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Best first cars under $23,000

By David Bonnici and Anna Kantilaftas, 26 Aug 2020 Car Advice

Kia Cerato sedan rear three quarter

Buying a new car on a budget doesn't mean you have to skimp on style, fun or safety

Navigating your way through the new-car world can be overwhelming. You’ve got a limited amount to spend and big dreams, but you can’t satisfy Champagne taste on a beer budget.

Luckily, there are plenty of options to choose from under $23k that are safe, P-Plate appropriate, fuel-efficient and fun to drive. Here are our top five picks for all the new drivers out there looking for a new car.

Mazda 2 Pure

Fun to drive, the Mazda 2 is one of the most popular options in the segment. It’s attractive, fuel-efficient and well-equipped too with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. It's available as a hatchback or sedan which are identically priced. The downside is the hatchback is a little small, especially when it comes to boot space.

Mazda 2

The manual version retails for less than $21,000 with the auto falling just under $23,000. If you're a driving enthusiast, you won't regret saving $2000 and opting for the manual, which feels quite sporty.

Price from: $20,990* 
Fuel consumption: 5.4L/100km*
Pros: Fun to drive; easy on fuel; AEB standard
Cons: Small hatchback boot space; higher entry price than the previous model

MORE: Mazda 2 range review

Volkswagen Polo 75TSI Trendline 

The Volkswagen Polo’s punchy 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine and good handling make it one of the more enjoyable choices to drive in this group. It also comes with plenty of gear and safety equipment.

Volkswagen Polo

There are three versions under $23k including the manual and automatic 75TSI Trendline versions and the more powerful, well-equipped 85TSI Comfortline manual, which is our pick.

Price from: $19,290*
Fuel consumption: 4.8L/100km*
Pros: Punchy engines; great road-holding; AEB standard
Cons: Conservative looks; limited paint options

MORE: Volkswagen Polo range review

Suzuki Swift GL Navigator 

Suzuki's popular Swift packs a lot of driver appeal into a short, lightweight hatchback, bringing a little fizz to your commute and country drives alike. All versions have good a infotainment system that includes Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.

MORE: WhichCar Hatchback Buyers Guide

The basic GL starts at less than $18,000 for the manual and you can upgrade to a CVT auto for just $1000. For another $1000 you can get the auto with the safety pack that adds autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning.

Suzuki Swift GL

If you can scrounge up some extra coin, the Swift GLX Turbo with its punchy little three-cylinder turbo engine and six-speed automatic transmission retails for just under $23k and is a great little car. It comes with extras over the GL including climate control air-conditioning, LED headlights, reach-adjustable steering wheel, and smart-key entry.

Priced from: $17,990*
Fuel consumption:4.6L/100km* 
Pros: Good to drive; infotainment package
Cons: Hard interior plastics; road noise, no steering-wheel reach adjustment 

MORE: Suzuki Swift range review

Kia Cerato S

If you're happy piloting a manual, the Cerato S offers plenty of car for less than $23,000 with standard features including an 8.0-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay/Android AutoAutonomous emergency braking and lane-keeping assist.

Kia Cerato S

Like the Mazda 2, it is available in a hatchback and a handsome sedan version, both of which have roomy boot spaces. Then there's that seven-year warranty that will almost see you through to middle age. The only downside is the dated engine that's a little thirsty for a small car.

Price from: $21,490
Fuel consumption: 7.6L/100km
Pros: Comfortable; pleasant to drive; auto-braking as standard
Cons: Lacklustre engine; fuel consumption

MORE: Kia Cerato range review

Hyundai Venue Go

Hyundai's smallest high-rider is technically an SUV but it feels very much like a hatchback. Still, the Venue is a great little well-equipped runabout that's good for carrying things in its 355-litre boot space. The luggage compartment also has a two-stage floor which can be lowered to increase volume.

MORE: Hyundai Venue range review

It has a 1.6-litre petrol engine in all variants, with a choice of six-speed manual and six-speed automatic gearboxes. The latter adds about $2000 to the price tag.

Hyundai Venue Active

The base-spec Go has a good infotainment system with the now virtually obligatory Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, autonomous emergency braking and lane-keeping assist. If you're happy with the six-speed manual you can up-spec to the Venue Active (pictured) for less than $22k, which brings a few more trim and comfort features.

Price from:$20,190
Fuel consumption:7.0L/100km
Pros: Bold styling; refined ride, keen steering, boot space
Cons: Lacklustre engine, cabin noise

MORE: WhichCar SUV Buyers' Guide

*All specifications listed are based on manual transmissions. Prices and fuel figures will vary for automatics.