The cheapest, safest, and most reliable new cars for first-time drivers in 2023


Posted February 16, 2022

Buying a brand-new car for the first time is exciting, but it’s a big decision that needs to be taken seriously. We’ve found 16 of the cheapest, safest, and most reliable cars to help you choose. 

While traditionally, many first-time drivers would buy a used car, the evidence is adding up as to why buying a new car is a better idea. With the cost of buying a used car increasing over the past few years due to supply shortages, the gap has been narrowed between the cost of a new and used car across many makes and models.

While the initial cost may be the first consideration that comes to mind, the safety rating of the vehicle should be paramount. 

Along with some advice for what to look for when buying a new car for the first time, we’ve put together a list of the best cars on the market right now that are affordable, dependable, and most importantly, safe for drivers and their passengers.   

On this page:  

Australia's Cheapest Cars Survey 2022 | RACV

What to look for when buying a first car 

The safety features in modern cars and exceedingly sophisticated compared to their past generations, including features such as curtain airbags, anti-lock braking systems (ABS), lane-assist, and collision warning systems.  

Always check for the car’s ANCAP rating. Second to safety, first-time car owners need to understand that cars have ongoing costs including: 

  • Registration 
  • Fuel economy 
  • Regular servicing 
  • Tyres and parts 

Not all cars are made equal and some cars that cost the same may have very different fuel economies. It pays in the long run to do your research. 

RACV publish the Car Running Costs Survey each year to reveal which are the cheapest SUVs, utes, and people-movers to own.

Prohibited cars for P-Plate drivers 

Whether you’re choosing which car to buy for yourself or your child, there are some legal requirements about the vehicle that you need to be aware of before putting down a deposit.  

Drivers holding a Probationary license cannot dive a vehicle that exceeds a power-to-mass-ratio greater than 130 kilowatts per tonne. The power-to-weight ratio rule applies to all vehicles, including those that have club permits. The rule also applies to any vehicle that was on the approved list, but was then modified to exceed the ratio. 

If you can’t access any of those numbers, head to the Probationary vehicle database on the VicRoads website and simply search for the new or used car you’re considering.   

There are only three scenarios where exceptions will be granted: 

  • The Probationary driver is being supervised by a person who holds a full driver licence 
  • If the probationary prohibited vehicle restriction would cause you undue hardship 
  • Those holding overseas probationary licenses are not bound by these laws 

RACV supports vehicle power and performance restrictions for probationary drivers. 


A purple VW Polo

If you're looking for a bit more space in your first car, the Volkswagen Polo is a good choice.

Best new cars for first-time drivers under $30,000 

Suzuki Swift 

ANCAP Rating: 5-star (tested 2017) 
Prices start at: $24,990

A perennial favourite for first-time car buyers in Australia since the 1980s, the charming Suzuki Swift brings timeless good looks, reliability, comfort, value retention and a zippy driving experience to the table. Those shopping for the most up-to-date infotainment technology and interior packaging, however, might want to consider some of the Swift’s newer rivals.


ANCAP Rating: 5-star (pre-Jan 2023 build)
Prices start at: $25,296

Despite its age, the Mazda2 still conveys a ‘semi-premium feeling’ that makes it a popular choice for first-time car buyers. Small in stature and easy to park, the Mazda2 backs up its sporty looks with a driving experience that is engaging and suited to busy inner-city roads. Where the Mazda2’s age is most apparent is in its interior packaging and features, with rear legroom, boot capacity (for the hatchback version) and infotainment lagging some of its competitors.

Volkswagen Polo 

ANCAP Rating: 5-star (tested 2022) 
Prices start at: $25,750

With mini-Golf looks and refinement, plus more interior space than segment competitors such as the Toyota Yaris, Mazda2 and Suzuki Swift, it’s no surprise that the Volkswagen Polo tops the shopping list for those looking for a European driving experience with a full suite of safety and infotainment features. First-time car buyers will need to spend a bit more for the privilege though, with prices for the auto Polo nudging $30,000, while aftersales costs are typically higher than average.

Hyundai i30 

ANCAP Rating: 5-star (tested 2018) 
Prices start at: $25,990

The Hyundai i30 has an easy-to-drive character and a value-for-money ethos that’s appealing for first-time car buyers, and similar to that of its sister car, the Kia Cerato (albeit with more contemporary, European-inspired exterior and interior styling). The ‘Korean Volkswagen Golf’ also carries a sharper sticker price than some of its small car competitors like the Toyota Corolla, is relatively affordable to service and has developed a reputation for reliable, safe motoring.


The stylish Suzuki Swift is cheap, yet safe.

The Suzuki Swift continues to be both affordable and reliable.

Mazda CX-3 

ANCAP Rating: 5-star (pre-Jan 2023 build)
Prices start at: $27,380

The Mazda CX-3 has been a top-selling light SUV since its launch in Australia in 2015, and for good reason. More style-driven than some of its rivals, the CX-3 will find favour with those looking for eye-catching looks that impress, a higher seating position, sharp driving dynamics and a quality, minimalist interior. However, the CX-3's focus on design comes with some minor compromises, namely rear visibility and legroom.

Kia Cerato 

ANCAP Rating: 5-star (tested 2019) 
Prices start at: $27,890

While it won’t win any design awards or impress friends on social media, the Kia Cerato delivers dependable everyday transport through an easy and comfortable driving experience that's suited to city, suburban and regional environments. The Cerato is also backed by Kia's seven-year warranty that inspires long-term ownership confidence. While its spacious dimensions and airy feeling impress, the Cerato’s engine and infotainment are now bested by its rivals.

Toyota Corolla  

ANCAP Rating: 5-star (tested 2018) 
Prices start at: $28,130

The launch of a new Corolla in 2018 saw one of the world’s most popular cars shed its reputation for 'boring’, adopting crisp front and rear styling, fun driving dynamics and improved ride quality that are all likely to appeal to first-time car buyers. The Corolla is also relatively inexpensive to service and maintain, however fundamental shortcomings include small rear doors that can make entry and exit difficult, and a small boot in the hatchback version compared to other small cars.

Toyota Yaris 

ANCAP Rating: 5-star (tested 2020) 
Prices start at: $28,607

Now somewhat overshadowed by the more rugged Yaris Cross variant that taps into Australians’ love of SUVs, the Yaris hatchback brings the typical mix of refinement, comfort, quality and value retention that Toyota is famous for. The design of the new Yaris is much more dynamic than previous models, too. Showroom prices for the Yaris, however, are significantly higher than some of its light car segment competitors such as the Suzuki Swift and Mazda2.


Kia Cerato

The Kia Cerato is at home in the city, suburban areas, and regional environments.

Best new cars for first-time drivers under $40,000 

Hyundai Kona  

ANCAP Rating: 5-star (tested 2017) 
Prices start at: $30,538

Hyundai’s Kona has been a smash hit for the brand since its launch in 2017 and is one of the best value-for money small SUVs available today. Mechanically similar to the brand’s i30 hatchback, the Kona brings sharp, extroverted styling which may divide potential purchasers. Inside, however, it’s a different story: the Kona has a basic yet welcoming feel, with straightforward presentation and logical controls, and a big boot.

Ford Puma  

ANCAP Rating: 5-star (tested 2020) 
Prices start at: $30,840

Now Ford’s most affordable model in Australia, the stylish Puma’s European influence and duality is obvious: from its peppy engine to sharp steering, the Puma is a small SUV that’s suited to both busy inner-city and suburban driving, and longer, relaxed regional road trips. The Puma also comes with a big boot, easy-to-use infotainment and is a cinch to park, with the only real compromise being tighter-than-average rear legroom.

Subaru Impreza 

ANCAP Rating: 5-star (tested 2016) 
Prices start at: $31,055

A favourite with Australian drivers for decades, the reputable Subaru Impreza delivers predictable and safe AWD driving dynamics (especially in wet weather and on gravel roads), good build quality, decent fuel economy, great rear legroom and advanced safety features for first-time car buyers. While performance is adequate for the city and suburbs, highway and regional drivers might find the Impreza’s modest Boxer engine underwhelming.

Toyota Yaris Cross  

ANCAP Rating: 5-star (tested 2020) 
Prices start at: $31,941 

The Toyota Yaris Cross is based on the popular Yaris light hatchback, albeit with boxier and more upright styling, and carries the typical SUV price premium over the original vehicle. Standard safety equipment, cabin storage, ride and handling and build quality are all plus points for the Yaris Cross, however the fussy interior design might polarise some first-time car buyers shopping at this price point.

Hyundai Kona

Hyundai’s Kona is one of the best value-for money small SUVs available today.

Nissan Qashqai 

ANCAP Rating: 5-star (tested 2021) 
Prices start at: $33,890 

While the new Nissan Qashqai is still a small SUV, it’s bigger than ever. The Qashqai's steering is surefooted through corners and the large infotainment screen sits close to the driver’s line of sight and is easy to navigate, making for easy everyday driving and liveability. While fuel efficiency has also improved, the new Qashqai does require more expensive premium unleaded.    

Volkswagen Golf  

ANCAP Rating: 5-star (tested 2021) 
Prices start at: $35,190

Long considered the industry benchmark for small hatchbacks, the Volkswagen Golf makes a great choice for first-time car buyers. Classic European style, solid build quality, classy interior appointments, leading safety credentials, a good-sized boot, comfortable driving dynamics and strong value retention are all famous Golf hallmarks, and the vehicle is equally suited to the inner city, suburbs and regional areas. Higher-than-average aftersales costs are worth noting though.

Toyota C-HR 

ANCAP Rating: 5-star (tested 2017) 
Prices start at: $35,984

A swoopy, SUV interpretation of the Toyota Corolla that looks fun, the CH-R doesn’t lack for everyday functionality, featuring a much larger boot than the Corolla hatch. The C-HR Hybrid also brings some solid ownership credentials, benefiting from Toyota's reputation for reliability and quality interior presentation and materials. The CH-R is suited to both busy inner-city streets and relaxed highway cruising, however the focus on style means the small rear windows may impact visibility.

Subaru XV 

ANCAP Rating: 5-star (tested 2017) 
Prices start at: $39,496

Soon to be known as the Crosstrek, the Subaru XV small SUV delivers almost identical ownership qualities as the Subaru Impreza hatchback on which it’s based on, with the addition of a slightly higher seating position and more rugged SUV-inspired styling. Whether the XV is worth the significant price premium over the Impreza is something to weigh up if you’re set on making a Subaru AWD vehicle your first car.


The information provided is general advice only. Before making any decisions please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determinations. For copies, visit As distributor, RACV Insurance Services Pty Ltd AFS Licence No. 230039 receives commission for each policy sold or renewed. Product(s) issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678.