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What’s the Best First Car for a Car Enthusiast?

Hello and welcome to this week’s Ask Doug, which is everyone’s favorite weekly feature here on Oversteer. The way this works is, each week you ask Doug some questions, and then Doug considers his answers for a while before ultimately deciding he does not like you.

If you’d like to participate in Ask Doug, you can! Just email me at, and I will be happy to consider your question for an actual column here on Oversteer. I may also read your question and laugh at it, as I consume copious amounts of tater tots dipped in sour cream. I make no guarantees.

Anyway, today’s letter comes from a reader I’ve named Zevu, because I am sick of normal names like Roger. Zevu writes:

Good afternoon Mr. Doug,

My question is: “What is the perfect first car for a first-time driver but also car enthusiast?”

Yours truly,


Excellent question, Zevu, and I’ve got just the answer for you. And the answer is: Whatever you do, don’t buy an enthusiast vehicle for your first car.

OK, this isn’t necessarily my full opinion on this topic, but it’s sort of how I feel. Here’s the thing: When you are 16 years old, you make really stupid decisions. And as a 16-year-old, you don’t feel these decisions are stupid yet — but that’s kind of the problem. People who are older, even in their 20s, look back on the things they did at 16 and they laugh, and they think: “How did I live through that?” Meanwhile, 16-year-olds confront the exact same problem, and they think: “This is a great idea!” And then they light their hair on fire.

So my point here, Zevu, is that you shouldn’t necessarily get something you’re going to use to drive very fast, or carry out any crazy stunts, because you probably won’t make the best decisions about when to use your speed. For instance: I, a very reasonable 29-year-old with a 520-horsepower AMG Mercedes-Benz vehicle, almost never accelerate dangerously (which I did very often when I was 16). Last night, I took my AMG Mercedes-Benz on a 2-hour drive, and I switched into “AMG Mode” one total time, for the first time in months. What happened was, I pressed “AMG,” then I floored it on a brief stretch of open, straight highway — once — and then I switched back into “Comfort” mode, where I will most likely stay for another few months.

Anyway, all of this is to say that you first car should be the following: practical, reliable and safe. My first car was a 1996 Volvo 850 Turbo, which was probably a bit more powerful than it needed to be, and it was wonderfully safe, and wonderfully practical, and I only got into a little trouble with it. You, on the other hand, should have even less power. Have you considered a 2001 Lexus RX300? It’s practical; it’s reliable; it’s safe. It has some nice features. You’ll like it.

Now, Zevu, I know you’ll be upset with me, because I didn’t tell you to go out and get a 240SX drift car, or an NA Miata, but the thing is this: If you get a 2001 RX300 instead, then you’ll learn the basics of car control, and driving, and all those things, and then you’ll be ready to get into a sports car when you’re a little more mature. It may seem like agony when you’re 16, but I promise you this: When you’re 21, or whatever, and you buy your first car with money from your first job, and it’s a fun car you actually want, it feels a lot more satisfying than getting it from your parents when you’re 16 and crashing it into a ditch a few weeks later.

You will thank me for this advice someday, when you are 35, and you’re still alive, and your hair was never, at any point in your life, set on fire. Find a car for sale

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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  1. My son is 18 and has wrecked two cars. He has a subaru that just died but I think he a good driver now. He wants to learn to work on cars but is a newby. He wants a E46 BMW but that seems like it could be a very expensive project. Im thinking more like a merc 300D, nice and slow. Any advice?

    btw- Are you aware of how awesome the porsche CPO warranty is? If you drive a lot, it is a no brainer. Or maybe there is a gotcha in the fine print?
  2. Yup. Sixteen-year-olds will always get in trouble (and they don’t necessarily stop for a few years).

    One friend’s first car was a Sirocco, another’s a Nissan Pulsar, mine was a postal Jeep. We all got speeding tickets; I flipped my Jeep onto the roof. I then drove the family’s ’85 Toyota Van until college – I still got tickets. Then I got a Celica… and continued to get tickets. 
    I got better.
  3. I bought my first car on my 16th b-day. It was a 1971 Thunderbird 4 door Landau, 429 and C6. As of today, 1-30-18, it’s still in my garage. I’ve owned it 30+ years and will never part with it. Sure beats the Ford Granada my mom thought I should get!

  4. I have to diasagree. Doug I grew up in highlands ranch also and am the same age. Between 16-21 I had, 97 Camry, sr20det 240sx, Altima ser, 350z and a wrx. (Never totaled, just sold for the next car to try)

    All which I loved and learned how to drive. I didn’t have snow tires (I was too ignorant to learn about tires) and learned how to get home through the snow storms you have been in. All in rwd sports cars. That’s what taught me how to Drive. 

    Of course now I always Use snow tires in winter and my current cars are in immaculate condition (all 5 of them), but my point is, those are the years to really screw up And learn to get better at driving, and fixing cars. I’m all for cheap miatas or Z cars to tear up while young. 

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