I’m buying my first car! What should I buy?

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Photo: Saab

Jonny is 16 and buys his first car. His aging Saab is getting to the point where it is no longer reliable. He’s looking for something fun, reliable, and good for Minnesota winters. It has a fairly substantial budget for a first outing.

(Welcome back to Which car should you buy? Where we give real people real advice on buying cars. )

Here is the scenario:

I’m 16 and need a car to drive. We have an extra car at home, but it’s a 2005 Saab 9-3 that’s starting to have problems. Starting this fall, I will be required to drive to school and home (about a mile each way) in all weather conditions. I’m going to need a relatively reasonable car that’s also reliable. My parents are pretty boring when it comes to cars (my mom thinks her 2016 Outback is a fun car), so there’s only so much my car can be impractical. I don’t want a super nice fancy car because my dad said he wouldn’t let me drive it to school and my mom would end up driving it during the day.

In summary, I want a very reliable, relatively fast, and fun all-wheel drive for snowy winters in MN that’s a bit practical. I have a budget up to $20,000.

Fast facts:

Budget: Up to $20,000

Daily driver: Yes

Location: Minnetonka, MN

Wants: reliable, somewhat practical, AWD

Will not : something too weird

Expert 1: Tom McParland – … And beyond!

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Picture: Autotrader

Getting your first car is an exciting time and having a budget of $20,000 is better than most of us had to when we were teenagers. That being said, twenty bigs in this car market no longer get you what they used to. I can certainly understand wanting something sporty, but you don’t want to go too far in that direction. I imagine your insurance premiums are already high and we want to keep them as reasonable as possible.

A nice luxury sedan should do, and one that has some movement but doesn’t scream “fast.” Infiniti G-series cars wowed Europeans with excellent driving dynamics, powerful engines and solid reliability. Here’s a 2009 model with around 75,000 miles for less than $13,000. It has a powerful 300 horsepower V6 coupled to an AWD system. It doesn’t look flashy or fast, but that’s the point.

Expert 2: Mercedes Streeter – The practical choice

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Getting your first car is a big opportunity, especially when you have a big budget. What I’m about to offer you won’t even use half your budget.

here is a 2010 Volkswagen Golf GTI for $7,000. It has some minor issues and 129,000 miles. It doesn’t have all-wheel drive, but it’s convenient, fairly quick, and fun.

The way I see it is that teenagers aren’t kind to their first cars. You’ll probably miss an oil change, bang it against a pole, or try to show off to your friends. I know I would have cried if the teenager had dented me on a $20,000 clean ride. But there’s magic in a cheap, imperfect car. Get a scratch? Get a bump? Not serious !

You also drive a single mile in each direction. Get some snow tires for this car and I bet you’ll go to school even when the school buses can’t. Then, when you find out the school is closed, tear up the fun handbrake drifts in the parking lot.

Get something cheap. Enjoy the experience of having a first car rather than worrying about damaging it.

Expert 3: Raphael Orlove – The bulky choice

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I back up Mercedes’ assertion that you don’t need or want to spend a lot of money on a first car. A teenager’s first car is something that exists outside the normal laws of physics. Need a car that can accommodate eight people? In the normal world of people, that means a three-row SUV or minivan. For a teenager, that might be a 1981 Honda Accord three-door (ask me how I know.) As for performance, anything over 12 horsepower can go fast enough to cause real damage in the hands of a teenager.

If I could have a recommendation, I would say go for something sturdy, relatively tall, but also less likely to tip over. How about a Chrysler 300 All-Wheel Drive?

Expert 4: Steve DaSilva – Do the Stupid Thing

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Jonny, you’re at a fun time in your life. Freed from the responsibilities of adulthood, but able to jump into your own car to drive yourself to five guys. Savor these days, for they do not last. But what to savor these days in?

There is a standard answer to this question, and it is the standard for a reason. You need reliability, practicality and fun, all in a package that can show up in your parents’ driveway without knocking you out of the will. Something presentable, that looks good for family dinners, but a pleasure to drive: the 2008-2014 Subaru WRX sedan.

But you, Jonny, you have some money to play with. Why settle for the simple WRX when you could get your hands on an STi? Sure, this one’s been tweaked in questionable ways, but it gives you the chance to learn a bit of low-stakes tearing – replacing the terrible taillights with working ones, or swapping out the cheap wheels for wheels that won’t disintegrate the second they see a pothole. Buy the STi, drift it around all the snowy parking lots for a few years, then resell it for a profit. Win-win.

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