Best and worst first cars

2 January 2012
, Herald Sun
Best and worst first cars
The Nissan Micra gets first place in the top picks for first cars.

Price. Safety. Reliability. Those three words target the top three priorities for anyone diving into the dangerous waters of the first-car swamp. It's far too easy to get carried away, or baited the wrong way, or distracted by trinkets, during your first serious drive into the new-car world.

But price is not everything, and safety often becomes a compromise, although reliability is unlikely to be a problem in 2011 with current technology, car building techniques and warranties that run up to five years. So, where to go?

Carsguide reader Lindsay Black of Geelong is fairly typical when he writes asking for first-car advice for his niece. She has a tight budget in the $12,000 range and wants a five-door automatic hatch. The choices range from a new Hyundai Getz to a Nissan Micra demonstrator, a near-new Suzuki Swift or a slightly-older Toyota Corolla or Mazda3. Like so many first-time buyers, Lindsay's niece will not do much driving and the trips she makes will mostly be short-haul runs around the city and suburbs.

So, what should she get? Most likely an all-new Nissan Micra if she can stretch a little, followed in priorities by a Swift or Mazd3. Why? Because everyone who is buying for the first time really wants a new-new car with that special smell, a full line of zeroes on the odometer, and the chance for a completely fresh start.

There are other choices, and some very good ones, which is why we are compiling this list of Carsguide choices for first-time buyers. As well as a few to avoid . . . But there are some other important things to remember.

For a start, the showroom sticker is not the bottom line. If you want and automatic that's going to cost more, and there will be on-road costs and government charges. But save money and avoid the 'after sales' area at the dealership, because you don't really need rustproofing or stain protection and you can buy cheaper mats and window tinting outside a dealership.

I've concentrated in the starter-car class, based on size and price, but people with more in their pockets or cheque books should spend more to get more. And anyone with a really tight budget should look at something near-new before jumping into a total tiddler, because it's a fact of life that new drivers are going to have some sort of mishap in their early years on the road.

The Volkswagen Polo is just plain brilliant in the smallest size fight, but a $16,990 bottom line that quickly escalates towards $30,000 is beyond most people. And the Mazda3 is great, but also too costly even though it's up a body size from the cheapie tiddlers. In the end, the PG bottom line is as basic as a single question.

I always ask if I would I be happy to see my son driving one of these cars? Yes, he's on ly two at the moment, but the day is coming and I already find myself using him as a starter-car benchmark

Five best first cars

Nissan Micra

1. Nissan Micra from $12,990

The smallest member of the Nissan family looks good, drives well and has the right backup package for a starter car. It's the cheapest car to get the Carsguide tick.


Kia Rio

2. Kia Rio from $16,290

A classy newcomer from Korea that's surprisingly nice. It's not the best on the bottom line but it's a car to recommend to friends.


3. Mazda2 from $15,790

The basic design is getting old but a recent freshen-up has added more comfort and value. A Mazda badge ensures quality and resale value.

Hyundai i20

4. Hyundai i20 from $15,490

The Getz is gone but the i20 is a much better car, although it also raises the bar on price.

Toyota Yaris

5. Toyota Yaris from $14,990

For some people, only a Toyota will do. The Corolla was the top choice in small cars for a generation but the game has changed and the Yaris is the new starter car at Toyota.

Five worst first cars


1. Geely MK - from $11,990.

The Chinese baby is currently only sold in Western Australia because it does not satisfy safety requirements in Victoria. It will be heading East before too long with an $11,990 driveaway price, but...


2. Proton S16 - from $11,990.

Another lower-grade import with a tempting driveaway price. But the S16 is outdated, short on safety, and comes from a brand with a less-than-impressive reputation.


3. Chery J1- from $11,990.

The price is nice, and it's not a bad car, with Chery making rapid improvements for Australia. But there are better choices, and lots of them.


4. Suzuki Alto - from $11,790.

It's a nice price with good gear and plenty of airbags, but the Alto is just too small for a first car and it hates big hills. Far better to go the extra distance into a near- new Swift.


5. Honda City - $18,990.

Don't be fooled by the Honda badge. The price is way too high, it's not a great car, and the aging Jazz from $14,990 makes far more sense.


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