What's the best car model to buy as your first car?

25 August 2020
Buying your first car can be an exciting time, and finding the right make and model can make turning the keys in the ignition even more satisfying.

There are many car types to choose from, from electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrid cars, through to station wagons, crossovers, suburban or sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and four-wheel drives (4WD). For first-time buyers, hatchback and sedan models can be popular due to the safety, convenience and affordability many models offer.

A toyota yaris
Toyota Yaris – one of our picks for the top 12 popular first cars. Source: Sirikunkrittaphuk (Shutterstock)

If you’ve decided you would like your own car, we have outlined some tips and considerations, with overviews of 12 popular first car models to help inform your decision-making.


What should I consider when buying my first car?

When purchasing your first car, some key factors to consider include:

1. Should I buy a new or used car?

Whether you are wanting to buy a new or used car, it is a good idea to do your research on any model you are interested in, and check to see if there are any recurrent issues to be aware of. If you are looking at a used car, checks can include noting the mileage, how many owners it has had, if there is any damage and if there is any money owed on the car, which you can check by conducting a search of the PPSR.

When purchasing a new vehicle you don’t need to make the same considerations as with a used car, which is a compromise you make for the higher price.

Product Safety Australia provides information about recalls for cars in Australia. To check if a car has been affected by the Takata airbag recall, you can visit ismyairbagsafe.com.au and enter the registration number.

2. What is a good price for the car?

Whether you want to buy new or second-hand will influence the car price. The time of year you are purchasing may also influence deals that are available from dealers, as well as if you are in a rural, regional or city area, as the quality and range available may vary from auctions, private sales and dealers. RedBook.com.au includes vehicle valuation and pricing guides for the car industry and Australian public.

3. What insurance costs may be payable for my first car?

There are different types of car insurance and options for car insurance for under-25s. Compulsory third party (CTP) or green slip car insurance is legally required to register your car and is an included cost of vehicle registration in most states. This type of insurance does not cover any vehicular damage, only covering you for legal liability for injury or death from an accident.

Buying a car is a big investment, and you may also want to consider comprehensive car insurance or third party fire and theft insurance to provide some financial cover if you are involved in an accident or your car is stolen. The cost of premiums will vary depending on factors including your car, years of driving experience, home address and gender.

Keep in mind that while you might have dreams of finding a second-hand sports car at a great price, they often come with more powerful engines and particularly for a first-time driver, insurance costs may be very high.

A ford fiesta
Ford Fiesta – one of our picks for the top 12 popular first cars. Source: Quality Master (Shutterstock)

4. What safety factors should I think about for my first car?

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) provides consumers with information about safety ratings for vehicle makes and models sold in Australia and New Zealand. ANCAP assesses vehicles for (1) adult occupant protection, (2) child occupant protection, (3) vulnerable road user protection and (4) safety assist, comparing the relative safety between vehicles of similar mass (weight). Vehicles are assessed and assigned a safety rating between 0 to 5 stars.

Some safety features are slowly becoming more commonplace even in basic car models. For example, until recently, many basic car models did not include a reversing camera, but this is changing. Newer safety features, such as Auto Emergency Braking (AEB), Lane Keeping Assist and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) may also be available selectively or for an additional cost.

5. What manufacturer should I consider for my first car?

A car manufacturer’s reputation and service network, as well as the popularity of a particular make and model – plus if any upgrades or new model releases are planned soon – may influence car resale value. This may be of interest to you if you plan on ever selling your first car privately, or trading it in. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the most popular car manufacturers in Australia as of 2020 are (1) Toyota, (2) Holden, (3) Mazda, (4) Ford and (5) Hyundai. Choosing a car model that is more common may also make it easier to locate replacement parts and mechanics who can effectively service the vehicle.

6. What should I consider with fuel efficiency?

Fuel consumption often increases with a more powerful engine. However, this can be a trade-off, as some smaller engines can wear more quickly, particularly if they’re worked hard. It is a good idea to understand the vehicle’s fuel efficiency to determine how much it may cost you with your driving requirements over time.

7. Should I buy an electric vehicle?

As well as being kinder to the environment, electric vehicles as well as hybrids are becoming more popular in Australia and are generally cheaper to run in the long term, even if more expensive initially. Electric vehicles do, however, come with unique considerations such as charging logistics, for example there may be extra planning involved with long-distance trips. They are certainly worth consideration to determine if an electric vehicle could suit your requirements.

8. Should I buy a manual or automatic car?

When buying a vehicle, you may want to consider whether you want an automatic or manual transmission. New automatic models often come at a higher price. However, in some cases, such as with the Mitsubishi Mirage and the Toyota Corolla at the time of writing, the automatic models aren’t too much higher in cost. Automatic cars are also increasingly popular in Australia, so buying an automatic car from a major car manufacturer may be beneficial if the potential resale value of a vehicle is important to you, though this decision comes down to personal preference.

Volkswagon Golf
Volkswagon Golf – one of our picks for the top 12 popular first cars. Source: Victor Maschek (Shutterstock)

12 car models for first car buyers

We’ve compiled a list of our top 12 car models for first-time buyers, incorporating cost, safety and popularity into our decision. We have found the most recent models and these prices are the driveaway cost at the time of writing, new and without any discounts applied. Pricing may vary with special offers advertised, and also based on postcode. The advertised pricing shown is for Sydney, unless otherwise stated. If these cars are not in your budget, you may find second-hand models are more affordable. You can search online to find a make and model from an earlier year that may be in your price range. In no particular order, our top picks are:

Car make and model Specifications Fuel consumption Safety credentials (ANCAP) Price range (new)
Mitsubishi Mirage 2WD ES

1.2L petrol

4 doors

5 seats


4.7L/100km 5-star safety rating Manual for $16,490

Automatic for $16,990

Suzuki Swift 2020 GL manual

1.2L petrol

2 doors`

5 seats

4.6L/100km 4-star safety rating From $17,690 in Queensland and $17,990 elsewhere (Suzuki Australia)
Kia Rio 2020 S manual 1.4L petrol

4 doors

5 seats


5.6L/100km 5-star safety rating From $17,990
Toyota Yaris 2020

Ascent Sport

1.5L petrol

4 doors

5 seats


4.9LL/100km 5-star safety rating 2019 on runout. All-new Yaris pricing still to be announced by Toyota Australia at the time of writing.


Ford Fiesta 2020 ST

2.3L EcoBoost petrol4 doors

5 seats

8.8L/100km 5-star safety rating (for earlier models) Pricing varies by postcode. $32,718 driveaway for Sydney (2000) at the time of writing.
Honda Jazz Vti 1.5L petrol

4 doors

5 seats


5.9L/100kn 5-star safety rating From $20,775
Hyundai i30 2L Petrol Automatic

4 doors

5 seats

7.4L/100km 5 star safety rating $24,485
Volkswagen Golf 110TSI Trendline MY20

1.4L petrol

4 doors

5 seats

5.4–5.7L/100km 5-star safety rating From $25,990
Toyota Corolla Hatch Ascent Sport Hatch

2L petrol 4 doors

5 seats

6.3L/100km 5-star safety rating From $27,423
Toyota Corolla Hatch Hybrid Ascent Sport Hatch Automatic CVT 1.8L petrol

4 doors

5 seats

6L/100km 5-star safety rating From $28,968
Mazda 3 G20 Pure 2L petrol auto

4 doors

5 seats

6.2L/100km 5 star safety rating $29,247
Toyota Prius Hybrid 1.8L petrol

4 doors and 5 seats


Not available for base model. 3.4L/100km for i-Tech 5-star safety rating From $41,838
Hyundai i30
Hyundai i30 – one of our picks for the top 12 popular first cars. Source: Tomas Devera Photo (Shutterstock)


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Paying for your first car

It is a good idea to work out what your budget is and stick to it. If you really need a car, but don’t have the cash to pay in a lump sum, then getting finance for your car or a payment plan might be a consideration for you. You may like to check you can afford to pay the instalments, and research payment plans to understand how much interest may apply. You may like to seek professional financial advice to support your decision-making in choosing a car that is right for you.

Your credit score may also impact your ability to get approved for a car loan.When calculating your budget, also keep in mind that cars come with ongoing running costs, such as fuel, insurance, servicing and registration.  There are also unexpected costs, such as repairs, that can set you back. Because of this, it’s a good idea to have a savings account or jar for car emergencies such as new tyres, replacing lightbulbs or even for smaller consumable costs such as windscreen wiper fluid and engine oil. You should also anticipate there may be costs for parking, road tolls, car washes and maintenance.

This article was reviewed by our Sub-editor Jacqueline Belesky and Senior Finance Journalist Shay Waraker before it was published as part of our fact-checking process.

Mike is CEO of parking marketplace, Parkhound.com.au and CEO and founder of self-storage marketplace, Spacer.com.au. When not podcasting with Founder on Air, immersed in all things technology, sharing economy, startups, parking or storage, Mike is spending time with his family or playing guitar.




Header image source: Watchera Ritjan (Shutterstock)

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