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Best first cars

There’s nothing more exciting than buying your first car. It can also be a bit daunting, though. 

The option of buying a cheap used car is always open to those that don't want to spend more than $10,000, but with advancements in safety technology and driver aids makes new cars hugely appealing to many parents and first time owners.

These cars are all different shapes and sizes, but they’re all focused on offering lots of features and lots of safety equipment on a reasonable budget. 

This list doesn’t cater for you if you’re lucky enough to have a massive budget to spend on your first car. Instead, we have focused on new cars below $30,000. 

Another reason to consider a new car for your first choice? Because there are plenty of excellent second-hand cars on offer around the same price bracket, but they don’t come with the certainty of a warranty and rarely come with things such as capped-price servicing. 

Nonetheless, if you are buying a used car, the best thing you can do is have your vehicle inspected by an independent mechanic before signing on the dotted line. No matter how good it looks, there could be some expensive surprises lurking beneath the skin. 

With that aside, here are the best first cars you should consider:

Kia Picanto

Rating
/10
Price
$15,990 to $20,490 before on-roads
Kia Picanto

The Picanto is one of Australia’s cheapest cars, but it’s not even remotely nasty.

The range spreads from the stripped-out Picanto S manual to the sporty-looking Picanto GT manual, the latter of which has a turbocharged engine and plenty of racy body add-ons.

Inside, the Picanto has a surprising amount of space up front, along with handy technology such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for music and podcasts. Although earlier versions of the Kia wireless CarPlay system have been buggy, the latest version is easy to use and generally reliable.

On the safety front, the Picanto has a four-star ANCAP safety rating based on testing carried out in 2017. It gets autonomous emergency braking, but no blind-spot or lane-keeping assist.

The Picanto has a seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

More on the Kia Picanto

Kia Rio

Rating
/10
Price
$19,690 to $25,590 before on-roads
Kia Rio

Yes, it’s another Kia. The Rio is a bigger, more grown-up proposition than the Picanto, with more space behind the wheel and a bigger boot.

The range spreads from the stripped-out Rio S manual to the sporty-looking Rio GT-Line, which features a turbocharged 1.0-litre engine and a dual-clutch transmission.

Inside, the Rio features handy technology such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for music and podcasts. Although earlier versions of the Kia wireless CarPlay system have been buggy, the latest version is easy to use and generally reliable.

Compared to the Picanto, it has a bigger boot and more space in the rear seats. Once you’re on your green P plates, that means you can carry friends more easily.

On the safety front, the Rio has a five-star ANCAP safety rating based on testing carried out in 2017.

All models from the Sport and above feature autonomous emergency braking as standard. It’s potentially life-saving technology we’d recommend spending extra money for.

The Rio has a seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

More on the Kia Rio

Volkswagen Polo

Rating
/10
Price
$25,250 to $38,750 before on-roads
Volkswagen Polo

The Volkswagen Polo is a staple for first car buyers. It’s a bigger, more expensive proposition than the cars it replaces, but it drives more like a Golf than a Polo in 2022.

Although it kicks off at $25,250 before on-roads, the Polo range now stretches to $38,750 for the GTI performance car.

A mid-life update means the Polo now features LED headlights across the range, along with autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane-keep assist, and a full suite of airbags including a new central inflator.

Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are part of an options package on the base Polo Life, and standard on the Style and GTI.

The Polo has a five-star ANCAP safety rating based on testing carried out in 2017.

Volkswagen backs the Polo with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

More on the Volkswagen Polo

MG 3

Rating
/10
Price
$18,990 to $20,490 drive-away
MG 3

The MG 3 is the only car on this list without an ANCAP safety rating, which will immediately rule it out for some people. It’s getting long in the tooth, and doesn’t have a suite of active safety features.

It does offer a lot of space and equipment for its price, however.

Power in the MG 3 comes from a naturally-aspirated 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine making 82kW of power and 150Nm, mated to a four-speed transmission.

Standard safety equipment includes front, front-side, and curtain airbags, but doesn’t include autonomous emergency braking or lane-keeping assist.

The MG 3 is backed by a seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

More on the MG 3

Toyota Corolla

Rating
/10
Price
$25,395 to $34,695 before on-roads
Toyota Corolla

Yep, the Toyota Corolla is another first-car staple. It’s a more expensive car than before, but it’s also a more efficient and high-tech car than before.

Prices range from $23,895 before on-roads to $34,695 before on-roads, and the Corolla is available in both sedan and hatchback body styles.

With petrol prices soaring, the Corolla hybrid is worth considering. It doesn’t need to be plugged into the wall to charge, but it uses significantly less fuel than most of the cars on this list in the real world.

Around town it’s smooth and quiet to drive, thanks to the electric motor taking over from the petrol engine. The motor also gives you a helping hand at higher speeds.

The Corolla is backed by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, and Toyota offers some of the cheapest servicing in the business.

More on the Toyota Corolla