What makes a good first car? Typically, a good first car is one that fits into the budget and lifestyle of a first-time buyer, meeting the transportation needs at hand without breaking the bank. Of course, not everyone buys their car at a young age, nor does everyone have the same resources from which to draw when making their purchasing decision. Consider, too, the diverse number of driving scenarios faced by Americans on the road today, and you've got a formula for a wide variety of strong first car options.
Let's take a look at 10 good first cars, and see which ones are the best fit for which drivers.
Good First Cars - 01 - 2013 Subaru Impreza
The 2013 Subaru Impreza is a good first car for anyone who happens to live in an area where blizzards and icy roads are an unfortunate fact of winter life. Every Subaru Impreza comes with standard all-wheel drive, and the car's 148 horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine delivers fuel mileage of 27-mpg city and 36-mpg highway when matched with its optional continuously-variable automatic transmission. The affordable Impreza can be found in both sedan and hatchback editions, with the latter offering up to 52.4 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded.
Good First Cars - 02 - 2013 Toyota Corolla
The 2013 Toyota Corolla is a good first car for those who simply have no interest in dealing with maintenance or repairs. The inexpensive Toyota Corolla is such a simple design - and one that has been in production for so many years - that there's really not a lot to go wrong, either with its limited but comfortable set of features or its basic, four-door sedan mechanicals. The Corolla's 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine is as reliable as the day is long, and although it only generates 132 horsepower it makes up for it with fuel mileage of 27-mpg around town and 34-mpg on the highway.
Good First Cars - 03 - 2013 Kia Sportage
The 2013 Kia Sportage is a good first car for buyers who want the convenience and extra storage space that an SUV can provide (up to 54.6 cubic feet in the case of the Sportage), but who don't want to pay a lot for that privilege. With a starting price of less than $20,000, the Kia Sportage over-delivers on features and style, especially considering the quality of the materials used throughout its passenger compartment. Pay a little bit more, and you can get the added security of all-wheel drive to help the Sportage make its way through slippery conditions with more confidence. Base Sportage models feature a 2.4-liter, 174 horsepower four-cylinder engine that can be counted on to return fuel mileage of 21-mpg city and 30-mpg highway.
Good First Cars - 04 - 2013 Nissan Sentra
The 2013 Nissan Sentra is a good first car for those who want to maximize interior room but who are forced to deal with the realities of a tiny parking spot either at home or at work. The Nissan Sentra is a compact sedan that doesn’t push the envelope in terms of its exterior dimensions, but when it comes to its passenger compartment - especially the rear seat - the vehicle somehow expands to feel like a much larger automobile. The Sentra is also exceptionally fuel efficient, thanks in part to the availability of a continuously-variable automatic transmission. When paired with its 1.8-liter, 130 horsepower four-cylinder engine, this gearbox can deliver fuel mileage of 30-mpg city and 40-mpg on the highway.
Good First Cars - 05 - 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel
The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel is a good first car for commuters who find themselves regularly piling up the miles during their daily drives. This is due to the fact that the Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel turns in excellent fuel mileage thanks to its new direct-injection, four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine. The compact sedan's 2.0-liter mill produces 151 horsepower and 264 lb-ft of torque and is matched with a six-speed automatic transmission. Together, this drivetrain allows the Cruze Turbo Diesel to post an EPA rating of 27-mpg in stop and go driving and a class-leading 46-mpg during highway cruising.
Good First Cars - 06 - 2013 Subaru BRZ
The 2013 Subaru BRZ is a good first car for enthusiasts on a budget who have been bitten by the track driving bug. The Subaru BRZ offers a relatively low curb weight, a well-balanced chassis, a rear-wheel drive layout, and an excellent suspension setup that in combination create a formidable road course weapon. Even better is the fact that the car's 200 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque (sourced from a 2.0-liter, horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine) make the car a great learning tool that has to be pushed extra hard to get bent out of shape at speed. Toss in the BRZ's near-$25k purchase price, and it's easy to see the appeal of this sporty coupe.
Good First Cars - 07 - 2013 Toyota Yaris
The 2013 Toyota Yaris is a good first car for budget-minded hatchback fans who want a city runabout that will handle their commute with ease while still offering a bit of extra cargo room for hauling larger items from time to time. Whether found in two-door or four-door editions, the Toyota Yaris comes through with 15.6 cubic feet of total interior storage space with the rear row of seating folded forward, which is roughly equivalent to that found in a mid-size family sedan's trunk. The Yaris' fuel efficiency is far and away better than that of many larger four-door cars, however, with its 106 horsepower, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine returning 30-mpg in city driving and 37-mpg on the highway.
Good First Cars - 08 - 2013 Ford Focus ST
The 2013 Ford Focus ST is a good first car for sport compact performance tuners seeking an inexpensive, and lightning-quick platform on which to build their custom ride. The Ford Focus ST embodies the same practical design as that found in the standard Focus hatchback, but it comes with an aggressive body kit, a limited-slip front differential, a six-speed close ratio manual transmission, and of course a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The latter starts out with 252 horsepower and 272 lb-ft of torque in factory trim, but as with all turbo engines there's a lot of potential locked up inside it that can be accessed via judicious reprogramming of the vehicle's ECU.
Good First Cars - 08 - 2013 Fiat 500
The 2013 FIAT 500 is a good first car for style-focused urban dwellers who want to look great for not a lot of money. Sure, the Fiat 500's small interior is better suited for two occupants rather than its advertised four, but from the outside there are few subcompact hatchbacks in its class that can match it for pure design and beauty. In addition to being affordable, the Fiat 500 is also rather frugal at the fuel pump, hitting a respectable 31-mpg in city driving and 40-mpg on the highway when ordered with its standard six-speed automatic transmission and base 101 horsepower, 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine.
Good First Cars - 10 - 2013 Mazda MAZDA2
The 2013 Mazda Mazda2 is a good first car for teenagers or college students who want a vehicle that is practical in daily driving but also capable of defending its honor on an autocross course. Autocross is an increasingly popular form of inexpensive motorsport, which jibes perfectly with the Mazda MAZDA2's $14,720 MSRP. The MAZDA2 gets the cone-dodging nod ahead of other subcompact hatchbacks due to its sporty suspension system, which is a surprise in such an economy-minded car. When it's time to move dorm rooms, the Mazda's 27.8 cubic feet of total cargo space will come in handy, and although its 100 horsepower, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine isn't exactly robust it does help the vehicle achieve fuel mileage of 29-mpg in city driving and 35-mpg on the highway.