mazda3 would make a great first car
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Top 10 First Cars for New Drivers in 2020

Choosing your very first car isn’t a decision you’re apt to take lightly. Sure, it’s the first of many cars you’ll buy in the coming years and decades, but that doesn’t make the choice any easier. For most new drivers and first-time car buyers, you want to make sure you’re getting the best value for money.

Of the hundreds of car models on the market today—new and used—which models should belong on your shortlist? To help you narrow down your options, here are our top 10 picks for first cars.

We have chosen two handfuls of vehicles that are befitting a first-time owner because:

  • They’re economical options at under $20,000.
  • They have garnered a strong reputation for reliability. 
  • At the very least, all vehicles come standard with essential safety and comfort technologies.
  • They are suitable for driving in all seasons.

2020 Nissan Kicks S

2020 Nissan Kicks S

Under the Hood: 122hp 1.6L DOHC 16-Valve 4-Cylinder with CVT transmission

Fuel Efficiency: 7.7 L/100km City & 6.6 L/100km Highway

Tech Highlights: Intelligent Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection, Blind Spot Warning and Rear Cross Traffic Alert

If you want to make the most out of a $20,000 budget, you could certainly do worse than a new 2020 Nissan Kicks. It might be advertised as a cute utility vehicle, but the Kicks is more suited to the compact car segment with a slightly roomier cabin and higher seating position. 

The Kicks S is your entry-level trim that’s surprisingly well equipped. Along with sporty looks, the Kicks 122-hp four-cylinder engine makes this daily driver a lot of fun to drive. 

This 2019 IIHS Top Safety Pick comes with Blind Spot Warning and the Intelligent Emergency Braking system. For entertainment, you've got a Bluetooth-enabled speaker system with Apple Carplay and Android Auto. 

2021 Hyundai Elantra Essential

2021 Hyundai Elantra Essential

Under the Hood: 147hp Smartstream 2.0L Engine with 6-Speed Manual Transmission

Fuel Efficiency: 9.1 L/100km City & 6.3 L/100km Highway

Tech Highlights: Android Auto & Apple CarPlay, Heated Seats, Bluetooth Hands-Free Phone System & Steering Wheel-Mounted Controls

A complete redesign punctuates one of the best buys in the market today. The all-new 2021 Hyundai Elantra Essential outdoes virtually every competitor in the compact car segment with its svelte, modern exterior, standard 15” alloy wheels, and available driver-assist tech.

Add to the mix heated front seats, and a Bluetooth-enabled 8" touchscreen display with Apple CarPlay & Android Auto; now you’ve got a combination that’s hard to beat.

2019 Mazda3 GT

2019 Mazda3 GT

Under the Hood: 186hp 2.5L Inline 4-Cylinder Engine with SKYACTIV-Drive 6-speed automatic transmission

Fuel Efficiency: 8.8 L/100km City & 6.6 L/100km Highway

Tech Highlights: Mazda Radar Cruise Control w/ Stop & Go function, Adaptive Front-Lighting System, Bose Premium Sound System

A low-meterage pre-owned car is often the best bang for your buck if you want more than just the essentials in a first car. 

At $20,000, you can get a gorgeous sedan with alloy wheels and pretty awesome features in a 2019 Mazda3 GT. Its 2.5L four-cylinder engine thrills with 186 ponies, as well as a 6-speed SKYACTIV-Drive automatic transmission.

The Mazda3 GT offers adaptive LED headlights, dual climate controls, Bose premium speakers, heated front seats, and so much more. 

Do you qualify for any of these vehicles? Get pre-approved today to find out what you're eligible for.

2018 Volkswagen Golf

2018 Volkswagen Golf

Under the Hood: 170hp 1.8L TSI Engine with 6-Speed Automatic Transmission

Fuel Efficiency: 9.6 L/100km City & 7.2 L/100km Highway

Tech Highlights: Apple CarPlay & Android Auto, Rear View Camera System, LED Taillights & Running Lights

The Volkswagen Golf has long been a favourite for drivers who want a car that’s dependable, highly efficient, and well-equipped. At two years old, the 2018 Golf makes an excellent first car that keeps the budget under control. 

Turbocharged with a 1.8L 4-cylinder engine, this small-but-mighty hatchback packs plenty of zip for city commutes and weekend adventures.

For quite a bit less than $20,000, you’ll get Apple CarPlay & Android Auto, Bluetooth streaming, LED taillights and running lights, heated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, and a backup camera, not to mention the remainder of the factory warranty.

2020 Honda Fit DX

2020 Honda Fit DX

Under the Hood: 130hp 1.5L 16-valve DOHC i-VTEC 4-Cylinder Engine w/ 6-Speed Manual Transmission

Fuel Efficiency: 8.1 L/100km City & 6.6 L/100km Highway

Tech Highlights: Eco Assist System, Remote Entry System, Multi-Angle Rear View Camera

Drivers who can operate a stick shift should definitely check out the Honda Fit DX. 

It may be a subcompact hatch but it’s verifiably roomy for taller drivers, plus it has more than enough room for growing teenagers who like their space. 

The Fit is an intelligent choice with highway fuel economy as low as 6.6L/100km, but the 130-hp i-VTEC four-banger with manual rower might make you grin a time or two.

The Eco Assist system helps you reduce fuel costs, and the unique 2nd Row Magic Seat creates plenty of room for groceries and other large items.

You can own the DX for well under $20,000 brand new.

2020 Chevrolet Spark 2LT

2020 Chevrolet Spark LT

Under the Hood: 98hp 1.4L ECOTEC 4-Cylinder Engine with Continuous Variable Transmission (CVT)

Fuel Efficiency: 7.9 L/100km City & 6.2 L/100km Highway

Tech Highlights: Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Bluetooth-Enabled Chevy Infotainment 3 System, Rear Vision Camera

Looking for something almost brand new for under $15,000? It’s possible with a pre-owned 2020 Chevy Spark with low meterage. You can even get the LT package without breaking your budget. 

A compact daily driver that’s perfect for students and commuters alike, the Spark LT is powered by a 1.4L 4-cylinder with either a CVT gearbox or a manual transmission. Either way, you’ll get around 7.1L/100km combined; that’s hard to beat.

For the LT trim, you get Chevy’s Infotainment 3 system with a 7” touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 15” alloys, heated mirrors, and a collection of advanced driver-assist safety technologies. 

Or, you can get a new Spark LS without some of the bells and whistles for even less. Food for thought. 

2019 Hyundai Sonata Essential

2019 Hyundai Sonata Essential

Under the Hood: 185hp 2.0L 4-Cylinder I-4 Engine with 6-Speed Automatic Transmission

Fuel Efficiency: 10.4 L/100km City & 7.1 L/100km Highway

Tech Highlights: Blind Spot Detection with Rear Cross-traffic Alert and Lane Change Assist, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Rear View Camera

We’re doubling down on Hyundai as one of our favourite first cars. The Sonata Essential is a midsize car that fits the bill if you look at a gently used model with a few extra kilometres. 

The high-tech Sonata comes with a host of features including heated seats, alloy wheels, and even blind-spot detection technology. And all that cargo space is perfect for a growing family.

2019 Mitsubishi Mirage ES CVT

2019 Mitsubishi Mirage ES CVT

Under the Hood: 78hp 1.2L DOHC MIVEC 3-Cylinder Engine with CVT transmission

Fuel Efficiency: 6.6 L/100km City & 5.6 L/100km Highway

Tech Highlights: Automatic Climate Control, Android Auto & Apple CarPlay, Rearview Camera

If getting into an almost-new car with a warranty is more important than a wide assortment of features, the Mitsubishi Mirage ES with CVT transmission should be on the table. 

The 5-year/100,000km new vehicle warranty will have plenty of time and mileage remaining.

You’ll also enjoy a host of basic safety features (Anti-Lock Braking System, Traction Control Logic, etc) as well as automatic climate control, and a rear-view camera. 

Fuel efficiency? What do you think of a 5.6L/100km highway rating?

2018 Toyota Corolla CE

2018 Toyota Corolla CE

Under the Hood: 132hp 1.8L 4-Cylinder 16-Valve Engine with CVT Transmission

Fuel Efficiency: 8.3 L/100km City & 6.7 L/100km Highway

Tech Highlights: Toyota Safety Sense Technologies, Rear View Camera, Bluetooth Connectivity

One of the most consistently affordable models ever to grace Canadian streets is the Toyota Corolla. 

For the 2018 model year, the CE trim has everything first-time car buyers could need and want. 

Toyota Safety Sense ADAS features (with Lane Departure Alert, Dynamic Cruise Control), rear-view camera, and a rather spacious interior befitting a group of friends or family of five are just a few of the perks.

Its 1.8 four-cylinder engine has a modest 132hp, but the CVT transmission makes the Corolla a joy to drive. 

The sedan will achieve 7.5L/100km for combined city and highway driving, and all at a great price!

2018 Kia Forte LX+

2018 Kia Forte LX

Under the Hood: 147hp 2L 4-Cylinder MPI Engine with 6-Speed Automatic Transmission

Fuel Efficiency: 8.0 L/100km City & 6.1 L/100km Highway

Tech Highlights: Cruise Control, Heated Front Seats, 7" Display with Android Auto & Apple Carplay, Rear View Camera

One of the best deals you can find in a fun-to-drive package is the Kia Forte sedan (or hatchback).

The LX+ trim is well above base and includes high-end comfort features like heated front seats, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, and Apple CarPlay & Android Auto.

Though it's extremely fun to drive by any standard, the LX+ continues to impress with highway fuel economy rated at just 6.1L/100km. You could find models that are two years or older for under $15,000!

Shop confidently with Canada Drives

Canada Drives offers a smart and convenient way to buy your first car. Explore hundreds of vehicle options, pay or finance 100% online, and book home delivery to your doorstep! Once you get your new car, our 7-Day Love it or Return it Moneyback Guarantee means you have an entire week to drive it on all your usual routes and make sure it's the right fit.

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