Hyundai as First Car? (Elantra, Sonata, Genesis Coupe, i20 +)

Hyundai may be a relative newcomer to the US market, but their product line has vastly improved over the years.

Their modest price tags, exceptional quality, and extended warranty are attractive for young drivers shopping for their first cars.

is hyundai a good first car

Generally: Are Hyundais Good First Cars?

Hyundai prices their vehicles competitively against the competition, so they are suitable first cars for teenagers.

Consumer Reports ranked Hyundai #11 out of 28 auto brands in their 2021 reliability report – an excellent testimonial that they make reliable vehicles.

It also bettered Kia to be the most reliable Korean automaker.

However, its position behind traditional reliability powerhouses like Mazda, Toyota, and Honda means it has some ground to catch up to its Asian peers.

Overall, Hyundai vehicles are reliable, and they offer outstanding value at affordable prices, making them excellent first cars.

Plus, their newer models are attractively-styled.

See how the various Hyundai cars compare towards the end of this post.

Specific Hyundai Models:

Hyundai has several models that range from good to excellent first cars.

#1 Is a Hyundai Accent a Good First Car?

The Accent is Hyundai’s smallest sedan and competes with Nissan Versa, Kia Rio, and Toyota Yaris sedan.

Subcompacts have the ideal first car price but less structural safety that larger sedans can offer.

The Hyundai Accent is good for a first car if you opt for a used Accent in good conditions:

  • Thrifty on fuel – 36 mpg combined is one of the more fuel-efficient subcompacts.
  • Excellent visibility – thin windshield and back pillars, plus large windows help outward view.
  • Diminutive dimensions – easy to park and maneuver in tight spaces.
  • Reasonably low annual maintenance – $444 per year; subcompacts average $456.
  • Reliable vehicle – above-average ratings on JD Power.
  • Average safety ratings – a tad less than full marks in the IIHS and NHTSA crash tests.

However, getting in and out of an Accent will be more challenging for larger adults due to its size.

#2 Is a Hyundai Elantra a Good First Car?

It has many rivals in the compact car segment, including the Civic and Corolla, but the Elantra manages to stay super-competitive and lead in some aspects.

The Hyundai Elantra is an all-around excellent first car with the data and good looks to back it up:

  • Impressive gas mileage – a consistent 30+ mpg combined across most model years. The 2021 Elantra is the segment leader in fuel economy.
  • Affordable maintenance – $452 per year; compact cars average $526.
  • Good visibility – out the front and the sides, although thick back pillars somewhat compromise the rearward view.
  • Relatively easy to park – compact cars are an ideal size for teenagers.
  • Impeccable safety – 2021 Elantra and newer achieved max crash test scores.
  • Rock-solid reliability – consistently above 80/100 in JD Power reliability rating.
  • Comprehensive safety features – class-competitive offerings depending on model year.
  • Comfortable ride – a car for short and long drives.
  • Sleek design – a standout in the class (2021 Elantra and newer); first cars need not look dull.

Which Hyundai Elantra Year Is the Best First Car?

Elantras are generally reliable vehicles, so which year should you choose?

Table Guide:

  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base; auto).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
  • Complaints: total reported problems (CarComplaints).
Model YearSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Fuel Econ.ReliabilityComplaints
2022 Elantra4/45/533/43/3780/100NA
2021 Elantra4/45/533/43/3780/1005
2020 Elantra4/44/530/40/3481/10016
2019 Elantra4/44/529/38/3383/10010
2018 Elantra3.8/44/529/38/3382/10024
2017 Elantra4/44/529/38/3380/10069
2016 Elantra3.8/45/528/38/3281/10043
2015 Elantra3.8/45/528/38/3281/10067
2014 Elantra3.8/45/528/38/32NA84
2013 Elantra3.8/45/528/38/32NA532
2012 Elantra3.8/45/528/38/3277/100158
2011 Elantra3.8/4NA28/38/3277/100109
2010 ElantraNANA26/34/29NA108
Hyundai Elantra model years comparison.

Newer models improved their fuel efficiency and safety ratings over the older ones, although 2015 Elantra and newer are consistently reliable.

The 2021 Elantra or newer return the highest fuel economy and are the safest, judging by the maximum crash test scores, and would be the better first car.

If you can find an older Elantra in good condition, don’t let the stats hold you back.

Nevertheless, avoid 2013 Elantra with its high number of reported problems – brake noise being the most-reported issue.

Hyundai Elantra Compared with Similar Vehicles

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (auto).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems; 5yr avg. (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 Fuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
Hyundai Elantra33/43/3781/100$4524/45/5Good
Honda Civic30/38/3382/100$3684/45/5Good
Toyota Corolla30/38/3383/100$3624/45/5Good
Hyundai Elantra33/43/3781/100$4524/45/5Good
Mazda Mazda 328/36/3180/100$4334/45/5Average
Kia Forte31/41/3583/100$4514/45/5Good
Nissan Sentra29/37/3283/100$4914/45/5Good
Hyundai Elantra comparison with similar vehicles.

The yearly maintenance cost for compact sedans is $526.

It’s hard to beat the Civic and Corolla in running costs, but the others are inexpensive to maintain – whichever you choose.

All the makes and models in the table are segment-competitive in reliability and safety ratings.

#3 Is a Hyundai Elantra Coupe a Good First Car?

Genesis has produced only two coupes – the Genesis Coupe (2010 to 2016) and Elantra coupe (2013 to 2014).

If you’re eyeing the Elantra coupe, you’ll be glad to know that it makes a better first car than its more powerful Genesis sibling:

  • Moderate power – the 1.8L four-cylinder’s 148 hp will suffice for a city car (2013 Elantra coupe).
  • Impressive fuel economy – 28 mpg city, 38 mpg highway, and 32 mpg combined.
  • Front-wheel-drive – the ideal drivetrain for beginners.
  • Basic safety features – traction and stability control, antilock disk brake, and airbags are standard.
  • Average visibility – the lower seating position may pose a problem for shorter drivers.
  • Good ride quality – it rides pretty much like its sedan sibling, making it a practical car for short and long drives.
  • Large trunk – excellent volume for a coupe; useful for grocery shopping and road trips.

The 2014 Elantra coupe comes with a bigger engine – a 2.0L four-cylinder that develops 173 hp – and is less suitable as a first car.

#4 Is a Hyundai Genesis a Good First Car?

The Genesis is Hyundai’s luxury spinoff and has two body styles and several models:

  1. Genesis G70 (small sedan)
  2. Genesis G80 (midsize sedan)
  3. Genesis G90 (large sedan)
  4. Genesis GV70 (small SUV)
  5. Genesis GV80 (midsize SUV)

They are expensive premium vehicles, and the Genesis G70 is the cheapest of the lot.

That said, the Genesis G70 is one of the sportiest cars in the class and a credible challenger to the established German sports sedans like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3 Series.

For the vast majority of first-time car buyers, the Hyundai Genesis is a poor choice for a first car as it suits only a handful who could handle the power responsibly and have the budget to own one:

  • Expensive for a first car – any G70 will cost you above $30,000.
  • Too much power – between 252 hp (four-cylinder) and 365 hp (turbocharged V6).
  • Rear-wheel-drive – a difficult drivetrain for rookie drivers to master and dangerous when conditions get slippery.
  • Poor fuel economy – 25 mpg combined.
  • Good visibility – outward views are reasonably good for a sports car with a lower center of gravity, but the sloping roofline compromises the rearward view.
  • Cramped back seat – impractical for carrying passengers.

The all-wheel-drive option is available for added traction, but it adds to an already prohibitive price tag.

#5 Is a Hyundai Genesis Coupe a Good First Car?

The Genesis Coupe is a capable sports car that can rival the might of the Infiniti G37 coupe, Chevy Camaro coupe, and Ford Mustang.

The available model years cover 2010 to 2016.

Between the 210 hp (2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder) and 306 hp (V6), the former powertrain is comparatively the better pick for a first car, although its power still borders excessive for most teenage drivers:

  • More power than necessary – 210 hp may prove a handful for rookie drivers, let alone the 306 hp V6.
  • Expensive for a first car – the cheapest Genesis Coupe will still set you back over $10,000.
  • Rear-wheel-drive – a sports car territory. The cheaper FWD is more beneficial for teen drivers.
  • Decent visibility – as good as sports coupes can be out the front and sides. Still, you’d want your first car to have the best outward view possible.
  • Abysmal range – 19 mpg combined will hurt each time you visit the pump.
  • Stiff ride – not ideal for long trips.
  • Tiny rear seats – impractical for a daily driver.

Bear in mind that expensive sports cars are a favorite among thieves, and it’s a factor that drives up insurance premiums.

Young and inexperienced drivers should opt for a cheaper and less powerful first car and get a Genesis coupe after clocking some years under their belt.

However, the smaller-engine Elantra coupe presents a more viable option (see the following sections).

Genesis Coupe Compared with Better First Cars

Any car capable of more than 200 horsepower is unsuitable for teenage drivers.

This comparison doesn’t aim to find the Genesis Coupe’s equivalent but to demonstrate that your first car should be a less powerful and cheaper option.

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg combined (manual).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 HorsepowerFuel Econ.Maint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
Genesis coupe210-348 hp19$621NANAAverage
Subaru BRZ205-228 hp24$6723.8/4NAGood
Honda Civic Si197-205 hp30$368+4/45/5Good
Mazda Miata116-181 hp29$429NANAAverage
Honda Civic110-158 hp33$3684/45/5Good
Genesis Coupe comparison with better first cars.

The Honda Civic Si is a viable option if you want a daily driver with a little more pep for some spirited driving.

It is still a Honda, so it will be reliable, and parts aren’t expensive.

Plus, the Civic Si is an FWD car with excellent visibility, a crucial need for new drivers.

Alternatively, the Mazda MX-5 Miata is another great option; although an RWD but much less powerful.

The standard Honda Civic is the best first car among them – fuel-efficient, cheap to buy and operate, and responsive-enough handling for a fun drive.

#6 Is a Hyundai Kona a Good First Car?

The Kona entered the subcompact SUV arena in 2018 and is one of the segment leaders with its exterior styling, driving capability, and accessible price.

Small sedans aside, subcompact SUVs are an attractive option for young drivers getting their first car.

The Hyundai Kona is an exciting option and, overall, a good choice for a first car:

  • Good gas mileage – low-30s mpg combined is average in this segment.
  • Excellent visibility – slim roof pillars, generously-sized side glass, and rear side windows that don’t taper much.
  • High seating position – an SUV positive and a plus for teenage drivers that aids visibility.
  • High safety ratings – IIHS awarded it with a Top Safety Pick designation.
  • Plenty of safety features – collision warning, emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, etc. The Kona is relatively new, so you can expect the latest safety tech.

The Kona is affordably-priced but relatively expensive for a teenager’s first car, whether you buy new or used.

The cheapest used Kona will still cost you close to $20,000.

#7 Is a Hyundai Sonata a Good First Car?

The Sonata is a worthy challenger to the Accord and Camry in design, build quality, and reliability.

All quantifiable aspects considered, the Hyundai Sonata is an excellent first car for teenagers:

  • Dependable vehicle – save for the problematic 2011 Sonata, most Sonatas are highly reliable.
  • Class-competitive gas mileage – on par with the Accord and Camry.
  • Good visibility – slim roof pillars and large windows aid outward visibility for a safer drive.
  • Relatively easy to maneuver – although compact cars will make parking less challenging for new drivers.
  • Economical maintenance – $458 annually; midsize cars average $526.
  • Structurally safe – 2016 Sonata and newer achieved maximum scores in IIHS and government crash tests.
  • Long warranty – 5 yr/60,000 mi basic, 10 yr/100,000 mi powertrain.

Which Hyundai Sonata Year Is the Best First Car?

Table Guide:

  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base; auto).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
  • Complaints: total reported problems (CarComplaints).
Model YearSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Fuel Econ.ReliabilityComplaints
2022 Sonata4/45/528/38/3282/100
2021 Sonata4/45/528/38/3282/1001
2020 Sonata4/45/526/35/2981/1004
2019 Sonata4/45/525/36/2981/1002
2018 Sonata4/45/525/36/2981/10027
2017 Sonata4/45/525/36/2981/10054
2016 Sonata4/45/525/38/3083/10047
2015 Sonata3.8/45/525/37/2984/100202
2014 Sonata3.6/45/524/35/2884/10069
2013 Sonata3.6/45/524/35/2882/100216
2012 Sonata3.6/45/524/35/2877/100242
2011 Sonata3.6/45/522/35/2678/100839
2010 Sonata3.3/4NA22/32/2583/100130
Hyundai Sonata model years comparison.

Opt for Hyundai Sonata 2016 or newer for your first car as they are structurally safer, reliable, and more fuel-efficient.

Avoid 2011 Sonata as it has, by far, the highest number of reported problems, with engine seizure topping the list.

Hyundai Sonata Compared with Similar Vehicles

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (auto).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
 Fuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. CostsSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Visibility
Hyundai Sonata28/38/3282/100$4584/45/5Good
Honda Accord30/38/3383/100$4004/45/5Excellent
Toyota Camry28/39/3282/100$3884/45/5Excellent
Mazda Mazda 626/35/2982/100$4814/45/5Good
Kia Optima25/35/2982/100$4714/45/5Good
Nissan Altima28/39/3282/100$4834/45/5Excellent
Hyundai Sonata comparison with similar vehicles.

The six candidates for your first car in the table are segment leaders.

Your choice will depend on the design, plus your inspection of the vehicle’s conditions if you’re buying a used car.

#8 Is a Hyundai Tucson a Good First Car?

The Tucson is a compact SUV available in three powertrain options: gas, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid.

The Hyundai Tucson offers a wealth of safety features and advantages of an SUV, making it an excellent choice for a teen’s first car:

  • Competitive pricing – its excellent interior quality and standard features make it a great value for money.
  • Average gas mileage – below 30 mpg combined.
  • Good visibility – relatively slim windshield pillars that only thicken at the base, although the sloping roofline and chunky rear pillars create blind spots out the back.
  • Strong reliability – consistent above-average scores on JD Power.
  • Topnotch safety – IIHS and NHTSA gave full marks in their crash tests.
  • Plenty of driver aids – helpful for inexperienced drivers.
  • Long warranty – industry-leading coverage length.
  • Roomy interior – good for taking a few friends plus personal effects.

Unfortunately, the Hyundai Tucson hybrid cannot match its rivals on fuel economy with 38 mpg combined.

#9 Is a Hyundai Veloster a Good First Car?

The Veloster is a distinctively styled hatchback with its unconventional three-door design – one door on the driver’s side and two on the passenger side, allowing easier back seat access.

The turbocharged Veloster capable of producing over 200 hp (or 275 hp in the 2022 Veloster) isn’t ideal for a youngster still learning to drive safely.

However, the base Veloster with a non-turbo four-cylinder engine is more suitable as a first car despite some flaws:

  • Adequately powered – between 132 and 147 horsepower, depending on model year.
  • Average gas mileage – around 30 mpg combined is frugal enough for a city car.
  • Suitable size – the compact dimensions makes parking and maneuvering in tight spaces easier for inexperienced drivers.
  • Solid build quality – it’s reliable and dependable.
  • Inexpensive maintenance – $493 a year; compact cars average $526.
  • Long warranty – no automaker does better in the class.
  • Poor outward visibility – the car’s low stance, sloping roof, and small side and rear windows hamper the driver’s view out.

Cars similar to the Hyundai Veloster include:

  1. Subaru BRZ
  2. Toyota GR86
  3. Volkswagen Golf GTI
  4. Volkswagen Golf R

Then again, any car capable of pumping out more than 200 horsepower in anger isn’t suitable for a rookie driver’s first car.

If you love the Veloster’s design, the less powerful variant will better suit a first car.

Otherwise, there are plenty of compact and subcompact cars on the market, such as:

  1. Hyundai Accent
  2. Nissan Versa
  3. Chevy Spark
  4. Kia Rio

#10 Is a Hyundai i10 a Good First Car?

The i10 is a compact hatchback that made its debut in 2007, replacing the Hyundai Atos, and is available in various markets globally except the US.

It has evolved through three generations, with 2019 being its latest iteration.

Despite stiff competition in the supermini segment, the Hyundai i10 performed decently and is a good first car:

  • Adequately powered – between 66 hp (1.0L) and 86 hp (1.2L), although the former will suffice for city drive and is more fuel-efficient.
  • Strong fuel economy – 50.4 mpg (21.4 km/l)) for the smaller engine, and 46 mpg (19.5 km/l) for the 1.2L.
  • Feels relatively stable at speed – better than other narrower superminis.
  • Diminutive dimensions – easy to park and maneuver in tight spaces.
  • Spacious interior – roomy for such a small footprint.
  • Large boot – one of the best-in-class.
  • Reasonably expensive insurance – UK car insurance group 3 for the 1.0L and group 6 for the 1.2L.
  • Average safety ratings – Euro NCAP scored the 2020 i10 3/5 stars overall (without safety pack).

The i10 has many positives, but the subpar structural safety prevents it from becoming a top choice for a first car.

#11 Is a Hyundai i20 a Good First Car?

The i20 is another Hyundai supermini hatchback and sits between the i10 and i30 in size and replaced the Getz in 2008.

It’s available in Europe, but not the US, as it has the equivalent subcompact Hyundai Accent.

The Hyundai i20 is an excellent first car, especially the third-gen i20 unveiled in 2020:

  • Excellent fuel economy – between 46 mpg (19.5 km/l) to 59 mpg (25 km/l). The diesel variant is the most fuel-efficient.
  • Moderately powerful engine – the diesel variant provides enough pep for a spirited drive in a small car. Engine options include 1.0L petrol, 1.2L petrol, and 1.5L diesel, but their availability may vary between markets.
  • Roomy and comfortable interior – performs well in short and long drives.
  • Strong safety ratings – 4 out of 5 stars overall on Euro NCAP for the 2015 i20 and 5 stars for the 2009 i20.
  • Relatively expensive insurance for a small car – between groups 4 and 10, depending on variant and engine size.
  • Comprehensive safety features – in the latest i20: emergency braking, forward collision assist, lane-keep assist, blind-spot warning, and 6-airbag system.
  • Easy to drive and park – the compact dimensions should make it easy for new drivers to handle.
  • Good looks – not essential for a first car, but a welcome bonus.

If you want to lower the insurance costs on the i20, opt for the petrol engine as diesels typically cost more to insure.

That said, if you want your first car to attract the lowest premium possible, explore these insurance group 1 cars:

  1. Kia Picanto and Kia Rio
  2. Ford KA+
  3. Fiat Panda
  4. Vauxhall Corsa hatchback
  5. Volkswagen Up and Volkswagen Fox
  6. Citroen C1
  7. Nissan Micra
  8. Chevrolet Spark

#12 Is a Hyundai i30 a Good First Car?

The i30 is the largest hatchback on this list, currently in its third generation with the 2020 facelift.

It’s available in the European and Australian markets but is rebadged as the Elantra GT in the US.

If you fancy a Hyundai hatch but desire more cabin room and a bigger engine, the Hyundai i30 is a great choice for a first car despite the mixed credentials:

  • Powerful engine for a small car – the base 1.0L petrol engine pumps out 118 hp, and the diesel 134 hp.
  • Outstanding fuel economy – close to 60 mpg (25 km/l) on the diesel engine.
  • Good visibility – out the front, but the thick pillars and small window at the back compromise rearward view.
  • Impeccable safety ratings – full 5 stars overall in the Euro NCAP tests for the 2017 i30 and 2012 i30.
  • Cheap to run – Hyundais are typically reliable vehicles.
  • Expensive insurance – between UK insurance groups 6 and 11 (i30 2012 to 2017) and groups 8 and 11 (i30 2017 onwards).

The i30 is larger than the i20 and i10, so the extra insurance premium is unavoidable.

Further, teenagers in their first cars present high risks to the insurers.

If you want the i30 for your first car, but with lower insurance costs, opt for these:

  • Smaller engine,
  • Petrol engine,
  • Manual transmission, and
  • Annual payment.

That said, your location plays a massive role in your insurance quote.

Alternatives to the Hyundai i30 include:

  1. Mazda 3
  2. Ford Focus

Comparison: Best Hyundai for a First Car

Table Guide:

  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests average.
  • Safety (NHTSA): 1 (poor) to 5 (safest); NHTSA overall.
  • Visibility: excellent, good, average, poor.
  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base model).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
Safety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)VisibilityFuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. Costs
Elantra Hybrid4/45/5Good49/52/50NANA
Ioniq Hybrid4/4NAGood58/60/5977/100NA
Ioniq Electric4/4NAGood133 MPGe78/100NA
Sonata Hybrid4/45/5Good45/51/47NANA
Genesis G704/4NAGood22/30/2580/100$565
Genesis CoupeNANAAverage17/24/19NA$621
Kona Electric4/45/5Excellent120 MPGeNANA
Tucson Hybrid4/45/5Good38/38/38NANA
Hyundai models comparison.

Overall, the Hyundai Elantra, Sonata, Venue, and Tucson are excellent first cars with their class-competitive fuel economy, reliability, and affordable prices.

Opt for the Hyundai hybrids and EVs if you want the best range, provided charging isn’t an obstacle for your situation and in your area.

Alternative Makes to Hyundai for a Teenager’s First Car

Hyundai vehicles are typically good choices for budget-conscious buyers.

Alternatively, the Japanese and Korean cars are worth considering:

  1. Honda – Civic, Accord.
  2. Toyota – Corolla, Camry.
  3. MazdaMazda 3, Mazda 6, MX-5 Miata.
  4. Nissan – Versa.
  5. Kia – Forte, Optima, Rio.
  6. Chevrolet – Spark.

Always do your research, inspect, and test drive before buying.