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The Best First Cars for New Drivers - An Extensive Guide

You’ve passed your driving test and are ready to buy your first car, but now you’re wondering: what exactly are the best first cars for new drivers? 

Luckily, there are plenty of fantastic models on the market and more options than ever when it comes to buying. 

When choosing your first car, it’s crucial you make sure it’s safe, reliable and cost effective. Here, we take you through some of the things you’ll want to look out for and round up our pick of the best first cars for new drivers.


The best first cars are… reliable

Passing your driving test is exciting, but it can also be nerve-wracking getting out there on your own for the first time. That’s why it’s extremely important to make sure your first car is reliable. While everyone has their own definition of reliable, there are a few key things you should consider.

If you’re buying second hand, you’ll want to make sure the car doesn’t have a history of breaking down and rarely requires anything more than the ‘normal repairs’ (oil changes, brake jobs and tyres are generally considered ‘normal’). 

Ask for a full service history and be wary of cars with excessive miles on the clock. Cars associated with reliability include the Ford Ka, Ford Focus and Kia Picanto.


The best first cars are… cheap to insure

New drivers are considered a bigger risk by insurers, as they are statistically more likely to be involved in an accident than someone with many years of experience behind the wheel. As insurance is an ongoing cost, the best cars for new drivers are ones that are cheap to insure. 

In the UK, every car belongs to one of 50 insurance groups (the cheapest would be in group one, the most expensive in group 50). Which group a car falls into is determined by a number of factors, including new car value, damage and parts cost, repair times and performance. Ideally, good first cars would sit in bands 1-10. 

The cheapest cars to insure include the Nissan Micra, Volkswagen Polo and Renault Clio.


The best first cars are… safe

Car safety is better than ever these days and all new cars must pass certain safety tests to make it onto the roads. 

However, you can never be too careful when picking your first car. 

It’s particularly important to consider if you are buying an older second-hand model that may not have the most up-to-date safety features, such as automatic emergency breaking (AEB). 

If you’re looking for the ultimate seal of approval, you can check whether the car you are considering has a Euro NCAP five-star rating – the highest a car can get. When deciding which cars are safest, Euro NCAP carefully considers protection for adults and children, pedestrians, safety assist and many other factors. 

Cars with high safety ratings include the latest VW Golf, Ford Focus, Ford Mondeo and Toyota Corolla – making all of these good first cars for new drivers.


The best first cars… have fantastic fuel economy

It may be tempting to go for the cheapest second-hand car you can find – but it could backfire when you realise it costs a fortune in fuel. 

Most small modern cars are cheap to run because they tick a variety of fuel-efficient boxes. Smaller cars tend to have an aerodynamic design (equalling less drag) and are light and compact, which means they generally use less fuel than their bulkier counterparts. 

Smaller modern cars with an engine capacity of 1.6 or less have official fuel economy figures around the 60mpg mark. Of course, the way you drive impacts this and it’s unlikely you’ll match the manufacturer’s number exactly – but if you keep your speed fairly consistent, you should be close. 

Hybrids are very fuel efficient if you can spare the initial upfront cost. If you’re sticking to petrol or diesel cars, the newest Peugeot 208, Ford Focus and Suzuki Celerio all rank highly when it comes to fuel efficiency.


The best first cars… could be leased

If you’re worried an old, unreliable model is all you can afford, it could be worth looking into leasing your first car. It’s a little bit like renting a car, just for a longer period of time – you pay a monthly fee and hand the car back at the end of the contract.

Leasing enables you to drive a newer car you may not normally be able to afford and often includes road tax and breakdown cover. Keep the cost down by choosing a longer lease period and being accurate when guessing your mileage – you’ll have to provide a number at the start of the lease and will be charged extra if you go over.


The best first cars for new drivers: our top 10


Ford Fiesta

The reliable Ford Fiesta (officially Britain’s best-selling car) is one of the best cars for new drivers as it’s comfortable to drive and relatively cheap to run. Around since 1976, Ford Fiestas are easy to find, with many affordable second-hand models available. 

If you’re willing to splash out on a newer model, you could also benefit from the MyKey feature, which allows you to set a maximum speed limit, seatbelt reminder and even control the audio system volume – great for concerned parents of new drivers

best first cars for new drivers

Toyota Corolla

There’s a reason Toyota Corollas are considered good first cars. With a sporty design and fantastic safety features, they combine style and substance and mean you can hit the road with confidence. 

The newest Corollas boast Safety Sense features, which include a lane departure alert, improved pedestrian detection and road sign assist. Even if you go for a slightly older second-hand model, Toyota Corollas will do you proud with great fuel economy and low running costs.


Kia Picanto

Kia’s seven-year/100,000-mile warranty is hard to beat and a huge selling point. Even if you go for a second-hand model, there’s a good chance it could still be in warranty – a rare find when it comes to buying used cars. 

The Kia Picanto makes one of the best first cars for new drivers because it’s affordable to buy and relatively cheap to run, with an average 49-54mpg.

best first cars for new drivers

Fiat 500

Thanks to their stylish, instantly recognisable design, Fiat 500s have become one of the most popular first cars for new drivers. It’s also one of the cheapest cars for young drivers to insure, and the Twinair model is incredibly fuel efficient at 60mpg.

best first cars for new drivers

Volkswagen Polo

Fitted with a 1.0-litre engine, the Volkswagen Polo may not be the fastest car on the block, but it’s certainly one of the cheapest to insure. It’s comfortable to drive and is surprisingly spacious inside, with a good-size boot for a small car. 

All new Polos come with automatic emergency braking, which applies the brakes when it senses an obstacle in the road – earning it a full five stars from Euro NCAP.

best first cars for new drivers

Vauxhall Corsa

Trusty Vauxhall Corsas have been around for years and make one of the best first cars because they are so comfortable and cost-effective to drive. Corsas with a 1.2-litre engine fall into the lowest insurance groups, meaning you don’t need to set aside too much money for your premium. 

Corsas are also one of the most spacious small cars, which is great if you often give lifts to friends or need room for a bike (which will fit easily into a Corsa with the front wheel off).


SEAT Ibiza

It may not be as popular as a Ford Fiesta or a Vauxhall Corsa, but the SEAT Ibiza gives them a run for their money in the best first cars stakes. 

It has a sporty look and comes with generous equipment (entry-level comes with electronic mirrors and automatic headlights as standard), which can be attractive when comparing it to other cars. The running costs are very competitive, and the Ibiza offers around 54mpg.

Best First Cars for New Drivers

Peugeot 108

This smart little hatchback is a fantastic choice when shopping around for your first car. The Peugeot 108 can be a great compromise between parents and teenagers, as it provides the style (fun colours and a touchscreen display) but also brings the substance. 

It’s widely regarded as one of the most reliable cars around and falls into insurance bands 6-13, making it an affordable option.


Dacia Sandero

As one of the cheapest new cars on sale in the UK, the Dacia Sandero is a fantastic option for new drivers that don’t want to buy used. It may not be the most stylish, but Dacia is renowned for its no-frill, reliable models – making the Sandero one of the best first cars around. 

It has a low insurance group rating and the Diesel version gets you an impressive 62mpg. It’s also one of the roomier models out there. 

Just bear in mind that the entry-level Sandero doesn’t have a stereo and you’d need to upgrade to the Laureate model for air conditioning.


Skoda Citigo

Hailed one of the safest cars for young drivers, the Skoda Citigo has to be one of the best first cars out there. 

It’s very similar to the Volkswagen Up! and SEAT Mii, but undercuts both in price on the used-car market. Even the entry-level model offers decent features, including electric front windows and remote central locking. 

All models sit comfortably in the lowest insurance groups and the 1.0-litre engine can achieve 68.9mpg. 


The best first cars for new drivers: Conclusion

As you can see, there are plenty of good first cars out there, whether you are buying new, looking at second-hand models or leasing. 

When it comes to narrowing down the best first cars for new drivers, the key criteria to look out for are: safety, reliability and value for money. As long as your car ticks those boxes, you can have some fun picking the right style and features for you.

Not sure whether to lease or buy a car? Our blog explains the key differences to help you choose.

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28th of August 2020

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