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Best Cars for First-Time Drivers 2017

2017 Toyota Yaris iA

2017 Toyota Yaris iA

Best Car for First-Time Drivers

First-time drivers need safe, reliable cars that don't break the bank. We look at coupes, sedans, hatchbacks, SUVs and pickup trucks that cost less than $20,000.

When Toyota scuttled its youth-oriented Scion brand, it rebadged the iA into a variant of the Yaris hatchback. But don't be fooled: The Yaris iA is no Yaris. A cousin to the international version of the Mazda2, the iA is a nimble subcompact with decent ride quality and a stylish interior. Teens will love the push-button start and 7-inch, tabletlike multimedia display. Parents will approve of the excellent crash-test ratings, backup camera and low-speed collision warning system with automatic emergency braking. Oh, and the sub-$17,000 starting price (with destination) gets you all of that plus two years' free maintenance. For first-time drivers, it's an obvious choice.
 

2017 Chevrolet Sonic

2017 Chevrolet Sonic

Best Deal for First-Time Drivers

Freshened for 2017, the Chevrolet Sonic still drives like a bigger car than it is, with more substantial qualities — from steering composure to seat comfort — than most subcompacts deliver. It's peppier than many rivals and among the few to offer a lane departure warning system. Teens will dig the Sonic's standard 7-inch multimedia display and available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while parents will like that both systems discourage texting and driving. The Sonic's base price (about $16,000 with destination) comes meagerly equipped, but that might appeal to the tough-love parents out there. Hey, crank windows build character. And maybe some muscle, too.

2017 Honda Fit

2017 Honda Fit

Recommended for First-Time Drivers

The Fit remains a perennial Cars.com favorite for first-time drivers. Honda's scrappy little hatchback may not be as rowdy as earlier generations, but it's a good daily driver that still packs exceptional versatility. From the cavernous cargo area to the backseat that flips up or folds flat, the Fit doubles as a utility option if parents need to commandeer it for a Home Depot run. Honda's optional LaneWatch camera system remains a genuine help, showing cars or — importantly — cyclists in your blind spot before you turn. And teens need all the help they can get.

2017 Honda HR-V

2017 Honda HR-V

Recommended for First-Time Drivers

The HR-V is a star in the burgeoning subcompact SUV field. Loosely related to the acclaimed Fit hatchback, the HR-V combines the higher driving position of an SUV with scads of utility, something that's missing in a lot of subcompact SUVs. It also boasts outstanding cabin materials and an excellent EPA-rated 31 mpg combined with front-wheel drive. Stick with the well-equipped base (LX) trim level: Its low-$20,000s starting price (with destination) is friendlier on the budget, and it has a standard backup camera but not the touch-sensitive center controls in higher trims — an "innovation" we find about as useful as our tailbones.

2017 Mazda Mazda3

2017 Mazda Mazda3

Recommended for First-Time Drivers

True to its roots, the Mazda3 combines responsive steering with a pair of capable four-cylinder engines, including a gratifying 2.5-liter option. Mazda updated its compact mainstay for 2017 with some dressier cabin materials and more available safety tech, including automatic emergency braking. The Mazda3 still comes as a sedan or hatchback, the latter useful for that eventual road trip to college. Both body styles start below $20,000 (with destination) with a healthy list of standard features, including a 7-inch multimedia system with Bluetooth, two USB ports and a backup camera. A returning nominee among the best cars for first-time drivers, the updated 2017 Mazda3 returned easily to this year's list.

2017 Mazda CX-3

2017 Mazda CX-3

Recommended for First-Time Drivers

More of a slightly raised hatchback than a true subcompact SUV, the CX-3 nonetheless boasts high gas mileage, polished ride quality and decent cabin materials for its class. Lively steering and strong brakes also distinguish Mazda's micro-utility vehicle, as does a very good six-speed automatic that makes the best of a modest engine. The cargo area is predictably tight, but there's more utility than the CX-3's size suggests: The backseat has an improbably good seating position, and the head restraints nest into the seat for unobstructed driving visibility. All-wheel drive runs an affordable $1,250 for teens living in the snow belt.

2017 Nissan Sentra

2017 Nissan Sentra

Recommended for First-Time Drivers

An unremarkable choice for quality and drivability, the Sentra nonetheless has an important strength: rock-solid value. For around $19,600 (including destination) with an automatic transmission, the mainstream SV trim level packs crowd-pleaser features such as a backup camera, Bluetooth and keyless access with push-button start. Throw in a roomy backseat and trunk, and the Sentra is long on value and practicality — both important for first-time drivers. An optional turbo four-cylinder adds some extra oomph, but it falls short of genuine fun. Your teen may think otherwise, but you should skip it. For first-time drivers, the regular Sentra is just fine.

2017 Toyota Prius c

2017 Toyota Prius c

Recommended for First-Time Drivers

The Toyota Prius c remains among the most fuel-efficient cars you can buy that comes without a plug. Toyota's smallest and most affordable hybrid, the Prius c is a perfect runabout for first-time drivers, and its EPA-estimated 50 mpg combined (for the 2016 model year) means they shouldn't have to put in overtime hours at their weekend job just to pay for gas. The seats are comfier than the no-frills interior suggests, and the straightforward controls include a standard 6.1-inch multimedia touchscreen. Another bonus: The Prius c, like every Toyota, includes two years of free maintenance.