12 Starter Cars for Real Grown-Ups

2015 Subaru XVCrosstrek

School has ended, and now you’ve had a solid month or so to land that new career. We’re going to assume that was more than enough time to find your dream entry-level job. And now that you have had plenty of time to settle in to your new gig, you must be looking for a new car to buy with your newly obtained paycheck. You’re an adult now, and you’ll have a whole new set of responsibilities to account for. You’ll want to find the right car for the right price to accommodate your needs.

So, since you’re in the market for your first “real” car, we have compiled a list of new cars that we expect to fit your needs. Needless to say with such a broad category, there’s a wide range of vehicles on this list. All of these cars have different things to bring to the table. You’re an adult now, so you get to choose what you want or need in a car. It’s time to make informed, practical, and reasonable decisions. You have to pay for what you need with what money you have. Welcome to adulthood.

215 MINI Cooper

12. Driving a go-kart will help any aspiring driver learn the ropes quickly. Go-karts are light, compact, and simple, responding dramatically and almost instantly to any throttle adjustment, steering input, and weight shift so directly that the person behind the wheel can’t help but learn. The original Mini Cooper came from British Motor Corporation and debuted in 1959, winning fans worldwide with its distinctive look and feel. BMW produces the new MINI Cooper, which look more modern than the originals but still use a light, compact chassis with the wheels as close to the corners as possible. This arrangement means new Coopers continue to offer a great learning platform for beginners and plenty of excitement for any driver, but their BMW roots mean new MINIs can be had with a fair amount more luxury and personalization from the factory than the originals could, not to mention special editions with turbocharged engines and adjustable suspensions. Those roots also mean a new Cooper won’t be quite as cost-effective as the originals were, of course, but isn’t that true of pretty much everything that’s been around since the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour”?

2015 Chevy Colorado

11. Chevy’s 2015 advertising campaign was right: You know you want a truck. The problem is, unless you buy used (and, often, even if you do), trucks are downright expensive. After being discontinued in 2013, the Chevrolet Colorado returned in 2015, with a starting price close to 20 grand. Even nicely equipped, this is a brand new truck that can be had under $30,000. Nicole Wakelin loved this truck when she covered it for CarGurus, praising it for its ability to blend a workman-like attitude with nice interior space and convenient amenities. If you’re the type of adult who needs something to schlep back and forth between the hardware or garden store, buy a truck. Seriously, you know you want one.

2015 Mercede-Benz CLA-Class

10. What better way to feel (and look) important in your new line of work than to pull into your parking spot in a new Mercedes. Don’t let your entry-level wages prevent you from doing just that. The Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is just about the only way to get a brand new Mercedes without breaking the bank (well, not breaking it too much). You can find the CLA at the almost reasonable $30,000 price tag. Still a bit on the higher side, but Mercedes offers enough inside the car to make it competitive in class. The CLA-Class certainly beats out what other luxury manufacturers have on their lower price points. It is cheaper than the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4, but has a lot more to offer than an Accord or a Camry. Driving the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class is the automotive equivalent of dressing to impress.

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek

9. Among the most popular types of cars with young, the crossover certainly is up by the top. They love the idea of having a rugged, capable vehicle with extra space on a small frame. The Subaru XV Crosstrek embodies the essence of the crossover. Built on the Impreza’s frame, the XV Crosstrek focuses on simplicity and capability. The 2015 model offers a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, whose 148 hp are just enough to make it past rivers, mountains, and everything else fun and adventurous. This is what makes the XV Crosstrek so attractive as a first car. The price tag can sit so low compared to, let’s say, a Mazda CX-5, while maintaining more capability than the likes of a Kia Sportage. The Subaru XV Crosstrek should be one of your first choices in the crossover market.

2015 Scion FR-S

8. There’s a general understanding in the world of auto enthusiasts that “Miata” is always the answer. We’re inclined to agree with this. It’s a wonderfully balanced driving machine with just enough power to get you down the road with a smile on your face, and very little beats the happy feeling we associate with driving a convertible under blue skies. That being said, the facts of life dictate that sometimes you need a roof and a trunk. Luckily, the Scion FR-S is here to save the day. Built upon the same simple ethos that powers the Mazda Miata and it’s rabid fan base, the FR-S is a true sports car. In her review, Liz Kim explained that this is a car that urges the driver to drive it quickly. It may not be the best car for a run to Home Depot, but if you’re in need of something quick and fun for your adult life, the FR-S is still your best bet.

2014 Dodge Dart

7. One of the great parts of being a real grown-up is the sudden availability of rental cars. Whether it’s for an upcoming business trip, family vacation, or simply not wanting to put road-trip miles on your new car, rental fleets around the country provide incredible flexibility. If you’re not interested in driving a different model car every time you need a rental, though, the Dodge Dart will have you covered. Okay, so maybe being a typical rental agency’s offering isn’t the most compelling reason to buy a Dart, but it’s still a pretty great car. Aaron Cole noted that the GT trim’s 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine shows plenty of potential, despite having to haul all 3,000+ pounds of the Dart. Moreover, the Dart is the largest sedan in its class, with plenty of interior room. That means that there will be plenty of space, no matter what corners your new adult life takes you through.

2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo

6. You’ve graduated from college, you’ve landed a job, you’ve forked over some money for first, last, and security on the new apartment. But who said growing up meant making rational decisions? The 2016 Hyundai Veloster Turbo is a 201 hp hatchback made specifically for the young professional who wants some fun wrapped up in an unorthodox package. Unlike other great hot hatchbacks like the Volkswagen GTI or Ford Focus ST, both of which are generally priced as much as 30% more than the Veloster Turbo, this is a car specifically designed to stand out from a crowd. To go along with it’s unique 1-on-the-driver’s-side, 2-on-the-passenger’s-side door arrangement, it packs one of the best rear ends on the road today. If you want a car with good performance and unique looks, the Veloster Turbo is a screaming deal. So far though it’s short production run, the Veloster Turbo holds value incredibly well and won’t break the bank when you decide to buy new.

2015 Mazda MAZDA3

5. Zoom zoom. Mazda has earned respect from auto critics and drivers worldwide for the way it builds small, efficient cars that offer tons more driving fun and precision than their price tags suggest. The MX-5 Miata has helped drive that respect for over 25 years now, but the Mazda 3, which debuted for the 2004 model year, has also earned plenty of kudos, strong sales, and a passel of industry awards, particularly for the re-designed 2015 version. Available in sedan and hatchback form and offering a great manual transmission as well as a wide range of safety, infotainment, and comfort features, the Mazda 3 is a blast to drive, and since the arrival of its SkyActiv engines, it’s also an efficient performer. Our reviewer Liz Kim enjoyed it so much she compared it to a “light-hearted BMW” – significant praise indeed for any car that starts at substantially less than $20K. And of course anyone who begins driving with a 2015 Mazda 3 can look forward to the new Mazdaspeed3 expected to debut in 2017. Adding a 300-plus-hp engine and all-wheel drive to the 3 will certainly drive the price up substantially, but we can’t wait to take a spin in the new ‘Speed.

2015 Volkswagen Golf

4. The Volkswagen Golf has been a staple of German automaker’s vehicle line-up for just over 40 years, but still manages to maintain a youthful air about it that is sure to continue to attract interest from a younger demo. The Golf carries a slightly higher pricetag than you might expect from just a small and, supposedly, practical choice for a first vehicle. But that seems to be the market for these cars nowadays: the MAZDA3, Ford Focus, and the Golf are all around the same price point, and it’s hard to say that one is better definitively better than the other. But if you want to have some fun driving a small, comfortable, hatchback, the Golf can certainly justify the price tag. Small, practical, economical cars are fashionable in today’s market, and with this higher demand, higher prices follow. But even with the new car market a little steep, you can find these small cars for much less money recently used. Which would be a solid option, given how little the Golf seems to change year to year. It is a timeless option for your first car.

2015 Jeep Renegade

3. The Jeep Renegade was introduced just this year, and Fiat-Chrysler was sure to reflect the Italian-American marriage in their new model launch. The Renegade pulls off the sexy Italian curves and rugged American function quite well. It is now the smallest SUV in Jeep’s lineup, surpassing even the Wrangler in the petite stature category. The Renegade looks to cater to a different crowd than the previous Jeep models. It is the Jeep for the young urban crowd; the perfect SUV to parade around the city and pretend you love to take off-roading. The small ute market seems to be a perfect fit for millennials looking to buy their first new car. The Renegade is more than a capable vehicle though, with a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder or a 2.4-liter “TigerShark” 4-cylinder adapted from the Dodge Dart. Small in stature and big(ish) in function, the Renegade continues Jeep’s tradition of producing vehicles tremendously popular with a younger crowd. And just look at how Italian that crossover looks.

2015 Ford Mustang

2. 2015 was a big year for you. You finished school, found a job, settled into a new place, and now it’s time to pick out a great car. Lucky for you, 2015 was a big year for the Ford Mustang, too. You’re not a millionaire (yet), so Ferrari’s prancing horse isn’t in the cards, but with the turbocharged 4-cylinder Ecoboost engine starting around $24,000, you can still afford to have an iconic equine between your tail lights. The new Mustang is a global car with an independent rear suspension for the first time, but it still retains the American muscle that made it a legend. Even the 2.3-liter 4-cylinder manages 310 horsepower, which should be more than enough to add some excitement to your commute.

2015 Honda Fit

1. In other parts of the world, Honda calls its tiny-on-the-outside, huge-on-the-inside hatchback the Jazz. Here in the States, we know it as the Honda Fit. While we have nothing against Jazz—especially if it means heading to New Orleans for a weekend—we can’t really see how it suits this mighty little runabout. “Fit,” on the other hand, is about as perfect as it gets. Whether the question is, “Where will my car possibly fit on this city street?” (just about everywhere) or “What can I possibly fit into my car?” (just about everything you own), the Honda Fit will have you covered. It’s a great choice for any real adult. Have a dog? It’ll fit in the Fit. Grocery shopping for the family? Plenty of room in the Fit. Building a garden out of a shipping pallet? The Fit has plenty of space (seriously, we’ve tried that last one). Adulthood demands many things. Without breaking the bank, the Honda Fit can accommodate them all.

What would you consider buying for your first “adult” car?

-Matt Smith, John Harrington, and Steve Halloran

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Used MINI Cooper
Used Chevy Colorado
Used Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class
Used Subaru XV Crosstrek
Used Scion FR-S
Used Dodge Dart
Used Veloster Turbo
Used Mazda3
Used Volkswagen Golf
Used Jeep Renegade
Used Ford Mustang
Used Honda Fit

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