GOOD GOLF: The Mk4 (1997-2003) Volkswagen Golf is a decent buy for those on a budget, with good ones available for under $4000.
GOOD GOLF: The Mk4 (1997-2003) Volkswagen Golf is a decent buy for those on a budget, with good ones available for under $4000.

Buying your first car? Our favourite new and used models

SCHOOL'S out for summer and for many teens it's the first time they'll need a car of their own to get to uni or work.

But what wheels to buy? Let's not beat around the bush: owning and running a car ain't cheap.   

There's the original purchase price plus transfer fees and stamp duty of course, then there are service costs, bills when things go wrong, petrol, registration and insurance. The latter, because you're a risky and inexperienced bunch, is never cheap for teenagers.  

Problem is, teens tend not to be flush with cash. You'll need to save a few thousand to get in the game, or hope the Bank of Mum and Dad is feeling generous.  

2016 Holden Spark. Photo: Contributed
2016 Holden Spark. Photo: Contributed

New car appeal

I'm often asked what is the best first car, and whether to buy new or used. It's personal opinion, but if you can afford it, there has been no better time to buy a new car if you're shopping at the cheap end of the market.   

You get a new car warranty, safety and technology equipment is often at a very high level (even on city cars), and modern small turbo petrol and diesel engines are stunningly fuel efficient.   

There's greater depreciation on new cars of course, but if you're buying for $15,000 instead of $50,000, a 50% value hit over three years is easier to swallow with the former.  

So what would I buy new? It's a decreasingly popular segment sales-wise, but there is so much value and quality in the city car segment.  

All prices quoted below are before on-road costs, but always be on the lookout for "driveaway" specials on new cars...it can save you thousands.  

For real peace of mind, the five year warranty Hyundai offers with its Accent (from $14,990) and the unbeatable seven year warranty Kia gives with its auto gearbox Picanto ($14,990) are of huge appeal.

Kia has launched the new 2016 Picanto, a pint-size hatch.
Kia has launched the new 2016 Picanto, a pint-size hatch.

Both are fun enough to drive too, and the Kia scores kit like rear parking sensors and the Hyundai gets Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity.  

Holden's new Spark (from $13,990) eclipses the Koreans for driver enjoyment - it's a great little chassis - and also scores desirable Apple CarPlay; the Mazda2 is reassuringly good as an all-rounder for $14,990.

2015 Mazda2 Sedan. Photo: Contributed
2015 Mazda2 Sedan. Photo: Contributed

Don't overlook Ford's fun little Fiesta ($15,825), Renault's Clio ($15,940) or Peugeot's 208 ($15,990) with their singing little three-cylinder engines, or splash out a bit on the solid little VW Polo ($17,190) which is an impressive steer and also has Apple CarPlay (a must-have for many buyers).  

2016 Peugeot 208 Active.Photo: Iain Curry
2016 Peugeot 208 Active.Photo: Iain Curry

A few grand less is Suzuki's Celerio ($12,990) which is surprisingly good fun but does look and feel a bit small and vulnerable, and if you fancy a curve ball, Skoda's Fabia is the only city car available with a wagon back ($17,140) and offers incredible space and value for the segment - and for tech lovers, Apple CarPlay too.  

2015 Skoda Fabia Wagon. Photo: Contributed
2015 Skoda Fabia Wagon. Photo: Contributed

Despite the small size of the above cars, all bar the Suzuki Celerio are five star ANCAP rated.  

Pre-loved favourites

But what about the used market? Certainly there are bargains to be had, but naturally expect specification, safety and fuel economy to decrease the cheaper you go.   

I know teenagers believe they're immortal, but really - and sadly - you're not, so if you've got your heart set on a used car visit ancap.com.au and check out your model's safety rating. It's up to you how important you deem this, but trust me, your parents will want you in the safest thing you or they can afford.  

But I'm also a realist.

Cars are emotional choices for many, and I certainly didn't put safety high on my list when I bought my first car, which was a 1970 VW Beetle incidentally. It had zero safety features, but at least was slow enough to (in the main) keep me out of trouble.   

Choices are endless when used car shopping, and online car classified sections are great to trawl through and make a list of favourites to suit your budget.  

2006 Ford Territory a popular first car for those needing SUV space and style
2006 Ford Territory a popular first car for those needing SUV space and style COVENTRY STUDIOS

Again, these are purely my personal selections and by no means exhaustive, but looking at the $7000-$10,000 range, $4000-$7000 and sub-$4000 groups here are a few of my top picks.  

Spoilt for choice

With $7000-$10,000 to play with you're in a happy space. You can grab some cars less than three years old so they'll still be covered by a factory warranty...while Hyundai and Kia offer five and seven year warranties respectively.

2014/15 Hyundai i20 hatchbacks and 2013 Mazda2s are ubiquitous here, and are both delightful if a tad dull.   

Hyundai i20s still with factory warranties can be had in this price range.
Hyundai i20s still with factory warranties can be had in this price range.

Something bigger? 2012/13 Ford Focus hatchbacks are solid all-rounders, but I'd still probably go for a VW Golf from 2009 or 2010 instead which are near perfect packages if you can find a well-cared for one.  

SUV fans could consider six year-old+ Nissan X-Trails, Subaru Foresters or the Ford Territory. All good all-wheel drives in my eyes, but expect high kilometres and the Ford in particular is a bit of a drinker.  

2007 Subaru Outback 3.0R wagon.
2007 Subaru Outback 3.0R wagon. Subaru

Premium tastes? Hop in a 2007/8 BMW 1 Series (or a high-kilometre 3 Series), or the really brave can try a ten-year-old Alfa Romeo 147 or 159 with their leather-cabin goodness.  

Performance for your money but still P-plate approved? None of the turbo cars you'd want (WRX STi/Mitsubishi Evo), so I'd go a Renault Clio Sport 182 Cup, Suzuki Swift Sport or even a pampered 20-year old Toyota MR2.

2007 Suzuki Swift Sport
2007 Suzuki Swift Sport

Mid-range heroes

Small stuff under $7000 that I'd target which are less than ten years old would be a Honda Jazz, Suzuki Swift, Mazda3 and the underrated VW Up! (if you mainly drive in town), plus older versions of cars listed in the $7000+ category.  

If you need all-wheel-drive try a pre-2008 Subaru Outback or Toyota RAV4, while you fancy premium lovers could look at a 2002/3 Mini Cooper, 2005 Audi A3 or 2006 Volvo V50 wagon depending on your needs.  

An early Mini Cooper like this 2003 model can be found for under $7000.
An early Mini Cooper like this 2003 model can be found for under $7000.

Performance? Try a 2008-era Ford Fiesta XR4, Holden Astra SRi, 2005 Toyota Corolla Sportivo or a cheap Suzuki Swift Sport.   

Brave? Go old school. An early 2000s BMW 325i or 330i, 1990s Peugeot 205GTi or a first generation Mazda MX-5 (1989-97) would be on my fun hit list.  

2003 BMW 330Ci
2003 BMW 330Ci

Bargain basement

Finding a good car with a roadworthy certificate for under $4000 can be a challenge, but there are some gems.

Fourth-generation VW Golfs (1997-2003) would be my target, while other small car picks would be a Ford Focus or Holden Astra.   

CHEAPIE: 2002 Ford Focus
CHEAPIE: 2002 Ford Focus

There are plenty of roadworthy Ford Falcons and Holden Commodores under $4000 if you like the security of a bigger car (no bad thing when cars are this age), while Toyota Corollas should last forever, as could some of the twenty-year-old BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class premium tempters at this price.

Second-hand parts for these cars are usually easy to get hold of, so don't be put off by these luxury badges.   

Toyota Corollas over ten years old should be in the sub-$4000 bracket
Toyota Corollas over ten years old should be in the sub-$4000 bracket

Important choice

We all have different budgets and different requirements from our cars, but be open minded when looking for a first car.   

Much like a first love you'll remember it forever: in an ever-increasing nanny state there's still magic to be found with your first taste of four-wheeled freedom.  

READY FOR FUN? Try a first generation Mazda MX-5; yours for under $7000.
READY FOR FUN? Try a first generation Mazda MX-5; yours for under $7000. Mark Bean


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