First cars are both a learning experience and a ticket to newfound freedom. Car ownership delivers a number of lessons about finance and responsibility as fresh owners learn how to budget for repairs, fuel, and insurance, as well as learn the best ways to look after what is typically the most expensive purchase they have made to date. At the same time, a first car allows for drivers to come and go as they please, on their own schedule, without having to beg or borrow vehicles belonging to family and friends.
Let's take a look at 10 cheap first cars that can get your started on your driving career.
Cheap First Cars - 01 - 2013 Nissan Versa
It only makes sense to lead off our list of cheap first cars with the 2013 Nissan Versa, which is the least expensive brand new car on the market. The sub-$12k Nissan Versa sedan is a surprisingly roomy subcompact, and it comes standard with a CD player, air conditioning, and basic 15-inch steel rims. Under the hood, the Versa's 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine generates 109 horsepower, and although a five-speed manual transmission is included with the base price opting for the model's continuously-variable automatic unit ups fuel mileage to 31-mpg in stop and go driving and 40-mpg on the highway.
Cheap First Cars - 02 - 2013 Hyundai Accent
The 2013 Hyundai Accent is a cheap first car that has graduated to the front of the subcompact pack. Found in both hatchback and sedan editions, the Hyundai Accent's snappy styling (especially when looking at its passenger compartment) is a definite selling point, as is the presence of power windows and door locks, a trip computer, satellite radio, aid conditioning, and a folding rear seat in the entry-level GLS trim. A 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine is the only drivetrain available with the Accent, and it delivers 138 horsepower and fuel mileage of 28-mpg city and 37-mpg highway. Transmission choices for the Hyundai include a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic.
Cheap First Cars - 03 - 2013 Fiat 500
The 2013 FIAT 500 counts heavily on its Italian design to draw buyers into showrooms. The Fiat 500 is a subcompact hatchback that can handle three riders in a pinch, but it's far better suited to a shuttling just a pair of occupants around town. The Pop trim level (read: base) is equipped with air conditioning, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, Bluetooth integration, and power windows and door locks. Bargain hunters will want to stick with the Fiat's standard 101 horsepower, 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine, which returns fuel mileage of 31-mpg around town and 40-mpg on the highway when matched with a five-speed manual transmission (a six-speed automatic is also available).
Cheap First Cars - 04 - 2012 Mazda MAZDA2
The 2012 Mazda Mazda2 is the least expensive model available from the Japanese brand, but it still manages to provide a few cheap thrills thanks to an artfully designed chassis and a very low curb weight. The Mazda MAZDA2 subcompact hatchback delivers a CD player, power windows and door locks, air conditioning, keyless entry, and steel wheels when found in Sport trim, and it also benefits from a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that generates 100 horsepower. Transmission choices for the inexpensive MAZDA2 include a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic, and fuel economy checks in at 29-mpg city and 35-mpg highway.
Cheap First Cars - 05 - 2012 Toyota Corolla
The 2012 Toyota Corolla is a venerable commuter option that many people select as a cheap first car. The Toyota Corolla might ride on an older platform, but it's one that gets the job done - especially a job as basic as getting from point A to point B without spending a lot of cash. It also comes standard with air conditioning, keyless entry, and a CD player. The compact sedan's 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine can be relied on for 138 horsepower, and buyers can choose to either shift it themselves via a five-speed manual, or order a four-speed automatic gearbox to go with the car. Fuel mileage for the Corolla tops out at 27-mpg around town and 34-mpg on the highway.
Cheap First Cars - 06 - 2013 Chevrolet Cruze
The 2013 Chevrolet Cruze provides a legitimate compact sedan entry from General Motors, which has in recent years wiped away its reputation for producing sub-par entry-level cars. The Chevrolet Cruze rides and drives comfortably, and it also comes with air conditioning, fog lights, keyless entry, and 16-inch steel wheels. A 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine serves as its most affordable drivetrain option, and a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission can be yoked to this 138 horsepower unit. Fuel mileage for the thrifty Cruze is a respectable 25-mpg in stop and go driving and 36-mpg on the highway.
Cheap First Cars - 07 - 2013 Toyota Tacoma
The 2013 Toyota Tacoma stands out on this list of cheap first cars because, well, it's a truck. Still, there are a lot of arguments to made in favor of the Toyota Tacoma: in regular cab form it's inexpensive, it gets decent fuel mileage (21-mpg city, 25-mpg highway), and it is an extremely useful vehicle for hauling thanks to its open cargo bed. 159 horsepower are on tap from the Tacoma's base 2.7-liter, four-cylinder engine, and a five-speed manual transmission is the transmission of choice for this compact pickup. A four-speed automatic can also be ordered with the truck, and air conditioning, 15-inch wheels, a bedliner, a touchscreen audio system, and Bluetooth connectivity are standard with the vehicle.
Cheap First Cars - 08 - 2013 Hyundai Elantra
The 2013 Hyundai Elantra's excellent use of quality materials throughout its cabin gives buyers the impression that they have paid a lot more for their cheap first car than the window sticker might indicate. The Hyundai Elantra compact sedan also boasts attractive exterior looks that are almost out-of-step with its humble pricing, and it comes with power windows and door locks, a CD player, a folding rear seat, and heated mirrors right out of the box. Fuel mileage for the Elantra is a spiffy 28-mpg city and 38-mpg on the highway, numbers made possible by its direct-injection 148 horsepower 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine and the choice between six-speed automatic and six-speed manual transmissions.
Cheap First Cars - 09 - 2013 Ford Fiesta
The 2013 Ford Fiesta is another fun-to-drive subcompact, available in both sedan and hatchback forms. As cheap first cars go, the Ford Fiesta makes a surprising amount of technology available on its options sheet, but base models come only with air conditioning, an AM/FM stereo system (designed to allow buyers to line-in a portable music player), and 16-inch steel wheels. The Fiesta's 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine is generous with horsepower (120 ponies) while simultaneously being stingy at the fuel pump (29-mpg city and 39-mpg highway). A five-speed manual is included with the Ford's entry-level price, but a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission can also be ordered with the car.
Cheap First Cars - 10 - 2013 Kia Rio
The 2013 Kia Rio is a rising star in the subcompact segment, as greater numbers of cheap first car buyers are taken with its handsome design and economical fuel consumption. The sharp-looking Kia Rio is available as either a four-door sedan or a five-door hatchback, and both of these body styles are motivated by the same 138 horsepower, 1.6-liter engine. The Rio's efficiency is rated at 30-mpg in city driving and 36-mpg in city driving when matched with its available six-speed automatic transmission, while a six-speed manual can also be spec'd with the vehicle.