The five best first cars for young drivers

First car once meant almost exclusively ‘used car’, but the rise of affordable new cars has changed the automotive landscape. And while there is still sense in picking pre-loved for a first set of wheels, it’s difficult to overlook the value and safety offered in a circa-$15,000 new car.

The prime first-car buys come from the Light class. These are cars which sit a rung below best-selling small cars like Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla.

Light cars are better than they’ve ever been. In the cream of the current crop, larger-car solidity, mature steering and handling and hybrid-rivalling economy can now be taken for granted.

• The best family cars under $30k
• Fuel economy: how to get the most out of your petrol

Five-star-safe body structures provide the stiff backbone that helps make these compact front-wheel drives agile handlers, which is handy in the city (and fun on a quiet bit of twisty road).

Just make sure you check any turbocharged cars are L- or P-plate legal in your state of residence.

Ford Fiesta

You’ll drive a Fiesta from the dealership for little more than the $15,825 list price, which represents cracking value for this class-leading little car.

Even the entry-level Ford Fiesta is decently equipped, with such features as powered windows and door mirrors, air-conditioning, USB/iPod and Bluetooth connectivity with voice control, and cruise control.

The partial leather seat trim, alloy wheels and climate-control of the Sport variant probably aren’t must-haves for a freshly-licenced teenager, though the rear parking sensors, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers may bring some parental peace of mind.

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 8.31.38 AM


Suzuki Swift

Suzuki’s Swift provides a good illustration of why Light cars are almost always preferable to Micro cars. The base Swift, at $15,990, costs $3500 more than its flimsy sibling, the Suzuki Alto, but that’s up there with the best money you’ll ever spend.

The extra cash gets you a larger, roomier and far more refined hatch with the maximum five safety stars, a bigger engine with substantially more power and torque, and superior driving dynamics. If you’ve already made the leap from used to new car, then this further few thousand should be a no-brainer.

And if you can’t stretch far beyond $10K, opt for a used small car rather than a sub-light cheapie.


Kia Rio

The reliable reputation of modern Korean cars is unquestioned, but just in case you’re worried, Kia has just reset the warranty benchmark (again) by extending its coverage from five to seven years.

Kia has in recent years elevated itself from aesthetic fence-sitter to style leader. The brand’s entry-level Rio is more attractive than many long-established rivals and presents a solid case in terms of steering and handling, build quality, equipment and value, too.

There’s plenty of choice in a broad range that kicks off with the $15,990 three-door Rio S.

Kia’s entry model is liveable little car that, especially with the bigger engine, is a sharp, fun steer.


Renault Clio

Renault’s fourth-generation Clio marks a return of the full line-up for Australia (rather than just the Renault sport performance variants), and considering how good the entry-level variants are, that’s brilliant news for buyers.

The base Clio Authentique TCe 90 costs a bit more than rivals, but they can’t boast turbocharged responsiveness or excellent fuel economy.

One level up, the Expression TCe 90 might be the sweet spot for the equipment it brings (for just $1500 more) or, for a further $2000, the dual-clutch auto TCe 120 provides extra performance.

We give the Renault Clio the nod on the basis that even the charming base variant will bring fun to the most mundane of motoring duties.



The Mazda2 has history on its side. Specifically, seven years of solid sales in Australia on the back of sharp styling, a (deserved) reputation for fun and an enviable reliability record.

The $15,790 base Neo Sport is the cheapest way into a new Mazda, but the top-shelf Maxx Sport, at a very reasonable $18,580 in four-speed auto form, will likely represent the best value in run-out mode.

While early adopters will certainly want the new third-generation model, the value-conscious might see this is the best time to buy the outgoing version, which continues to be available.


Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter.
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.