While most people start learning how to drive with a hand-me-down car from parents or relatives, there comes a time when they want to get their first new car. With hundreds of models to choose from, narrowing the list to just one can seem overwhelming.
To help them start, Edmunds’ experts compiled a list of four new vehicles that excel in the areas first-time owners would be wise to prioritize. These include a low starting price and high safety scores.
Specifically, each model earns a Top Safety Pick recommendation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. These are also vehicles that Edmunds has tested and consider to be among the best in their respective classes.
All listed prices include destination and handling charges.
Stylish small SUV: 2021 Kia Soul
Saying a car looks like a box on wheels would not normally be a compliment. But in the case of the Kia Soul, it somehow works. This small SUV has a distinctive upright profile that stands out compared to more traditionally styled rivals.
Kia also offers the Soul in different looks; GT-Line and Turbo trim levels offer red exterior accents and a mesh grille for a sporty theme, while the X-Line has gray fender cladding for more of an off-road vibe.
The Soul is easy to get in and out of and has plenty of room for passengers. It also comes with a pleasing number of features for the money.
For example, every Soul except the base LX comes with advanced driver safety aids that can help reduce driver distraction and mitigate imminent collisions. Another bonus is Kia’s excellent five-year limited warranty.
Negatives are few but include a bit too much wind and road noise on the highway.
Our pick: Soul S, $21,710
Sporty small hatchback: 2021 Hyundai Veloster
Small but fun, the Hyundai Veloster is a unique pick because of its three-door layout. It has a single door on its driver’s side and two doors on its passenger side. This configuration creates a sporty, coupe-like appearance with the added benefit of an extra rear door to make it easier for rear passengers to get in and out. The Veloster is also a hatchback, which makes it easier to load luggage and cargo than in a sedan.
The Veloster’s standard 147-horsepower engine is fine, but consider getting the available turbocharged engine. It makes a stout 201 horsepower and gives the Veloster quick acceleration. The extra power is also a pleasing complement to the Veloster’s sharp handling.
Just like Kia, Hyundai offers a five-year limited warranty.
On the downside, the Veloster’s ride quality is a little stiff, and the cabin can get noisy at highway speeds, especially when the car is equipped with high-performance tires.
Our pick: Veloster Turbo R-Spec, $24,445
Sensible midsize sedan: 2021 Honda Accord
Few vehicles get closer to “no-brainer” pick status than the Accord. It’s consistently one of the top-selling cars in America, and the latest-generation Accord is one of Edmunds’ favorite midsize sedans. It’s roomy, upscale and enjoyable to drive.
The Accord’s standard turbocharged engine provides pleasing power and above-average fuel economy. The Accord Hybrid is even more efficient, sipping fuel to the tune of 48 mpg in the EPA’s combined city/highway estimate.
Honda’s smaller Civic is a smart alternative to the Accord if you’re looking for a lower price. Going with the Accord, however, gets you a slightly bigger back seat and trunk. The interior is nicer, too, with more upscale materials.
Infotainment and safety features on the Accord are abundant, though they’re not as simple to operate as those in some rival sedans.
Our pick: Accord LX, $25,725
Efficient midsize SUV: 2021 Toyota Venza
Hybrids have a somewhat justified reputation for being a little dorky. Yet there’s nothing dorky about the new Venza.
After a five-year hiatus, Toyota has taken this nameplate off the shelf for a 2021 midsize SUV fitted exclusively by a hybrid powertrain. This Venza has a sharp-looking exterior and a well-equipped cabin that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Lexus.
The Venza is good for an EPA-estimated 39 mpg in combined city/highway driving. This is among the highest estimates you can get from a hybrid SUV. All-wheel drive comes standard, too.
As for negatives, the Venza’s cargo area isn’t as big as those in some other rival SUVs, such as the Ford Edge or Honda Passport. But if you want comfort, versatility and high fuel economy from your first vehicle, the Venza will work out great.
Our pick: Venza LE, $33,645
Your first new car should be sensible, but there’s no rule saying it can’t be memorable, too. Start with one of these four vehicles and then do some research and comparison shopping to find the best deal.
Brent Romans is a senior editor of written content at Edmunds. Instagram: brent.romans.