So summer vacation is almost at its halfway point, and for us teenagers, that means we’ve worked hard in our summer jobs to rake up nearly enough cash to achieve what is possibly the greatest teenage dream: buying our first car. But part-time summer jobs at Subway don’t really get us enough cash to get a sparkling new Lexus--or anything that’s sparkling new, for that matter. That means we have to go cheap in the used car market.
Finding a good first car is a headache; it has to be reliable so we can actually drive it to places, it has to be safe so we don’t get instantaneously killed when we crash, it has to be fuel efficient so it doesn’t burn a (bigger) hole in our wallet, and it has to be all of those while still being cheap enough for us (or our parents) to buy it and insure it. Most of the times, the kind of a car that fits all that requirement ends up looking like this 2001 Toyota Camry.
Sure, this Camry will get you from Point A to Point B and it’ll be as reliable as your grandma’s cooking, but you’ll feel about as old as your grandma while driving it. It’s too dreary and dull. This car is like my dentist’s office; yeah, they do what they’re supposed to do correctly every time, but I’m never delighted to be there.
So what? I hear you ask, isn’t it just a car? Isn't it good enough if it gets me from Point A to Point B? Yes, but our first cars will stay with us for years before we’ll get to graduate to better sets of wheels, so why not start our driving life with something that we can fall in love with?
So if you want something that’s cheap, reliable, safe but also fun, here are 10 cars that would make great first cars:
1. Honda Civic
The Civic is famous because they’re economical, affordable, reliable for hundreds of thousands of miles and surprisingly fun to drive, thanks to its peppy engine and enthusiastic handling--especially if you go with a stick-shift or the performance-oriented Si model. Very few cars allow you to customize it and truly make it yours for not much money like the Civic. Want to turn it into a sports car? Done. Turn it into a concert hall? Check. Because Civics are so popular, you can find one for sale all over the Internet for incredibly low prices.
2. Volkswagen Golf
The Volkswagen Golf is a fun-to-drive and charming hatchback that also has a bit of a grown-up side. It’s also a touch more refined than its Japanese or American counterparts. It’s like a Labrador; it can be spry and lively when you’re playing around with it but be calm and relax with you when you’re laying on the sofa watching TV. If you’re looking to get you a car that can do both fun and refined comfort, not a lot of cars can pull them off better than the Golf at its price range.
3. Mazda MX-5 Miata
If you’re searching for your first car and you want a sports car, not a lot of cars can beat the Mazda Miata, Guinness World Record’s best selling roadster. The Miata gained its cult-classic reputationnot because it has a powerful engine (in fact, it’s quite slow in a straight line), but for being an agile and balanced sports car that’s extremely fun to drive yet easy to master. It’s a great car for anyone who wants to learn how to be a better driver, but it's so good it may also ruin every other car forever for you. It’s that good. And because Mazda’s been making the Miata for 27 years and sold more than a million of them, you can easily get a good-condition first generation for under $5,000.
*Warning: never get a Miata with an automatic. Don’t do it. NO.
4. Ford Mustang V6
As much as us young, over-enthusiastic teen guys of my age would very much want the V8-powered GT model, having more than 350 horsepower V8 muscle car as your first car would only result in a horrific crash. The less powerful V6 is a much easier animal to tame. While the acceleration or the exhaust noise won’t be as sexy as those of the V8, the V6 base Mustangs are good starter sports car for muscle car enthusiasts. Plus, there are plenty of aftermarket modifications, so the hot-blooded teen guy can make it as fast as he fancies as long as his wallet can keep up.
5. Jeep Wrangler TJ
If your idea of the perfect first car is a dependable adventurist that can take you and your friends mudding or into the wilderness for a weekend camping trip in the mountains, the Jeep Wrangler is perfect. Even without tall lift kits and big off-road tires, you’d be surprised how far the Wrangler can get you away from civilization thanks to the bulletproof 4.0L engine in the TJ-generation; it will keep working for hundreds of thousands of miles (which is rare for an American car made in the early 2000's). In the South, finding a clean example of a used Wrangler is hard because they either sell so quickly� or they're already ruined by some terrible lift kits and tires. So if you want one, keep your eyes peeled. But if you know you’re probably not going to go mudding or trailblazing and just want something to drive around town, the Wrangler probably isn’t for you (if you still want something with a Jeep badge, though, check out the next car on the list).
6. Jeep Cherokee XJ
The Cherokee was always under the Wrangler’s shadow (it still is, to be honest), which is a shame, because the Cherokee is a way better all-rounder. It could transport your friends or family much more comfortably than the Wrangler while still being a champ off the road. And thanks to the same bulletproof engine used in Wranglers of the same era, it will rarely go wrong if you pick the right one. Although not as popular as the Wranglers, the Cherokees are quickly starting to gain popularity, so they will also sell fast in the used market.
7. Ford F-150
The Ford F-150 has been the best-selling truck in America for the past 35 years and best-selling vehicle in America for the past 30. With the F-150, Ford has been amazingly consistent, and built a solid, dependable workhorse. Whether you’re someone who hauls things like sports gear or musical equipment, or if you’re someone who wants a truck just want to throw a sick tailgate party, the Ford F-150 is a truck that will always be open to whatever wild plans you have in mind. And because Ford sold 198 F-150s per hour just in 2014 alone, there are plenty that’s circulating in the used truck market.
8. Subaru Impreza
Not only is the Impreza fun to drive, but it comes with all-wheel drive system to keep you safe and in check even if you’re driving through either Florida’s rains or Vermont’s winters, or just driving like a lunatic. The standard models are practical and plenty fun to drive, but if you’re lucky enough to come across either of the two performance models, WRX or WRX STI, you’ll get yourself a seriously quick car.
9. Lexus IS300 Gen. 1
Like everything that comes with a Lexus badge, this IS300 is comfortable, loaded with features like heated seats and premium stereo, and with Lexus/Toyota reliability, you really don’t have to worry about it breaking. It also comes with safety features like traction control and ABS, which were pretty rare in cars during this time. Also, under the hood of the IS300 rests a 2JZ 6-cylinder engine, which many consider as the greatest performance engine Toyota has ever made, so this car has the power and the performance too, should you need it.
10. BMW 3-Series
The 3-Series has been BMW’s best seller, meaning there are a lot of them in circulation in the used car market, which also means that the prices are low. For not as much money as you’d expect, you can get a relatively modern 3-Series with modern features like an aux jack, cruise control and leather interior, features that are just starting to emerge in your common Civic. And it's a BMW, so how's that for bragging rights? If anything goes wrong, though, the maintenance costs will eat you alive, but practice of careful observation and common sense could get you a pristine BMW 3-Series that could make you very happy for years.