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Best first cars under $20,000

By Anna Kantilaftas, 28 Sep 2016 Car Advice

Volkswagen Polo

So you’re buying your first car and you’ve come to the realisation that your dream car may be a little outside your means or just plain impractical if you’re the vintage-loving type.

When navigating your way through the new-car world, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. You’ve got a limited budget, but big dreams, and you’re realising you can’t have your Champagne taste on a beer budget, not that you’re willing to sacrifice beer (when not driving, of course).

Luckily, there are plenty of options to choose from under $20k, that offers excellent safety, P-Plate approval, fuel efficient and equally as fun to drive (nothing below 4-cylinders for you).

Here are our top five picks for all the new drivers out there wanting to start their car collection…


The fun to drive Mazda 2 is one of the most reliable options in the segment. It’s attractive, fuel efficient and comes under the $19,690 budget. The downside is the hatchback is a little small, especially for cargo, but nothing a P-plater can’t handle.

Mazda 2

Price: $17,690*
Fuel Efficiency: 5.2L/100km*
WC Safety Rating: 4.5/6


The Volkswagen Polo’s punchy engine and good handling makes it one of the more enjoyable choices in this group with great everyday performance. It also comes with plenty of gear and safety equipment, but loses out thanks to its average automatic ’box and its interior styling which is a little bit boring.

Volkswagen Polo

Price: $17,190
Fuel Efficiency: 4.8L/100km
WC Safety Rating: 4.5/6


Look, the Access is no four-cylinder 208 GTI, and we know we said no 3-cylinders, but if you want to channel your inner Parisian and go for style, the 208 is a decent option with a good little engine (it’s got character), comfort and fuel efficiency. It’s not as highly rated for safety as the others, with only 4 WhichCar safety shields, because although it’s priced similar to the rest of the bunch, a lot of safety gear comes at an added cost. So if you’re happy to pay for style, then this is worth the look. But keep in mind ongoing maintenance and servicing is likely to cost more than others here.

Mazda 2

Price: $15,990
Fuel: 4.5L/100km
WC Safety Rating: 4/6


When people want reliability, there’s a reason they turn to Japanese cars, and generally, you can’t go wrong with a Toyota. The Yaris is not only reliable but it also retains its value. Unfortunately for the little Yaris, it records slightly higher fuel figures than some of the others in this list. Regardless, it’s a pretty safe buy.

Toyota Yaris

Price: $17,330
Fuel: 5.8L/100km
WC Safety Rating: 4.5/6


It may be a bit older, having arrived in 2007 and well overdue for an update, but the Lancer is a good option for someone looking for a sportier-looking sedan. It’s the only one in this list that comes with a five-year warranty. It offers buyers plenty of room, and, although one of the higher priced cars, it comes with a decent amount of equipment. Sadly, sportiness comes with a cost, and the Lancer is the least fuel efficient here and only comes with a manual option.

Mitsubishi Lancer

Price: $19,500
Fuel: 6.9L/100km
WC Safety Rating: 4.5/6

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