What would be a good first car?
The obvious choices are likely the best, particularly the Honda Fit, Honda Civic, Mazda 3. They aren't 9-3s, TTs or Mustangs, but you're far more likely to find a good one in your price range. (Even if you do find something like a Mustang or TT, you'll need to check the insurance rates, too).
As for some other posts, you can't tell where a car is made by the nameplate alone. The Chevy Aveo, for example, is a rebadged the Daewoo and was built in Korea, at least initially. (I believe GM was going to shift production to Mexico). Similarly, I think all Civics sold in North America, other than the SI, were built in the US.