As a recent event has confirmed for the billionth time (a bit hyperbolic, but fine), teenagers in cars do not make the best behind-the-wheel decisions no matter what they’re driving, but especially when piloting high-powered “ultimate driving machines.” And even modest modern cars can be pretty dang quick compared to what some of us oldsters used to think counted as “performance” back in the day, with car commercials touting 8-second 0-60 times as if the NHRA should take notice. Parents purchasing a “cool car” of recent vintage for the newest driver in the family (or teens who saved scrupulously to buy the sweet wheels themselves) can easily score a vehicle that puts up good numbers, as they say, which may not be a good first-car experience as measured by sliding into a ditch or not. Which brings us to our question:
What’s The Best Enthusiast Car For Beginners?
That’s a Q you can take in at least two ways. To wit: what do you recommend for an enthusiastic driver who isn’t necessarily a driving enthusiast, in which case you’re looking a noob-proof handling and safety assists like electronic stability control (perhaps with the OFF button relocated to the trunk)? Or, what do you recommend to a young, respectful-of-safety driver who wants to learn how to really drive a car with performance in mind and gain experience and appreciation for handling dynamics in a forgiving vehicle? And since we’re talking best choices, you probably have worst-choice takes too—feel free to share.
We’ll see you in the comments!
Used manual Mazda 3 (either 3i or 3S) if you’re not in a rust-belt area. Reliable and reasonably fun and engaging, but safe, reliable, and not too fast.
I’m living this with 20 and 17 y/olds – current gen Subie Outback (when they were available with shift-it-yourself). Not too fast, not too slick to handle, goes EVERYWHERE, cheap as sh!t to run, and safer than hell.
Boy, about 20-25 years ago I would have said Honda CRX. Civic manual is a good choice. Betting Toyobaru twins are still a little pricey, but RWD and not overpowered.
Unfortunately the Twins (especially on the cheaper end) are prone to motor failure. Look up rod bearing FRS/BRZ, in this day and age, i never expected to lose a motor at 54k miles on a car I just purchased from a reputable enthusiast. Since its so common, used motors are crazy expensive, it cost me 6k to get it back up and running, and thats doing all the labor myself, so paying a shop to do it could easily run 10k (and thats a drop in used motor, not a fancy new motor).
E90/E92 328i 6MT. Peak car.
Used Volvo. It teaches them how to safely use a car, and they can learn how to merge into traffic without having 300 bhp at their hands.
Civic. Manual. Base engine.
I’d go for the Used Volvo car. Safety built in, Can be counted on to have longevity, and decent reliability.
Anything with a manual transmission. I found that it helped my kid stay the hell off his phone while driving. If your hands are busy shifting you aren’t picking up the phone at lights and stuff. It also made him think more about what he was doing and pay a bit more attention to the road and other cars by being more involved in the process. Plus, as a big fan of racing games, it gave him the feeling of sportiness and performance in a very manageable 2010 Soul. The funny part is that on the rare occasion he that he drives my Bolt he’s intimidated by the power and acceleration and has been afraid to drive it. All things are relative.
Also helped me a lot with ADD. I had a bad habit of letting my mind wander while driving, but driving a manual was just enough more engaging to prevent that.
For someone who does not have the biggest wallet, I would go for a Fiat Barchetta. It’s extremely cheap, looks decent with the top off, pretty fun to drive, and lacks the torque and top speed that will get you killed.
I mean, I hope I’m not alone in suggesting the Miata? It’s a glorified Mazda 323 with pop up headlights with excellent road handling and ease of use, with the top down or a hard top it has excellent visibility, the manual gearbox is infinitely forgiving and well, it’s the Miata. It’s the internets favourite one true answer for best car.
I test drove a Miata with my son when he was 16 and we started out with the top down. That was fine, but then we put the top up and discovered that there was nearly no rearward visibility. It made lane changes a bit nerve-wracking for someone who was taught to look over his shoulder to clear the lane before moving over. He otherwise loved it, but for me it sat too low and I struggled to get out of it.
You have to get in the habit of leaning forward to to a head checkout the side window. Seems like the far side should’ve worse but in practice it bothers me much less.
2 seater roadster for a 16 year old, you must not understand how insurance works.
I’m going with the car they actually want, within reason and affordability of course. I’m currently going through this with my 15 year old daughter. Her wish list includes her first car being small, with hideaway headlights, a manual transmission, and she’d prefer a convertible. She’ll fit right in with this crowd. Also, you can probably guess where this is headed.
If only decent used Miata prices weren’t in the stratosphere. That is her first choice, and it’s something of a recent discovery for her. I told her as long as she gets a job this summer, I’ll match what she makes and we can go shopping when she gets her license. Hopefully this works as motivation to put in a few more hours at work and few less playing Red Dead Redemption.
If she can’t find the right Miata, her next-in-line choices are a C4 Corvette, or a classic Beetle. I’m fine with any of these and look forward to test driving a few.
I would actually suggest a two car approach. For a dd they get their pick of small (ranger, taco, S10) single or extended cab trucks. 4 banger, 5 speed and will last forever, was my second vehicle ever and was great for college. Grab one with 4×4 for the areas that get snow. Then buy a project car and work on it together, not a full restoration or anything crazy but maybe a motor or trans rebuild, suspension and brake refresh, and they can drive that once they have proven abilities.
I love this as a learning experience. Change a tire and oil? Nah, we’re doing timing belts! The better they understand the mechanics the better the ownership experience.
I’d say any smaller manual transmission, practical non-sports car under about $5K-10K depending on budget. Something that won’t have high insurance and is practical, but fun. Fits, Corollas, pre-2005 Subarus (Legacy, Impreza, not WRX) if in the snow. Was the Autopian Test Vehicle fun to drive? Add the xB too, but really just look for the what’s on sale locally that is similar.
Find a manual Ford Focus (non ST/RS) and learn the basics before moving up to something more intense.
Easy, VW GTI. Mine was safe enough for a new driver. Always something falling apart so learned how to wrench and parts were so expensive could not afford to buy beer.
Educational and safe
I’d say either a 2001-2005 Honda Civic or 2005-2010 Scion tC. Both can be “cool” and both are safe, reliable daily drivers for high school and college.
While I will admit bias on the Civic (I had an ’04 as my first car), it does make a good first car. The engine is lacking (115hp) but there’s support for Honda’s D-series. Stock the engine is good for about 105mph (ask 17y.o. me how I know), meaning the kids will still be able to get in trouble if they want to. Handling is predictable, with understeer being the common case and a skid is easily correctable. Moving onto practical aspects, interior space is good and the trunk has reasonable capacity. Fuel economy was about 26-30 for me, so it will be cheap to drive.
For the Scion tC, it has the 2AZ-FE engine (which I put as a great engine in a previous post) so reliability is a given. With about 160hp, it will be pretty brisk (the Camry with the same engine can do 115mph). It looks pretty funky and can have a bodykit and supercharger out of the box, so kids have some bragging points.
Plus, the Scion tC’s bold sleek styling is all like, “Kakow!”
They’re surprisingly plentiful, at least in my area, and whenever I come across one for sale it’s usually college-kid affordable. Good choice.
I created an account just to flag and appreciate the “Frisky Dingo” reference. There’s not enough Frisky Dingo in the world today.
I’ve known more than a few people who when pondering this issue have said versions of “Well they’re just going to total out their first car so….”
Like it was expected..and accepted.
Totally not my experience nor my parents.
One of David Tracy’s Jeeps. It’s not like they’re going anywhere.
Yeah, but if they do, all that rust compromises the crash protection…
I would say a base Honda Civic. Not too much power, all the modern safety features, and the kids would love it because Civic. A sensible car that won’t embarrass them. And use that age old parent cliche. “Remember, this isn’t your car. It’s a second car for the family.”
I once crashed a 1989 Honda Civic DX. It rolled over 4x before coming to rest on its wheels. I was unhurt, $1200 of junkyard parts made it legal and after a year sold it for $400. Yeah a good suggestion seriously safe