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A good first car

partyboye1partyboye1 Posts: 16
edited March 2014 in Subaru
I looking for suggestions for a good first car. I am open to your suggestions. I like the sentra, protege, forester, and legacy.


  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,726
    sentra: tacky inside, fast outside.
    protege: nicer inside, less fast outside, but handles better.

    Both comparably cheap to buy and operate, Mazda has the edge for b-to-b warranty, Nissan for the powertrain warranty.

    Legacy is bigger and altogether different. More expensive to buy and operate, but it's a Subie!! :-) Same with Forester. Legacy drives like a car, Forester does the same but puts the driver a little higher up. Same excellent warranty as Nissan.

    Note: Mazda has the '3' coming out pretty soon now, which has better looks (and a little more power?) than the Protege.

    2014 Mini Cooper (stick shift of course), 2016 Camry hybrid, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (keeping the stick alive)

  • icvciicvci Posts: 1,031
    I know this sounds weird...and I can believe I'm saying it...but, check out the Elantra. The 2003 has been getting great press and you can't beat the price.

    Otherwise, get the Protege. It's more fun. Test drive them all, you'll know.
  • rshollandrsholland Posts: 19,788
    Any Subie.

  • gotbgotb Posts: 39
    I bought a 2003 Sentra LE with floor mats, in-cabin microfilter and mud guards for $14,200(with $1500 rebate) and out the door price was $14,702. I have 1,300 miles so far and have nothing bad to say about. I love the powerful engine and the fact that it is packed with features like ABS, side airbags, and upgraded sound system.
  • revkarevka Posts: 1,750
    Glad to see you're getting some good feedback here. To add, you may also want compare insurance costs on the vehicles you're considering; insurance can be pretty high on a first car. My 2 cents.

    Good luck, and please keep us posted on your decision.

    Hatchbacks & Wagons Boards
  • partyboye1partyboye1 Posts: 16
    I would like more suggestions than the ones I like.
  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,726
    you didn't actually state your parameters here...I mean, civic SI is a good first car - cheap to buy (real world price should be no more than $17,5), cheap to operate/maintain, nice inside (great seats), fairly fast. Hondas in general depreciate slower than any other non-premium import too...although with this particular model that may not apply since there has been such a fire sale on them since the very beginning.

    2014 Mini Cooper (stick shift of course), 2016 Camry hybrid, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (keeping the stick alive)

  • spamletspamlet Posts: 22
    I purchased one as my first new car in 2001 and have had hardly a problem. I have taken it into the dealer once for a repair and it was covered by warranty.

    -Cheaper purchase price
    -Long warranty
    -Very good reliability as shown on these boards
    -Pretty good rebates
    -Dealers will negotiate (unlike Honda/Toyota)

    -Insurance costs

    I looked at the Sentra, Elantra, Civic, and Corolla when I bought my car. Right now, I wouldn't hesitate to purchase another Elantra over any of those other cars.
  • mazdafunmazdafun Posts: 2,329
    There are few cars that should be completely avoided these days, though many that may warrant some caution.

    Let us know what you're looking for.
  • carscoutcarscout Posts: 11
    Im thinking about buying either the 2003 spec-v or 2004 spec-v are there any problems I should know about with these cars? I cant find any good road test reviews on them. Is the engine reliable? Does it need tune ups often? And especially with the exhaust system?
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    We own 2 of the 4 cars you mention, so I'll offer up my 2 cents' worth.

    You can get a 2003 Forester X dirt cheap right now. has a new 5 speed for $18,555 last time I looked. And resale is strong, keep in mind ownership costs are what you pay minus resale. My '98 still appraises for $10,500, so $8000 over 5 years is excellent.

    My sister just bought a 2003 Forester X. She liked mine and my dad's 2001 Outback Limited. Once you have one in the family...

    It's easy to drive, too. Controls are light. Safety is excellent. It's the only one of the 4 you mention to offer side air bags that protect the head and chest. IIHS "Best Pick" in frontal offset tests, IIHS "Good" in side-impact, NHTSA quadruple 5 star safety rating. Straight As. So it's #1 in safety without question, especially with ABS and AWD standard.

    The Legacy? My wife owns it. Now the "base" model is a L/Special Edition, they are quite nice. 16" alloys, moonroof, ABS, AWD, cruise, keyless, all standard. So a base model compares to a fully loaded Sentra or Protoge. I think they're a strong value.

    Really an Outback Sport would compare more closely to a Protoge5, and an Impreza RS to a Sentra. The Legacy is a bit bigger and better equipped.

    Shop at, coincidentally they carry Nissan, Mazda, and Subaru, so you can comparison shop real-world no-haggle prices for all three. How convenient, no?

    Do get an insurance quote, this varies a lot by region and owner.

    Good luck and drive safely. I always joke that a good car for a 16 year old is a Schwinn Bicycle! ;-)

    But if it must have 4 wheels, my emphasis would be on safety.

  • partyboye1partyboye1 Posts: 16
    I am looking for a car (new/old) for about 12.5K.
  • partyboye1partyboye1 Posts: 16
    Tell me about the cars I should absolutely skip over, also.
  • All of those cars you listed sound like they would be good choices.

    I love Subies, however they will cost you a little more, but you get the AWD and a great, reliable, and safe car.

    My wife and I have a 2002 Sentra XE. This is the base model. We actually have to roll our windows down. Can you believe it?

    Our Sentra has 30,000 trouble free miles on it and we got it brand new for $12,000. Toyota dealers kept trying to sell us used Corollas with over 10,000 miles on them for $15,000, even after I told them I could get a brand new Sentra for $12,000.

    One point I need to make is that with our base model, the engine is very weak and the ride is very stiff. But like I said it has been very reliable and the price could not be beat. So it depends how much you want to spend and what your looking for. Good luck.

  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    For that kind of price, forget a new Subie. The AWD pushes prices a little higher than that, more like $16-18k. You could get a used one, 2 years old or so. The 5/60 warranty is transferable, so you're still covered for a while.

    Honda gives you just 3/36, so a used Honda has almost no warranty. Nissan has 5/60 and Mazda has 4/50, so those are better. You don't want to have a car payment and a repair bill at the same time. does have a stripped, base Sentra for $12,110. I'm not sure what comes standard but there's a new car in your price range. That includes freight, you only add taxes.

    Their cheapest Protoge is just $11,031, that's dirt cheap. I'm sure it's also stripped, but hey, first wheels aren't usually luxurious. Same deal, add only tax.

    Good luck shopping.

  • mazdafunmazdafun Posts: 2,329
    Pick one up or go to your local library. They have a short listing broken down by price ranges and a long list of vehicles to avoid. More than I can recall off the top of my head.

    My 2 cents:

    Good ones:

    Corolla (as with all Toyotas, check struts and strut plates if over 70,000 miles)
    626 (except mid-80s with the AT)
    BMW 3-series (check out the 318i 3dr hatch), older models (newer ones are prone to electronic problems, like many newer Audi, Mercedes and VW models...KISS y'know)
    Saturn S-series

    Ones I'd avoid:
    Windstar (transmissions seem to go quickly, some brake system failures)
    GM or Chrysler trucks and SUVs (electrical issues mostly)
    Saturn L-series
    Focus (give it this year to prove the bugs have been worked out from the previous 2 years...fairly nice car, terrible reliability record...what a shame)
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    For the 626, it's actually 1993-2002 models with the auto and the 4 cylinder that you should avoid. That had the horrible Ford CD4E tranny, they drop like flies. Get any 5 speed or any V6 model.

  • nippononlynippononly SF Bay AreaPosts: 12,726
    a 3-yr-old Integra? Does it have to be a new car? Get the GS-R - has leather and VTEC engine, only downside is you have to put in premium gas. Price should be about $12,5 on this vintage. Or for the same price you could get an '01 LS - runs on regular, no VTEC but still fast and fun. There are few cars built in the last decade as reliable as integras. And the fun factor is pretty high!

    If you get the LS, it is very likely to still be under manufacturer bumper-to-bumper warranty - it is 4/50 on new Acuras.

    2014 Mini Cooper (stick shift of course), 2016 Camry hybrid, 2009 Outback Sport 5-spd (keeping the stick alive)

  • icvciicvci Posts: 1,031
    I'd look at the Protege LX if I were you. Many regions are offering $2000+ cash back that lowers the price considerably. Then, if you have good credit, get preapproved at a low rate, say 4.9%. Tell the dealer you're preapproved and they may give you a better rate.

    When it's all said and done, your new Pro may have a lower payment than a used $12,500 vehicle. No bank is going to give you 4.9 on a used vehicle. Plus, you'll have the security of a 4/50 bumper-to-bumper, roadside assistance, and free loaners on warranty work.

    If you can wait a bit, everyone knows the 3 is taking the Pro's spot in the Mazda line-up, inventory needs to be moved. They'll start to offer really good deals.

    For that cash, get a Protege. It's much more fun than anything else in it's class.

    Or the (Again, I can't believe I'm saying this.) Elantra.
  • rshollandrsholland Posts: 19,788
    or Outback Sport. Maybe a tad bit more expensive than some some of the others mentioned here, but well worth the extra expense IMO. You just can't beat the (year-round) safety benefits of AWD. You also get a lot of content for the money, and Subarus are pretty much bulletproof to boot.

  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    If you're willing to stretch the price range, I agree. You can't get one in the 12s though.

  • rshollandrsholland Posts: 19,788
    people put too much emphasis on price when they think "first car." Price is important, for sure, but it's just one of many factors. I place safety far above price, hence my choice of a Subaru.

    BTW, I put my money where my mouth is. My son's first car was a new '96 Subie Impreza, when he got his license. Haven't regretted that decision one bit since. It's been a superb car.

  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Here's one way you could look at it.

    Generally, I recommend not making a loan that's longer than your warranty. So on Honda, that means 36 months. 48 months for a Mazda, 60 months for a Subaru, Nissan, or Toyota, etc.

    That way you're not paying big repair bills and car payments at the same time, which could get you upside down. And it might let you get a slightly nicer Subaru (or Nissan or Toyota) and still be able to afford it.

  • icvciicvci Posts: 1,031

    Generally, I recommend not making a loan that's longer than your warranty. So on Honda, that means 36 months. 48 months for a Mazda, 60 months for a Subaru, Nissan, or Toyota, etc.

    Subaru's bumper-to-bumper is only 3/36. Their powertrain warranty is 5 years but, it doesn't cover anything that's gonna break in five years on any of the vehicles mentioned. (If it's gonna break in 5 it'll probably happen in 4.)

    Items covered under Subies limited powertrain warranty -

    Engine block and all internal parts
    Cylinder heads and valve trains
    Oil pump, oil pan
    Timing belts or gears and covers
    Water pump
    Intake manifolds
    Oil seals and gaskets
    Torque converter
    Electronic transmission control unit
    Transaxle seals and gaskets

    Toyota is the same but, they cover seatbelts and airbags too. (I think everyone has to anyway per Government regulations.)

    Nissan is only powertrain too.

    By your standards, he'd be much better off with a longer bumper-to-bumper, like Mazda offers. Plus, depending on what region you're in, they often offer a 7/100 powertrain warranty. I'm not sure, do the others offer roadside and loaners?
  • icvciicvci Posts: 1,031
    Impreza TS or Outback Sport. Maybe a tad bit more expensive than some some of the others mentioned here...

    Yeah, like $5,000 more. Not everyone has a daddy that'll buy them a car. It's great you could do it for your son but, it's a little off topic to suggest a kid who wants to spend around $12,500 get a car with a $17,865 MSRP plus $550 destination and delivery.

    I just got my sister-in-law into her first new car, a 03 Protege LX. I drive a Protege5.
  • rshollandrsholland Posts: 19,788
    Okay, maybe we should change the thread topic name to: "The cheapest good first car," since you obviously put the bottom line price well above any other consideration.

    BTW, for $12, 500 I'd buy a good used Subie instead of a new Protege.

  • mazdafunmazdafun Posts: 2,329
    I'd go the other way: Protege v. a Subaru. Better reliability, more passenger space (than the Impreza or Forester) and higher fuel economy. Plus, my boss hasn't been very happy with his Forester (electrical problems), so that hits a little closer to home. [Check CR's data on reliability...don't just rely on anecdotal data...every model has good and bad examples, you want statistical data indicating your likelihood of getting a bad car].

    Of course, if you needed or wanted AWD, get a Subaru. Mazda doesn't sell the AWD version of the Protege in NA.

    If you just want the cheapest good new car, it'd likely be an Echo or Elantra (between these two, I'd go for the Elantra...I just can't get over the cheap plastics in the Echo, or it's exterior looks...superficial yes, but still important to me that I don't wince when I look at my car). The Scion xA (I's the shorter, cheaper one) might be worth a look too, though I think these are limited to the coasts for now.
  • icvciicvci Posts: 1,031
    Okay, maybe we should change the thread topic name to: "The cheapest good first car," since you obviously put the bottom line price well above any other consideration.

    It's not my thread. I'm not asking the questions, I'm giving some opinions. The person that started the thread is looking for a good first car around $12,500. The Protege is an excellent car around that price.

    '76 Honda Accord (purchased new for $3,995.00)

    The above was taken right out of your bio. Apparently there was a time when you had to be money conscious.

    BTW, for $12, 500 I'd buy a good used Subie instead of a new Protege.

    Well, you obviously have different criterion when you buy a car. I was simply saying that instead of buying a used car, a new Pro could, perhaps, serve better. Full warranty, new everything, better APR and that new car feeling. Plus, the Protege is a damn fun car to drive. If you think otherwise, you haven't driven one.
  • rshollandrsholland Posts: 19,788
    From a safety standpoint, AWD is better for nubie drivers, as well as experienced drivers.

    Since you reviewed my profile you will note there have been many FWD cars that I've owned, one of which we still have is a '92 Prelude. I've been driving ever since 1962, and have experienced just about every kind of drivetrain out there, and I will take AWD any day of the year, whether I lived in Vermont or Florida.

  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    It depends on the make and model, but historically, if you follow the Subaru Problems threads, the types of problems that creep up are indeed covered by the powertrain warranty. I'm talking about head gaskets on Phase I 95-99 engines, wheel bearings on pre-2003s, etc.

    Any how, I'm talking about major expenses, the powertrain warranty would for the most part cover those.

    As for price, an Impreza TS wagon costs more but offers MUCH more equipment that a stripped Protoge DX, by far. For instance:

    * A/C
    * AWD
    * ABS
    * discs vs. drums (2004 TS has them standard)
    * CD player
    * 35 horsepower
    * cruise control
    * PW, PL, PM, keyless

    So it's pretty useless to compare those.

    If you look at a P5, at least it's a little more comparable. At fitzmall, the cheapest TS is $2593 more than a P5 (half of what you claimed), and it still has more equipment (AWD alone is worth $1750).

    We had a 626 and reliability was lousy. My Miata is good, but that's Mazda's top car in reliability. My family has 4 Subies and none has been to the dealer for anything unscheduled.

This discussion has been closed.