Best first cars

If you’ve just passed your test, you’ll need a first car that’s inexpensive, and cheap to insure and run – here are some of the best

BuyaCar team
Apr 29, 2021

Getting your first car is a big moment. Whatever age you are and whatever your budget, it most likely represents real freedom, a chance to get out on the open road.

That’s why it’s something that’s worth thinking carefully about what car will suit your needs and budget best.

It might be tempting to spend a few hundred quid on a tired old used car – all the better to get you out driving sooner. But it might not be the most reliable vehicle on the road. What’s more, older cars are most likely not as safe as a newer model, and this is an important factor to consider as an inexperienced driver.

Instead, it’s worth splashing out a little more on something more up to date and that’s not been to the moon and back without a proper service. It might seem more expensive initially, but it could well save you money in the long run as a newer car should provide reliable motoring.

Best first cars

Choosing a used car offers big savings over a new model and picking one that's around three years old is usually a good compromise: at this point, cars have usually lost a large chunk of their value, but are still new enough to have a good level of safety kit and high-tech features.

Three-year old cars are often sophisticated enough to include plenty of desirable equipment, like Bluetooth and sat-nav in many cases, and if you choose the right car, you may still have two or even four years' warranty cover left. Check out the best cars with a five-year warranty or a seven-year warranty.

First car tips: opt for a finance deal

One of the more affordable ways to purchase a car is with a car finance deal. The two most common types of finance are Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) and Hire Purchase (HP). PCP offers low monthly payments, plus a large optional final payment if you want to own the car at the end of the contract. Meanwhile, Hire Purchase features higher monthly payments, but no large payment is needed at the end.

With PCP finance, you put down an initial deposit - which can be anything from nothing to several thousand pounds, depending upon the car and what you can afford - followed by a series of monthly payments, typically paid over two to four years. This puts a new car on the driveway for an affordable monthly payment compared with Hire Purchase or a traditional car loan.

VIDEO: What is car finance?

Once those monthly payments are complete, you have the choice to hand the car back and walk away with nothing else to pay (provided you've stuck to the pre-agreed mileage allowance and kept the car in good condition), or you can make the optional final payment to buy it outright. Alternatively, you can 'part-exchange' the car, using any equity - that's value in the car above the remaining amount owed - to put towards the deposit on your next car. Read more about your end-of-contract options here.

With Hire Purchase, meanwhile, your deposit and monthly payments cover the whole cost of the car, so instalments are higher than with a PCP contract with the same terms (deposit and contract length), but you automatically own the car once all the payments have been made.

The main difference between the two is that PCP provides lower monthly payments and gives you the option to buy the car or hand it back at the end of the contract, while Hire Purchase has higher instalments but works out cheaper for those who want to own the car. That's because you're paying off the balance quicker, meaning less interest is charged.

10 great first cars

1. Skoda Fabia

Best first car for safety and luggage space

Our pick Skoda Fabia 1.0 MPI 75 SE
Insurance Group 3
Used deals from £7,290
Monthly finance from £131*

Skoda’s Fabia offers more options than most small cars because it’s available as a hatchback or as a big-booted estate car. So if you do head away on camping trips or long road trips, then you shouldn’t need to cram luggage between your rear passengers. Even the hatchback offers plenty of load space.

Anyone in the back should be comfortable, too, thanks to a decent amount of legroom, while a five-star safety rating, awarded in 2014 could prove handy if your parents are particularly over-protective.

The cheapest option is normally an entry-level S model with a weedy 60hp engine, which is in insurance group 2. Current prices start at £5,980. Upgrading to a 75hp model in SE trim provides more power and improved equipment (including air-conditioning and alloy wheels), and is just one insurance group higher, so it shouldn't cost much more to insure.


2. Peugeot 208

Best first car that doesn't look like one

Our pick Peugeot 208 1.2 VTi Puretech 68 Active
Insurance Group 6
Used deals from £4,985
Monthly finance from £105*

One of the major selling points of the Peugeot 208 is that it doesn’t look basic and cheap. The design still looks modern, the car feels solid and the interior is designed around a touchscreen media system.

That touchscreen isn’t included with entry-level Access A/C models, though, where it’s replaced with an awkward looking old-fashioned radio (which does have Bluetooth). However, these entry-level cars do have air-conditioning and are cheap, so may still be worth considering, with prices starting at  per month on BuyaCar.

You’re likely to be more satisfied with Active models, though, as these have alloy wheels and a leather steering wheel in addition to the touchscreen, and are only one insurance group higher. The key to keeping insurance costs low is to opt for the 1.2-litre engine with 68hp, although it’s not particularly zippy.


3. Hyundai i10

Best first car for value

Our pick Hyundai i10 1.0 SE
Insurance Group 1
Used deals from £5,407
Monthly finance from £107*

It's cheap enough as a new car, but a second-hand Hyundai i10 is a bargain. Thanks to the car’s five-year warranty, you can pick up a model that’s virtually half price, and which still has two years' of cover remaining,

This version, which first went on sale in 2014, has a comfortable ride, spacious interior and precise steering, which makes it easy to zip around town. You shouldn't need to spend much on fuel doing that, either.

The entry-level S model is cheap and falls into the lowest insurance group, but the same can be said for the better-equipped SE model, which adds features that you're likely to want, including air-conditioning, remote central locking and a height adjustable driver's seat, so this is the one to go for.


4. Fiat Panda

Best first car for interior space

Our pick Fiat Panda 1.2 Easy
Insurance Group 4
Used deals from £4,948
Monthly finance from £107*

Cheap to buy, insure and run, the Fiat Panda can also accommodate a car-load of towering teenagers, thanks to its boxy shape, which offers a surprising amount of legroom and headroom in the back.

The cheapest Panda to buy and insure is the entry-level Pop, which starts at £4,280 but the cost of upgrading to an Easy version is minimal, and that means that you’ll gain air-conditioning, remote central locking and a height-adjustable driver’s seat.

Fuel economy from the car’s 1.2-litre engine is reasonable but the catch comes when you press the accelerator: performance is best described as slow.


5. Vauxhall Corsa

Best first car for a cheap price

Our pick Vauxhall Corsa 1.2 Sting
Insurance Group 2
Used deals from £4,895
Monthly finance from £116*

Three-year-old Vauxhall Corsas are cheap, and none more so than Sting versions. These are bold, with white alloy wheels and twin white stripes that run from the bonnet, over the roof and onto the bootlid. They are only available as a three-door hatchback, so the shape is sporty too, with a roof that swoops down at the back.

However, the Corsa Sting with the least powerful 75hp engine falls into the low insurance group 2, so it's no surprise that the reality of driving it doesn't quite live up to the car's image. As with most cheap-to-insure first cars, you'll need to be patient as it accelerates up to speed, and it does get a little noisy at motorway speeds.

If you avoid revving the engine hard, then you should be able to gain around 40mpg. Like the rest of the Corsa range, the Sting is comfortable, agile around corners and feels well made. But then, there's a decent chance that you know this already: tonnes of driving instructors use them.


6. Seat Ibiza

Best first car for latin flair

Our pick Seat Ibiza 1.0 75hp SE
Insurance Group 2
Used deals from £7,500
Monthly finance from £141*

The Seat Ibiza is one of the best small cars, thanks to a spacious interior, efficient engines, a good level of standard equipment and a five-star safety rating.

Insurance premiums for new models are cheapest if you pick the least powerful 1.0 MPI engine with 80hp that puts the car in insurance group 3. Track down one of the previous 75hp versions, however, and you can cut that to insurance group 2.

SE cars have everything you really need, including air-conditioning; a 6.5in touchscreen media system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; and automatic emergency braking. SE Technology cars are also in insurance group 2 and add a larger touchscreen and bigger alloy wheels.


7. Volkswagen Up

Best first car for small size and spacious interior

Our pick VW Up 1.0 60hp Move Up
Insurance group 1

It's cheap to run, compact and easy to manoeuvre, but can still carry four people in safety. The Up's merits might be sensible and practical, but few cars match the standards of the small Volkswagen or its cheeky looks.

The Move Up Start-Stop (shortened to S/S) with a 1.0-litre, 60hp engine, is in the lowest insurance group - group 1. The start-stop tech will turn off the engine when stopped in traffic to save fuel. Other standard equipment includes alloy wheels, air-conditioning, a digital radio and wireless Bluetooth connectivity for your mobile phone. The Take Up version costs £1,000 less new, but the lack of air-conditioning and Bluetooth alone, makes the car considerably less attractive.

Despite its small engine, the Up is zippy, as well as economical. It's virtually identical to the Skoda Citigo and Seat Mii which were all developed together to save costs. Although the VW is slightly more expensive than those cars, it holds its value well, helping to keep PCP finance payments low, as the car is worth more when you hand it back.


8. Ford Fiesta

Best first car for parental supervision

Ford Fiesta

Our pick Ford Fiesta 1.1 Ti-VCT 85hp Style
Insurance Group 2
Used deals Limited stock

Although Ford's Ka+ is a cheaper first car option, drivers are better off with the Fiesta. That's because you'll benefit from some of the latest technology, including the safety equipment which earned the Fiesta a five-star crash safety rating.

There's enough space in the back for adults to sit comfortably and a decent boot, too. Your parents, meanwhile, may be impressed by Ford's MyKey system, which allows them to programme a second key that limits the car's functions for any young drivers in the family. It can restrict the car's performance, the volume of the stereo and ensure that the driver is wearing a seatbelt.

For the cheapest insurance, a used Style 1.1Ti-VCT 70hp is the one to go for since it sits in insurance group 2, where the more powerful Zetec 1.1Ti-VCT 85hp is in group 5. Style trim includes air-conditioning, Bluetooth, electric front windows and a system that helps prevent the car from drifting out of its lane on motorways by nudging the steering automatically.


9. Dacia Sandero

Best first car for low prices from new

Our pick Dacia Sandero SCe 75 Ambiance
Insurance group 2

If you're looking for the cheapest new car you can get, then it's impossible to beat the Dacia Sandero, which starts at just £7,995, and is spacious, being roughly the same size as a Vauxhall Corsa.

Your cash doesn't buy you much in the way of image, style or even equipment, which is why the mid-range Sandero Comfort is the best buy. It may cost more than the cheapest Access version new, but it does at least come with front electric windows, a radio and air-conditioning that are missing from Access cars. And it's great value second-hand.


10. Kia Picanto

Best first car for a long warranty

Our pick Kia Picanto 1.0 67hp 1 5dr
Insurance group 4
Used deals from £4,699
Monthly finance from £99*

Any new driver wants to be able to trust that their car will start in the morning and the Picanto should be able to promise exactly that. Its seven-year warranty, the longest in the industry, is proof that Kia trusts it, and more importantly the feedback from owners suggests that Picanto drivers are happy with them.

But it’s not as if this quality comes at a high price. The basic Picanto 1 is super-cheap - in cash and finance terms - and your money buys a surprisingly spacious five-door city car with one of the biggest boots in the class.

It’s fun to drive with tidy handling and a ride that’s settled if a little firm. The 1.0-litre 67hp engine has to be worked hard (the larger 1.3 is more powerful) but if your driving is mainly around town, it’s more than up to the job.


*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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