If you’re like us, your first car was a boring, hand-me-down sedan that was driven by your parents or siblings before you were graced with their old wheels and all the freedoms that come with them. In those days, we were just thankful we no longer had to make mom and dad drop us off at least a quarter mile from every destination. Since then, we learned that nothing beats going to buy your first car and getting exactly what you need for your lifestyle.
While automakers almost had an aneurysm at the first sign that millennials are ditching car ownership, it appears that concern was unwarranted. Turns out this generation wasn't "over it" when it comes to buying cars, just slow to warm up. We'll look at the common characteristics of first-time car buyers and give some vehicle recommendations that are affordable and complement their lifestyle.
Best First Cars: The Thrill Seeker
Young drivers who are first-time car buyers often have the luxury to sacrifice cargo and passenger space (boring practicality) for a fun driving experience. These fortunate souls can look for something that's powerful, a thrill to drive and looks great on the road without breaking the bank.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
The 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata is an affordable, fun, and fast roadster that makes a great first car if you don't need the SUV or a family sedan. For a modest price tag, you'll get 155 horsepower out of the 2018 model (going up to 181 horsepower for 2019) and you'll enjoy a 0-60 of just over 6 seconds.
Starting MSRP: $25,295
Fiat 124 Spider
The Fiat 124 Spider is essentially the Italian Miata that will give you a little more horsepower for your money. You'll get 160 horses compared to 155 with the 2018 Miata. The base 124 Spider is barebones and lacks the bells and whistles some other sportscars offer, but it will make a fun first car for the young driving enthusiast.
Starting MSRP: $24,995
The Chevy Camaro radiates a sporty aesthetic with its exterior and has an impressive engine lineup to back it up. The base offers a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that gives you 275 horsepower. Upgrading to the V6 or V8 will increase the horses to 335 and 455 respectively. For the first time buyer that has "excellent steering and handling" on the must-have list, the Camaro will deliver.
Starting MSRP: $25,000
Best First Cars: The Practical
Millenials are often labeled as being entitled and called out for needing instant gratification. We’ll argue that there are responsible, budget-conscious, and forward-thinking young people that prove these stereotypes wrong. For first-time car shoppers that are thinking ahead and taking the responsible route with their purchase, these cars are both budget-friendly and perfect for growing into.
The 2018 Mazda CX-5 is one of our favorite compact crossovers. The combination of exterior styling, driving performance and fuel economy make it a smart and responsible choice for a first car. The only area we'd improve is cargo room as it trails behind competitors like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
Starting MSRP: $24,150
The Kia Soul may come in some questionable color choices (lime green wouldn't be our top pick), but it redeems itself when it comes to getting a great value on your first car. It's fun to drive, stands out from the crowd with its unique shape, and offers loads of space inside for passengers and gear. The starting MSRP is also very hard to beat if you're looking for a bargain.
Starting MSRP: $16,200
The Hyundai Kona is a brand new model for 2018 and is getting rave reviews so far. Just like the Kia Soul, you'll stand out among the sea of crossovers in the Kona. Its styling is unconventional and eye-catching. It comes with all the modern tech a young car shopper will want and two engine options including a 2.0-liter four-cylinder or a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder.
Starting MSRP: $19,500
Best First Cars: The Adventurer
Being active, and getting outside is something healthcare professionals and major brands alike have preached. Millenials have embraced the active lifestyle and often look for car features that can accommodate off-road driving and all their cargo. On top of the latest camping gear, adventure seekers need a vehicle that can keep up, but not drain the bank account. Because good tents don't come cheap, dontcha know?
The Subaru Crosstrek is a versatile crossover/small wagon in that it can handle off-road driving for that camping trip in the mountains, but is very comfortable on-road in the city. It's nimble, has great steering, and plenty of cargo space for all your outdoor gear. Just don't expect it to be fast. Subaru's iconic roof rails come standard for the bikes or kayaks.
Starting MSRP: $21,895
The Jeep Renegade has the off-road chops that Jeep is known for and is also better on-road than the Wrangler. Plus, the first time car buyer will appreciate that it's the least expensive model in the Jeep lineup. Thanks to 4x4 capability and features like traction management and hill descent control, you'll be able to handle anything the great outdoors throws your way.
Starting MSRP: $18,445
Volkswagen Golf Alltrack
Love getting out on the trails but resistant to the idea of a crossover or SUV? The VW Golf Alltrack is a sporty wagon that will serve you well as a first car. It has great steering and handling, a standard AWD system, and cargo space to fit everything you need for a weekend camping trip.
Starting MSRP: $25,955
Best First Cars: The City Dweller
More and more young people are forgoing suburbia and choosing to live in urban areas even as they start having families. Cities offer conveniences including close proximity to restaurants, entertainment, and shopping. One inconvenient truth when it comes to city living, however, is that parking is nothing short of torturous. You probably don't have the luxury of a driveway to stash your car, and parking it when you venture out in the concrete jungle is just as difficult. For the city dweller, less is more when it comes to size, and price.
The Nissan Versa sedan is small, efficient, capable and to top it off, the least expensive new car to buy in the US. These benefits make it a very wise first car choice for city living. When that parking garage sign says "small cars only" you'll have no issue squeezing the Versa in.
Starting MSRP: $12,110
Just because you're low on space doesn't mean you're low on stuff that needs to be moved. For young car shoppers who are furnishing their first "adult apartment" or just need some extra cargo space, the Honda Fit will be a smart blend of small but roomy (cargo room of 16.6 cubic feet with seats up or 52.7 cubic feet with seats down).
Starting MSRP: $16,190
A subcompact crossover can work just as well in the city as a car, and the Mazda CX-3 is our choice for the first-time car shopper. It has standard AWD, good fuel economy, and its compact size is ideal for all the movers and shakers hustling through city life.
Starting MSRP: $20,110