Best First Cars Australia: 10 Good First Cars for New Drivers

Nissan I30

Getting your first car is a pretty big deal, and it’s not uncommon for fully grown adults to get a little misty-eyed as they wistfully reminisce about “their first”, which usually came with a loveable nickname (mine was an orange Datsun 200B named “Ernie”, after a particular resident of Sesame Street).

Back in my day, first cars were also usually pretty woeful in safety, handling, stopping and fuel-economy terms, and frankly I can’t believe our parents let us out on the road in them. But we made it, somehow.

A common question can be “what are good first cars for girls?” or “what are good first cars for boys?”, and the simple answer is that ultimately what’s most important is that the driver is comfortable and confident behind the wheel, regardless of gender.

Whether it’s a brand-spanking-new car to set you off on your exciting journey, or a pre-loved model that’s been carefully selected as the perfect set of wheels for a beginner, there are a few important factors you should consider before handing over your cash and taking the keys.

Price: An obvious consideration, but one that’s the defining factor when it comes to what kind of steering wheel you’ll find yourself seated behind when you buy a car, and whether or not it’ll be something new, or something on the second-hand market, which is where most cheap first cars live.

New cars: The appeal of a new car is obvious: the vehicle is in mint condition, covered by a full-term warranty, will come equipped with recent tech and safety features, and, most important of all, will arrive with that indescribably lovely new-car smell.

Used cars: Second-hand cars more than likely won’t have the latest tech and safety equipment, and definitely won’t have that new smell, but you will get a significant discount on the price, and hopefully a warranty that carries over to new buyers.

Size and body type: It helps to first work out what you don’t want. SUVs may be the most popular model on Australian roads these days, but a vehicle with extra size may not be what you’re after when getting used to driving on roads and mastering your parking skills.

Hatchbacks and sedans – as out of vogue as the latter may be at the moment – are both two of the best cars for new drivers and are worth serious consideration. The benefit of sedans is that they have boot space for extra security, while the compact, light nature of hatchbacks makes them perfect cars for city driving.

Safety: The safest cars are the ones that have been awarded a five-star ANCAP safety rating after being put through some rigorous testing, so you’d be wise not to buy any car offering less stars than that.

If you’re unsure of a car’s safety rating, whether or not it’s a new or a second-hand car, you’ll be able to search for it on the ANCAP website.

Reliability: Due to the fact that technology, engineering and safety features in cars are constantly evolving, it’s safe to say the newer the car model, the more reliable it will be.

Still, issues can arise with new cars, in which case you’ll want to make sure yours has a decent warranty period. Buyers are also protected under Australian Consumer Law (ACL), so there are safeguards in place should something go awry.

Features: Good safety features like Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), rear cross-traffic alert and a reversing camera should all be high priorities, but a lot of the other assorted bells and whistles come down to the personal preference of the driver.

Some features that can make your drive a more connected and pleasant experience include satellite navigation, hands-free Bluetooth connectivity for phone calls, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity to give you access to your phone’s features, and a head-up display.

Ownership costs: When weighing up the ongoing, long-term running and maintenance costs of a car, you’ll need to take a few things into consideration, like servicing (a lot of dealerships offer capped-price servicing as part of the warranty, but make sure you investigate all terms and conditions first), the car’s fuel consumption, and insurance costs.

Buying a car at a ‘drive-away’ price can also save you somewhere in the vicinity of $2500-$4000, so keep that in mind, too.

Ten of the Best

1. Hyundai Venue

Price (new): From $20,940, base model, plus on-road costs

Price (used, two years): Pay $23,000 for a mid-spec version with 5000km. Five-year warranty.

Hyundai really knows how to do a small, economical car, and the entry-level Venue keeps Hyundai’s hit rate high. Luggage space is decent,  despite its small size, and the fuel economy is good for those looking to save a few bucks on petrol. Be aware that second-hand values are sky high at the moment.

2. Kia Cerato

Price (new): From $22,190, plus on-road costs

Price (used, three years): Pay $18,000 for a low-spec car with 45,000km. Still under its seven-year warranty.

A Kia on the list? You betcha. This hatchback is notable for ticking all of the important boxes: it’s comfortable, practical and the running and maintenance costs are relatively low. The seven-year warranty doesn’t hurt, either.

3. Hyundai i30

Price (new): From $23,420, plus ron-road costs

Price (used, three years): Pay $20,000 for a low-spec car with 20,000km. Warranty lasts five years.

The Hyundai i30 has a reputation for being reliable, easy to drive and cheap to run, making it one of the most popular cars on Australian roads. It’s one of the best cars for young drivers/best cars for students (note: car insurance for under-25 drivers costs more, but is essential) for the aforementioned reasons, and it’s also covered by a five-year/unlimited km warranty, and comes as a hatchback or a sedan.

4. Toyota Corolla

Price (new): From $23,895, plus on-road costs

Price (used, three years): Pay $18,000 for a low-spec car with 45,000km. Warranty expires after three years.

The Toyota Corolla is like the salt and pepper of cars: the most basic of flavours, but a reliable go-to that works in just about any situation. They’re a popular option for everyone from teenage beginners who’ve just scored their drivers’ licenses to retirees and everyone in-between, due to being cheap to run, and incredibly reliable.

5. Mazda3

Price (new): From $25,990, plus on-road costs

Price (used, three years): Pay $23,000 for a low-spec hatch with 60,000km. Cars post-2018 are covered by a five-year warranty; three-years for pre-2018.

Stylish, economical and reliable, the Mazda3 is one of the best small cars on the market, and a good option as either a new or a second-hand car. As far as cheap first cars go, the Mazda3 is a winner.

6. Kia Seltos

Price (new): From $26,790, plus on-road costs

Price (used, two years): Pay $31,000 for a low-spec model with 5000km. Has a seven-year warranty.

A quiet and comfortable SUV from Kia, which has really risen in the ranks over the years. Features include bountiful room, top-end features and options for a turbo engine and all-wheel drive (AWD). It’s also cheap and easy to maintain.

7. Mazda CX-30

Price (new): From $29,190, plus on-road costs

Price (used, two years): Pay $31,000 for one with 5000km. Mazda has a five-year warranty.

Based on the ever-popular Mazda3, the Mazda CX-30 is a stylish SUV that looks far more expensive than it actually is, and it has excellent road-handling and a wide swathe of tech and safety features. Not cheap, but as far as best first cars in Australia go, you could do a lot worse.

8. Honda CR-V

Price (new): From $31,300, plus on-road costs

Price (used, three years): Pay $25,000 for a mid-spec version with 30,000km. Five-year warranty.

There’s plenty of competition on the Australian car market between SUVs, but the Honda CR-V is up there with the best due to the simple fact it’s a great car to drive, is highly reliable and comes packing some great features. Ongoing running costs can be a little above average, but besides that, this is an excellently made SUV that will serve you well in the long-term.

9. Toyota RAV4

Price (new): From $31,695, plus on-road costs

Price (used, three years): Pay $30,000 for a low-spec model with 50,000km. Warranty is three years’ long.

The Toyota RAV4 has proven to be incredibly popular in Australia, and for good reason: it offers a mix of comfort and durability, and is available in more ecologically sound hybrid versions. Not the best value for money – it’s hard to find a new one, so that’s driving up second-hand values – but a solid option regardless.

10. Toyota Camry Hybrid

Price (new): From $33,490, plus on-road costs

Price (used, three years): Pay $25,000 for a low-spec model with 50,000km. Three-year warranty, but battery warranty is eight years.

Toyotas may not be the most sexy or exciting cars on the road, but owners swear by their reliability and longevity, which is something you can’t really argue with. The Camry remains a great family car, and the fuel-saving hybrid version can wind up cutting your fuel consumption considerably.

By Stephen Corby


Disclaimer: Prices, features, warranties and other information that may be shown in this editorial content (Review Information) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (CAMS) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Information was correct at the time of publication.  CAMS does not warrant or represent that the Review Information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon the Review Information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.

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