Best cars for 18-year-olds

Turning 18 and legally becoming an adult means many exciting new freedoms. What’s better is it could also mean cheaper car insurance

James Wilson
Feb 2, 2022

Finding a car as an 18-year-old driver is no small task. One of the main difficulties you'll face is finding a car that comes with reasonable insurance costs, but there are some cars on the market that will be cheaper to insure than others - the best first cars all have this in common.

Much like turning 18 opens up new opportunities, so does this reduction in insurance costs.  As a 17-year-old, you were probably looking for a car while paying particular attention to how easy it was to drive, whether if offered the cheapest insurance and if it was cheap to patch up or repair, should it take the odd knock. Now, with a year’s driving experience and hopefully a year's no claims discount, you should be able to insure a broader range of cars. 

As it would happen, there is an extensive range of options for 18-year-old drivers. Choose wisely and your new car could have features such as air-conditioning and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, plus you could even find yourself with a bit more engine power at your disposal. Without knowing where to look, though, it can be hard to separate the good cars from the average ones.

To help, below we've rounded up some of the best affordable cars for 18-year-olds currently on sale. Whatever type of car they may be, all models must meet a few criteria. They have to be affordable to run, affordable to purchase with low car finance monthly payments and be suitably appealing to an 18-year-old.

Best cars for 18-year-olds

1. Ford Fiesta

Best car for 18-year-olds after a nippy hatchback

Our pick Ford Fiesta 1.0 EcoBoost 100hp Zetec
Used deals from £8,950
Monthly finance from £0*

The Ford Fiesta has long been a mainstay of UK roads thanks to its ability to do everything anyone could need a small hatchback to do very well. The latest generation is the best yet, most notably for having a significantly improved interior over previous versions. This means you get an improved media system and the car looks that bit more modern, too.

While there are alternative small cars out there that will trump the Fiesta in one area (such as engine power, standard equipment, warranty etc.) few come close to such an excellent overall package. It's also fun to drive for those 18-year-olds who don't just want to be seen in their car but enjoy driving it too, with responsive steering and good handling around corners.

This generation of the Fiesta is available with a wide range of engines and gearboxes - each best suited to a particular type of driver. For 18-year-olds, the best option is the 100hp 1.0-litre 'EcoBoost' turbocharged petrol engine with a manual gearbox, especially in Zetec trim. This engine may be small, but thanks to a power-boosting turbocharger it makes the Fiesta pretty nippy for a young driver, easily picking up speed on faster roads and producing a pleasing thrum when you work the engine hard.

Even though Ford no longer offers Zetec trim on brand new Fiestas, it's still a good choice for young drivers. They prove good value used and include a good amount of standard equipment such as air-conditioning, alloy wheels and a reasonably slick media system.


2. Renault Zoe

Best car for 18-year-olds after an electric car

Our pick Renault Zoe 68kW Dynamique Nav
Used deals from £20,495
Monthly finance from £0*

The Renault Zoe was one of the first mainstream electric cars to go on sale in the UK. Now that it has been on sale for quite some time, older used models are now becoming increasingly affordable and make a real case for themselves as a purchase.

The Zoe range underwent a major update in 2019 that saw the range boosted to well over 200 miles from a full charge. This made them more suited to longer-distance driving, but for most everyday journeys an older model with a smaller battery pack should do just fine.

Being a stylish French supermini, the Zoe looks good but doesn’t try too hard to stand out as an electric car, unlike some rivals, meaning that you won’t look too conspicuous when parked up next to your fellow 18-year-olds’ Vauxhall Corsas and Volkswagen Polos. Interior space is generous and will seat four adults in relative comfort, plus the Zoe's five doors will make access much easier, too.

There are a range of Zoes with differing power outputs. All pre-2019 models will give at least 100 miles of range so this should prove plenty for city driving and shorter journeys. Go for our chosen Dynamique Nav trim and you will get automatic lights and wipers, rear parking sensors, cruise control, climate control and electric windows.

One thing to watch out for is the battery leasing plan on older models, here you do not own the battery pack and will have to pay an additional monthly charge. Prices for used Zoes are now low enough that it is a better option to keep searching for a model with owned batteries.


3. Dacia Duster

Best car for 18-year-olds after a little SUV off-road ability

Our pick Dacia Duster 1.2 TCe Prestige
Used deals from £8,690
Monthly finance from £219*

Dacia has built a reputation in the UK for its cheap, sensible, no-nonsense cars. In fact, the Duster’s smaller sister, the Sandero, is the cheapest new car on sale at the time of writing - and the Duster is not far behind at a starting price of around £15,000.

So when a car is incredibly low priced when it’s new, it makes for some even more amazing bargains on the used market. The Dacia Duster is a great example of this as it's a rather practical SUV that is surprisingly capable in milder off-road environments such as dirt tracks and fields - making it perfect for those who live an active and outdoorsy lifestyle.

We recommend investing a bit more money in a higher trim Duster as base models are pretty spartan in order to keep costs down, although air-conditioning and a digital radio do feature. Go for our chosen range-topping ‘Prestige’ and you will get 17-inch alloy wheels, upgraded upholstery, a 360-degree camera system, wireless smartphone connectivity, climate control, heated and electrically adjustable door mirrors and keyless entry.



4. Seat Arona

Best car for 18-year-olds after a good high-riding all-rounder

Our pick Seat Arona 1.0 TSI SE
Used deals from £12,000
Monthly finance from £317*

The Seat Arona is small in size but big on practicality and thanks to great petrol engines, an easy to use touchscreen media system and impressive levels of standard equipment, it's a very good all-round option. Especially when you consider that this wasn't an expensive car to begin with and prices are dropping further and further as more used models become available.

As a result, it shines as a small crossover very much worth considering, even out of the many cars of this type now available. Seat wanted to make sure the Arona was seen as a more upmarket offering, so all models are well equipped. Cruise control, air-conditioning, Bluetooth and alloy wheels are all included as standard.

Our recommendation for engine and gearbox choice is the 1.0-litre TSI petrol engine producing 95hp with a manual gearbox. The reason is that this version is economical and looked on relatively favourably by insurers, so your premium shouldn't be too bad.

Despite its boxy looks and tall stance, all versions of the Arona are two-wheel drive, so don't expect to get far off-road with one of these. The Duster above is a better choice for those who want to drive off the beaten track.


5. Toyota Yaris

Best car for 18-year-olds after a hybrid for low fuel consumption around town

Our pick Toyota Yaris 1.5 Hybrid Icon CVT
Used deals from £8,299
Monthly finance from £0*

Those looking for a small, affordable second-hand self-charging hybrid don’t have a lot of choice. The Toyota Yaris is one of the few options but thankfully, it is a rather good one. Having been around for a number of years, there are also many used models available at affordable prices, too.

Compared to other non-hybrid petrol superminis, such as the Ford Fiesta and Renault Clio, the Yaris hybrid stands out for its low emissions and high fuel economy - which are thanks to the battery assistance. Expect particularly impressive fuel economy around town, as the battery can provide a big helping hand to the engine at lower speeds, but underwhelming economy on the motorway, as the car has little chance to recharge the battery (which is typically done when braking) at higher speeds.

Icon trim is one up from entry-level and is well suited to those with a year or so experience driving on the road. Icon comes with a handy reversing camera, seven-inch touchscreen media system, collision warning system (a great safety net for avoiding some crashes), Bluetooth, air-conditioning and 15-inch alloy wheels as a minimum.

All hybrid Yaris models come with an automatic gearbox (referred to as a 'CVT' gearbox) paired to a 1.5-litre petrol engine and an electric motor. For those that do a lot of town driving, the automatic gearbox helps make travelling through stop-start traffic a doddle, since you don't have to worry about changing gear.


6. Kia Rio

Best car for 18-year-olds after a long warranty for peace of mind

Our pick Kia Rio 1.25 1 5dr
Used deals from £4,695
Monthly finance from £0*

Let’s make no bones about it, the latest generation Kia Rio isn’t particularly exciting to look at or drive. All is not lost, though, as for those who are willing to sacrifice a little adrenalin, the Rio offers practicality, relative affordability and an industry-leading 100,000-mile seven-year warranty. That means that even if you go for a four-year-old model, you still get three years' worth of manufacturer warranty - the same that most new cars from other manufacturers come with.

There are a number of engines available and thanks to modest power outputs, many of them are worth a look, even for 18-year-old drivers. The 1.25-litre petrol is normally the most affordable to buy, while the 76hp 1.4-litre diesel claims a very high official economy figure north of 80mpg - great for those who do a lot of miles each year, as it should cost less to fuel.

Bear in mind, however, that diesel engines are typically less refined than equivalent petrol ones and charges such as the London Ultra Low Emission Zone tend to penalise older diesels, so if you cover less than 20,000 or so miles per year, we'd suggest a petrol.

Kia tries to keep things simple with its specification levels - the core models are labelled 1, 2, 3 and 4 but there is the odd special edition kicking about. Entry-level 1 spec is naturally the most affordable and comes with air-conditioning, electric heated wing mirrors, Bluetooth and automatic lights. All things considered, the '1' makes a great option for 18-year-olds.


7. Vauxhall Adam

Best car for 18-year-olds after a car to match their personal style

Our pick Vauxhall Adam 1.2 Jam
Used deals from £5,999
Monthly finance from £181*

The small and spritely Vauxhall Adam is often overshadowed by its bigger brother - the Corsa - which sells in huge numbers. This is a shame, as the Adam is a great little city car that is well-built and available in all kinds of colour and trim combinations. This means that if you fancy a car in a zany colour combination, you should be able to find an Adam to suit you.

Its main rivals are cars such as the Mini Hatchback, Fiat 500 and Audi A1. Truth be told, all have been more popular with buyers but this means the Adam represents great value second-hand.

Jam trim started off the range (past tense here as the Adam is no longer available to buy new) and came with an impressive list of standard equipment - alloy wheels, cruise control, air-conditioning and Bluetooth were all included.

To drive, the Adam actually handles corners quite well, which is good. This somewhat makes up for the 1.2-litre petrol engine (best suited for low insurance premiums) which is quite sluggish.


8. Peugeot 108 Top/Citroen C1 Airscape

Best car for 18-year-olds after a soft-top small car

Our pick Peugeot 108 1.0-litre Top Active
Used deals Limited stock
Our pick Citroen C1 1.0-litre VTi Airscape Feel Edition
Used deals Limited stock

The Peugeot 108 and Citroen C1 are built on the same platform so underneath their different exteriors they are basically the same car. Both models are cheap to run, fun to drive and look good. Even so, they don’t always feel that special. This is not the case with 108 Top and C1 Airscape versions as thanks to a sliding fabric roof they add wind-in-the-hair motoring to their selling points.

Yes, there are all sorts of other city cars available and there are a number of impressive rivals such as the Volkswagen Up. Fortunately for the Citroen C1 and Peugeot 108, though, very few of the main alternatives are offered with a retractable roof, so if this appeals, these two cars are well worth considering.

To keep running costs down, the lesser-powered 1.0-litre petrol (available with both cars) is the go-to option, but those happy with a slight cost penalty should definitely consider the 1.2-litre due to its notable additional power.

Versions with an automatic gearbox are available, but the manual gets our vote, as low-power small cars often feel slow and unresponsive when paired with an automatic gearbox. Trim wise, Feel (Citroen) or Active (Peugeot) are the ones to hunt down and come with air-conditioning, Bluetooth and digital radio.

*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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