Recommendation for a good first vehicle

I’m looking for suggestions for a good vehicle. I’m a college grad and need something affordable that would be able to handle a family in a few years.

Relevant information:

- ground clearance/maybe 4x4 (New England and love camping)

- leg room (I’m 6’3" … small cars are physically painful)

- easy access to back seats and storage

- prefer 6 cylinder

- easy maintenance (i’m fairly capable)

- affordable

- decent gas milage

- manual transmission (apparently some cars don’t have that option now)

I grew up with/love jeeps and trucks. I’ve been looking at SUVs, but there are a ton of options. I know domestic parts are cheaper, but down the line what would be a reliable vehicle that’ll last.

Thanks for any input.

Please Give A Price Range. Are You Shopping For A New Vehicle Or A Used Vehicle ?


Preferably a used vehicle with a budget of up to $12,000

Subaru Outback or Forrester, Honda CRV or Toyota RAV 4. Subaru is still made with manual transmissions, Honda and Toyota will have to be a few years older as they only offer automatics on the current line. If you can live with auto (newer ones are pretty good) check out Hyundai Tuscon and Santa Fe.

Go out and drive them all and get what fits you best.


You did not make it clear as to whether you are looking for a new car or a used car.

If you are looking at used cars, you need to buy a copy of the Consumer Reports Used Car Buyers Guide, which is available at any large news stand. Besides giving lists of recommended vehicles in every price range, it contains historical reliability data and capsule reviews of essentially everything available in the US used car market.

For the new car shopper, CR has a similar publication, titled Consumer Reports New Car Buyers Guide.

Random suggestions are good, but they will never cover the entire scope of what might be appropriate, given your particular parameters. The above-mentioned publications will do that, and will be a very good investment.

The other key factors for a used car shopper, after narrowing down your make and model choices are:
Try to limit your choices to cars whose maintenance records are available.
Have the car vetted by a trusted mechanic prior to purchase.

The Shopper States, "Preferably a used vehicle with a budget of up to $12,000."

Right you are!
I missed his/her update.

Thanks so far. I have been looking at consumer reports and other reviews. I figured this site has more savvy drivers that know a little about keeping their car running rather than counting cup holders. The advice I could most use is a recommendation based off of how reliable one is and how easy it is to work on.

I’ve looked over the following vehicles
Small: Jeep Liberty, Toyata Rav4, Suburu Outback, Nissan Xterra
Mid: Toyota 4Runner, Jeep Cherokee,

Hi ph.s2dent
You didn’t really say how much you want to spend on a vehicle, but in 2006 I bought a new Honda CRV, top of the line & the wife & I both love it. I just turned 80 so cars were getting a bit tough to get in & out of. This CRV is great in that respect. But the price is quite high, in Canada $ 36,600.00 But you being in USA would buy it for much less. You might find a 2 or 3 year old with low mileage at a much lower price than a new one. But they do hold the price pretty well even used. So good luck. Signed Honda Bill in Canada.

Have you really taken a good look at CR’s reliability ratings of all of those possible choices?
The Toyotas and the Outback are all “better than average”, and the Xterra is “average”.
Both Jeep models have the traditional Jeep reliability rating which is…not good.

People should buy Jeeps because they need outstanding off-road ability, and because they prioritize that capability above reliability, and above ride and handling on paved roads.

Few vehicles (other than the 4Runner and a handful of others) are as capable off-road as a Jeep. However, as a trade-off for a Jeep’s outstanding off-road ability, you will be “treated” to ride and handling characteristics that are…less than ideal for your family when you are driving on paved roads. Just something to think about.

Yes, the Jeep is the chiropractor’s best friend. It is beyond me how anyone would want this as a commuter vehicle in an areas with normal roads.

If you MUST have 4 wheel drive, the CRV, RAV 4 and Subaru Outback are good choices. They ride reasonably well, and have good climate control systems.

The 4 Runner is an extemely capable offroad vehicle, but less comfortable. Neither the Xterra or the 4Runner have the good gas muilage you are looking for.

Most of us have lived in climates worse than New England and have happily camped with 2 wheel drive vehicles. If you do wilderness camping you might need a 4 wheel drive vehicle. We live in the Rocky Mountains and all camp grounds are easily accessible.

The 4 Runner is an extemely capable offroad vehicle, but less comfortable.

If it’s high mileage and an 03 plus in the 12k range, they are more comfortable than many large car based SUV’s and more so than the CRV, RAV and ANY compact SUVs. If it’s older, to late 90’s it’s at least as compact SUVs. It’s an amazing combination of comfort and off road ability.
But I agree, high mileage is not it’s best feature, but reasonable 16-23 for what you get. I’m still impressed with it’s overall competency every time I drive it.

I’ll take a closer look and see if I can test drive when I find some free time. Personally I enjoy primitive camping the most, but I’ve helped drag stuck trucks and suvs with my mom’s minivan. 4x4 isn’t absolutely necessary, but I’ve found it useful at times.