Did you know that Kia makes a Jeep competitor called the Seltos? Or that Toyota and Lexus are no longer the most reliable car brands? It’s 2022, and car brands have never fought like this for Generation Z patronage. So the lineups – and the overall ranking – are constantly changing. Plus, if you’re looking to buy a car anytime soon, you know the stakes have never been higher. Used car prices are crazy so you need to find the right car and make it count. Where to start searching? Who makes the best Gen Z cars? What electric crossover is as good as the Tesla Model Y at half the price? And what two-seat car is surprisingly suitable for daily commuting? Let’s take a look at the best car brands for Generation Z.
How did I come to this list?
This is not just a list of the most affordable car brands and not only the most reliable ones. Of course, these figures play a role, but the final list is the result of several weeks of rubbing my chin, carefully considering which brands I would trust enough to recommend them to our readers.
Who the hell am I? I’m a part-time autowriter and since 2016 I’ve had the privilege of testing about 200 new cars, each for at least a week. From Acuras to Alfa Romeos, from Bimmers (BMW) to Nissans, I would say that I have driven most of the new models that have come out in the last few years. I have also personally helped hundreds of Gen Zers choose the right car because as much as I love cars, I know how complicated the car buying process can be. To come up with this list, I took Gen Z owner reports, some general industry metrics (Consumer Reports, JD Power) and added some personal thoughts based on my own experience. Without further ado, here’s my list of the top five car brands that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to Gen Zers, along with some honorable mentions.
Mazda, based in Hiroshima, is my absolute favorite among Generation Z cars. They are reliable and durable like a Roman aqueduct, beautiful to look at, efficient, a real pleasure to drive, filled with high-end technology and, most importantly, they look much more expensive than stand. Mazda just doesn’t have bad quality. I have recommended countless Mazda3s, CX-9s and Miatas to my clients, and years later I still receive messages of gratitude. I’d like to highlight the two-seater Mazda MX-5 Miata, which starts at $27,000. I honestly believe the Miata is one of the best Gen Z everyday cars because despite having no rear seat, the Miata is cheap to buy, cheap to run, and obscenely fun to drive. This is not as impractical as it seems. The trunk will fit a couple of small suitcases, and with a $190 trunk in the back, the Miata will turn into a real small pickup truck. Heck, I brought home nine bags of mulch on my Miata this morning. However, if you’re looking for something with plenty of room, the Mazda3 hatchback retains the Miata’s joyful character, offering three times as much luggage space as the sedan. Plus, it comes with a manual transmission that is cheaper to buy, cheaper to maintain, and provides other benefits besides entertainment and theft protection.
Toyotas are an excellent investment for Generation Z because they last forever and depreciate slowly. Camrys, 4Runners and Tacomas are especially valuable as priceless art so you can sell them for 80% of what you paid in three to five years. Unfortunately, Toyota’s lineup isn’t quite the sea of continual perfection that Mazda’s is; there are definitely some hmm Cars are hiding there. I won’t pick on anyone, but I’ll highlight some of my favorites:
- The Venza that no one talks about is essentially a Jaguar F-Pace made in Japan. It’s a great, safe, well-equipped crossover with an interior to die for.
- The Prius Prime is still eligible for the federal tax credit and is more efficient and more fun to drive than the base Prius.
- The RAV4, which used to be a commonplace station wagon, has recently been redesigned to become a true luxury SUV. A real alternative to Jeep for those who are looking for something more reliable.
- The GR86, if you can find it without the greedy dealer markup, is the best Miata competitor on the market. To me, it drives like a budget Porsche Cayman.
Lexus? In this market? But I have student loans to pay. Listen to me. Because while Lexus is a luxury brand with expensive cars, a new or used Lexus can still be one of the best “investments” of your life. This is because Lexus models are essentially Toyota built to a higher standard with better parts. This makes them insanely reliable and far less likely to burn a hole in your pocket over 100,000 miles than their counterparts from Audi, BMW or Mercedes. Then, even when you have to start replacing parts after about 130,000 miles, Lexus OEM parts are surprisingly cheap for a luxury brand. For example, a replacement water pump on a 2015 Lexus RX 350 SUV is only $147.89. The same part on an equivalent ’15 BMW X5 costs $423.94. So while a carefully used Lexus may cost more, it will last much longer than most alternatives. With regular checks and oil changes, you can ride in comfort and style for 20 years.
I still remember the look of disappointment in my mom’s eyes when she realized she had mistakenly booked a Hyundai and not a Honda to visit her grandparents in 2003. God, how times have changed. While the Hyundais of yesteryear were indeed fleet rentals, today’s Hyundais are truly excellent small imports. They are reliable, well equipped and offer impressive value for what you get. I am a particularly big fan of Hyundai hybrids. My wife and I took the Sonata Hybrid to and from Asheville and were blown away by how quiet, comfortable, and decent the interior was for a car that costs just over $27,000. It didn’t hurt that I was also averaging 53 mpg despite some eccentric canyon carving. For something sportier, I would wholeheartedly recommend the Elantra N or the Veloster N. Both cars were built at Hyundai’s Namyang Raceway and fine-tuned by Albert Biermann, former BMW M division chief engineer. BMW M3 engineering with Hyundai price and reliability ? Yes please.
While Kia is technically owned by Hyundai, Kia is certainly still its own thing with a very different appeal to Generation Z. The Soul, Seltos, and Niro are all amazing little crossovers, and can each be had for less than $25,000. I especially like the Soul for its comfortable upright seating position and amazing 360-degree visibility. The Seltos is an alternative to the RAV4/Jeep Renegade: a daring off-roader that also doubles as a grocery delivery man. And if you live up north, where the roads can get a little icy and risky, you should know that the Seltos are one of the cheapest 4x4s you can buy new. Finally, the Niro is the best hybrid crossover you’ve probably never heard of. It’s one of the cheapest cars around, with a smooth and refined dual-clutch transmission, and thanks to the electric motor, it gets 46 mpg on the highway. If you choose Niro EV, you will be rejected. The No. 1 mass-market electric car costs about $33,000 after the loan, according to JD Power, about half the price of a Tesla Model Y.
Many people compare Honda to Toyota in terms of cost and reliability and I disagree. I know many happy Honda owners and am personally a big fan of the Odyssey minivan. This thing floats down the road like a Rolls Royce. Also, big thanks to Honda for keeping the manual transmission. The beautiful Civic Si comes with a six-speed transmission and a premium Bose stereo as standard for less than $28k.
Subaru doesn’t exactly make this list due to their penchant for using CVTs (continuously variable transmissions), which many drivers find slow, drone-like and questionable in reliability. Similarly, another thing keeping Suby from Gen Z’s pantheon of top brands is that they’re just above average in terms of reliability. That being said, I know countless people under the age of 30 who are inseparably satisfied with their all-round cross-tracks.
Affordable used Fords are everywhere. You can get a top-quality neatly used Ford Fusion Titanium for less than $25k, and you have a full-size luxury sedan for half the price of a Bimmer. They are also hybrid. Don’t write off a used Mustang either. They are the best-selling sports car in the world for a reason, combining reliability, comfort, power and, dare I say, European handling characteristics with classic American body style.
Frequently asked Questions
What should Gen Zers look for in a car?
When you are young and still building up your finances, the two most important qualities you should look for in a car are value and reliability. You want a car that gives you all the bells and whistles you want without falling apart in three years or burning a hole in your pocket.
What is not. 1 mistake to avoid when buying a car?
Choosing a car that you can afford to buy but can’t afford to own. A used 2016 Range Rover Evoque may cost as little as $32,000, but each year, repairs, maintenance, and depreciation costs an incredible $11,000 to keep it running. Always check the True Cost of Ownership (TCO®) of an Edmunds vehicle before purchasing it.
How to budget for a car?
With our car availability calculator! A good car budget is 25% of annual income before taxes. This means that if you make $60,000, try to find a $15,000 car.
Where can I test drive several cars at once?
Carmax. I never hesitate to refer clients to Carmax as the sales reps are relaxed, the environment is friendly and welcoming, and Carmax will let you test three to five vehicles in one visit without forcing you to buy one.
What questions should I ask the dealer?
The only question you should ever ask a dealer is, “What’s the lowest price you can give me?” For all other vehicle-related questions, I would turn to impartial third-party resources such as Edmunds, Car & Driver, and Consumer Reports.
I may have my favorites (Miata and Sonata are flying off the tongue), but there really are no losers in the lineups of the top five Gen Z automotive brands. you have car keys that you can trust – and love – for a very, very long time. To learn more about how to get the right car at the right price, check out our complete 2022 car buying guide. Featured Image: Nestor Ryzhnyak/Shutterstock.com