Best first cars

Just passed your test and after some wheels? Cheap insurance, low prices and strong desirability make these the best first cars you can buy

BuyaCar team
Jan 16, 2020

Purchasing your first car is one of the more important - and more memorable - investments you'll ever make. Your first opportunity to get out onto the open road - a gateway to freedom.

But, as desperate as you might be to get yourself a set of wheels and drive off into the sunset, it's important to take a deep breath and think for a moment about what you want to be driving. You never forget your first car, so why spoil the memory by getting one that you'll regret?

Now you could go ahead and spend a few hundred pounds on your next-door neighbour's knackered old banger, and that might well be a wise choice to save some money and get used to car ownership, but it might also be a short lived experience, when it soon starts developing problems and costing you more money than it was worth in the first place.

So, instead, you might be better off looking so something a little more up to date. We've pulled together 10 cars that represent very safe and sensible options for first car drivers on a tight budget. These cars should prove reliable to own, being relatively new and well made, but they should also be cheap to run thanks to their small, economical engines, and be much cheaper to insure than many pricier cars, with more affordable road tax, too.

One of the more affordable ways to purchase a car in the 2020s 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 while Hire Purchase features higher monthly payments, but lower overall costs than with PCP to own the car outright.

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.

 

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 the car 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 HP, meanwhile, your monthly payments cover the whole cost of the car, so they are higher than with a PCP contract with the same terms, but you automatically own the car once all the payments have been made, without a large final payment being needed.

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 HP 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.

Check here for more details on PCP or HP finance.

Best first cars: used

Buying a used car offers big savings over a new model and choosing 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 and keep reading fore five great first car options.

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 £7,395
Monthly finance from £121

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 £6,495. 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.

Skoda Fabia buyers' guide

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 £4,990
Monthly finance from £101

One of the major selling points of the Peugeot 208 is that it doesn’t look basic and chea[. 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). These Access A/C cars do have air conditioning and are cheap, so may still be worth considering..

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.

Peugeot 208 buyers' guide

3. Hyundai i10

Best first car for value

Our pick Hyundai i10 1.0 SE Insurance Group 1
Used deals from £4,595
Monthly finance from £93

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.

Hyundai i10 buyers' guide

4. Fiat Panda

Best first car for interior space

Our pick Fiat Panda 1.2 Easy Insurance Group 4
Used deals from £4,233
Monthly finance from £86

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 £4,289 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.

Fiat Panda buyers' guide

5. Vauxhall Corsa

Best first car for a cheap price

Our pick Vauxhall Corsa 1.2 Sting Insurance Group 2
Used deals from £5,000
Monthly finance from £92

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.

Vauxhall Corsa buyers' guide

6. Seat Ibiza

Best first car for latin flair

Our pick Seat Ibiza 1.0 75hp SE Insurance Group 2
Used deals from £7,299
Monthly finance from £125

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.

Seat Ibiza buyers' guide

7. Volkswagen Up

Best first car for small size and spacious interior

Our pick VW Up 1.0 60hp Move Up Insurance group 1
Nearly new deals from £9,000
Monthly finance from £149

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.

Volkswagen Up buyers' guide

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 from £5,476
Monthly finance from £110

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.

Ford Fiesta buyers' guide

9. Dacia Sandero

Best first car for low prices from new

Our pick Dacia Sandero SCe 75 Ambiance Insurance group 2
Used deals from £5,775
Monthly finance from £108

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 £6,995, 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 Essential is the best buy. It may cost £800 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.

Dacia has recently changed its trim levels so, for example, where there was once an Ambiance SCe75, there is now the Essential SCe75. There’s not too much difference between them, so if your budget is stretched, a used Ambiance SCe 75 is likely to be a better buy. The Sandero's petrol engine is economical and the car's four-star safety rating is respectable.

Dacia Sandero buyers' guide

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 £4,995
Monthly finance from £101

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 handing 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.

Kia Picanto buyers' guide

 

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