I'm A Sporty Guy Looking For A Big (But Not Too Big) First Car! What Should I Buy?

Image: Lexus
Image: Lexus

Casey is getting his driver’s license soon and is eying up some options for his first ride. With a budget limited to $15,000, he wants something comfortable with a bit of luxury and enough cargo space for sports gear. What car should he buy?

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Here is the scenario:

I just turned 16 and I’m looking for my first car. I want something big but not too big. A bit of luxury would be nice, but I don’t need anything too fancy. I’m an athletic guy who plays hockey and baseball so I’ll need a decent-sized trunk or cargo area for big bags. I’m thinking something like a sedan or wagon with an automatic, and I don’t want to spend any more than $15,000

Quick Facts:

Budget: Up to $15,000


Location: Vancouver, WA

Daily Driver: Yes

Wants: A bit of luxury, a bit of space, big trunk

Doesn’t want: Something too small

Expert 1: Tom McParland - A Kia What?


Casey, you have some exciting times ahead, and I applaud you for targeting the “just right” size of car for a new driver. I often recommend a midsize-ish sedan for younger drivers, as they are big enough to offer some protection in case of a collision but not too large to be unwieldy for novice drivers. The other thing I tell parents and new drivers to target is sedans that have generally appealed to older folks, as these are usually comfortable, not driven hard, and often regularly maintained. You can find some solid picks if you look outside the standard Accord/Camry offerings.

For example, here is a really nice Kia Cadenza. The Cadenza was Kia’s take on the Toyota Avalon/Lexus ES series: A big, comfortable, front-drive sedan that is good for cruising. You will find plenty of room on the inside with some nice upgrades and a trunk large enough to fit your gear. This particular example only has 63,000 miles but it does have an accident on the CarFax, so you will want to investigate further with some kind of pre-purchase inspection. But if all goes well, this is a lot of car for $12,500.

Expert 2: Collin Woodard - How Small Is Too Small?

Photo: Hertz
Photo: Hertz

If you go with the Kia Cadenza, Casey, I’m sure it will do the job you need it to do, but I think you were onto something when you said you were considering wagons. You can definitely fit your athletic bags into the trunk or back seat of a sedan, but there’s just something special about being able to open a liftgate and toss a bunch of bags into the back. Plus, with the seats down, you still have access to your bags from the rear doors, so it’s easier to grab your things.

I’m assuming you’re probably decently tall since you said you play basketball, and combined with how big things like hockey bags are, I understand your desire to get a bigger car. My suggestion is probably smaller than you’re thinking, but hear me out: Kia Soul. It’s somewhere between a hatchback and a crossover, and its boxy shape makes it good for filling the back with all your stuff. Plus, it’s got plenty of room for tall drivers.

Since it’s been around for a couple of generations, you’ll have a lot of options with $15,000 to spend. Just get the nicest Soul you can find in your price range. To keep things interesting, though, I found a few, shall we say, compelling options. Here’s a 40,000-mile 2017 Soul for $10,995 that used to be someone’s business vehicle, and here’s a 59,000-mile 2021 for $14,895 that used to be a rental car.

The general recommendation is to avoid former rental cars, but if they pass a pre-purchase inspection, maybe one of those will end up being a good enough deal to make it worth rolling the dice.

Expert 3: Amber DaSilva - How Big Is A Hockey Bag, Really?

Photo: <a class="link " href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Facebook Marketplace;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas">Facebook Marketplace</a>

First off, Casey, I want to congratulate you on the nominative determinism. “Casey” is a hockey player name if ever I’ve seen one. Anyway, I googled some hockey bag dimensions, and found out that even extra-large bags can pretty much fit straight in a Miata trunk. The key in car buying is that you always need less space than you think you do.

But, you need to carry bats and sticks too, so a Miata is perhaps not ideal for your use case. Nor is a Subaru BRZ, given your request for an automatic transmission. So, Casey, I offer you the best of all possible worlds: The Volkswagen GTI.

It’s an obvious choice, sure, but it’s obvious because it ticks so many boxes. You’ve got room inside for your gear, a nice enough interior for the cost, and even a bit of performance to try and goad you into fast-car enthusiasm. Plus, it’ll be way easier to park than a Cadenza.

Here’s an option out by you that’s well within your budget, but you can find GTIs under $15,000 all day long. Find your favorite color, the one nearest you, whatever you want. Just make sure you get that plaid interior.

Expert 4: Lawrence Hodge - This Just Makes Sense

Image: Autobon Auto Sales
Image: Autobon Auto Sales

Casey seeing as this is going to be your first ride — and congrats on getting your license! — you need something that’s both great to drive and that’s going to last you a while. You also need something that can carry your sports stuff with ease. What you really need is the ideal body style, a wagon. And there’s no better first car for you than an Acura TSX Sport Wagon.

It was one of the few wagons on the market at the beginning of the 2010s, and it wasn’t sold for long, so it’s relatively rare. It’s also decently sized and not bad to drive since it’s pretty much a European Honda Accord Wagon. You got a 201 hp 2.4-liter I4, five-speed automatic transmission, four wheel independent suspension and most importantly, 60.5 sq. ft of space with the rear seats folded.

They’re also old enough now that, if you can find one, they’re cheap and within your budget. This example in Portland, Oregon has just under 107,000 miles on it and is only $14,900.

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