is a no-brainer, particularly with models from the last ten years that have grown in size equal to earlier versions of the Accord. Civics are plentiful in the used car market, but you’ll still want to do your research to check a car’s history.
Depending on the model year, you’ll find a Civic in a sporty two-door body style or as a more practical four-door sedan.
Cars don’t get more functional than the Honda CR-V crossover; it’s got plenty of space for passengers and gear (and it’s a Honda). The CR-V’s elevated driving position can be comforting to less-experienced drivers, and the availability of all-wheel drive (AWD) can make all the difference on wet or snowy roads.
The CR-V has been one of the best-selling vehicles in the country, so used models aren’t usually difficult to locate. But, as with most SUVs and crossovers, you’ll pay a bit more for this versatility.
If a crossover is in your sights for a new driver and value is essential, then check out the Hyundai Tucson. This compact Korean incorporates Hyundai’s winning formula of lower pricing and higher equipment levels as it takes on the CR-V, Toyota RAV-4, and others in this segment. Tucson’s have been on American roads for more than 15 years, so availability shouldn’t be difficult.
For a sweet spot, look for second and third-generation Tuscons from 2010-2015. These models combine affordability with a decent reliability track record.
It’s not unusual for a young driver to want the first set of wheels to have speed and sportiness, but these desires can conflict with insurance rates and common sense. Instead, consider the Mazda 3 as a credible alternative. Available as a hatchback or sedan (both with four doors), the 3 offers impressive handling and driving dynamics without an overabundance of horsepower.
This choice is ideal for someone who wants a car that’s compact, efficient, and reliable but not something you see in every parking lot (we’re looking at you, Honda Civic).
The first mass-produced (EV) available to American consumers can be an excellent choice for a novice driver who’s focused on local destinations. The Leaf’s modest base range (85-150 miles, depending on the model year) is best suited for around-town adventures, but that’s perfect for getting to work or school. Leafs suffer from significant new-car depreciation, making used models a potential bargain.
Best of all, there’s no more visiting a gas station—just plugin and recharge. Using household current can take many hours, but this can be reduced by installing a 240-volt upgrade at home or using a public fast-charge option.
The Subaru Impreza is another option for a new driver that doesn’t want a Honda or Toyota. Available as a small sedan or wagon (Subaru calls it a “five-door” body style), the Impreza is the only model on our list with standard all-wheel drive. That’s something to consider for winter climates and rain-soaked highways.
Imprezas aren’t the biggest cars inside or out, but this compactness translates into strong fuel economy (for an AWD vehicle) and easy parking in tight spots.
What Corollas lack in sharp design and sporty handling is more than made up for with a rock-solid reputation that usually doesn’t require much thinking beyond regular maintenance. New model years offer a hatchback version, but chances are buying a used Corolla for a young driver will involve a four-door sedan. And that’s OK as there’s a roomy back seat that’s easy to get to.
If advanced safety technology is a must-have, look for a 2017 or newer Corolla, which includes automatic emergency braking and other driver aids as standard equipment. Toyota was one of the first automakers to provide these features in an economy car.
Whether a new driver is concerned about saving money or the planet, there are few fuel-sipping cars like the pioneering Toyota Prius. Its revolutionary hybrid gas-electric powertrain forever changed the auto industry, and unlike all-electric vehicles, the Prius’ range is only limited by how much gas is in the tank.
We suggest skipping the first generation but start your search with 2004 or newer models. You’ll get hatchback versatility and a streamlined body designed to squeeze out every mile possible.
Toyota and Honda constantly battle for the most popular compact crossover sales title. So, if the CR-V isn’t your cup of tea, then check out the RAV4. You’ll find characteristics similar to the CR-V but with a Toyota flavor. Front-wheel drive is standard, but AWD RAV4s are also common.
If you like the crossover idea but want better gas mileage, consider the RAV4 hybrid, which debuted for the 2016 model year (the CR-V hybrid doesn’t appear until 2020).
It’s another smaller sedan, but the S60 is the only European car on our list. Mention the name Volvo and “safety” immediately comes to mind. That’s something that has a strong appeal to parents. And safety innovations have been part of Volvo’s mantra for almost 100 years. The automaker was the first to offer cross-chest seat belts in 1959, and the S60 had standard automatic emergency braking (called City Safety) as far back as the 2011 model year.
To save money and take advantage of newer technology, focus on 2013-2018 models. Depending on preferences and budget, you can find S60s with front-wheel or all-wheel drive.
Finding the right car for each customer is what we do at Trust Auto. So, whether you’re a new driver or one with decades of experience, we’ve got the vehicle you need at our dealership in Sykesville, Maryland. Check out our great selection of hybrids and EVs, as well as cars and SUVs. Our entire inventory of premium vehicles is available online.
Looking for a used hybrid in Columbia? Searching for a used SUV in Sykesville? The best-used cars for sale are just a short drive away. We’re also convenient to Washington, DC, and Virginia. Buying a used truck in Pennsylvania or used crossover in New York? Trust Auto’s remote shopping can help you find the ideal vehicle without ever leaving home.
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