Picking out a first car for a teenager is an exciting experience, but it can also present some challenges. You must find a great balance of safety, reliability, and affordability all wrapped up in a teen-friendly package. 

Fortunately, you have plenty of options available. With the right guidance, you can find the perfect car that meets all your needs and your teen's desires. 

Below, we'll review the best first cars for teenagers in 2023 and what factors you should consider when shopping for a teen's first car.

What to Consider When Shopping for a Teen's First Car

Buying a car for your teenager is an exciting milestone for you and your child. It symbolizes independence and freedom but also comes with a lot of responsibility. As a parent, you want to make sure that your teenager is safe on the road and that the car you choose is reliable and affordable.

Safety First

Safety should be your top priority when choosing a car for your teenager. Look for cars with good safety ratings from reputable sources such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). These organizations evaluate cars based on crash tests, safety features, and other factors that can affect safety.

Additionally, consider the safety features that come with the car. Look for cars with at least the basics, such as airbags, anti-lock brakes, and electronic stability control. These features can help prevent accidents and protect your teenager in the event of a crash. And you may want to prioritize more advanced safety gear, which we’ll get to later.


Cost is another important factor when shopping for a teenager's first car. You want to choose an affordable car that won't break the bank. Look for cars within your budget and with a reasonable price tag. Additionally, consider the cost of insurance for the car. Insurance rates can vary widely depending on the car's make and model, so getting a quote is essential before making a final decision.

Fuel Efficiency

Teenagers are often on a tight budget, so fuel efficiency is an important consideration. Look for cars that get good gas mileage and are fuel-efficient. This can help your teenager save money on gas and reduce their carbon footprint.

Size and Handling

The size and handling of the car are also important factors to consider. You want to choose a car that is easy to maneuver and park so your teenager can gain confidence on the road. Look for cars that are not too big or small and have good visibility. Additionally, consider the car's handling and steering. You want to choose a car that is easy to control and that your teenager feels comfortable driving.

Safety Features to Look for in First Cars for Teens

As a parent, choosing a first car for your teenager can be daunting. Safety is a crucial factor that should be at the top of your list when making this decision. You want a car that will keep your teen safe while they learn to navigate the roads.

The safety rating is one of the most important things to consider when looking for a first car for your teenager. You want a car with a high safety rating that has been tested and proven safe. The NHTSA and the IIHS are resources to help find the best first car for safety in Canada.

In addition to a high safety rating, you should also look for cars with advanced safety features. These features can help prevent accidents and keep your teen safe during a crash. Front and side airbags are essential safety features that should be present in any car you consider. They can help protect your teen from serious injuries in a collision.

Electronic stability control is another safety feature that can help prevent accidents. This feature helps keep the car stable and on the road during sudden maneuvers or on slippery roads. Anti-lock brakes are also important safety features that can help prevent the wheels from locking up and causing the car to skid.

Regarding advanced driver aids, blind-spot monitoring and forward-collision warning systems are two features that can help prevent accidents. Blind-spot monitoring uses sensors to detect other cars in the blind spot and alerts the driver when it is unsafe to change lanes. Forward-collision warning systems use sensors to detect when the car is getting too close to the car in front and alert the driver to take action. Building on forward collision warning is automatic emergency braking, which can apply the vehicle’s brakes automatically if it is about to collide with a car ahead of it. This can mitigate harm to the vehicle and occupants and, in more advanced systems, even avoid an accident altogether.

Safety should be your top priority when looking for a first car for your teenager. Look for a car with a high safety rating and advanced features like front and side airbags, electronic stability control, and anti-lock brakes. Advanced driver aids such as blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision warning systems, and automatic emergency braking can also help prevent accidents and keep your teen safe on the road.

Is a Used Car a Good First Car?

For many reasons, used cars are some of the best first car options for teenagers. Firstly, they are more affordable than new cars, which is a significant consideration for most parents. Not only do they offer a lower purchase price, but they may also have lower insurance premiums. This can be a huge benefit for families on a budget.

Another advantage of purchasing a used car is that they offer a wide range of features and can be comparable to new cars in terms of safety and technology. Many used cars come equipped with backup cameras, Bluetooth connectivity, and blind-spot monitoring. Some even include automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. These features can significantly improve the vehicle's safety and make driving more convenient and enjoyable.

When purchasing a used car for your teenager, have a qualified mechanic inspect the vehicle before buying. This can help detect potential problems and ensure you purchase a reliable and safe car.

Researching the vehicle's history using a service like CARFAX and checking for any previous accidents or damage is also essential. This can help you avoid purchasing a car with hidden issues that may become costly.

Additionally, purchasing a used car can be an excellent opportunity to teach your teenager about car maintenance and responsibility. By involving them in researching, inspecting, and maintaining the vehicle, you can help them develop important life skills and prepare them for future car ownership.

Overall, a used car can be a great first car for teenagers. They offer affordability, a wide range of features, and the opportunity to teach essential life skills. Just do your research and have the vehicle inspected before making a purchase.

What Are the Best First Cars for Teens?

So many great options for first cars for teenagers exist that it can be challenging to choose just one. Let’s review some of the top choices of best first cars for 2023.

Source: Edmunds

2023 Honda Civic

The Honda Civic has always been a go-to model as a first car for many reasons: safety, reliability, longevity, fuel economy, and technology. They have always been slightly ahead of the curve in most areas and have an outstanding track record that spans many decades.

The newest Honda Civic is no exception with a standard 2.0-litre engine that delivers 158 horsepower (hp) and a standard continuously variable transmission (CVT). This combination delivers great fuel consumption rates of 6.9 L/100 km combined.

It’s also among only a handful of small cars to receive the Top Safety Pick (TSP) designation from the IIHS. It received “Good” ratings in all crash tests, and its standard automatic emergency braking received “Superior” ratings in all but one test. Other standard safety features include automatic high-beam headlights, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, traffic sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and more.

The 2023 Honda Civic starts from $28,230, but as you can see, you get what you pay for in the Civic. You may also find a used Civic with the same features starting a few thousand dollars less.

Source: Mazda

2023 Mazda Mazda3

The Mazda3 is another model that’s long been a go-to as a first car — even dating back to when it was called the 323. The Mazda3 starts off with a 155-hp 2.0-litre engine paired with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. There’s also a 2.5-litre with 191 hp and a turbo 2.5-litre with up to 250 hp. The base engine comes only with front-wheel drive (FWD), but the two larger engines have the added security of optional all-wheel drive (AWD).

Fuel economy is great in the non-turbo models, ranging from 6.4 L/100 km to 6.6. L/100 km. The turbo model is thirstier at 7.3 L/100 km combined.

The Mazda3 is another of the small cars to receive TSP honours from the IIHS, thanks to “Good” ratings in all crash tests and “Superior” ratings in all tests of its standard automatic emergency braking system. Other standard safety equipment includes rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, dual front and side airbags, and more. Optionally, buyers can add things like adaptive cruise control, advanced emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and more.

The Mazda3 is also very affordable for a new car, with a starting MSRP of $21,900. You may even be able to save a few thousand more by picking up a used Mazda3.

Source: MotorTrend

2023 Toyota Corolla

The Toyota Corolla follows the trend of long-running leaders as first cars, as it’s been a go-to model for ages. The latest version comes in two flavours, traditional and hybrid. The standard 2023 Toyota Corolla comes with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that pumps out 169 hp through a CVT and out to the front wheels. The Corolla Hybrid pairs a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine to an electric motor to deliver 138 hp to the front wheels or all four wheels with optional AWD.

The standard Corolla's fuel consumption rates range from 6.7 L/100 km to 6.8 L/100 km combined. The Corolla Hybrid drops these to 4.7 to 5.3 L/100 km combined.

The Corolla is an IIHS TSP, earning “Good” crash test scores and “Superior” marks in all tests of its standard automatic emergency braking system. It’s also loaded with many other standard safety features, including a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, road sign recognition, dynamic adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and more.

The 2023 Toyota Corolla starts from $25,804.50, and the hybrid variant begins at $29,104.50. However, you may be able to save a few thousand dollars by opting for a pre-owned Corolla or Corolla Hybrid instead.

Source: Hyundai

2023 Hyundai Elantra

If you skip the performance-oriented N-Line and N models, the 2023 Hyundai Elantra is one of the best first cars in Canada. It boasts striking good looks and offers two fuel-efficient powertrains, starting with the standard 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with 147 hp. The hybrid variant pairs a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine and a 32-kW electric motor for a combined 139 hp.

Fuel consumption rings in at just 6.4 to 6.7 L/100 km in the base model and 4.7 L/100 km in the Elantra Hybrid.

The 2023 Elantra missed out on being an IIHS TSP due to “Poor” headlight ratings, but it received top scores in all other crash tests and crash-avoidance tests. The Elantra’s standard safety gear includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, automatic high-beam headlights, driver attention warning, and more.

The non-hybrid 2023 Hyundai Elantra starts from $22,956, and the hybrid model jumps to a starting MSRP of $29,206. You may be able to pick up a used Hyundai Elantra starting at around $21,000.

Source: Guide Auto

2023 Volkswagen Jetta

The Volkswagen Golf was once the leader as one of the best first cars in the Volkswagen (VW) lineup, but VW dropped it after the 2021 model year. The only remaining variants are the performance-oriented Golf GTI and Golf R, and neither is appropriate for a first car. So, the next best thing is the VW Jetta, which is essentially the sedan version of the Golf.

The Jetta comes standard with a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine that delivers 158 hp to the front wheels via a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic transmission. This results in fuel consumption ratings of 6.8 to 7.1 L/100 km combined.

The 2023 Jetta isn’t an IIHS TSP. Still, it received “Good” ratings in all crash tests, and its standard automatic emergency braking received a “Superior” rating in daytime vehicle-to-vehicle crash avoidance. It lacks any other standard safety tech, but you can add optional auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and more.

The 2023 VW Jetta starts from $25,760, but you may find used Jettas starting a few thousand dollars less.

Source: Guide Auto

2023 Kia Rio

The Kia Rio falls into the minicar category, and no vehicles in this category are IIHS TSPs. However, the Kia Rio comes close with “Good” crash test ratings in all but the small overlap front passenger side test, in which it received an “Acceptable” score. The Rio also lacks standard advanced safety equipment, but you can get blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, lane-follow assist, and automatic emergency braking in the top-level EX Premium trim level.

Powering the Rio is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine paired to a six-speed manual transmission or a CVT. Fuel consumption checks in at 6.7 to 7 L/100 km combined.

While the Rio may lack in standard safety gear, it makes up for it with advanced tech. This includes a standard 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity, a six-speaker audio system, and more. And all this rings in at a starting price of just $19,916.

You may find a used Rio with similar features starting at around $15,500.

Source: Car and Driver

2023 Nissan Versa

The Nissan Versa has long been one of the least expensive vehicles in Canada, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking. The one big downside is the IIHS hasn’t completed its crash safety testing yet, as it’s only finished two tests. Fortunately, the Versa received “Good” ratings in each test.

It comes standard with a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine that produces 122 hp and pairs with a six-speed manual transmission or a CVT. Fuel consumption rings in at 6.7 L/100 km with the CVT and 7.7 L/100 km with the manual.

Despite its low cost, the Versa has some standard advanced safety tech, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, lane-departure warning, automatic high-beam headlights, a rearview camera, and more.

The 2023 Nissan Versa’s MSRP starts from $20,213, but you may find a used Nissan Versa starting from just over $17,000.

Source: MotorTrend

2024 Subaru Impreza

Subaru has a wide range of first car options thanks to their impeccable reliability and safety and their standard AWD making Canadian winter driving easier for a new driver. The one model that stands out is the entry-level Subaru Impreza.

This all-new-for-2024 five-door hatchback has plenty of space for your teen and their friends, plus it has a peppy 2.0-litre boxer-four engine that delivers 152 hp to all four wheels via a CVT or optional eight-speed automatic transmission. There’s also an optional 2.5-litre engine with 182 hp. Fuel economy ratings aren’t out yet, but the 2023 Impreza was a little fuel-hungry at 7.6 to 9 L/100 km combined.

The 2024 Impreza hasn’t been through IIHS testing yet. The 2023 model, however, wasn’t an IIHS TSP, but it received all “Good” crash test scores in initial testing and “Superior” ratings for its optional automatic emergency braking. Unfortunately, the IIHS updated its testing, and the Impreza received a “Poor” rating in the new side-impact test. Subaru may have addressed this in the redesigned model.

One thing Subaru did take care of was adding all the standard safety tech buyers demand, including automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, and more. That said, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control are all still options.

The 2024 Subaru Impreza starts from $26,795. Since it’s brand-new, the 2024 model may be tough to find on the used market. However, you may find a well-equipped used Impreza from 2023 for around $25,500.

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Find the Best First Cars at Great Prices at Clutch

When searching for the best first cars, price and quality matter. At Clutch, Canada’s premier online automotive retailer, you get great prices on high-quality used vehicles. And tons of our vehicles are also some of the best first cars that offer all the features and reliability a parent wants for their teen.

So, how do you know our wide selection of pre-owned vehicles are all of the highest quality? All our vehicles undergo a 210-point inspection and reconditioning process to ensure they're top-notch. We then add a 90-day or 6,000-km warranty before placing them up for sale. 

When you buy a used vehicle from Clutch, you get the added confidence of a 10-day or 750-km test-own period. If you don't love your new vehicle, you can return it for a full refund or exchange it for a different Clutch vehicle. 

Browse our used-vehicle inventory today and see all our in-stock plug-in hybrid vehicles. While you're searching, you can also apply for financing and get a firm value on your trade-in vehicle, if you have one.