Best cars for students

A small budget doesn't mean you can't have some fun. Here are the best cars for students looking after the pennies

BuyaCar team
Jan 31, 2021

Pots and pans? Check. New bag and stationary? Check. Booze money? Check. A new car? If you're not sure where to start with getting a car as a student, fear not. We can help you to pick a car that should prove both affordable and reliable enough not to cause you any stress.

While the student lifestyle is notorious for being a dizzying concoction of alcohol-fuelled fun, a new study shows that one in five students are teetotal. If you're one of them, money ordinarily spent on drink could be put towards a car instead. Used cars start at less than £80 per month with PCP finance deals on BuyaCar, or roughly the equivalent of just a couple of nights out, depending on how hard you party and how expensive your uni town is.

Even if you could stretch your budget to £150 per month, which is roughly equivalent to five typical nights on the lash - you could have enough money for a properly decent car that would be the envy of your peers the university over. And hey, even if you aren’t one of the teetotallers, you’ve gotta spend your loan money somehow, right...?

Down to the nitty gritty then. What type of car suits the student lifestyle? Obviously, all students are individuals and different in their own respects. However, there are several traits that a car needs to have to appeal to students.

For starters, it has to be cheap to run and insure. No student wants a car averaging 20mpg around town and requiring £75 fill ups every couple of days. A student car also has to be relatively at home on the motorway in case you ever need to visit family - it could happen. Thirdly, it has to be relatively practical, so you have the option of heading to the coast with some mates, going on a big shopping trip or even heading to Ikea to get some extra furniture to make your student room that bit more homely.

Check out our list of great affordable cars below, and hopefully you’ll find something that’s just at home on your parents' driveway as it is on campus.

1. Smart ForFour

Best car for students who need help parking

Used Smart ForFour deals from £4,995
Monthly finance from £103

As you can see by the picture, this Smart is much larger than the Smart ForTwo - it has seating for five and five doors too.

Running costs are low and it’s available with a 1.0-litre non-turbocharged engine or a 0.9-litre turbo’d engine. Go for the 0.9-litre. It’s more powerful while being even more economical in the real world.

The boot is small (185 litres) as there’s also an engine stuck in the back. However, the rear seats fold flat, giving you a substantial 975 litres’ worth of space, as long as you don’t mind forgoing seating back there.

It’s also worth noting that the turning circle is one of the best in the business. Great for parallel parking in old streets and negotiating tight roundabouts.

Smart ForFour buyers' guide

2. Seat Ibiza

Best car for students who value style first

Used Seat Ibiza deals from £4,990
Monthly finance from £108

If you can't afford a holiday to Ibiza, you could get one of these instead. There’s no getting round it - the Seat Ibiza is a handsome thing - especially in three-door coupe-a-like shape.

Even though it has ‘just’ three doors there is still enough room in the rear for your mates, plus a boot size that’s enough for the usual trips to Ikea and back.

£150 per month is just about enough to squeeze you into a 2015 model 1.4TSI with a sprightly 140bhp engine. Although, if you’d rather not spend the additional money on insurance, tax, and petrol, we’d also recommend the 1.2-litre engine with the SE technology package. 

Seat Ibiza buyers' guide 

3. Skoda Fabia Estate

Best car for students who need a lot of space

Used Skoda Fabia Estate deals from £7,995
Monthly finance from £147

If the Ibiza above is akin to the magical island of its namesake, the Fabia is more like Peterborough or Luton.

However, much like Peterborough or Luton, beneath the horrible exterior, lies an ultimately sensible thing. The raison d’être of this car is its massive boot - it’s 530-litres with the seats up, which swells to a ginormous 1,395-litres with the seats down.

The Fabia also has a range of punchy and economical engines. Less than £150 per month will get you into a 2016 model with fewer than 10,000 miles on it too.

Skoda Fabia buyers' guide

4. Ford Fiesta

Best car for students and most other people

Used Ford Fiesta deals from £7,199
Monthly finance from £138

The Ford Fiesta is the obvious choice for most car questions, so we’ll obviously start here first. It’s the most popular car in Britain, and that’s no accident; it’s comfortable, well equipped, good value, and it’s actually a hoot to drive. Much better than most other superminis - especially with the fizzy little 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine.

£150 per month will get you into a 2017 facelifted model too. It’s worth seeking out as these as they have a raft of improvement over older cars - like better ride and economy. Keep an eye out for the 1.0 EcoBoost engine as this is better than the older 1.1-litre. Spec wise, get whatever you can afford. Zetec is preferable, and gets you equipment like alloy wheels and a heated windscreen, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Ford Fiesta buyers' guide

5. Mini Hatchback

Best car for students who want something premium 

Used Mini Hatchback deals from £6,998
Monthly finance from £149

Minis are cool. End of story, frankly. Even modern Minis have a look that oozes British charm.

Besides, they’re great fun to drive too. Quick steering and eager engines make them the drivers’ choice for premium hatchbacks.

For the money, there are a few different options, as you’d expect from a car that’s so customisable. The One trim is the most basic, but still affords you DAB radio, Bluetooth, and air-conditioning.

Engines are good - the 1.2 is the slowest but will still get from 0-62mph in 10 seconds. Just don’t get an auto - it really takes the fun out of the car.

Mini Hatchback buyers' guide

6. Fiat 500

Best car for students who want something #throwbackthursday

Used Fiat 500 deals from £4,290
Monthly finance from £93

Like the Mini above, the Fiat 500 apes the design of a much older and classier model.

To some extent, its styling takes precedence over practicality. Inside, there’s just enough space in the front for a pair of average-sized adults to get comfortable but the back’s suitable only for children.

Go for the more lively 0.9-litre engine badged TwinAir. Fuel economy in the real world isn’t brilliant (expect between 40 and 45mpg) but its raspy engine note suits the chirpy nature of the 500.

For full Instagram points, pick a pastel colour.

Fiat 500 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.


Read more about:

Latest advice

  1. 0% APR van finance

  2. Leasing: How to choose the right mileage allowance

  3. Tips on buying your first car