Buying Advice

AutomotiveMap Picks: Best New Vehicles for New Drivers

The Toyota Corolla is a valiant pick for new drivers because of its standard safety equipment and low price tag.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

When many of us were young, it was common to have our first cars be whatever Grandma didn't need anymore or whichever the most beat up model in the driveway was. Those days are quickly coming to an end as parents are eager to give their teenagers access to the latest safety technology, which means buying a new vehicle.

However, new cars are expensive. The best cars for new drivers offer a value proposition for the buyer as well as a long list of standard and available safety technology. The ones on the list are the favorites of AutomotiveMap's writers.

​2020 Kia Rio

\u200b2020 Kia Rio

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

Jesus Garcia: A starting price well under 20k, the Kia Rio is a little car with big character. Parents should know that this car was recently named an IIHS Top Safety Pick, with high praises for its front crash avoidance technology.

​2020 Hyundai Kona

\u200b2020 Hyundai Kona

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

Sue Mead: The 2020 Hyundai Kona has a high-tech image both outside and in. Its user-friendly features and available premium audio make it equally as attractive as its tidy dimensions for easy maneuvering. The Kona can hold up to five. It comes in four front-wheel drive trim levels in addition to all-wheel drive with a locking differential. Remote keyless entry with alarm, a rearview camera, and parking guidelines are also highlights.

Nicole Wakelin: This subcompact SUV has versatility for cargo for those moves back and forth to college. It's also affordable and has earned top marks for safety.

2020 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

2020 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

Harvey Briggs: It's not the fastest or most fun hatch on the road, but it does come with a manual transmission (which I believe everyone should know how to drive) and Toyota's Safety Sense. Compact so its easy to maneuver and park. And it's a Toyota so you know your new driver won't be left stranded somewhere.

2020 Nissan Versa

2020 Nissan Versa

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Perry Stern, AutoNXT: The new 2020 Nissan Versa delivers fuel-efficient powertrain, roomy interior, the latest in safety technology and a low starting price – a great option for the new driver.

2020 Hyundai Venue

2020 Hyundai Venue

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

Eileen Falkenberg-Hull- The Hyundai Venue is a bit smaller than the Kona but has similar features at a lower price. It's a pleasure to drive, easy to park, and has enough space for four adults for short trips. Hyundai wins points for making Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard on even the base model, as well as an 8-inch infotainment touch screen.

2020 Toyota Corolla

2020 Toyota Corolla

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

Chad Kirchner: The 2020 Toyota Corolla is available in either a sedan or hatchback, making it versatile, but also because Toyota includes their excellent safety suite standard on every trim.

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The CX-50 is surpsingly capable off-road.

Mazda

I have driven all of the Mazda vehicles that have been sold in the US market over the past three decades. On everyday roads and on racetracks. I’ve appreciated their “zoom-zoom”. Good power. Punchy torque just where it was needed. Well-balanced and sporty handling. A bit of growl for the versions that called for it. Plus, tasteful-but-modest styling and more or less elbow room, depending on the model. Mazda’s have been made for sports-car enthusiasts and to ferry families. But, I had never known a Mazda called an “overlander”. Until now.

2023 Mazda CX-50Towing capacity extends to 2,000 pounds.Mazda

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 moves this traction-sophisticated automaker into the lands where the pavement ends and now takes the brand ‘off-track’. Although it’s not a new thing for many of today’s carmakers to add a backcountry model or two to their lineup, it’s new for Mazda. I traveled to Santa Barbara, California to check out this all-new crossover built on Mazda’s seventh-generation small SUV platform that is shared with the smaller CX-30. This 5-passenger utility is longer, lower and wider than the CX-5 that rides on the previous generation’s underpinnings. The CX-50 has been crafted with a roomier second row and more cargo room for the goods and gear that weekend warriors and adventurers want to carry.

The CX-50 comes with a choice of two engines: a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine with cylinder deactivation that gets 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and Mazda’s Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter turbo-charged powerplant with 256 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque; both shift through a six-speed automatic transmission. The sport ute can tow up to 2,000 lbs. with the naturally aspirated motor and up to 3,500 lbs. with the turbo-charged mill and Intelligent Drive Select (Mi-Drive) that brings a tow mode as well as Normal, Sport and Off-Road. The newest Mazda model has been made for North America only and is built in Alabama. It is the first Mazda vehicle with auto start/stop that can be deactivated.

2023 Mazda CX-50Mazda is a master of upscale interiors. Mazda

The new crossover starts at $26,800 and comes in S, S Select, S Preferred, S Preferred Plus, S Premium, and S Premium Plus with the base motor. Turb-charged versions come in Turbo, Turbo Premium, and Turbo Premium Plus that tops out at close to $42,000. A long list of technology and safety features are standard or available. Mazda says that Meridian, a fourth turbo trim will arrive soon with even more off-road cred; it will be set up with 18-inch black wheels AT, hood graphics and other backcountry goodies.

When you look at the CX-50, the first thing you’ll notice is exterior styling that speaks to its adventure-ready mission. Muscular bodywork, such as extra cladding, wide fender flairs and larger, more aggressive tires mean that this crossover has been designed not only to give a nod to the looks of a rugged crossover but to provide enhanced traction and a tad more suspension stretch for motoring over uneven terrain and along bumpy dirt roads. Planted on its haunches with functional air vents, it eschews minivan styling with a low and wide footprint that allows owners to have easy access to high-strength roof rails for loading gear on top; the roof has been made stronger than other Mazda crossovers to accommodate heavier loads, such as a roof-top tent. A panoramic moonroof- a first for Mazda- and attractive antiglare hood graphics and are tasteful additions.

The interior is attractive and roomy, with horizontal lines and “cleanable” surfaces as a nod to outdoor endeavors. Our Turbo Premium Plus model had bright orange reverse stitching that popped the cabin that has been crafted with uplevel trims and materials and brought heads-up display. A 7-inch infotainment screen is standard, while the top models get a 10.25-inch version. A wireless charging pad and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all trims. Of note, is the rear power and programmable liftgate to the wide and deep rear cargo compartment, with a load floor that flush with the liftgate opening to help slide heavy items in and out of the back. An available line of cargo accessories makes stowage easier.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 is family roadtrip ready.Mazda

How did it handle over the 200-plus miles of our ride and drive? The Turbo Premium Plus CX-50 offers a lot like; many of its driving attributes are consistent with Mazda’s tuning and handling priorities across its product line. Traveling along coastal highways, carving mountainous twisties with tight turns and accelerating on flat and straight well-graded pavement, it has great Mazda manners: i.e., there is enough power and torque in the right bandwidth to move it well; precise steering with a slightly heavily-weighted leather-wrapped steering wheel and well-modulated brakes, especially with towing a 3,500-lb. load. We enjoyed using Sport mode for carving corners, as it brings elongated shifts from the six-speed automatic; a crisp response comes when sport shifting in “manual mode” and provides a quick throttle response.

We tried out the Off-Road mode on a course that included flat and uneven dirt roads, as well as hill climb and descent. Although there is no downhill descent control system, the brakes worked well, along with manual gearing. Of note, Mazda would be wide to add downhill descent engineering for steeper and slicker terrain. We were able to test the difference between Normal and Off-Road over a special section of the course with sandy corners and a winding track at a speed of 30 mph showing the improved traction in the Off-Road programming and the aid of Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control that brings a bit of magic to transfer torque to the wheels where it is needed to keep the intended track-think of it like an enhanced traction control program that helps with steering and yaw control.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 comes with off-road driving modes. Mazda

Other aids for off-road and backcountry travel are: the i-Activ All-Wheel Drive system that is standard equipment on all CX-50s, with a 50/50ish power transfer front to back; 8.6 inches of ground clearance; an 18-degree approach angle and a 24-degree departure angle; and an optional 360-degree camera system.

*EPA reports: base motor fuel economy 24 city/30 highway mpg, while the turbo option gets 23/29 mpg and can run on regular or premium fuel.

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New electric SUV

Honda teases its first EV

The Prologue will go on sale as a 2024 model.

Honda

Honda is nearing the unveiling of its first electric vehicle, the Prologue, and today the automaker gave us our first glimps of the new vehicle. It's just a sketch, but Honda did share some production details and information on its product roadmap.

Honda DealerHonda plans to sell half a million EVs by the end of the decade. Honda

Honda says the Prologue will be an adventure-ready SUV "capable of satisfying everyday driving and weekend getaways with a strong hint of the well-received Honda e in the front fascia." The SUV was developed in Honda's Design Studio in Los Angeles, and was designed with an eye on Honda's global EV models. Honda said it focused on aerodynamics and fine-tuning the body to reducelines and improve range.

The Japanese automaker developed the Prologue alongside GM, but it has other EVs coming to market by 2026. By 2030, Honda says it will release 30 new EVs globally with a production volume of two million units. The co-developed vehicle is the first, but the rest will be built on Honda e:Architecture. In 2027, the automaker will begin building and selling a line of affordable EVs using the architecture developed with General Motors. Honda says it plans to sell half a million EVs in North America by the end of hte decade.

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