Written by gary on March 21st, 2010

 CIVIC AND COROLLAIt’s Springtime and another round of teenage drivers will be hitting the roads for their first time in their first car or truck. Teenagers and parents tend to have different objectives, priorities, and visions when it comes to first cars. In this article, let’s try to look at the subject of first cars from both points of view.

What Teens Want
Most teenagers place considerable importance on a car’s style (sporty), appearance (cool), performance (fast), size (room for friends), and accessories (customization). Girls like “cute” cars and place less importance on performance than boys..

An automobile is a projection of a teen’s personality, social status, sense of freedom, and desire for peer approval — as well as possibly serving a practical need for getting back and forth to school or job.

What Parents Want
Parents want safe cars for their teens. Parents also place importance on economy (low purchase cost, low operation cost with great gas mileage, and low maintenance cost), reliability/dependability, and low insurance cost.

Teens who are expected to pay their own way may also place importance on many of the same factors as their parents.

Cost is a Factor
The first issue that most young drivers and their parents usually struggle with when deciding on a first car is that of cost, which typically leads to the issue of used-versus-new.

An older car is generally going to cost less than a brand new model. However, older used cars will generally be less reliable, may develop unexpected repair expenses, have fewer safety features, and not be as attractive as a newer model. On the other hand, insurance cost and taxes can be less. Used cars older than 5 years are generally sold “as-is” without warranties.

A brand new car can be more expensive — although not necessarily so (see below) — but will have the latest features and safety equipment, be under manufacturer’s warranty for 3-5 years, be protected by lemon laws, and will have new-car reliability — and a new-car smell.

You can get free price quotes on any new car from the following sources: Edmunds, CarsDirect, and Yahoo! Autos . The quotes you receive will automatically include any factory rebates and dealer discounts.

Be aware that when you fill out the form specifying a make and model, in most cases you will not be asked about which year model you are interested in. If you are interested in last year’s left over models, you’ll have to specify that when you actually talk to the responding dealers.

Best First Cars for Teenagers – Top Recommendations
Because of the wide variations in availability and characteristics of used cars, we’ll stick to a discussion of new cars. However, used cars tend to have many of the same characteristics of new cars of the same make and model.

  • Toyota Corolla – This Toyota vehicle considered to be the number one selling car in the world and is a favorite among teenagers as both a new and used vehicle. It’s reliable, with good performance, has plenty of room inside, and there are many options from after-market companies for styling and performance improvements. Buyers of this vehicle, receive the Toyota “Star Safety System” which is one of the best safety systems being offered on cars today. The Corolla is priced at about $17,700 for base models and is standard with vehicle stability control as part of the “Star Safety System”. If the Corolla is not quite large enough, look at the Toyota Camry, one the best-selling cars in America for the last few years.
  • Toyota Camry – The Camry is considered to be the number one selling car in America and is a roomy mid-size car known for it’s Quality, Reliabilty, Durability, and Resale Value. The new 2010 model has a new 169 hp 2.5 liter engine coupled with a 6-speed automatic transmission and gets 37 mpg on the highway, 26 mpg around town. The Toyota “Star Safety System” is standard equipment on the Camry and includes VSC, and 7 air bags with an exclusive driver knee bag.
  • Scion – Toyota has created a line of popular vehicles that specifically targets young drivers. The Scion is full of standard features, and optional features, that appeal to teens, is relatively inexpensive, and has a good-performing and fuel-efficient engine. It also has a great reliability record with some great safety options such as side air bags. Scion models, TC, xB, and xD are typical Toyota high-quality vehicles at base prices that start at about $17,570 for the xB, $16,650 for the xD, and $18,000 for the tC. The economical xA model is no longer made, but is available as a used car.
  • Honda Civic – This is a popular car among teens — and parents. This car has almost all of the qualities desired by both teens and parents: economy, style, safety, reliability, performance, low insurance rates, and good size for passengers. The ride is a bit rough though compared to a Corolla. There are tons of accessories, custom appearance products, and performance options for the Honda Civic. Base price for a new Civic is about $17,500. The new re-styled model has won Motor Trend magazine’s “Car of the Year” award and is a Consumer Reports Magazine Top Pick. Honda also produces a fuel-efficient hybrid version of this vehicle, at a slightly higher cost. Used models of the Honda Civic are readily available, reliable, and hold their value very well.
  • Honda Fit – This small 4-door hatchback is a good combination of Honda reliability, interior space, features, and safety equipment — and a resonable 34 miles per gallon of gas on the highway. It’s a fun car that also will haul a teenager’s stuff. It is also safe and relatively cheap to insure and maintain.
  • Nissan Sentra -This is a sensible car for teens, having many of the attributes of the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, but a little less style. It’s comfortable, but with a harsh ride and little room in the rear seat. However, it gets good gas mileage, is reliable, enjoys relatively low insurance rates, and is priced at about $14,700. Used models can be found at good prices.
  • Ford Focus – This is a fun and sporty car that teenagers like. It has a firm but comfortable ride and a number of engine options. Interior material quality appears cheap but functional. There are no less than 12 different variations of this model that should allow almost any teen to be satisfied. Prices start at about $15,300 for base models. Ford’s reliability has improved dramatically in the last few years. You can’t go wrong with this nice little car.
  • Mazda 3 – This vehicle is an excellent small car with good interior space, good performance, and good quality. It comes in both a hatchback and sedan and starts at about $15,700. New models are very stylish and youth-oriented. Prices for used Mazdas are very reasonable.

When Costs Are Not The Biggest Factor and teens can consider a near luxury used vehicle for their first car, here are some good choices:

  • BMW 3-Series – This is one of the most popular of all sporty luxury cars, for a good reason. It’s fun to drive, is a great performer, and fuel economy is good — and it looks good, as a “bimmer” should. It’s available as a coupe, sedan, or a convertible. Used models are available for good prices.
  • Mercedes C-Class – This is a popular small sports sedan with young people who like a car that’s fun to drive and exudes luxury and class. It’s comfortable, roomy, and handles well on the street or highway. It also enjoys a good safety rating and is relatively economical to own.
  • Acura TL – This car is consistently rated very high as having the best blend of all characteristics that one would want in a car. It mixes luxury features with comfort, performance, handling, and sportiness. It’s one of the most reliable models on the road.
  • Audi A4 – This vehicle is available as a sedan and convertible. It is luxurious and stylish with excellent driving characteristics. A wide range of features, options, and transmission choices are available. Crash-test results are impressive. Reliability is average.
  • Lexus IS – It’s a Lexus with all the quality and luxury that Lexus offers, but it’s not the Lexus that grandfather drives. It is a small safe sports sedan that has the performance, looks, and comfort that young people enjoy. A high-performance V8 version is available but watch out for high insurance rates.
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7 Comments so far ↓

  1. evensteven says:

    why should we put the Corolla as #1 car for anything…google Corolla or Prizm oil consumption…my 2002 Chevy Prizm (Toyota Corolla) has 125k miles, uses a quart of oil every 200 miles….why is there not a recall on this junk 1zz fe 1.8 liter 4 cylinder engine? there is alot of these problem engines out there…Take responsibility, TOYOTA!!!

  2. gary says:

    Have owned several Corollas, son and daughter drove a 99 and 98 respectively with over 250k miles each through college and beyond, no problems.We have an 88 FX over 300k, been a spare for years, no rebuild, cranks everytime, still will make a trip and 35mpg…know many Toyota repeat owners with these experiences, as with anything mechanical in high volumes, there will be a small percentage that can have a problem. we’ve had nothing but great success with Toyota and especially compared to domestics in the past.

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