P-platers don’t have to settle for sub-par cars. Picture: Mark Bean
P-platers don’t have to settle for sub-par cars. Picture: Mark Bean

Best affordable cars for young drivers

Shopping for a safe, reliable car for a P-plater needn't be daunting. The market is flooded with respectable options, thanks to record car sales going back five to 10 years, vast improvements in safety gear and longer warranty support. We've selected some of the best available today. Where possible we've stuck to cars with an automatic transmission less than 10 years old and with less than 150,000km on the odo. Relax either of these parameters and more options open up.

Less than $5000

There is a lot of used Holden Cruzes on the market.
There is a lot of used Holden Cruzes on the market.

Condition counts for everything at this end of the market. Check tyre wear (a new set is $500-plus) and logbooks, including whether a major service is due soon. Don't worry about parking dings but make sure mechanicals are in good order. Don't be tempted by some of the European brands because repairs can be expensive. Japanese and Korean makes are generally a better bet.

Holden Cruze 2009-12: The Cruze was sold in big numbers, often to fleets, something that hurt its resale value and consequently makes it more appealing on the used market. Earlier examples came from Korea but from 2011 the car was made in Australia, incorporating worthy updates. All came with a full complement of airbags and stability control.

Nissan Tiida 2010-13: As far as unloved models go, the Tiida was a ripper. As a temporary replacement for the Pulsar, it never gained traction, so value was subdued. Lots of the cheap ones are older models that missed out on stability control (it was added in 2012). Aim for one from mid-2010 and you get side airbags.

A pre-loved Ford Mondeo is a lot of car for not much money.
A pre-loved Ford Mondeo is a lot of car for not much money.

Ford Mondeo 2010-15: Those wanting more space should consider the Mondeo. There are plenty of 2011 and 2012 diesels hovering at about $5000. Many will have been ex-fleet cars, so may have higher kilometres - double-check the service records. Auto transmissions can be expensive to fix, so get a second opinion to make sure something big isn't about to go bang.

Also consider: A Hyundai Sonata or Kia Cerato will be in or about this price range. You could even jag a Holden Commodore or Ford Falcon, as long as it's not had too hard a life.

Buyer's tip

Electronic stability control, designed to control a skid, was mandated on all updated models from late 2011 and on all other vehicles from November 2013. To check if the car you're looking at has ESC start the car and check the warning lights that temporarily illuminate in the instrument cluster; the ESC light is usually yellow with a car with crossing skid marks. Dealers must provide a statutory warranty on used cars for three months or 5000km. There are exceptions - for example, the warranty applies only to cars up to 10 years old with less than 160,000km on the clock.

$5000-$10,000

Double your budget and your options improve substantially, bringing not only more equipment but greater choices. Again, check all servicing is up to date and try to buy something newer. From 2010 until 2015 was an intense period of improved safety and connectivity, so the newer the better.

Hyundai i30 2009-10: The original i30 of 2009 was a big step up from the Excel and Getz that defined Hyundai's early years. Arriving with standard stability control it had the basics done well, albeit with average refinement. 2010 hatches picked up curtain airbags and there was a wagon option, each comfortably below $10K.

The 2 was a great city car.
The 2 was a great city car.

Mazda2 late 2011-2013: The DE Mazda2 was solid motoring that included more equipment than most city cars of the time. About $8000 should get you a Series 2 (or MY12) with auto transmission, side airbags and low-ish kilometres. The four-speed auto was nothing special but otherwise the 2 was great to drive.

A suzuki Swift will allow buyers to step into a much newer vehicle.
A suzuki Swift will allow buyers to step into a much newer vehicle.

Suzuki Swift 2011-15: It had a tiny boot and compact rear seat but, for singles or couples, the Swift is solid buying, especially considering Suzuki's reputation for longevity. Seven airbags and stability control were standard on the FZ from early 2011. There are a few sub-100,000km autos going for about $8000.

Skoda Octavia 2010-14: The Octavia was a Volkswagen Golf underneath so had plenty of driving flair for less money. There are decent examples for $8000 and $9000. There was good space (especially in the wagon) and a vast selection of engines. Beware of dual-clutch transmission wear (expensive to repair) and remember petrol models need premium unleaded.

Opel Astra 2012-13: Remember Opel? Not many do, which makes them a win on the used market. During Holden's failed bid to introduce the European brand, the Astra and Insignia temporarily sold under a largely unknown badge. The Astra was sound and service is still provided by Holden dealers. There are a few $7000-$9000 options - make an offer.

Opel was General Motots European brand.
Opel was General Motots European brand.

Also consider: A SsangYong Korando (as late as 2015) for a cheap SUV or Nissan Altima for more luxury.

Buyer's tip

Prepared to shift gears yourself? You'll save thousands. The move to auto-only licences means manuals are nowhere near as popular, depressing prices. If you know how to operate the third pedal, it's a great way to get more car for less money.

$10,000-$15,000

With this budget, you're suddenly opening the door to some savvy smaller SUVs. There are better bargains in regular passenger cars, though, so don't be tempted solely by the high-riding style. Discontinued once-popular models, such as the Nissan Pulsar and Mitsubishi Lancer, are often a great way to buy something near-new for a relative bargain.

The oddly named Kuga was a solid SUV that can be had for a fraction of the new vehicle purchase price.
The oddly named Kuga was a solid SUV that can be had for a fraction of the new vehicle purchase price.

Ford Kuga 2012-15: Ford's mid-sized SUV (these days called the Escape) drove well and ticked all the family boxes. A 2014 or 2015 example with circa-100,000km will ease in below $15K. The 2.5 five-cylinder turbo is tempting but the 1.5-litre turbo makes more sense.

The Dualis is now known as the Qashqai.
The Dualis is now known as the Qashqai.

Nissan Dualis 2010-15: One of the early small SUVs, the Dualis has since been renamed Qashqai and there are plenty of great examples for less than $15K. Look for 2010 at the earliest, to gain curtain airbags and stability control across the range. Ti grade had leather trim and the longer +2 version came with seven seats.

A lot of used Kias are still covered by the brand’s seven-year warranty.
A lot of used Kias are still covered by the brand’s seven-year warranty.

Kia Cerato 2015-17: Kia is now a big player but five years ago it was still muscling up, something that meant less recognition on the used market. That means bargains, including 2016 and 2017 Ceratos for $12K-13K. Later Ceratos also will have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. All are still covered by the seven-year factory warranty.

Toyota Camry Hybrid 2010-14: As the only hybrid manufactured in Australia, this one was popular with fleets. That means plenty on the used market. Plenty were snapped up by cabbies or Uber drivers but many ended up as family transport - they're the ones you want for a frugal large sedan.

Fleet buyers were a big fan of the Camry Hybrid.
Fleet buyers were a big fan of the Camry Hybrid.

Also consider: A 2016 Holden Cruze or Hyundai i40 as wagon options. The VW Golf and Toyota Corolla are solid options.

Buyer's tip

Buy smartly and you could still have factory warranty. Kia's leading seven-year cover was implemented in October 2014.

Hyundai and Mitsubishi have long had five-year warranties. Honda and Skoda stepped up to five years in 2017 and Ford, Holden and Mazda followed suit in 2018. Toyota and VW were the last mainstream brands to go to a five-year warranty, each in early 2019.


Council readies itself for 2020

premium_icon Council readies itself for 2020

If you want to have a say in what goes on in the region, now’s your chance.

Storms widespread throughout the state

premium_icon Storms widespread throughout the state

Thousands of homes left without power after severe storm

GALLERY: Success in pool puts region on the map

premium_icon GALLERY: Success in pool puts region on the map

More than 210 swimmers are making a splash at the Airlie Beach meet this weekend.