Is Subaru a Good First Car? (Impreza, Forester, Legacy +++)

In terms of safety, Subaru vehicles boast some of the best crash test scores, making them excellent first cars from that standpoint.

However, dependability is another crucial factor in choosing first cars – Subarus weren’t the most reliable, but they are improving.

is subaru a good first car

Generally: Are Subarus Good First Cars?

Subaru’s lineup includes sedans, family-friendly but highly versatile SUVs, and high-performance cars like the entry-level BRZ and the more powerful WRX and WRX STI.

Except for the highly-potent WRX variants, Subarus are typically good first cars with decent reliability, modest fuel economy, and an abundance of driver safety features for the money.

Further, the all-wheel-drive system is standard across all models bar the rear-wheel-driven performance cars, making them extra safe vehicles for teenagers, especially those living in snowy climes.

Consumer Reports ranked the Japanese automaker #7 out of 28 brands in their 2021 reliability survey – a highly respectable position behind Lexus, Mazda, Toyota, and Honda.

The brand also scores above average for value retention.

Specific Subaru Models:

#1 Is a Subaru BRZ a Good First Car?

Since its introduction in 2013, the BRZ (twin brother of Toyota 86) has emerged as one of the few cars built for driving enjoyment at a relatively low price.

The Subaru BRZ may not be the ideal vehicle for most new drivers.

But for those who desire a little more performance from an entry-level sports car, it can be a reasonably good first car, bearing in mind the shortcomings:

  • Moderately powerful – 200-odd horsepower borders the upper limits of a first car, but it is manageable as long as you drive responsibly.
  • Balanced and forgiving steering – safe enough for a first car. Daily drivers need not be dull.
  • Agreeable ride comfort is an entry-level sports car that you can drive every day, although you shouldn’t overlook the suspension setting geared towards performance.
  • Reasonable price – it isn’t significantly more expensive than other compact sedans.
  • Substantial resale value – a brand-new BRZ depreciates approx. 38% after five years; most cars fall within the 40% to 60% window.
  • Comparatively better tech features than the Toyota 86.
  • Average ground clearance – 5.1 inches; low-slung sports cars have about 4.5 inches; regular sedans have more than 5.5 inches.
  • Compact dimensions – easy to park for beginners.
  • Premium gas required – adds to your monthly fuel cost.
  • An expensive first car to maintain – $672/year is considerably more than you’d pay for a regular compact sedan.
  • Somewhat expensive to insure – a little more than a regular sedan but much less than a thoroughbred sports car. Quotes vary according to location.

If you live in a northern region that gets snow, skip the BRZ. Its RWD drivetrain is unsuitable and potentially dangerous for inexperienced drivers.

The Subaru BRZ First Car post contains more details, including the identical Toyota 86 and Scion FRS.

Subaru BRZ Compared with (Slightly) Better First Cars

With a little less horsepower, could these be a better first car for you?

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
Subaru BRZ205-228 hp24$6723.8/4NAGood
Toyota 86205-228 hp24$7553.8/4NAGood
Mazda Miata116-181 hp29$429NANAAverage
Honda Civic Si197-205 hp30$368+4/45/5Good
Honda Civic110-158 hp33$3684/45/5Good
Hyundai Veloster138-147 hp31 auto$4933.4/4NAAverage
Subaru BRZ comparison with better first cars.

The Subaru BRZ shares the same platform as the Toyota 86, including the all-new GR86 that debuted in 2022.

If it’s necessary to choose a less potent first car, the Mazda MX-5 Miata or the Honda Civic Si will appeal.

The Civic Si operates on a front-wheel-drive system (ideal for teenagers) and produces a few more horses than the base Civic sedan.

Plus, it has the practicality and solid crash safety of the Civic.

#2 Is a Subaru Crosstrek a Good First Car?

It is a subcompact SUV, and essentially an Impreza hatchback on a raised platform.

The Subaru Crosstrek is a capable entry-level small SUV and an excellent first car:

  • AWD drivetrain – a standard provision and an appealing advantage over its competition; provides better car control on slippery pavement.
  • Thrifty fuel consumption for an AWD – approx. 30 mpg combined.
  • Ample ground clearance – over 8 inches; more than most subcompact SUVs, and excellent for those who need their first car to do some off-roading.
  • Good visibility – but the rising beltline and tapering rear side windows compromise the rear-ward view.
  • Excellent scores in crash safety – full marks in the IIHS and NHTSA overall tests.
  • Generous cargo space – fulfills the needs of a practical daily driver.
  • Comfortable ride – suitable for short and long journeys.
  • Reasonably reliable – the Crosstrek is one of the more reliable Subarus.
  • Relatively inexpensive to maintain – $492/year is slightly lower than compact SUVs’ $521/year average.

The Subaru Crosstrek is a strong contender for any teenager’s first car, but you may also like the following:

  1. Mazda CX-3 and CX-30
  2. Hyundai Kona
  3. Honda HR-V
  4. Jeep Renegade
  5. Kia Seltos

#3 Is a Subaru Forester a Good First Car?

First car shoppers in the compact SUV segment have many choices; the Forester is a competitive option, especially for those looking to combine a daily driver with some weekend adventure.

The Subaru Forester is a good first car with all the positive attributes of an SUV, although a couple of weaknesses remain:

  • Excellent visibility – elevated driving position, slim roof pillars, generous window sizes all-around, and plenty of headroom.
  • All-wheel-drive – makes the Forester an all-weather vehicle and safe too.
  • Top-notch safety – scored well in crash tests (see all Subarus comparison towards the end of this post).
  • Plenty of standard safety features – new drivers deserve all the help they can get.
  • Enhanced off-road capability – thanks to the higher ground clearance than its rivals.
  • Average fuel economy – 29 mpg combined is class-competitive, but the underpowered engine may force you to floor the accelerator, which increases fuel consumption.
  • Good reliability – one of the more reliable Subarus, judging by the JD Power ratings.
  • Average build quality – isn’t as well built as the other Japanese or Korean SUVs.
  • Costly maintenance – $632/year is above the $521/year average for compact SUVs and higher than most competitors (compared below).

New drivers require a commanding view of the road to aid safe driving, and the Subaru Forester provides one of the best outward visibility among compact SUVs.

Subaru Forester Compared with Similar Vehicles

Overall, the Forester isn’t the best in class, but you have many options.

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base; 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
Subaru Forester26/33/2981/100$6324/45/5Excellent
Honda CR-V28/34/3083/100$4074/45/5Good
Toyota RAV427/35/3082/100$4294/45/5Excellent
Kia Sportage23/30/2685/100$4624/45/5Average
Hyundai Tucson26/33/2982/100$4264/45/5Good
Nissan Rogue27/35/3083/100$4674/44/5Excellent
Mazda CX-525/31/2880/100$4474/45/5Good
Chevy Equinox26/31/2883/100$5374/45/5Excellent
Jeep Cherokee22/31/2578/100$5204/45/5Good
Subaru Forester comparison with similar vehicles.

If you an all-rounder compact SUV for your first car, the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 is an accomplished performer in many aspects.

Plus, they are some of the best-selling SUVs on the market.

The competition is cheaper to maintain than the Subaru Forester, so any of them would make an excellent first car – your choice will primarily be design-dependant.

The Mazda CX-5 is a desirable option for your first car with its excellent driving dynamics and upscale interior.

#4 Is a Subaru Impreza a Good First Car?

Despite competing in the competitive compact car segment dominated by the Civic and Corolla, the Impreza performs well.

It’s available in the sedan and hatchback body styles; Impreza wagons are available pre-2008.

Overall, the Subaru Impreza is a solid first car, although average performances in several aspects hold it back from being an excellent choice:

  • All-wheel-drive – standard across all Imprezas; provides extra traction on snowy, icy, and slippery roads.
  • Strong safety ratings – even Imprezas pre-2010 have solid ratings.
  • Good outward visibility – thanks to slender roof pillars and large windows.
  • Perfect size for a city car – easy to maneuver and park for beginners.
  • Roomy interior for a compact vehicle – ample headroom and elbow space.
  • Quiet cabin – comfortable for long-distance driving.
  • Average gas mileage – the real-world figures fall below the EPA-estimated 32 mpg combined due to the sluggish acceleration.
  • Plenty of driver aids – class-competitive and good news for inexperienced drivers.
  • Relatively expensive to maintain – $653/year is higher than compact cars’ average of $526/year.
  • Average reliability – several rivals are more reliable (see the comparison below).

The Subaru Impreza First Car post details Impreza’s pluses and minuses and an Impreza comparison with similar vehicles.

Which Impreza 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 sedan; auto).
  • Reliability: /100; higher = fewer problems (JD Power).
  • Complaints: total reported problems (CarComplaints).
Model YearSafety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)Fuel Econ.ReliabilityComplaints
2022 Impreza4/45/528/36/3278/100
2021 Impreza4/45/528/36/3178/100
2020 Impreza4/45/528/36/3176/1002
2019 Impreza4/45/528/38/3275/10019
2018 Impreza4/45/528/38/3277/10019
2017 Impreza4/45/528/38/3277/1005
2016 Impreza4/45/528/37/3179/10010
2015 Impreza4/45/528/37/31NA15
2014 Impreza4/45/527/36/30NA11
2013 Impreza4/45/527/36/3076/10018
2012 Impreza4/44/527/36/30NA30
2011 Impreza4/4NA20/26/22NA6
2010 Impreza4/4NA20/26/22NA6
2009 Impreza4/4NA20/26/22NA12
2008 Impreza4/4NA20/27/2276/10053
2007 Impreza4/4NA20/25/22NA20
Subaru Impreza model years comparison.

The 2008 Subaru Impreza recorded the highest number of complaints – engine and windshield problems topping the list.

2013 or newer is the best Subaru Impreza to get for the impeccable crash safety and improved fuel economy over their predecessors.

#5 Is a Subaru Legacy a Good First Car?

The midsize car segment is one of the most competitive in the marketplace, dominated by heavy hitters such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

The Subaru Legacy is a fine vehicle with merits, but it is an average first car when measured against the competition:

  • All-wheel-drive – most Subaru cars adopt the AWD drivetrain, an advantage for first cars in inclement weather.
  • Excellent visibility – thanks to slim roof pillars all around the car and generous window sizes.
  • Respectable fuel economy – 30 mpg in combined driving is class average.
  • Outstanding crash safety – scored well in the IIHS and NHTSA tests.
  • Slightly more expensive than comparably equipped rivals – due to the AWD drivetrain.
  • Subpar reliability – not as reliable as its rivals (see the table below).
  • Costly maintenance – $563/year compared with the $526/year average for midsize cars. Most Japanese and Korean midsize sedans are cheaper to maintain.

Subaru Legacy Compared with Similar Vehicles

Many midsize sedans are worthy first cars.

Table Guide:

  • Fuel Economy: mpg city/highway/combined (base; 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
Subaru Legacy27/35/3079/100$5634/45/5Excellent
Honda Accord30/38/3382/100$4004/45/5Excellent
Toyota Camry28/39/3282/100$3884/45/5Excellent
Hyundai Sonata28/38/3281/100$4584/45/5Good
Mazda Mazda 626/35/2982/100$4814/45/5Good
Kia Optima25/35/2983/100$4714/45/5Good
Nissan Altima28/39/3282/100$4834/45/5Excellent
Subaru Legacy comparison with similar vehicles.

The Honda Accord and Toyota Camry are traditional safe choices – affordable maintenance and ultra-competitive in all the first car considerations.

If you want a midsize car with sharp handling and stylish design inside and out, opt for the Mazda 6.

The Kia Optima comes with an impressive list of driver-assist features and extended warranty coverage.

Meanwhile, the Hyundai Sonata offers lots of cabin and storage space and excellent value for money overall.

It’s hard to go wrong with any midsize cars on this list.

#6 Is a Subaru Outback a Good First Car?

The Outback is one of the most capable, comfortable, and versatile vehicles in its class.

Unless you require the room of a midsize SUV, the Subaru Outback isn’t an ideal first car, although its positives are useful if they meet your needs:

  • Excellent outward visibility – SUV-like ride height, slim pillars all-around, plus long and tall side windows.
  • Strong vehicle – full marks in the crash tests.
  • Capable off-roader – suitable for weekend adventures.
  • Spacious cabin – handy when you need it on occasion.
  • Poor fuel economy – the weak standard engine demands harder acceleration, causing fuel consumption to fall below the EPA-rated 29 mpg in combined driving.
  • Relatively expensive maintenance – $607 annually compared with midsize SUVs’ average of $573 per year.
  • Average reliability – on par with most Subaru vehicles.
  • The size may disadvantage beginners – relatively more challenging to park, but it’s not the worst bulk to maneuver.

If you primarily drive alone or carry the occasional passenger, the smaller Subaru Crosstrek would suit you better as your first car.

Between the Outback and the similarly-sized Forester, the price difference between them is small, and they return similar gas mileage, so it depends on which design you like best.

Rivals in the midsize SUV segment include:

  1. Hyundai Santa Fe
  2. Honda Passport
  3. Toyota 4Runner
  4. Ford Bronco
  5. Jeep Wrangler

#7 Is a Subaru WRX a Good First Car?

The Subaru WRX may be an attractively-priced performance vehicle, but its capability generally works against it as a first car for new drivers:

  • Ferocious acceleration – between 268 hp and 310 hp for a compact car is exceedingly powerful for beginners.
  • Narrow powerband – hard to moderate, especially so for inexperienced drivers.
  • Premium gas required or recommended – depending on the model; increases your fuel cost.
  • All-wheel-drive – a more expensive drivetrain than the FWD and an unnecessary expense for a first car.
  • Expensive maintenance – $682/year (WRX) or $758/year (WRX STI) is costly when most compact cars average $526/year.
  • Stiff ride – not an ideal daily driver.

On the plus side, the WRX provides good outward visibility for the driver and has a practical four-door layout.

The in-depth review of the Subaru WRX First Car post explains the pros and cons, plus a WRX comparison with other first cars.

Comparison: Best Subaru for a First Car

Table Guide:

  • Safety (IIHS): 1 (poor) to 4 (good); IIHS tests averaged.
  • 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; 5-yr avg. (JD Power).
  • Maintenance Costs: per year avg. (RepairPal).
 Safety (IIHS)Safety (NHTSA)VisibilityFuel Econ.ReliabilityMaint. Costs
Subaru Impreza4/45/5Good28/36/3277/100$653
Subaru Legacy4/45/5Excellent27/35/3079/100$563
Subaru Crosstrek4/45/5Good28/33/3080/100$492
Subaru Forester4/45/5Excellent26/33/2981/100$632
Subaru Outback4/45/5Excellent26/33/2979/100$607
Subaru BRZ3.8/4NAGood21/29/2480/100$672
Subaru WRX4/45/5Good20/27/2377/100$682
Subaru models comparison.

Any Subaru you consider for your first car has attractive alternatives.

But if you like the brand’s designs, their feature-rich provision and affordable prices still place them in the good first car category.

The Impreza is the best Subaru for a first car if you want a sedan or wagon.

But if the SUV body style appeals more, the Crosstrek is probably the best Subaru for teenagers getting their first ride.

Alternative Makes to Subaru for a Teenager’s First Car

With the Subaru’s middling but improving overall performance, you should consider these makes and models before deciding:

  1. Mazda – Miata, CX-3, CX-30, CX-5, Mazda 3, Mazda 6.
  2. Honda – Civic Si, Civic, HR-V, CR-V, Accord.
  3. Hyundai – Veloster, Kona, Elantra, Sonata.
  4. Toyota – RAV4, Corolla, Camry.
  5. Jeep – Renegade, Wrangler.
  6. Kia – Forte, Optima, K5.
  7. Nissan – Sentra, Altima.

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