Safest cars for new drivers

We pick out eight low-cost cars for new drivers that are highly rated for safety but also good to drive, practical and cheap to run

Sam Naylor
Dec 31, 2021

New drivers don’t have it easy; not only do they have to learn a lot about a new skill in a short space of time, but they then have to contend with high insurance costs and gaining experience out on the roads without an instructor next to them. That’s why most will want to find the right first car - and for many, that will be a safe one. Just in case.

You can find out how safe a car is by checking its Euro NCAP rating. Not all cars are tested, but most are, and this organisation does a thorough crash test of the models it does assess - including crashes from multiple angles and scores the safety kit they have as well.

The four categories to look for in the Euro NCAP tests are adult protection, child protection, pedestrian protection and safety assist. The first two are all about protection of people inside the car in the event of a crash, the third is about protecting pedestrians in a collision, and the final one looks at what assistance features are included to help prevent a crash in the first place.

We’ve picked out cars that scored well on their Euro NCAP test - most received the full five stars - but also cars that are suitable for new drivers. It’s not always easy to find cars that match these criteria, because smaller, cheaper cars tend to have less safety kit and therefore score lower on the test.

We’ve also stuck to cars that typically cost less than £200* per month on BuyaCar - not an easy task with current high used car prices, but still very possible - and that are actually good cars. We’ve listed below why we think they’re strong choices as a first car, but in most cases the main reason is that they have a low-cost engine option that’s cheap to insure for new drivers.

Best safe cars for new drivers

1. Renault Clio

Safest car for new drivers for comfort

Renault Clio front view

Used deals from £11,949
Monthly finance from £219*
Adult protection 96% Child protection 89% Pedestrian protection 72% Safety assist 75%

The Renault Clio scored very highly in its recent Euro NCAP test, with an impressive 96% score for adult protection. This is rare in a small car like this, and combined with the low-power petrol engine options that are insurance-friendly, the Clio makes a great safe first car.

New drivers will love the rest of the package, too. The Clio is comfortable and easy to drive thanks to its light controls, and the cabin is smartly designed and uses good quality materials. It’s strong value for money and has lots of standard equipment including smartphone connectivity, something that many younger drivers will appreciate.

The Renault is also practical, with enough space for passengers in the back seats and a decent boot for a small car. It’s our top pick as the best first car if safety is a priority but it’s just a great car overall, too.

RENAULT CLIO BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Nissan Micra

Safest car for new drivers for running costs

Nissan Micra front three quarters view

Used deals from £7,700
Monthly finance from £0*
Adult protection
 91% Child protection 79% Pedestrian protection 79% Safety assist 72% (with Safety Pack)

The Nissan Micra’s Euro NCAP score is applicable to models with the safety pack included, but the good news is that this was standard even on the most basic models in the UK. This means that any version of this generation of Micra is packed with safety kit despite its low price, which makes it very safe.

The Micra has a bit of an image problem, because previous models were dull to drive, but this modern version is actually very enjoyable to drive. Its engines aren’t very exciting but it handles well around corners and is comfortable over bumps, too. Furthermore, it’s cheap enough to insure for new drivers with the small petrol engines.

The Micra comes with lots of other standard kit, and although the media system isn’t very good to use, it has the functions you need. The Micra is a little cramped in the back seats but the boot is decent and the front seats are comfortable even on long trips.

NISSAN MICRA BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Skoda Scala

Safest car for new drivers for practicality

Used deals from £13,400
Monthly finance from £0*
Adult protection
 97% Child protection 87% Pedestrian protection 81% Safety assist 76%

The Skoda Scala is a larger car that’s about the size of a Volkswagen Golf, which is often off-limits for newer drivers - but the Scala’s excellent safety record, low-power engines and low cost mean it’s an option for younger drivers. It’s an excellent-value car overall, offering much more space than a supermini but only costing a little more.

The Scala scored very highly in its adult protection category and pretty well for safety equipment as well. It’s available with some small petrol engines that should be affordable to insure for new drivers, and are economical too.

The Scala’s best point is its roomy interior, but it’s good to drive too. It’s comfortable, quiet on the motorway, easy to park and even quite fun on a twisty road as well. It’s a great all-rounder, although it does suffer from slightly plain looks that might put some people off.

SKODA SCALA BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Volkswagen Polo

Safest car for new drivers for comfort

Used deals from £11,949
Monthly finance from £237*
Adult protection
 96% Child protection 85% Pedestrian protection 76% Safety assist 59%

The Volkswagen Polo has been a favourite of new drivers for a long time and the newest model makes an even better case for itself with its excellent safety record. It scored strongly for adult protection and child protection, and while the safety assist score wasn’t the strongest, some versions will have optional extras added to help with things like parking.

The Polo is at its best when commuting to work, because it’s really comfy and easy to drive. It’s not the most exciting car, but the pleasant cabin, light controls and smooth suspension mean that you can get to work and back feeling relaxed.

Some versions have a digital display instead of traditional dials, which makes the Polo feel like a much more expensive car than it actually is. The seats are supportive, it’s easy to get in and out of and crucially, it comes with some small petrol engines that are affordable to run and insure.

VOLKSWAGEN POLO BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Seat Ibiza

Safest car for new drivers for technology

Used deals from £8,995
Monthly finance from £0*
Adult protection
 95% Child protection 77% Pedestrian protection 76% Safety assist 60%

The Seat Ibiza is built using shared components with the Volkswagen Polo and Skoda Scala (as Seat, Volkswagen and Skoda are part of the same parent company), so it’s little surprise to learn that it’s also a great option if you’re looking for a very safe first car. It scored well for occupant safety and comes with a range of small petrol engines that should keep running costs down.

The Ibiza is more fun to drive than its sister cars, with more of a focus on handling on twisty roads - but it’s not a sports car, so it’s still comfy enough for any kind of driving and stays nice and quiet inside. It’s easy to drive and park too, so it works well as a city car.

The Ibiza has a good level of technology as standard, as well, so it’s suitable for those who are into their music or want a good-quality media system to start them off. The media system has smartphone connectivity and higher-spec cars have sat-nav that’s easy to use and works well.

SEAT IBIZA BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Kia Rio

Safest car for new drivers for reliability

Used deals from £7,850
Monthly finance from £0*
Adult protection
 93% Child protection 84% Pedestrian protection 71% Safety assist 59% (with Safety Pack)

The Kia Rio scored well in its adult protection category on the Euro NCAP crash test, and models with the pack of safety kit scored the full five-star rating. All versions should be safe in the event of a crash, it’s just that the additional safety equipment means you’re less likely to have a knock in the first place.

The Rio is a small car, but there’s a good amount of space inside. The cabin feels well built and has a decent level of technology, but the Rio’s best point is its reliability - and Kia backs this up with a seven-year factory warranty. Even older used models will still have plenty of warranty left, therefore, which gives you lots of peace of mind and means that even those choosing a five- or six-year-old model should benefit from some remaining manufacturer warranty - something which very few car manufacturers offer.

The Rio is quite fun to drive, with some enjoyable engines that are quiet, cheap to run and smooth. The manual gear change is pleasant and easy to use, plus the rest of the controls are light too, so it should be relaxing to drive for a new driver.

KIA RIO BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Toyota Yaris (2017)

Safest car for new drivers for cities

Used deals from £9,239
Monthly finance from £0*
Adult protection
 83% Child protection 80% Pedestrian protection 63% Safety assist 57%

The current Toyota Yaris is an incredibly safe car, and if you can afford it then we would definitely recommend it over the previous-generation car, which is what we’ve picked out here. The newer car is far better to drive, more comfortable, has more equipment, is safer and cheaper to run.

However, the newer model isn’t yet available for under £200* per month, so we’ve had to go for the older car. This model has a lot of good qualities, including a strong safety score in its Euro NCAP tests, plus it’s very affordable to purchase.

The Yaris is really reliable, easy to drive and should be very cheap to run. It’s great as a city car, because it has a small footprint on the road and visibility is good as well. It’s not the most comfortable car for longer trips but it works well at low speeds.

TOYOTA YARIS BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Suzuki Swift

Safest car for new drivers for fun

Used deals from £8,995
Monthly finance from £0*
Adult protection
 88% Child protection 75% Pedestrian protection 69% Safety assist 44% (with Safety Pack)

The Suzuki Swift isn’t as highly rated as most of the other cars on this list by Euro NCAP, but if you take a closer look at the details there’s more to it. The Swift doesn’t get a lot of safety kit, which means it’s not rated well in the safety assist category - but it’s actually a very safe car for crash protection, with a score higher than the Yaris above.

The Swift is a great first car for those who love cars, because it’s brilliant to drive. The Swift is light, so its small engines that have low power outputs deliver better performance than you might think, and it handles well on a twisty road as well. It’s the model to choose if you find that you love driving while taking your lessons.

The Swift isn’t the most practical car, but it’s spacious enough for adults to get into the back seats for short trips. It’s also cheap to run, easy to park and should be reliable. It’s good value, like all Suzuki cars, and while the kit included might not be cutting-edge, it does the job.

SUZUKI SWIFT BUYERS' GUIDE

*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

48 monthly payments of £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.

 

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