By Michael Phelan and Mark Borlace
Published: Thursday, May 12, 2022
Sleek style and a sweet stereo are all some young people are looking for in their first ride. However, there are a few more important factors to consider when buying a car for a teenager.
Getting behind the wheel of that first car is a big deal for most people. It’s their initial taste of freedom and a big step into the adult world.
No-one ever forgets their first set of wheels. Budget is always a major consideration for teenagers in search of a car, particularly if Mum and Dad are chipping in.
Prices can vary depending on age, size and quality, but all three of the vehicles we tested cost under $20,000.
You also need to find a car that satisfies their teenage lifestyle. Get that wrong and you’ll be back scouring the market looking for a replacement, and that means spending more money.
Used cars are considerably cheaper than new vehicles, which makes them popular with first-time buyers. However, finding a vehicle that comes with a complete service history and hasn’t been damaged can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Let’s take a look at some used cars renowned for having exceptional safety ratings and being reliable on the road.
2016 Toyota Prius: hi-tech, emissions free driving.
2016 Subaru Impreza: AWD hatchback ready for any challenge.
2016 Volkswagen Polo: little runaround that gets the job done.
|Toyota Prius||Subaru Impreza||Volkswagen Polo|
|Transmission||CVT auto||CVT auto||7-speed auto|
|Fuel type||Hybrid||Regular unleaded||Premium Unleaded|
|Starting price now||$19,900||$15,500||$11,700|
Cost to own and run
The price of buying a vehicle is one thing; the costs of owning a car are another. Generally, you’ll be looking at a smaller car because they’re a bit cheaper to buy and run. These vehicles offer staggered price points for teens to enter the car market.
The Volkswagen Polo is by far the cheapest option here and, for this reason alone, might be the most attractive. However, European cars can be more expensive to service and maintain, so that has to be taken into consideration.
The Subaru Impreza has traditionally cost more because it’s an all-wheel drive (AWD) yet it’s still a reasonable mid-range option. With a price tag nudging $20,000, the Toyota Prius is a little more expensive to buy, but cheaper to run than the other two.
When it comes to fuel-efficiency, the Prius is in a class of its own. The Polo doesn’t drink as much petrol as some vehicles but the Impreza is a bit of a fuel guzzler. With petrol prices on the rise, the Prius is by far the most attractive vehicle in this category.
First-car owners usually experience growing pains. Expect some dings and dents, wear and tear and motoring misadventures that result in repairs. Unfortunately, these costs will have to come out of your own pocket.
The downside of buying a used car is that the warranty has usually expired. These cars offered basic three-year warranty. However, the eight-year hybrid battery coverage on the Prius means the warranty is still available until 2024.
With great horsepower comes great responsibility. Teenagers can be a little nervous getting behind the wheel for the first time. That’s why it’s important to find a car they’re comfortable driving.
With its smooth ride and handling, the Prius ensures a pleasant driving experience. The Polo has a bit of zip plus great steering and nice handling.
Standard AWD makes the Impreza more attractive to some teens. Although you probably won’t go driving through the bush anytime soon, the Impreza echoes off-roaders and provides a comfortable ride, secure handling and better traction on the roads. In bad weather conditions, this offers greater reassurance to young drivers (and their worried parents.)
Engines in smaller cars can sound like they’re working overtime. However, the Prius is a quiet drive compared to the others.
“It’s all about me!” That’s a sweeping generalisation people often make about teenagers but, in this case, it’s true – it is all about them. The needs of every teen must be considered when buying a car.
If they only need to drive locally to school, uni, work or sport, then the Polo is a great little runabout that will meet their needs.
Do they cosplay and have to lug elaborate costumes to conventions or play in a band and need to cram a drum kit in the boot? Maybe they love mountain biking and have to cart bikes off-road. These types of activities require specific vehicles will bigger boot space.
The Prius has a large cargo bay to fit in everything a teenager needs, while the Impreza’s roomy cabin also offers plenty of space. The Polo is deceptively big in the back. Put down the rear seats and there’s more than enough room for larger pieces of luggage.
Having the latest tech isn’t about being practical for the average teen – it’s an absolute necessity. OMG, they must have it! The latest in-car entertainment and Bluetooth connectivity gives them bragging rights. They’re status symbols.
Not surprisingly, the hi-tech Prius leads the way here with all sorts of cool gizmos and gadgets. The Impreza is like, ‘whatever,’ when it comes to this stuff. And then there’s the Polo, which is somewhat… confused.
Volkswagen strangely mixes the old with the new, providing audio streaming and connectivity along with a CD player in the glovebox. Do teens even know what a CD is? They might have to borrow one from their parents.
However, while hands-free and other connectivity features are convenient for drivers, restrictions do apply according to their licence class. This is the case for provisional licence holders so make sure the teen can legally use the technology in the car you’re buying for them.
The downside of used cars is that they’re potentially not as safe as new cars because of older tech and safety features. However, you can relax because when these cars were new, they all had 5-star ANCAP ratings.
Airbags, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control were standard safety features on all three models. Additional safety features invariably come with a higher price tag.
As you might expect, the Prius offers more standard features, including autonomous emergency braking, lane support systems and adaptive cruise control.
Age must be taken into consideration with these cars, as they might lack many of the safety features that are considered standard today.
Value for money
With a starting price of just under $20,000, the Prius is easily the most expensive car up front, but might be cheaper down the track with its fantastic fuel economy.
Do you want to spend that much on a teenager’s first car? That’s a question only you can answer.
The Subaru Impreza is the cheapest AWD hatchback on the market, and you can’t go wrong with the Volkswagen Polo. As the least expensive car, the Polo might not be the coolest or have as many features, but it will still get you from A to B with minimal fuss.
The quirky 2016 Prius was seen as a radical departure from previous models. Back then, it polarised fans, but today it probably seems a little less outrageous. Regardless, it’s a striking design that catches the eye.
The rugged Impreza was never going to win any design awards, and although it could be dismissed as just another generic hatchback, it does have a bit of attitude.
This pugnacious little scrapper looks like it’s just itching to go off-road. If a vehicle has ever suffered from small car syndrome, then this is it.
Simple can be elegant yet plain can be dull. The boxy Polo is rather unremarkable, yet it does have its own quaint charm.
These cars meet the requirements of different buyers with unique needs.
The Toyota Prius, at the higher end of the price range, is ideal for the environmentally friendly, tech-savvy teen. If you need to haul stuff around or drive on tricky terrain, the Subaru Impreza is up to the task. The Volkswagen Polo is safe, reliable, practical and cheap.
Essentially, you’re playing matchmaker between young adult and car so patience is your best friend. Between used cars and teens, it might take a while to find that perfect match.