P-plater cars under $20,000: Best choices

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Used car values have eased in recent months, making second-hand cars more affordable.

P-plate drivers looking to buy their first set of wheels now have more quality options below $20,000.

And the good news is that many have the latest crash avoidance technology, including automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning and speed-sign recognition.


Some will also have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to cut distractions for less experienced drivers.

But check the regulations around phone use in your state or territory first. Some ban any phone calls for novice drivers, even if they’re done wirelessly.

Here are the picks of the used-car market for young drivers looking for a safe set of wheels. Prices are for versions with an automatic transmission.

Hyundai i30, 2017-2023

From about $14,000

Hyundai’s Corolla-rivalling small car was a solid seller, which means there are plenty to choose from on the used-car market.

Hatchbacks and sedans are no longer as popular as SUVs, which means that prices are generally lower.

From 2017, Hyundai stepped up its game with the i30, delivering a more solid driving experience and comfier cabin. All models came with a reversing camera and a full complement of airbags, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.

But you had to choose an SR auto, SR Premium or Elite for advanced crash avoidance tech such as auto braking, blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control and rear cross-traffic alert.

If you can stretch the budget to $20,000, then the updated model launched in late 2020 (referred to by dealers as the MY21 model) had all the safety tech as standard.

Mazda CX-3, 2017-2023

From about $15,000

The CX-3 has long been a popular compact SUV and there are loads of impressive used examples.

While it doesn’t have as much boot and back seat space as many city hatchbacks, the CX-3 is fine upfront and comes loaded with tech and safety features.

Throw in the choice of front- or all-wheel drive and a range of equipment levels and it makes the five-seater an appealing P-plate proposition.

In mid-2017, the CX-3 became one of the first compact SUVs to have auto emergency braking as standard across the range. The auto braking function also operates in reverse, helping to sidestep parking bingles.

The 2.0-litre engine is willing enough and overall the car delivers a solid driving experience.

Kia Rio, 2020-2023

From about $14,000

It’s no longer part of Kia’s new-car offering but the Rio hatch is a popular used-car choice.

Cheaper versions of the compact city hatchback have a slightly underwhelming 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine, but the more expensive GT-Line models have a peppier 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo.

The GT-Line also has a more aggressive look courtesy of side skirts, a rear spoiler and larger alloy wheels.

The Rio is basic motoring with a back seat best suited to little people.

But the dark-hued cabin is well presented and phone connectivity ticks the tech boxes.

An update in mid-2020 spread the active safety equipment further across the range. The popular Sport variant gained auto emergency braking and later that spread to the entry S.

One of the biggest drawcards for the Rio is Kia’s industry-leading seven-year warranty. Provided the car has been properly serviced, a 2020-year model should have a generous warranty period left.

For buyers on a tight budget, that protects you against any big financial shocks in the first years of ownership.

Subaru XV,2017-2023

From about $20,000

The XV nameplate has since been replaced by Crosstrek, but that doesn’t detract from its appeal on the used-car market.

The model we’re looking at appeared in mid-2017 and came exclusively with an automatic transmission. All but the entry-level 2.0i have Subaru’s dual-camera safety system with auto emergency braking and lane-departure warning. Stretch the budget to a range-topping 2.0i-S and there’s blind-spot warning and rear auto braking.

The XV is essentially an Impreza hatchback with some tougher body cladding, although it is better than most compact SUVs at traversing gravel roads and light tracks, making it an ideal weekend machine.

The XV also drives all four wheels, providing added traction on slippery surfaces.

Despite its small SUV status, the XV has thoroughly respectable back seat space.

If your budget doesn’t stretch to the XV then look at the Impreza hatch it’s based on. They are typically about $4000 cheaper.

Honda HR-V, 2018-2023

From about $16,000

The HR-V is a stylish looking and surprisingly roomy compact SUV.

From mid-2018, Honda included auto emergency braking on all models.

While more affordable examples will have high kilometres, those with a clean service history should have many trouble-free kilometres ahead.

The HR-V also has Honda’s clever “magic seats” that flip and fold for accommodating bikes, surf gear or the latest Bunnings haul. Add to that a useful boot and it is a practical choice. The 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine is uninspiring but reliable and the cabin is a bit plain, but overall the HR-V is a solid choice.