Whether you’ve just gotten your license or you’re the parent of someone who has, the next logical step is getting a new (or, at least, “new to you”) car. Below are some factors to consider, followed by some vehicle recommendations.
Vehicle safety has improved dramatically in the past fifteen years, with airbags and antilock brakes now being the baseline. Today’s newest cars have further advancements, such as 360-degree backup cameras, lane-keep assists, forward collision warnings, and radar cruise control.
Beyond safety, you may want to consider lifestyle features, such as integrated navigation and infotainment, a sun/moonroof, heated/cooled seats, and towing capabilities.
While SUVs and minivans provide plenty of space, the trade-off is that they are much harder to maneuver. Crossovers, hatchbacks, and wagons, in comparison, provide interior space in a more compact package, but if you or your child is on the taller side, keep in mind that many compact and subcompact vehicles may be an ergonomic challenge to squeeze into.
A budget of $20,000 is plenty, and there are many reliable, durable, and easy-to-maintain vehicles available for far less.
Insurance for new drivers is already expensive, but it gets exponentially pricier for faster, more expensive cars. While you can find Corvettes and BMWs within a $20,000 budget, the insurance might wipe your savings clean.
Here are some excellent choices for a new driver!
A 5-year-old RAV4 still provides more-than-reliable and roomy transportation for an affordable price. RAV4s also get fantastic mileage, with many models able to exceed 30 MPG. Beginning in 2019, the RAV4 received standard active safety features not found in previous generations, so if you want attributes such as auto high beams and emergency braking, you can get a 2019 RAV4 for less than $20k. That said, it will probably have more than 100k miles. Increase your budget to $25k, and you can drive off in a lightly used, moderate-mileage newer RAV4.
The CX-5 provides fantastic driving dynamics and more usable space compared to RAV4. It’s also easier to find lower-mileage examples from still-recent years for less money. Even the redesigned 2017 models with optional lane departure warnings and blind spot monitoring can come in at under $20k with fewer than 80k miles.
If fuel economy is vital, then the Prius will deliver with 51 MPG city/48 MPG highway. Fourth-generation models from 2015 and newer feature brake assist and smart stop tech, and models from 2018 and onward have an improved system with lane departure alert and pre-collision detection. Examples with as few as 50k miles can be yours for under $20k.
With the Soul, you’ll get the ergonomics and room of a small crossover, and since 2023 models already start under $20k, it’s the only fully-new car on our list. Options can increase that price, of course, but safety tech features such as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane-keep assist are standard. It seats five and can return up to 35 MPG on the highway, and new models also come with KIA’s 10-year/100,000-mile warranty.
Choosing the Best Car for Your Needs
New drivers don’t need flashy, powerful, expensive cars. There are more than enough vehicles on the market that offer safety, durability, and reliability for a reasonable price.