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Best First Car to Buy

Best First Car to Buy

Getting your driver’s license is a rite of passage for many teens in Canada. It represents a new level of freedom and responsibility. Picking out your first car is an exciting next step, but with so many options to choose from, it can be an overwhelming decision. What type of car is safest, most reliable, and best suited to a new driver? What models are affordable, fun to drive, and ideal for Canadian roads and weather? With the right information, you’ll be prepared to select the perfect vehicle to start your driving journey.

In this post, we’ll discuss the best first car options for new drivers in Canada based on factors like safety ratings, cost considerations, reliability, practicality for Canadian winters, and just plain fun. Whether you’re looking for an economical commuter, a safe family hauler, or a sporty coupe, there are great choices to fit any new driver’s needs and budget. By outlining the top picks across categories, you’ll be set up to find the ideal ride as your first set of wheels. Let’s explore all the excellent options to consider as your first car in Canada.

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Safety First – Crash Test Ratings and Safety Features to Prioritize

When selecting a first car for a new young driver, safety should always be the top priority. Looking at crash test ratings and prioritizing key safety features can help narrow down the safest options. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), some of the top safety picks for small and midsize cars include the Subaru Crosstrek, Hyundai Kona, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, and more. These vehicles earned high marks across IIHS crash tests including the moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests.

All new vehicles today come equipped standard with electronic stability control (ESC), a key safety technology. ESC can detect loss of traction when cornering and automatically applies brakes to individual wheels to help stabilize the vehicle. Teen drivers are at higher risk of rollover crashes, so ESC provides an important safeguard. Forward collision warning is another advanced safety feature to look for, as it can alert drivers to slowing traffic ahead to prevent rear-end collisions.


Crash Test Ratings

When looking for a safe first car, one of the most important factors to consider is crash test ratings. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducts rigorous crash tests on new vehicles and evaluates their safety based on performance in different types of collisions. Focusing your search on vehicles that earn high marks in these assessments is a smart way to prioritize safety.

For small and midsize sedans, there are several models that consistently earn top ratings from IIHS. The Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Subaru Impreza, and Hyundai Elantra are all examples of small cars that achieve the highest rating of “Good” in the majority of IIHS crash tests. These include the moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests which evaluate protection in front, side and rollover crashes.

Midsize sedan options with stellar crash test results include the Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry, and Honda Accord. These slightly larger sedans provide good passenger space for teens while maintaining top-tier safety scores. The Legacy and Camry earn Good ratings across the board in IIHS tests, while the Accord earns Good in all except the small overlap front test where it gets an Acceptable score.

For small SUVs, the Subaru Crosstrek, Hyundai Kona and Mazda CX-30 are compact crossovers that achieve high marks in most or all IIHS crash tests. The Crosstrek earns Good ratings in every category, while the Kona and CX-30 score Good in all tests except the passenger-side small overlap front where they earn Acceptable.

Checking a vehicle’s specific IIHS ratings and watching video of the crash tests can provide valuable insight into its real-world protective capabilities. Focusing on models with proven excellence in independent safety testing is an important criteria for choosing the best first car.


Key Safety Features

When picking out a first car for a new driver, prioritizing key safety features is crucial. Two of the most important advanced driver assistance systems for teens to have are electronic stability control (ESC) and forward collision warning.

ESC helps drivers maintain control of the vehicle during emergency maneuvers or slippery conditions by automatically applying the brakes to individual wheels and reducing engine power. This significantly lowers the chances of spinning out or rolling over, which is why it’s mandated in all new vehicles. ESC can reduce single-vehicle crashes by nearly half.

Forward collision warning uses sensors to detect when your vehicle is rapidly approaching another object. It alerts you with audible and visual warnings so you can take action to avoid a collision. This feature is especially useful for new drivers who are still working on hazard perception skills and reaction times.

Choosing a vehicle with ESC and forward collision warning provides an extra layer of protection. Look for additional advanced safety tech like blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and lane keeping assist too. Prioritizing these modern systems will give teens a huge advantage when starting their driving journey.


Top Safety Pick Models

When it comes to the highest safety ratings, there are three models that stand out as top picks for new teen drivers in Canada: the Subaru Crosstrek, Hyundai Kona, and Toyota Corolla.

The Subaru Crosstrek subcompact SUV received the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award in 2022 thanks to its standard EyeSight driver assist technology and excellent crashworthiness. Its symmetrical all-wheel drive system provides great traction and control in winter weather. The Crosstrek provides good visibility and a high seating position for new drivers. Models with the 2.5L engine offer sufficient power.

The Hyundai Kona subcompact SUV was also named an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ winner for 2022. It comes standard with forward collision avoidance and lane keeping assist, while blind spot monitoring is available. The Kona received top “Good” ratings in all IIHS crash tests. It offers the latest safety tech in an affordable, city-friendly package.

Toyota’s legendary reputation for reliability extends to the compact Corolla sedan, which earned IIHS Top Safety Pick status last year. It features the Toyota Safety Sense package with auto emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. With confident handling, great fuel economy, and low ownership costs, the Corolla is an excellent choice to keep teens safe on the road.


Cost Considerations – Balancing Price, Insurance, Fuel Efficiency

One of the most important factors for new drivers when selecting their first car is cost. You’ll want to find an affordable vehicle, but you also need to consider ongoing expenses like insurance, gas and maintenance.

Insurance rates for young drivers can vary widely depending on the make and model. Compact cars and minivans tend to have lower premiums, while sports cars and large SUVs often cost more to insure. Research insurance quotes for different vehicles to get an idea of potential costs.

Fuel efficiency is another key cost variable. With gas prices fluctuating, a fuel-efficient car will save money at the pump. Compare the fuel economy ratings published by Natural Resources Canada to estimate annual fuel costs.

Opting for a certified pre-owned (CPO) model can help maximize value. CPO cars have been thoroughly inspected and come with extended warranty coverage. You can get a lightly used CPO vehicle for an affordable price, without compromising on reliability.

More budget-friendly choices for first cars include compacts like the Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, and Nissan Versa. While basic, these models offer low ownership costs combined with ample safety features.


Insurance Rates – Analyzing Premiums Across Popular Models

One of the biggest ongoing costs for teen drivers is auto insurance. Premiums are determined based on many factors, but the vehicle you drive plays a major role. Choosing a model with lower insurance rates can save hundreds of dollars per year.

Small cars tend to have the most affordable premiums. The Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris, and Honda Fit all fall into lower rate brackets. For example, average annual premiums for a 16-year-old driver on a Hyundai Accent would be around $4,000.

Larger sedans and small SUVs typically have higher insurance costs. Models like the Honda Civic, Toyota RAV4, and Subaru Crosstrek may have yearly rates closer to $5,000-$6,000 for a young driver. However, they offer more space and AWD capabilities in return.

Sports cars and luxury vehicles should generally be avoided, as insurance premiums can easily double or triple compared to an economy car. For example, insuring a Dodge Challenger or BMW 3-Series as a teen would cost upwards of $10,000 per year in most areas.

Using online quote tools to research rates for different models in your province can help guide cost projections. This allows you to balance upfront purchase price with ongoing insurance expenses over the life of the vehicle.


Cost Considerations – Balancing Price, Insurance, Fuel Efficiency

Fuel efficiency is a key factor for new drivers to consider, as it directly impacts ongoing ownership costs. By comparing published fuel consumption ratings, you can estimate and compare the fuel costs between models. For example, smaller cars like the Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio have city fuel economy around 7.5-8.0L/100km. Larger SUVs such as the Toyota RAV4 use over 9L/100km in the city. With today’s gas prices, that difference can add up to hundreds of dollars per year in fuel costs alone.

Newer vehicles also tend to be more fuel efficient due to advances in engine technology and vehicle aerodynamics. The difference can be significant – for example, a 2022 Civic uses over 15% less fuel than a 2012 Civic. This is another reason purchasing a newer certified pre-owned vehicle can pay off in the long run through fuel savings.

When deciding between potential models, use online fuel economy rating databases to compare estimated annual fuel costs. This will give you a clear picture of the ongoing expenses associated with fuel for each vehicle. Prioritize fuel efficiency alongside safety and reliability to find an optimal balance for your needs and budget as a new driver.


Certified Pre-Owned Options Maximize Value

Buying a certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicle can help maximize value when selecting your first car. CPO cars have been thoroughly inspected, reconditioned, and include an extended warranty. While they cost more than a typical used car, CPO models bridge the gap between buying new and used.

CPO vehicles typically have low mileage and no history of damage or accidents. The extended warranty provides added peace of mind by covering repairs during the first few years of ownership. This allows you to get a lightly used car with the reliability of a new vehicle.

Popular CPO options for first time buyers include the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, and Subaru Impreza. These models have proven dependability and retain their value well over time. The certified warranty gives you coverage on wear items that may need replacement in the first few years of use.

Opting for a certified pre-owned model from an authorized dealer can provide a balance of affordability and reliability that’s ideal for new drivers. Do your research to find CPO cars that have been properly inspected and include a comprehensive extended warranty at a reasonable cost.


Affordable Choices – Balancing Price, Insurance, Fuel Efficiency

For young drivers on a budget, there are a few models that stand out for offering great value without compromising too much on safety and reliability. The Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, and Nissan Versa all start under $15,000 brand new, making them very wallet-friendly options.

The Accent offers advanced safety tech like forward collision warning and lane keep assist even in its base model. It gets excellent fuel economy of up to 41 mpg on the highway. Opting for a manual transmission can also save on insurance costs. The Rio is another subcompact with a low starting price and great MPG. It provides a surprising amount of interior space and tech features for the segment. The Versa sedan has the most interior room of the three picks. It offers optional active safety features and boasts excellent predicted reliability from Consumer Reports.

While these models may not have the most exciting driving dynamics or flashiest designs, they check the key boxes for new drivers on a tight budget. The combination of low ownership costs, decent safety ratings, and proven reliability makes the Accent, Rio, and Versa smart affordable choices for first cars. Test driving each can help identify which best fits your preferences and needs.


Ideal First Cars for Canadian Weather and Roads

Canada’s diverse climate and terrain means choosing a first car that can handle everything from icy winter roads to bumpy rural paths. All-wheel drive capability should be a top priority for new drivers facing snow, slush and slippery conditions. AWD systems provide enhanced traction and control by sending power to all four wheels, helping maintain grip on loose or wet surfaces. Options like Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD are ideal for winter driving. Ground clearance is another key factor when selecting a first car for rural Canadian settings. Models with higher ground clearance allow for improved maneuverability on gravel roads, light off-roading and deep snow. At least 7 inches of clearance is recommended for rural driving. Small crossovers and SUVs often provide a good combination of AWD and ground clearance. The Subaru Crosstrek, an IIHS Top Safety Pick, offers 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Other excellent choices include the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, which both provide ample clearance and available AWD.


Ideal First Cars for Canadian Weather and Roads


All-Wheel Drive

All-wheel drive (AWD) is an important feature to consider for new drivers in Canada, especially those in regions that experience snowy winters. AWD improves traction and control in slippery conditions by sending power to all four wheels. This allows the vehicle to better accelerate from a stop and maintain grip when turning or braking on snow and ice.

AWD used to be limited to truck-based SUVs, but nowadays many smaller crossover SUVs and even cars offer AWD capabilities. Compact models like the Subaru Impreza, Toyota RAV4, and Honda CR-V provide the benefits of AWD while still being affordable, fuel efficient, and practical choices.

For new drivers, AWD provides extra confidence when facing winter driving for the first time. The increased traction minimizes the chances of getting stuck and improves handling safety. Testing out AWD capabilities in an empty, snowy parking lot is a great way for new drivers to safely practice winter driving skills.

Along with AWD, winter tires are highly recommended to maximize winter drivability. All-season tires can still struggle for grip below 7°C. Winter tires use specialized tread designs and rubber compounds to provide much better traction in cold, icy, and snowy conditions.

While optional on some models, choosing an AWD vehicle is worth the investment for new drivers in Canada who will routinely face snow, slush, and ice. The AWD systems offered by Subaru, Toyota, Honda and other brands provide excellent winter drivability for first-time drivers.


Ground Clearance for Rural Roads and Light Off-Roading

Many new drivers in Canada live in rural areas or will need to handle unpaved roads and light off-roading. Having adequate ground clearance is important for these conditions to avoid scraping the undercarriage on bumps or ruts. Vehicles like small sedans often have very little ground clearance, which can make them impractical for rural areas.

Compact SUVs tend to offer good ground clearance while still being easy to handle and park for new drivers. Models like the Subaru Crosstrek, Toyota RAV4, and Honda CR-V offer around 8 inches of ground clearance. This allows them to comfortably traverse gravel roads and mild trails without the risk of bottoming out.

Higher clearance also provides extra capability in snowy and icy conditions. Being able to plow through deeper snow without getting stuck gives added peace of mind to new winter drivers. The all-wheel drive systems in most compact SUVs work hand in hand with the increased clearance.

For very rugged terrain, a more dedicated off-road vehicle may be required. However, for general rural driving and mild off-roading, compact SUVs offer an ideal blend of ground clearance, maneuverability, and practicality for new drivers.


Fun to Drive – Best “Car Person’s” First Car Picks

For an enthusiast’s first car, performance and handling are key factors. The Volkswagen GTI offers a great blend of power and agility thanks to its turbocharged engine and sport-tuned suspension. The GTI provides responsive steering and confident cornering while still delivering a comfortable ride. With nearly 230 horsepower on tap, there’s plenty of acceleration for merging and passing. Customizing potential is another big draw of the GTI, from cosmetic add-ons like new wheels to performance upgrades like high-flow intakes. The rear hatchback design also provides practical cargo space.

Lightweight rear-wheel drive sport coupes like the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ are designed to maximize the driving experience on a budget. Their low curb weight, around 2,700 pounds, gives them nimble handling, while their 200+ horsepower boxer engines offer just enough punch. The FR-S and BRZ are engineered to deliver exceptional balance and control. For driving enthusiasts seeking an affordable fun-to-drive first car, these nimble coupes are tough to top.

The Civic Si and Subaru WRX appeal to those who want more power from the get-go. With their high-revving turbocharged engines putting out over 200 horsepower, they offer quick acceleration and aggressive exhaust notes. Their performance-tuned suspensions allow for attacking corners while still soaking up bumps. Large aftermarket support means the WRX and Civic Si also have huge customization potential, from intake and exhaust mods to ECU tuning. For new drivers seeking thrills combined with everyday practicality, these sport compacts hit the sweet spot.



Getting your first car is an exciting milestone, but choosing the right one for your needs and budget can be overwhelming. Based on the factors we’ve covered, some top overall picks for new drivers in Canada include the Subaru Crosstrek, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Hyundai Kona, and Volkswagen Golf GTI. However, keep in mind that priorities around safety, winter driving, affordability, and reliability will vary for each individual. Thoroughly research multiple models while considering your own unique circumstances. Seek input from parents and experienced drivers. Take any prospects for a thorough test drive. And don’t forget that selecting your first car marks an important step towards independence and responsibility that should be celebrated!

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Questions About The Best First Car to Buy

The Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla are excellent options. They’re reliable, safe choices that are affordable and fuel efficient. The Mazda3 is another good compact car that offers fun driving dynamics. Small SUVs like the Hyundai Kona and Subaru Crosstrek provide more space and AWD capabilities. When equipped with advanced safety features, these are all great first cars to consider.

Prioritize safety above all else. Look for vehicles with high crash test ratings and advanced driver assistance systems like automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring. Stability control and multiple airbags should also be standard. Features like rearview cameras and adaptive cruise control are nice to have as well.



Aim to spend between $5,000-$15,000 on your teen’s first car. Focus more on safety and reliability over flashier vehicles. Getting approved for financing as a young buyer can also be challenging, so having the funds to buy a used car outright is often the best approach.

Buying used is generally the smarter financial decision for a first car. Opt for a 3-5 year old used vehicle that has already taken the biggest depreciation hit but still has plenty of life left. This allows you to get more car for your money compared to buying new.

Insurance will be very expensive for teen drivers – often $3,000-$5,000 per year. Ask your provider about discounts for students with good grades. Consider adding your teen as an occasional driver on your policy first. And choose vehicles that are cheaper to insure like sedans and minivans over sports cars.


Choosing a car with four doors, good safety ratings and modest horsepower help keep insurance premiums in check. Anti-theft devices and low annual mileage can also reduce costs. Have your teen take an accredited defensive driving course for additional savings on their policy.

Yes, set clear expectations by establishing a budget if you expect your teen to chip in. Be reasonable about how much they can contribute from part-time job earnings. Matching their savings at 50% or 100% is a great way to make the first car feel earned while still helping financially.

The buyer will need valid ID, vehicle ownership, bill of sale, and safety standards certificate for registering and plating the car in your province. If financing, the bank requires insurance paperwork to release funds. Ensure the car’s registration and insurance are in both your and your teen’s name.

Check listings on sites like and Kijiji. Dealerships specializing in certified pre-owned vehicles also offer great selections. Consider rental car companies or government surplus auctions to find well maintained cars at reduced prices.

Yes, formal driver training is highly recommended to promote safe habits from the start. Many provinces offer discounted insurance rates for teens who complete approved driver education courses both in-class and in-car.

Learner’s permit minimum ages start at 16 in most provinces which allow teens to gain experience under supervision. Drivers then pass a road test for their provisional license granting unsupervised driving with restrictions on alcohol and passengers. Getting full privileges occurs around age 18.


Set clear rules and expectations about driving responsibly and following all laws. Consider monitoring devices to track location, speed and acceleration. Lead by example with your own driving habits. Enforce consequences for unsafe behaviors like texting or impaired driving immediately.

Yes, avoid vehicles with overly complex infotainment systems as they present dangerous distractions. Seek models with built-in capabilities to block phone usage and texting capabilities while driving. Set restrictions on phone use, loud music and number of passengers right away.

Aside from fuel, expect to budget for regular oil changes, new tires, brake pads, battery replacement and unforeseen repairs. Get quotes for extended warranties or supplemental maintenance plans to minimize surprises. Review costs and how to check fluid levels, change wipers, etc., yourself.

Start slowly in empty parking lots before building up to roads. Use clear commands and praise progress. Remain calm and refrain from criticism. Enforce changing radio and limiting cell phone usage right away as part of focusing solely on driving. Provide enough supervised practice to ensure full comfort levels before independent driving.

Set clear rules on hours of day driven, maximum passengers, geographic boundaries and appropriate usage. Be very strict initially and consider loosening privileges over time as they demonstrate safe driving. Conduct periodic spot checks and random vehicle searches to enforce rules.


Ask about discounts for good students, completing driver training programs and installing additional safety devices. Consider adding your teen as a secondary driver on your policy first. Choose insurance providers that offer special rates for younger drivers. Select vehicles with better safety ratings and modest engines.

Start by explaining how clutch, gear shift and gas pedal coordinate. Practice using clutch smoothly and finding bite point in an empty lot. Keep early lessons slow with minimal hills. Don’t rush the learning process. Plan secondary controls like music before hitting the road. Remain calm and positive throughout.

The minimum age to graduate to a full license without restrictions or supervision requirements is 18 in most Canadian provinces. However, this requires holding an intermediate license for 12-24 months first. Exact requirements and stages vary slightly by province.

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