The Best First Cars For New Drivers

Illustration for article titled The Best First Cars For New Drivers

In the last month, I’ve had about half a dozen people ask me, "What’s a good car for a new driver?" Some of these are parents, some are kids who know nothing about cars, some want to just go fast. And yet there’s an intersection that usually makes everyone happy.


My recommendation has long been a Volvo wagon. Practically everyone at my high school had a Volvo of some vintage, and many of them were wagons. Any two-box Volvo makes an exceptional amount of sense for both parties. They’re practical, solid, usually cheap to insure and can be fitted with things like turbochargers – which make them go relatively fast.

Then there’s the practicality. My friends would throw bikes, surfboards, friends in the back of their Volvos. I remember a friend with an 850 wagon who crammed six of us in, and I was one of the unlucky 5’10” souls who had to fit in the rear-facing seats. But I technically fit.


Volvos, especially old ones, have their quirks. Have you ever tried pulling an alternator out of one of the five-cylinder cars? And the electrics in a 25-year-old 240 will test your patience. And they’re boxy and unsexy as hell, all of which raised eyebrows when I made my recommendation known to inquisitive parties. Still, of all the well-rounded choices out there, a Volvo wagon is still the one that gets my seal of approval.

What do you recommend as a first car, though? Do you insist new drivers worship at the altar of rear-wheel drive and a manual transmission or is a front-wheel drive hot hatchback that gets the nod? After all, a first car is an important piece of car education.

Photo: Volvo Cars

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Patrick George

A high school buddy of mine had one of these: an early 1980s Mercedes 240D. Slow, great fuel economy, built like a tank, and it came with a stick shift so you can learn to actually drive a car and not just ride in it. I still say it's the best first car.