Best cars for learner drivers

Finally getting your crack at terrifying a driving instructor? Well you are going to need one of the best cars for learner drivers then

James Wilson
Dec 3, 2019

Learning to drive is like taking your first steps along the pathway of freedom in the grounds of possibility. For years you were a burden to all those driving folk around you, having to be transported this way and that, but those days are soon to be in your rearview mirror.

Vital to this transition into full-mobility is making sure your first car is perfectly matched to the needs of a learner driver. Think cheap to run, cheap to insure and, ideally, equipped with parking sensors. Traditionally, learner drivers were forced to choose noble yet underpowered and under-equipped steeds to complete this rite of passage, however, times have changed.

Even the cheapest cars on the market offer strong equipment levels and relatively refined driving experiences. When it comes to standard equipment you can expect (for the most part at least) niceties such as air-conditioning, Bluetooth and LED running lights.

For those learners who enjoy the thrill of driving, some cars on this list offer class-leading levels of fun behind the wheel, irrespective of their lack of power under the bonnet. While you won’t be breaking any acceleration records when learning to drive, the prolific use of turbochargers these days means that even the smallest cars with the smallest engines feel quite spritely.

 

While you might think better-equipped cars that are fun to drive would hit you where it hurts (your wallet) this isn’t always the case. Car manufacturers are getting pretty good at knowing what leads to a car being awarded a low insurance group, so you need not worry.

To help you see the wood from the trees, below are ten of the best cars for learner drivers one sale here in the UK. As we are focusing on value for money, we have chosen predominantly used vehicles boasting frugal engines and sitting in a single-digit insurance group, offering the kind of equipment learner drivers will appreciate – such as Bluetooth.

Best cars for learner drivers

1. Ford Fiesta

Best all-rounder for learner drivers

Our pick Ford Fiesta 1.1 Zetec 85hp
Deals from £10,700
Monthly finance from £166
Insurance group 5E

Ford updated the Fiesta back in 2017 but, if your budget doesn’t quite stretch to a new shape model, the older version is a cracking purchase, too. The updates in 2017 included a heavily improved interior, with one of the most important changes being the removal of a dashboard covered in buttons and the addition of a central touchscreen information and media unit.

However, screens alone do not make a great car for learner drivers. What makes the Fiesta a great car for learning is the fact it is all the things a prospective driver needs: economical, small, cheap to insure and easy to drive. Plus, it comes with enough seating and cargo space for four young adults so that the inevitable post-driving test road trip isn’t uncomfortable for all those on board.

When it comes to which model to get, a five-door Zetec variant equipped with the 85hp 1.1-litre petrol engine is one of the most compelling options. Largely thanks to the lower power output (when compared to Ford’s EcoBoost engines) keeping insurance and running costs down.

2. Kia Rio

Best car with a long warranty for learner drivers

Our pick Kia Rio 1.25 1 83hp
Deals from £6,798
Monthly finance from £119
Insurance group 6

While the Fiesta above stands out as a car that does everything a first car needs to do very well, the Kia Rio excels in one particular area: warranty. As standard all Kia models come with a seven-year/100,000-mile warranty – meaning learner drivers can pick up a three-year-old motor and still have four years of manufacturer cover remaining.

A long warranty isn’t all the Rio has going for it. It was updated in 2017 and in doing so sharpened the supermini’s looks and bolstered its standard equipment. On the subject of standard equipment, air-conditioning, electric door mirrors and Bluetooth are all included.

Pick of the range for learner drivers is probably entry-level ‘1’ models powered by Kia’s 1.25-litre petrol engine. That said, if you have the budget for a ‘2’ or ‘3’ specced Rio, you can get even more kit and a more powerful 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine for modest increases in insurance and running costs.

3. Renault Twingo

Best city car for learner drivers

Our pick Renault Twingo 1.0 SCe Iconic 70hp
Deals from £7,299
Monthly finance from £123
Insurance group 3E

The Renault Twingo is ideally suited to those learner drivers who will be spending a lot of their time in urban environments. The reason being is it is rear-wheel-drive, which allows it to be incredibly manoeuvrable – its turning circle is amongst the tightest on the market.

In 2018 Renault refreshed the Twingo line-up meaning the best variant for learner drivers depends on what age of car you are looking at. Post-2018, Iconic spec is a standout option, while pre-2018 Dynamique models are the ones to go for.

Equipment is relatively good across the range, even entry-level Play models boast hill-start assist, USB connectivity and speed limiter. If you want an individual car, the Twingo came with a raft of personalisation options when new, so a little hunting on the used market should find some standout colour combinations.

4. Nissan Micra

Best reliable car for learner drivers

Our pick Nissan Micra 1.0 IG Acenta 71hp
Deals from £7,900
Monthly finance from £130
Insurance group 1E

In case you didn’t know, the Nissan Micra has undergone something of a transformation. Previous generations would have been high up on our ‘best cars for grandmas’ list but the latest model is a world away from its ancestors.

Not only does it benefit from a major styling overhaul, the latest version of the Micra is practical, well-built and reasonably good fun to drive. Pick of the bunch are 1.0-litre IG 71 Acenta models – which are in group 1E for insurance.

All models come with Bluetooth as standard, as well as autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning. Acenta spec means motorists are treated to air-conditioning and a seven-inch touchscreen media display.

5. Dacia Sandero

Best new car for learner drivers

Our pick Dacia Sandero 1.0 SCe Essential 75hp
Deals Limited stock
Insurance group 5E

While affordability is key to a learner driver, that doesn’t mean your options are limited to used cars only. The Dacia Sandero is so fantastically cheap new (prices start at £6,995) many might as well purchase one fresh off the production line for the benefit of a longer warranty.

Part of the reason entry-level Sandero models are so cheap is because they come with the square root of nothing in terms of equipment. This isn’t an exaggeration, you get wind-up front and rear windows and that is about it. Buyers will likely want to spend another £1,000 to afford Essential models – which bring air-conditioning, electric front windows and a radio.

Top-spec Comfort models come with cruise control as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, but the higher list price of Comfort spec may well mean a used purchase is the better option.

6. Ford B-Max

Best practical car for learner drivers

Our pick Ford B-Max 1.0 Ecoboost Zetec 100hp
Deals from £6,300
Monthly finance from £112
Insurance group 9E

Not all learner drivers can afford their own car, they may well have to share a set of wheels with a more seasoned motorist – probably called Mum or Dad. If this were the case then the Ford B-Max is a perfect option. Not only does it pack enough practicality to be the family workhorse, the fact it is predominantly a Ford Fiesta at heart means it is also good to drive.

Some models will exceed the single-digit insurance group criteria mentioned above, so be careful with your selection. Buyers who go for Zetec trim with the 100hp 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine should be fine.

While standard equipment for Zetec models is good (DAB radio, air-conditioning and heated front windscreen are all included) the party-piece of any B-Max is the sliding rear doors which do not feature a central door pillar – perfect for getting passengers and luggage in the back.

7. Volkswagen Polo

Best quality car for learner drivers

Our pick Volkswagen Polo 1.0 SE 65hp
Deals from £10,797
Monthly finance from £163
Insurance group 1E

For a supermini, the VW Polo is incredibly grown up which is largely thanks to a refined driving experience, classy cabin, space for five (plus luggage) and low running costs. That's not restricted to just the latest generation Polo (launched in 2018) either, the previous version had much of the same attributes.

If your budget will stretch to a new shape Polo it is well worth it thanks to the updated cabin and technology on offer. For example, all models come with an eight-inch central touchscreen media display, which includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. Elsewhere, the impressive equipment continues with air-conditioning and autonomous emergency braking available as standard.

VW does a Beats edition of both the current and previous generation Polo which are aimed squarely at younger motorists. There is no improvement in performance, but an uprated sound system and more sporty styling are present. Alternatively, SE spec comes without the extrovert looks of Beats models but still offers decent levels of equipment. As for engines, the 65hp 1.0-litre petrol engine is ideal for learner drivers.

8. Kia Picanto

Best car for learner drivers that's easy to park

Our pick Kia Picanto 1.0 2 66hp
Deals from £6,270
Monthly finance from £108
Insurance group 2

Much like those learning to drive, the Picanto has been on a journey of improvement. The first Picanto (launched back in 2004) was a bit boring. The model which came after was better, but still a bit bland in places. Kia’s latest attempt (launched in 2017), however, is better equipped and better built than its predecessors and some of its rivals.

Learner drivers should look for a 66hp 1.0-litre ‘2’ model which has air-conditioning, Bluetooth and electric mirrors as standard. Alternatively, entry-level ‘1’ variants are very affordable indeed and still offer electric front windows, height adjustable driver’s seat and a 2-speaker stereo system.

Like the Kia Rio above, all Picanto models come with a seven-year/100,000-mile warranty, which will help learner drivers avoid any nasty unexpected costs should things go wrong.

9. Seat Arona

Best crossover for learner drivers

Our pick Seat Arona 1.0 SE 95hp
Deals from £12,495
Monthly finance from £176
Insurance group 9E

SUVs and crossovers are a dime a dozen at the moment, so it makes sense that there is at least one suitable for learner drivers. The Seat Arona is built on the same platform as the Ibiza supermini, making it a relatively small yet rather polished act.

When Seat launched the Arona back in 2017, it decided to pitch it as a slightly more upmarket offering than the Ibiza. The effects of which mean all models come well equipped – air-conditioning, Bluetooth and cruise control are all thrown in. Naturally, being more up-market insurance prices are a touch higher. No such thing as a free lunch after all.

Which is the best model for learner drivers? One of the sweeter spots in the range is entry-level SE variants with the 95hp petrol engine. Alternatively, SE Technology models are the next rung up and bring satellite navigation plus wireless phone charging – both handy for long post driving test journeys

10. Toyota Yaris

Best hybrid for learner drivers

Our pick Toyota Yaris 1.0 VVT-i Active 69hp
Deals Limited stock
Insurance group 5

Toyota and its sister company Lexus have a long history of building cars to last. In fact, the results of Auto Express’ latest Driver Power car ownership survey gave three of the top five spaces to Toyota/Lexus vehicles.

The option of a hybrid version is probably the biggest draw to the Yaris, as no other mainstream rival offers such a package. As a result of its electrification, the Yaris is very economical and only available as an automatic – those looking to learn in a manual might want to look at the 1.5-litre petrol Yaris (which is not a hybrid).

When looking at the best model to buy, second-hand Active models are a fine option for learners, bringing Bluetooth, collision warning and air-conditioning as standard. Also standard are steel wheels so there should be no expensive alloy wheel repairs if you kerb one or two when parking.

 

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