What Is the Best First Car to Buy?

When buying your first car, look for something that fits your budget, personal style, and daily needs, like the Volkswagen Golf or Toyota Tacoma.
Written by Holden Easterbrook
Reviewed by Jessica Barrett
When shopping for your first car, it’s important to find one that fits your daily needs, personal style, and, most importantly, your budget. While what qualifies as the “perfect first car” differs from person to person, vehicles like the Volkswagen Golf or Toyota Tacoma are great all-around picks.
Purchasing your first vehicle can be a lot of work. Between getting approved for a
car loan
and finding cheap car insurance, it can seem like a never-ending process—and that’s not even factoring in finding the vehicle itself. 
It’s important to keep in mind that there are rarely options for first-time vehicles that don’t come with some sort of downside, but it is possible to find cars that are safe, reliable, and affordable!
To help streamline your search, the
car insurance
broker and super app
has found six of the best first cars to buy. Keep reading to learn what makes these vehicles such good choices.  
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2021 Volkswagen Golf

  • Cost: $23,195
  • Reliability: 73/100
  • Safety: 5/5
Though it’s not the prettiest vehicle on this list, the
Volkswagen Golf
is a surprisingly handy compact car.
In combination with its reasonable price tag, the Golf has one of the better fuel economy ratings of the vehicles on this list. Coming in at 29 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway, you can expect to save a good deal at the pump. 
With its wide hatchback, you’ll be able to fit more into your Golf than you’d first expect, and its ease of handling will make trips to and from the store a pleasure. 
If you’re able to swing a little more with your budget for the higher trim level, there’s also a suite of safety features available: automatic emergency braking with forward-collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. For drivers on a budget, the Golf is a car you can count on.

2013 Chevrolet Volt

  • Cost: $12,048
  • Reliability: 82/100
  • Safety: 5/5
Though it is the second oldest car on this list, the
Chevrolet Volt
is still an excellent compact car for a first-time owner.
Despite its age, the Volt’s all-electric range of 38 miles still holds its own against more recent plug-in hybrid vehicles of the same type. 
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for its full-hybrid mode. At 35 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway, the Volt lags behind vehicles that have come out in the past few years.
If you’re looking for a vehicle that’s gentle on the environment, you can’t go wrong with the Chevrolet Volt. Additionally, you may be able to find a used vehicle with the added trim level. Though the additions may seem standard to us today, a 7-inch touch-screen, Bluetooth compatibility, and a pair of USB ports are pleasant to have!

2021 Toyota Tacoma

  • Cost: $26,400
  • Reliability: 81/100
  • Safety: 4/5
For those who work hard and play harder, the
Toyota Tacoma
is a great budget-friendly truck.
As a compact truck, the Tacoma offers hauling and towing options that the other vehicles on this list lack. Unfortunately, that utility comes at a cost. Just like most trucks, the Tacoma suffers from lackluster fuel economy when compared to more traditional vehicles. With a rating of 20 mpg city and 23 mpg highway, expect to be fueling up more frequently than you may like.
On the positive side, Tacomas come with either a 7 or 8-inch infotainment touch-screen as well as lane departure warnings, adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam headlights, and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection. 
If you’re able to stretch your budget, there are even extended and crew cab models available. The Tacoma is a budget-friendly vehicle that’s ready to be put to work!

2020 Mazda 3

  • Cost: $21,500
  • Reliability: 74/100
  • Safety: 5/5
If you want a compact car with plenty of class, the
Mazda 3
has you covered.
There are a lot of variations of this car available for purchase—hatchback or sedan and front-wheel or all-wheel drive—so be sure to find out what options are available in your area. 
Depending on the driving style you choose, you can expect the Mazda 3 to give you 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway for front-wheel drive or 24 mpg city and 32 mpg highway for all-wheel drive.
With an 8.8-inch infotainment display, sleek interior, and comfortable seating, the Mazda 3 provides a fair amount of luxury without the budget-breaking cost. Just be aware that the hatchback model has some visibility issues through the rear window. Due to the curved design of the interior, sightlines from the rear-view mirror may be somewhat blocked when you’re diving with a filled rear row of seats. 
MORE: 7 things to look for when buying a used car

2012 Toyota RAV4

  • Cost: $22,500 (2WD)
  • Reliability: 86/100
  • Safety: 4/5
If you need room for plenty of passengers, the
Toyota RAV4
is one of the few budget-friendly SUVs out there.
While its fuel economy of 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway leaves a lot to be desired, the RAV4 is still a reliable and cost-effective first car. 
Where it stands out, though, is in its seating. The 2012 model of the RAV4 was the last of its kind to offer optional third-row seating. If you want to carpool or need room for all of your friends, you can’t do much better than this vehicle.
Along with the additional seating, the RAV4 comes with several added features: a 6.1-inch touch-screen with navigation, Bluetooth compatibility, and a USB port. 
Just be sure to take care when shopping for a 2012 RAV4. As the oldest model of car on this list, it's more likely to see ones for sale with high mileage or too much wear for its asking price.

2021 Nissan Versa

  • Cost: $14,980
  • Reliability: 83/100
  • Safety: 5/5
Last, but certainly not least, we have the
Nissan Versa
—a subcompact car packed with a lot of value.
Though the Versa has seating for five passengers, expect to only be able to fit two adults in the back row without having to squeeze in. Where the vehicle shines, though, is at the pump. The Versa boasts a budget-saving 32 mpg city and 40 mpg highway, so be ready for trips to the gas station to turn into novelties as opposed to a chore.
Along with excellent fuel economy, the Versa comes with a suite of standard features: automatic high-beam headlights, lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and even rear automatic braking. For its price, the Versa is an attractive vehicle that you can count on to keep you safe.

How to find affordable car insurance

When you find that perfect first car that’s right for you, don’t forget to properly insure it for the years to come. If you want to be sure you’re getting the best deal on car insurance, download the
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