Best first cars

With low insurance costs, a cheap price and reasonable safety, these are the best first cars that you can buy

BuyaCar team
Dec 6, 2016
Peter Titmuss /

You never forget your first car, so why spoil the memory by getting one that you'll regret?

Once you've sweated through the driving test and ditched your L-plates, the chances are that you'll be on the lookout for a car that's cheap and economical, preferably safe and spacious enough for friends too. Most importantly, you'll want a vehicle that's cheap to insure.

We've scoured the market to find five used cars and five new cars that fit the bill. They are all in low insurance groups, which means that your premiums will be among the lowest available, even though they are still unlikely to be cheap. Insurers are wary of first drivers, as our example quotes - for a 19-year-old living in Guildford - show.

The quotes are based on a driver with no points on their licence but who made a £500 claim while learning. They assume that they have chosen to fit a black box to monitor their driving and include a £250 excess - the maximum amount that the driver pays towards any claim.

The images below are general shots of the cars and not necessarily the specific model mentioned.

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Best first cars - used

Buying a used car offers big savings over a new model, but also means that you may not be getting the latest safety technology or most efficient engines.

Choosing a car that’s around three years old is a decent compromise: at this points, cars have usually lost a large chunk of their value, but many are still available new, and may also still have some time left on the manufacturer’s warranty. Here are five used cars that are all great options for a first car.

Hyundai i10 1.0 S Air

Best first car for value

Typical price £5,995, (2014, 12,000 miles) Representative finance £110 a month
Insurance group 1  Typical insurance quote £975

Its 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,

The current model, which first went on sale in 2014, has a comfortable ride, spacious interior and nimble steering , which makes it easy to zip around town.

The entry-level S model is cheap and falls into the lowest insurance group one, but the same applies to the S Air, which - as the name suggests - adds air conditioning.

There are even cheaper prices for the previous generation Hyundai i10, which has a taller shape and lacks the trapezoid front grille. It’s a good car, if a bit noisier and bouncy than the latest model.

Read the Hyundai i10 buying guide

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Dacia Sandero 1.2 16v Laureate

Best first car for the least amount of money

Typical price £5,500 (2014, 20,000 miles)  Representative finance £105 a month
Insurance Group 2  Typical insurance quote £983

If a cheap new Dacia Sandero (see new cars) is a little too stripped out for your tastes, then consider a second-hand, top-of-the-range Laureate version.

For £500 less than the cost of a new - but spartan - Dacia Sandero Access, which doesn’t even come with a radio, you could have a Sandero with electric windows, more attractive interior panels, air conditioning, alloy wheels and cruise control - plus a radio, of course.

As long as you stick with the least powerful 1.2-litre petrol engine, all versions of the Sandero are in the low insurance group 2.

If you want to save even more, then a second-hand Sandero Access is the cheapest option of all. Available for around £4,500, you’ll need to budget for an aftermarket radio to be fitted, and you’ll be laughing.

Read the Dacia Sandero buying guide

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Ford Fiesta 1.25 60PS Style 5dr

Best first car for choice of models

Typical price £6,500, (2014, 15,000 miles)  Representative finance £115 a month
Insurance Group 5  Typical insurance quote £1,332

Even the least powerful Ford Fiesta is classed in insurance Group 5, which is is higher than many cars of its size. But in some ways it’s the ideal first car, because there are simply so many available.

The Fiesta is the best-selling car in Britain, even though it’s about to be replaced, and there are masses to choose from, with the competition ensuring that prices are competitive.

All Fiestas are well engineered, to provide comfort, grip and stability over bumpy roads, with an agility in corners that puts a smile on your face.

The least powerful 60 horsepower 1.25-litre engine is the cheapest car to buy and insure (insurance group 5 is still relatively low, given that the classification runs to 50 categories), and - in Style trim - should include air conditioning and a USB port for your phone, if not alloy wheels and Bluetooth.

But if your budget can stretch by around £1,000, and you can bear slightly higher insurance costs, then the pick of the range - a Ford Fiesta Zetec with a 1-litre EcoBoost engine can be yours. It’s zippy, well-equipped and an ideal first car that doesn’t feel like a compromise.

Read the Ford Fiesta buying guide

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VW Polo 1.2 60 Match Edition 3dr

Best first car for sophistication

Typical price £7,000 (2014, 40,000 miles)  Representative finance £115/month
Insurance Group 5  Typical insurance quote £1,183

Just because you don’t have a fortune to spend on your first car doesn’t mean it has to look tatty.

The Volkswagen Polo is the sophisticated-looking supermini, and it drives like one too, thanks to a smooth, comfortable ride and steering that has just the right amount of weight to it when you turn.

The cars that are classed in low insurance groups feel well-built inside, but also a little bare, even though Match Edition versions come with alloy wheels and air conditioning.

And the 60 horsepower engine in the entry-level cars is weedy when you get out of town - you really need to rev it, which affects fuel economy.

But despite the shortcomings, Polos hold their value well, so you won’t find a low mileage one for an cheap price. Finance costs are little different from similar cars, though, with representative finance on the example above at around £115 a month.

Read the VW Polo buying guide

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Peugeot Bipper Tepee 1.3 HDI S

Best first car for carrying capacity

Typical price £7,500 (2014, 10,000 miles)  Representative finance £135 a month
Insurance Group 6  Typical Insurance Quote £1,230

The Peugeot Bipper Tepee is an unusual choice of first car, and that’s not just down to the name,

It was sold as a family car, but that practicality makes it ideal for young drivers with plenty of friends to transport.

The cheapest cars to insure have a 75 horsepower diesel engine that’s as slow as the superminis listed above, but considerably more versatile. You’ll be able to cram in four passengers and luggage, or you can accommodate bulky items like a surfboard or drum kit.

The car is economical and affordable to run, with representative finance on a 2014 car costing around £135 a month. You will have to put up with it bouncing over potholes and rough roads, as well as its image. When it comes to style, the Bipper Tepee is bottom of this list.

Search for Peugeot Bipper Tepee deals



Best first cars - new

Volkswagen Move up! 1.0 S/S 5dr

Best first car for small size, spacious interior and low running costs

Manufacturer price £10,860  Insurance group 1  Typical insurance quote £903

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

Pick the Move up! Start-Stop (shortened to S/S) model and you'll have a car that's in the lowest insurance group 1. The start-stop technology can automatically switch the engine off when you're stopped in traffic to save fuel, and the car also includes equipment that you're likely to want, including alloy wheels, air conditioning, digital radio and wireless Bluetooth connectivity for your mobile phone.

There's a cheaper Take up! version for £1,000 less, but the lack of air conditioning and Bluetooth alone, makes the car considerably less attractive.

The up! isn't cheap, but is expected to hold its value well, which helps keep finance payments low. If you're buying the car, then you should be able to sell it in for a decent price.

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. However, the up! currently offers the best combination of price and standard equipment with the lowest insurance group.

Read the VW up! buying guide

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Dacia Sandero Ambiance SCe 75 5dr

Manufacturer price £6995 Insurance group 2 Typical insurance quote £1,089

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 £5,995, and is spacious, at 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 Ambience is the best buy. It may cost £1,000 more than the cheapest Access version, but it does at least come with front electric windows radio and air conditioning that are missing from Access cars.

The vehicle's petrol engine is economical and the car's four star safety rating, awarded after independent crash testing by Euro NCAP, is respectable. For more space, you can opt for the estate version of the Sandero, the Dacia Logan, which starts at £6,995 - although that's in the basic Access specification.

Read the Dacia Sandero buying guide

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Renault Twingo 1.0 SCe 70 Expression 5dr

Price £9875  Insurance group 2  Typical insurance quote £946

With cheeky-looking headlights and toy car dimensions, the Renault Twingo provides a sense of fun before you even open the door.

it's fairly nippy in town, but the engine does need to be revved hard on the motorway. The benefit of having a low-powered motor is that it puts the Twingo into insurance group 2. The car's engine is in the boot, which frees up space at the front for the steering to be much tighter than normal. That means that you can turn the car around in a tiny space, which is ideal when you're still gaining experience as a driver.

Not that you'll lose your way too often, because every Twingo comes with a smartphone holder and a download of renault's R&Go app, which provides easy-to-use sat-nav on your phone. The basic Expression models, which cost under £10,000 even before any Renault Twingo discounts, also has Bluetooth for hadns-free calls, a digital radio and eletric front windows. But if you want air conditioning, you'll need to opt for a higher specification.

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Vauxhall Corsa 1.4i 75PS Sting

Manufacturer price £10,635  Insurance group 2  Typical insurance quote £902

The Vauxhall Corsa Sting is bold, with its white alloy wheels and twin white stripes that run from the bonnet, over the roof and onto the bootlid. It's only available as a three-door hatchback, so its shape is sporty too, with a roof that swoops down at the back.

However, the Corsa Sting with the least powerful 75 horsepower 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 cars on this page, you'll need to be patient as it accelerates up to speed, and it does get noisy on the motorway.

If you avoid revving the engine hard, then you should be able to return around 40mpg, but the official fuel economy figure of 55.4mpg is almost impossible to achieve in normal driving.

Like the rest of the Corsa range, the Sting is comfortable, agile in corners and feels well made. But then, you know that already: you probably learned in one.

Read the Vauxhall Corsa buying guide

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Ford Ka+ Zetec 1.2i Ti-VCT 70PS a/c 5dr

Manufacturer price £10,545  Insurance group 2  Typical insurance quote £845

It won’t have escaped your attention that the Ford Ka+ has the lowest insurance premium in our five-car round-up. That’s partly because it’s so slow but also because it has some unique features that can help reduce the likelihood of making an insurance claim.

These include MyKey. Parents can encourage safer driving by programming 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 he driver is wearing a seatbelt.

The least-powerful 70 horsepower (hp) engine might be slow, but it is does come with a low insurance group rating. It's economical too. On the occasions you do need to fill up, it has Ford’s clever Easy-fuel petrol tank neck that won't let you fill it with diesel on accident.

It’s not the most stylish-looking small car but it does have enough space to sit you and four more in as much comfort as you can expect of a car this size. Entry-level Studio cars with the 70hp engine fall into insurance group 1, but you'll probably be more satisfied with a Zetec model, which costs £1,000 more and is one insurance group higher. These come with alloy wheels, body-coloured bumpers, air conditioning, cruise control with a speed limiter, and a digital radio with a 4.2in screen.

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