Interesting Economy Cars For New Drivers
Updated: Sep 5, 2020
Now, let’s imagine this, or maybe you don’t have to imagine: You’re 17 and looking to buy your first car. Obviously you’re an enthusiast or else you wouldn’t be on this site so you want something a little cooler than a 2011 Camry with a V6, despite them being good cars. Well, here are some great first cars for any young enthusiast. Now, I’ve organized them into categories for the type of enthusiast you are; Economy Cars, Performance Cars, Luxury Cars, SUVs, and Vans/Minivans. Now, you can contact me if you feel there are other cars or if you want to know about more options. I can’t list every interesting economy car I know or else this list would be a mile long. Also, I’m not doing a pickup truck category because any pickup truck is fine as long as it isn’t a Honda Ridgeline. As you can see from the title, this list is for the first category, economy and econosports cars. Now, let’s get onto the list.
Now, the Suzuki Cultus, sold in North America under many names: Chevrolet Sprint, Pontiac Firefly, Geo Metro, Suzuki Swift, Chevrolet Metro, and the later Suzuki Esteem, are good little runabouts that are very cheap. The first gen Sprint cane in both 3 and 5-door hatchback body styles. The second gen Metro cake in both 3 and 5-door hatchbacks as well as a 2-door convertible version while the Swift of that generation also came with a sedan version. The third generation Metros came in just the 3-door hatchback and a 4-door sedan. The Suzuki Esteem is a more conventional 4-door sedan and station wagon. Metros retail for around $100-$900 on assorted online listings and are extremely reliable. Maybe not the fastest machines but they are nippy little runabouts. The Suzuki Esteem can be found anywhere from $500 on Craigslist to $2000 on used dealer lots. Great on fuel economy, especially the Metro era.
Now I know this list is for more interesting cars but bear with me, 80’s and 90’s Honda Civics. More specifically, the AT, EF, EG, and EK generations (1984-2000). They have all the benefits of the Suzuki Cultus family but they’re faster and more tunable. They have major street credit for those in the know. All four of the mentioned generations have sedan and 3-door hatchback variants. The AT and EF generations also have a 5-door hatchback/wagon version, dubbed the “Wagovan”. The EG and EK don’t have a wagon body style but they do have a coupe variant. The Civics are a tad bit more expensive than the Metros, retailing around $500-$2000 but beware, prices may be on the rise, especially for stock Si models in good condition. Now I would include more cars like this but my boss wants stuff that’s interesting.
Now here’s something that’s really interesting, the Nissan Pulsar NX and its successor, the Nissan NX. These are extremely rare to see on the road but they are lurking around the secondhand marketplace listings, mostly in bad condition since they were old ass economy cars. Trust me, these will turn some heads at any local car meet. And of course, they’re sports-economy cars so they’re great in that regard. Motorweek ranked the Nissan NX1600, the lower powered NX, #3 in their 1992 econo-sports roadtest comparison.
Now onto something much less weird, but cool nonetheless. The Saturn S-Series. Think about it, you can get manual versions, wagon versions, you can get it in brown, it’s from a defunct brand, and the dent-resistant plastic body panels are a major quirk. It’s perfect for r/Cars! The only problem is that it’s fail wheel drive and doesn’t have a diesel engine. Anyways, it also comes in a sleek looking coupe version and a normal sedan. There is also a slightly rare right hand drive wagon version, made for postal service in small rural areas. They’re fairly reliable and the styling is far from generic. Definitely have this on your mind if you’re shopping. They’re in the high hundreds to the low thousands on buy here pay here dealer lots and about the same on the online marketplace. The 1992 coupe was chosen #1 in Motorweek’s 1992 econo-sports road test comparison.
Now onto something a bit more modern, the Dodge Caliber. It’s a great car with handsome styling and fairly cheap. KBB values a standard red one at less than $3,000. It’s got 18.5 cubic feet of cargo space which makes this a very practical vehicle. It’s decently fast, there is an SRT performance version out there which has 285bhp. And overall, it’s decently reliable, no major mechanical problems to worry about here. The estimated MPG for a standard SXT model is ~24 City, 32 Highway which is about average for a modern car. Being a newer car, there are nicer amenities such as power windows and it’s safer than the other cars I’ve listed in this category so far. The SRT-4 version boosts the Caliber’s street cred up too, even the SXT is cooler than any Dodge Avenger. They’re fairly uncommon too, but just common enough to take all of the rule #1 shots you want.
Here’s a Malibu, but not just any Malibu, a Malibu MAXX. What does MAXX mean? It means that it’s a 5-door hatchback, like the previously mentioned Caliber. This is a somewhat rare vehicle but it’s not super rare and obviously GM parts sharing would help here. Now, there is a 4-door sedan version of the Malibu but that isn’t as cool as the MAXX. And you know what else is cool about the Malibu? There’s an SS model! The Malibu MAXX comes with roughly 23 cubic feet of cargo area and gets up to 20 city and 29 highway in terms of fuel economy. Prices for these are anywhere from $1500 to around $6000.
The Toyota Echo is a great little city runabout, with its funky styling inside and out, it’s sure to turn some heads. The Echo replaced the Tercel and came in the same body styles as the last gen Tercel, a sedan and a coupe. There was a redesign for the 2003-2005 model years which toned down the styling a bit but it is still definitely an Echo. This lump of value accelerated to 60 in a blistering 8.5 seconds. The EPA rated the Echo at 34 city and 41 highway. You can find Echos from $500 on Craigslist to a few thousand on dealer lots. They do sometimes get trashed though so I’d stay closer to the dealerships.
So, this is a Daewoo Lanos. I know some people may not know what a Daewoo is so let me explain. Daewoo is a Korean car manufacturer, similar to Hyundai, owned by General Motors. Now onto the Lanos itself. It’s another small runabout econobox that comes in a 3-door hatchback and a 4-door sedan. They’re extremely cheap and they show. A lot of these Daewoos have been scrapped due to the society we live in but they are still out there, and if you come across one on Craigslist, they’re about $500-$1500, I certainly would recommend it. They’re full of character, and quite handsome to some as well.
Ah, the Suzuki Aerio, they’re fantastic little cars and great value! They cost the same as the rest of the cars on this list. Fun fact: A Suzuki Liana (what the Aerio was called in the UK) was Top Gear’s original reasonably priced car. You could have a sedan or a cute little wagon. It got a facelift in 2005 which gave it a bigger mouth. They are quite nippy little vehicles and everyone I know that’s driven one loves them. You got 141bhp in the 2002 “S” which was the base model and got up to 26 city, 33 highway. Interestingly, you could also get AWD instead of the standard FWD if you so choose.
And the final interesting econobox I’m putting in this category, the first gen Hyundai Accent. They’re reliable little vehicles, in the same vein as the Geo Metro mentioned at the beginning of this list. The first gen Hyundai Accent comes in a 3-door hatchback and a 4-door sedan. They’re basically the same as the Cultus, except Hyundai so I won’t go into more detail about them.