Best cars for teenagers

Whether it’s an exam reward from parents - or bought by the teenager - finding the best car for teens can seem tough. But, it needn’t be

James Wilson
Dec 6, 2020

Starting to drive is massively exciting… for teenagers. For parents, it can be terrifying, knowing that the most valuable thing you have is out on the road by themselves. This is especially true for those brave souls who have taught their children the art of driving. With a young adult at the helm, overtaking manoeuvres that a more experienced driver might not consider can seem doable and spaces that an older driver knows are too tight for their car, might seem more than big enough.

As a result, the best cars for teenagers offer a high crash safety rating. Just in case. That isn’t the end of the story, mind. As parents often help fund some - or even all - of the cost of a car, often reliability, a low price - or affordable monthly payments - are important considerations, too. Similarly, cars for teenagers should ideally be as economical as possible to make them cheaper to run for the teenager and/or to reduce the chances of Mum and/or Dad having to file for bankruptcy to keep the car going.

Fledgling drivers also have an uphill battle in terms of finding affordable car insurance, so picking a car that is likely to be inexpensive to insure is a must. Additionally, choosing a car with the right features - and without others that might be a liability - can be wise. While a teenager might like the look of a car with enormous alloy wheels, for instance, these are likely to come with tyres that are more expensive to replace. And with less rubber between them and the road, the wheels themselves are more vulnerable to being scraped along a kerb by an inexperienced teenager - which can result in another big bill to repair.

While it might seem like finding a good (nevermind great) car for a teenager is an impossible task, all is not lost. There are actually a fair few options available that promise to be economical, reliable, safe, cheap to insure and even desirable in the eyes of many young adults. Below are the best of the best - all available for around £5,000 to £15,000 (or around £100 to £200 per month on PCP finance) and a maximum of six years old.

Best cars for teenagers

1. Toyota Yaris

Best super-reliable car for teenagers

Our pick Toyota Yaris Active
Used deals from £5,795
Monthly finance from £114

The previous-generation Toyota Yaris was the highest-ranked supermini (with supermini being a car the size of a Ford Fiesta) for reliability in Auto Express’ Driver Power ownership survey. Part of this survey sees drivers rate how reliable their cars have been. The Yaris wasn’t Toyota’s only vehicle to feature, either, showing that the Japanese car manufacturer knows how to build cars that last. In fact, it is so confident in its cars, all new Toyotas come with a five-year/100,000-mile warranty, which is well ahead of the industry standard.

Unusually for a used car this size, there is a hybrid version available, all of which come with an automatic gearbox. While many teenagers are better off getting used to driving with a manual transmission, the Yaris Hybrid is one of the more affordable ways to get behind the wheel of a hybrid car. Still, the 1.0- and 1.5-litre petrol engines are great options - the latter being more suited to handling motorway journeys than the 1.0-litre due to its extra power.

Entry-level Active models are well equipped for teenagers, as they come with steel wheels (and plastic wheel covers - so even if the driver scrapes these along kerbs every day, they simply have to replace the inexpensive plastic cover rather than the wheel itself to get the car looking new after a year or two), air-conditioning, automatic wipers and a pre-collision warning system as standard.

TOYOTA YARIS BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Kia Picanto

Best car for teenagers with a long warranty

Our pick Kia Picanto 1
Used deals from £4,599
Monthly finance from £99

The Kia Picanto may not be the most obvious small car to choose, but it is surprisingly appealing, offering strong value, lots of standard equipment and it even looks right up to date in its current form - available since 2017. This version offers impressive build quality and low running costs, too, and to help sweeten the deal all Picantos come with an industry-leading seven-year/100,000-mile warranty.

This offers huge peace-of-mind, as even those getting the oldest used model - which could be half the price of a new equivalent - can benefit from more warranty cover than most new cars offer, with cover lasting until at least 2024. This really helps the small Kia stand out against impressive rivals like the Skoda Citigo and Toyota Aygo.

Kia’s core specification levels for the Picanto are named 1, 2 and 3 (there are many ‘special’ editions, too, but these are much less common). 1 versions are good in terms of offering low insurance costs but are thin on creature comforts - electric front windows and a basic radio system are as good as it gets.

That said, there are a number of driver aids which arguably make ‘1’ versions pick of the bunch for teenagers. Examples of these include hill start assist (which automatically prevents a car rolling backwards when starting on a hill) and forward collision avoidance assist (which helps prevent front end bumps). Finally, for the Picanto, these are available with the least powerful petrol engine, which also helps to keep fuel bills down.

KIA PICANTO BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Volkswagen Up

Best car for teenage drivers that holds its value well

Our pick Volkswagen Move Up
Used deals from £4,250
Monthly finance from £94

Something that isn’t on the mind of every teenage driver when picking a car is residual values. They should be though, as residual values refer to how much a car is worth as it gets older. This affects how much you pay overall whether you buy the car outright or finance it. That's because you'll get more back when you come to sell it if you paid cash or financed with Hire Purchase or you'll have lower monthly payments with PCP finance.

Just think; if the car you go for now cost the same as another model but was worth £1,000 more after three years, you'd effectively have another £1,000 to put towards your next car, meaning you could get something bigger and better. One such small car which holds on to its value well is the Volkswagen Up, as it's a desirable used car. Equipment isn’t a standout point on entry-level Take Up versions - these come with manual windows and require a driver to manually unlock the doors to gain access so Move Up models are the ones worth hunting down.

While some small cars can feel like a tin can on wheels, VW's city car is comfortable to drive both in town and on motorways - plus, it is actually enjoyable to drive on twisty roads. Its boxy shape also means it is a doddle to park and navigate through tight urban roads. Most Up models come with a 60hp petrol engine and a manual gearbox which is a great setup for younger drivers not least due to how economical it is. Just don't expect it to be fast.

There is a 75hp engine available that offers much better acceleration, so if you can get insured on an Up with this engine for a reasonable cost, you may want to pick one of these if you do lots of driving on faster roads. 

VOLKSWAGEN UP BUYERS' GUIDE

4. MG 3

Best car for teenagers that handles well but isn’t too fast

Our pick MG 3 Explore
Used deals from £6,592
Monthly finance from £127

The MG 3 supermini looks stylish and is fun to drive despite having a rather modest power output from its engine. There is only one engine available - a 1.5-litre petrol. Truth be told, the engine is the 3’s biggest flaw as it is nowhere near as lively (or economical) as smaller motors from the likes of Ford, Volkswagen and Kia. Still, it offers a decent amount of power for such an inexpensive car and handles corners very well. Also, all versions come with the same manual gearbox which is quite pleasant to use.

You might also be surprised by just how much standard equipment the latest MG 3 comes with - Apple CarPlay, electric windows and Bluetooth are all included from the get-go. MG first launched the 3 in 2013 but it's models that were sold from 2018-onwards that are most desirable.

The reason that you might want to pick a 2018- model is that newer versions come with sharper styling and better cabin electronics. Yes, the 3 doesn't feel as high quality as more upmarket rivals, such as the Volkswagen Polo, but the MG does come with a seven-year warranty (for models from September 2018 onwards. A five-year warranty was offered from January 2018 to September 2018 and cars sold before this came with a three-year warranty), which should give you a good sense of confidence.

MG3 BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Dacia Sandero

Best super-affordable car for teenagers

Our pick Dacia Sandero Essential
Used deals from £4,490
Monthly finance from £93

Dacia has made a name for itself in the UK with its incredibly affordable new cars. Its smallest vehicle is called the Sandero and it goes up against rivals such as the Peugeot 208 but costs the same as much smaller models like the Peugeot 108.

Dacia is part of the same company as Renault, and much of what goes into making a Sandero is lifted from older Renault Clio models. Some may see this a bit of a swizz, but glass-half-full type people may see it as getting tried and tested components for a low cost. Due to the super affordable prices, it does also mean that you could afford a newer car than if you went for a different model, so this shouldn't be an issue in reality.

Regardless, the 0.9-litre turbocharged petrol engine on offer was the same as the one available in Clios of the same age, not something dredged up from yesteryear. Do be aware, though, that entry-level Access versions traditionally come with less equipment than your average cardboard box (a radio, air-conditioning and electric windows are absent on Sandero Access models), so it is well worth upgrading to Essential trim to get a much more desirable car for a small increase in cost.

Doing so will bring air-conditioning, electric front windows, a radio and central locking (not remote locking, though) as standard and the car feels much more up to date as a result. Out on the open road, Dacia’s hatchback is easy enough to drive, while the 0.9-litre engine offers surprising punch for its small size but is still economical, which could well be perfect for relatively new drivers.

DACIA SANDERO BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Ford Fiesta

Best all-round car for teenagers

Our pick Ford Fiesta Zetec/Trend
Used 2018 deals from £7,789
Monthly finance from £135

British drivers - teenagers, parents and grandparents alike - love a Fiesta. Not the fun-filled Spanish religious festivals, either, it’s the small hatchback made by Ford that we cannot get enough of. Why has Ford’s supermini dominated the UK’s ‘most popular car’ list for decades? Put simply, it does everything rather well. Relatively affordable? Tick. Reliable? Tick. Easy to drive? Tick. Fun to drive? Tick. Cheap to run? Tick. Modern looking? Tick. This list goes on and on.

For the best combination of low purchase price - or monthly payments - desirability and equipment, Zetec trim is the one to go for. When paired with Ford’s 1.1-litre petrol engine (which produces a reasonable 75hp) performance is acceptably modest for new drivers. It's not a quick car, but the Fiesta is still enjoyable to drive.

Since July 2019 Zetec models have been rebadged as ‘Trend’. Meanwhile, keener drivers - who can stomach potentially higher insurance costs - may want to go for one of the more powerful 1.0-litre 'EcoBoost' models. These may be small but feature a power-boosting turbocharger which makes them surprisingly punchy when accelerating. As there are so many used 1.0-litre EcoBoost versions for sale, there's only a small premium to get one of these, so they can be a great value option if insurance is affordable for you.

FORD FIESTA BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Suzuki Ignis

Best well-equipped car for teenagers

Our pick Suzuki Ignis SZ3
Used deals from £7,500
Monthly finance from £122

With aesthetics straight out of the ‘Big Book of Quirky Styling’, the Suzuki Ignis really does stand out amongst a sea of boring alternatives. Saying that, there aren’t all that many direct alternatives that go up against Suzuki’s Ignis, as it sits in a gap between city cars, superminis and small SUVs. Thankfully, the Ignis mixes many of the best features of each of those car types, for example, the low running costs of a city car combined with the space of a supermini and the boxy, high-riding style of an SUV.

In typical Suzuki fashion, all Ignis models come with rather a lot of equipment for their price. SZ3 versions (the entry-level trim) come with Bluetooth, air-conditioning, a digital radio and a smattering of safety technology. What also helps the Ignis stand out is that it is available with mild hybrid technology (which uses a small electric motor to assist the engine to reduce fuel consumption and emissions) and four-wheel drive. Both of these are quite rare in this size of car. Irrespective of version, all Ignis models come with a 1.2-litre petrol engine, though drivers have the choice of a manual or automatic gearbox.

SUZUKI IGNIS BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Renault Twingo

Best easy to manoeuvre car for teenagers

Used deals from £4,659
Monthly finance from £98

The latest generation Renault Twingo sends power to its rear wheels, which is unlike nearly every rival (barring the closely related Smart Forfour). Why is this interesting? Well, sending power to the rear means that the front wheels have a lot less to cope with and as a result can turn further into the car's body, allowing the car to turn extremely tightly.

This is ideal for those who do lots of driving in towns and cities and would value being able to turn some three-point turns into U-turns... Driving a Renault Twingo outside of town is not quite as much fun as some of our other recommendations, but its looks (inside and outside) are up there with the most stylish, with lots of attention-grabbing colour combinations available.

Equipment levels are okay, but not spectacular. That said, higher specification models that may have been rather pricey when new offer much better value second-hand. So, bargains can be found for those wanting desirable equipment such as air-conditioning and cruise control. Practicality is a strong point, too, with enough space for five to travel in relative comfort. Even though the boot doesn't offer the greatest on-paper volume, its shape means that it is more usable than some rivals with bigger (yet more awkwardly shaped) boots.

RENAULT TWINGO BUYERS' GUIDE

 

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