First-Time Drivers Can Get Safety and Fun for Under $20,000

Putting their young driver into a new car creates all kinds of concerns for many parents. How safe is the car? How much is gas going to cost? What happens if the car breaks down? For young drivers, the concerns focus on technology and cost. Can I use my phone and MP3 player with the car? Can I afford the gas? and USA Today tested five new cars that seat five, cost less than $20,000 and get at least 36 mpg, and we found that the current batch of compact cars has a lot to offer, even as the average price for a new car nears $30,000.

The five were:

  • 2011 Chevrolet Cruze
  • 2012 Ford Focus
  • 2012 Honda Civic
  • 2011 Hyundai Elantra
  • 2011 Kia Forte

Some key features that make these cars great choices for first-time drivers include:

Stability control and ABS

All five come with standard stability control and antilock braking systems. Both take some of the pressure off of novice drivers and help keep them from hurting themselves.

Five years of roadside assistance

Four of the five cars we tested had five years and at least 60,000 miles of roadside assistance. Only the Civic did not come with it. For a new driver, that’s important. If there’s a blown tire, some kind of engine breakdown, you’d want to know that help will arrive soon.

Bluetooth phone connections

Four of the five (not standard in Civic) allow drivers to connect their phones hands-free. This feature is important now that many communities and states have outlawed the use of cell phones while driving.

Bluetooth streaming audio

Three of the five (Elantra, Forte and Focus) allow you to connect your Bluetooth-equipped device to stream music wirelessly. (If you don’t have Bluetooth on your device, don’t worry. All five offer a USB connection to play music through the car stereo). Of course, young drivers need to remember that they should focus on driving, and let others worry about music, texting, etc.

High MPG

Perhaps the best benefit for this group of cars is outstanding mileage. All of these are rated at 36 mpg or better on the highway, and three of them (Elantra, Focus and Civic) have a combined EPA rating north of 30 mpg.

Check out the Under 20/Over 35 Shootout at, and see our picks for Best Cars for First-Time Drivers.


Patrick Olsen heads the editorial team and covers a wide range of topics in the automotive industry including industry news, analysis and consumer advice.