New driver? No problem.
Getting that first car can be thrilling for teens and new drivers, and ensuring a good match is key to keeping that excitement alive. While friends and family may offer new drivers advice on their favorite car brands, it's also important to check out car features and see the wide array of great used cars that are available today.
To help you on your search for your first car, we've compiled a list of the best cars for teens and new drivers. We gathered data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) best-choices list of recommended used vehicles for teens starting under $20,000. From that list, we identified the top seven best-selling vehicles at CarMax between November 1, 2020 and April 30, 2021 with average prices less than $20,000.1 Please be aware that certain model years and upper trim configurations could bring the prices of some of these vehicles over the average price. Also be aware that certain vehicles may have unrepaired safety recalls. You can learn more here.
The compact dimensions of the 2018 Mazda3 can make it easy to maneuver through traffic and to park, whether at a grocery store or in the limited spots in downtown metropolitan areas. The available six-speed manual transmission offers teens and new drivers the opportunity to learn a valuable skill and have some fun at the same time. For those who want the Mazda3 to handle the shifting for them, there's a six-speed automatic. Either way, if you're accustomed to taking public transportation or using a rideshare service, this car can offer a feeling of confidence and control when you get behind the wheel. Standard features on the 2018 Mazda3 include:
Six-speaker audio system
Drivers of all ages and experience levels may be able to find a 2017-2019 Hyundai Elantra that suits their lifestyle. The Elantra is available in sedan and hatchback body styles and a variety of models, from the fuel-sipping 2017-2018 Eco to the athletic 2019 GT N Line. A fully redesigned Elantra sedan debuted as a 2017 model; a cosmetically refreshed model followed in 2019. New drivers may appreciate the frugality of the Eco sedan, which gets an EPA-estimated 35 combined mpg with its turbocharged 1.4L four-cylinder powerplant.2 Even the performance-focused 2019 GT N Line with a turbocharged 1.6L engine gets an EPA-estimated 32 mpg on the highway, while rewarding drivers with the fun of 201 hp.2 The 2019 Hyundai Elantra includes these features and more:
60/40 split-folding rear seat
Six-speaker audio system with USB port
A list of great cars for beginner drivers wouldn't be complete without the Corolla. For 2020, Toyota released a redesigned Corolla sedan. The L, LE, and XLE Corolla sedan trim levels feature a 1.8L four-cylinder engine that generates 139 hp and 126 lb-ft of torque—enough for even the newest drivers to get up to speed while benefiting from an EPA-estimated 38 mpg on the highway (L and LE trims).2 The sportier SE and XSE sedans are powered by a 2.0L four-cylinder engine that delivers 169 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. Toyota also rolled out a Corolla Hybrid sedan for 2020 with an impressive EPA-estimated 52 mpg combined.2
The 2019-2020 Toyota Corolla is equipped with the following features as standard:
Pre-collision system with pedestrian detection
Departure alert with steering assist
Adaptive cruise control
The 2017 and 2018 model years may have been the end of the line for the sixth-generation Jetta, but they continued to bring notable improvements to VW's beloved four-door. Music lovers of all ages may enjoy the improvements to the Jetta's infotainment system, which is equipped with USB connectivity and smartphone integration from 2017. Jettas from 2017 get their power from one of two turbocharged four-cylinder engine options: a 1.4L unit with 150 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque or a 1.8L with an additional 20 hp. The smaller engine's lower power levels return an EPA-estimated 40 mpg on the highway.2
The 2017-2019 Volkswagen Jetta includes features such as:
Tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel
Blind-spot monitor and rear traffic alert (SE and above)
The Corolla was only available as a sedan for the 2018 model year, but there were big plans for its next generation. A hatchback joined the lineup in 2019, bringing bold style and extra cargo space for students with bulky gear or new drivers who need room for their active lifestyle. Generous driver-assistance features on the Corolla are great for drivers who are traveling on the highway and through crowded cities for the first time, and the 132-hp, 1.8L four-cylinder engine is designed to easily propel the Corolla forward. New drivers typically want a car that feels comfortable and gives them confidence, and the 2019 Toyota Corolla can check those boxes.
Standard features on the 2017-2019 Toyota Corolla include:
60/40 split-folding rear seat
Siri® Eyes Free voice control
Lane departure warning with automatic emergency braking
One of the best first cars on our list is the 2018 Hyundai Elantra, an elegant compact sedan with a quiet cabin and comfortable ride. In 2017, Hyundai launched a complete redesign of the Elantra and the 2018 model year marked the debut of the next-generation Elantra GT. The standard engine for the 2018 Elantra is a 147-hp, 2.0L four-cylinder, which can give new drivers the get-up-and-go they need for highway merging or pulling out from a cross street. Students may also appreciate the 60/40 folding rear seat to haul people and luggage for road trips or cross-country moves.
2017-2019 Hyundai Elantras include the following features:
Six-speaker audio system
Cruise control (with automatic transmission model)
Bluetooth audio connectivity
At the top of our list of best cars for new drivers is the venerable 2017 Honda Accord. The peppy Accord has long been a favorite of new drivers for its good looks, generous features, and ample cargo room (15.8 cu ft)—and the 2017 model is no exception. In 2016, Honda gave its popular Accord a facelift and upgraded the tech. The 2017 model benefits from that update, carrying over the same 185-hp, 2.4L four-cylinder engine as well. This sedan also has a handy one-piece folding rear seat that can be helpful for hauling bulky items and sports equipment.
The 2017-2019 Honda Accord includes the following features:
Four-speaker sound system
Dual-zone automatic climate control
Whether you're looking for fuel economy, driver-assistance features, tech, or storage space, you can find a good first car for you or someone in your household on this list.
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