Best cars for 18-year-olds

Turning 18 - and legally becoming an adult - means many exciting new freedoms, but it also means the potential for cheaper car insurance

James Wilson
Nov 13, 2020

Finding a suitable car for an 18-year-old is no small task - whether you're the 18-year-old yourself, or you're buying the car on behalf of said 18-year-old. As a 17-year-old, looking for a car revolves around finding something that is easy to drive, affordable to insure, cheap to run and repair should it take the odd knock. Now, though, after a year of legally being able to drive, things start to change.

With a year's driving under your belt - meaning you should be able to insure a broader range of cars - wouldn’t it be nice to have a few more creature comforts? Things such as air-conditioning, Bluetooth and even sat-nav. Also, if you now have a year’s no claims bonus to play with, insurance premiums should be lower than before, which could also open the door to something a bit newer and a bit faster without bankrupting yourself.

As it would happen, there is an extensive range of options for 18-year-old drivers. 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. They range from stylish open-top city cars to rugged American SUV-style 'crossovers'. Something for everyone, then.

Whatever type of car they may be, all models must meet a few criteria. First up, they have to be affordable to run, affordable to purchase (typically available for under £12,000, although most can be found for well under £10,000) and with low car finance monthly payments, be no more than four years old and suitably appealing for an 18-year old - so not the kind of car you'd expect in a bingo hall car park.

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-litre EcoBoost 100hp Zetec
Used deals from £8,376
Monthly finance from £140

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 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 proving good value used and including a good amount of standard equipment such as air-conditioning, alloy wheels and a reasonably slick media system.

FORD FIESTA BUYERS' GUIDE

2. DS 3

Best car for 18-year-olds after a different car to their mates

Our pick DS 3 1.2-litre PureTech 82 Chic
Used deals from £5,995
Monthly finance from £96

DS is a style-focused sub-brand of Citroen and the DS 3 was its first model. By all accounts, it has been a massive success for the French carmaker with many motorists falling for its good looks. This means that threre are plenty of used models to choose from - so you can be picky when looking for one that suits your tastes and budget.

The DS 3 has some stiff competition, though, going against upmarket rivals such as the Mini Hatchback, Fiat 500 and even the Audi A1. That said, thanks to an enjoyable driving experience and relative affordability the little French car just about holds its own.

Younger drivers will want to aim for the lesser-powered models for low insurance and running cost reasons, which is why the 82hp petrol model is best - especially in entry-level Chic trim. Unlike the DS 3’s striking exterior, the interior isn't very exciting but it is more practical than either the Fiat 500 or three-door Mini Hatchback.

For instance, the DS comes with a substantial 74 litres more boot space than the Mini and 100 litres more than the 500 - making it far more suitable for both road trips and big shopping trips - without having to resort to carrying luggage in the cabin.

DS 3 BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Jeep Renegade

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

Our pick Jeep Renegade 1.6-litre E-torQ Sport
Used deals from £8,950
Monthly finance from £156

The Renegade is the baby of the Jeep range being much smaller than other Jeeps. Regardless, it does stay true to its rugged roots, not least in the way it looks and its practicality. While more and more drivers are after small SUV-like 'crossovers', such as the Renegade, the small Jeep stands out as all versions are well equipped - standard kit includes 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning and a digital radio.

For 18-year-olds, two-wheel drive 1.6-litre petrol Sport models with a manual transmission are the ones worth hunting down. This is due to their balance of price, running costs and equipment. You still get decent ground clearance - should you live down a bumpy little track - and the same tough looks as models with four-wheel drive.

Four-wheel drive versions are available for those who need them, but expect to pay more for these, as they were more expensive in the first place and due to their exclusivity and better standard equipment. They are also more pricey to fuel due to the extra weight of the four-wheel drive system and as they are only available with more powerful petrol and diesel engines.

JEEP RENEGADE BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Seat Arona

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

Our pick Seat Arona 1.0-litre TSI SE
Used deals from £12,200
Monthly finance from £181

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, like the Jeep above, 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. As standard, cruise control, air-conditioning, Bluetooth and alloy wheels are all included.

Our recommendation for engine and gearbox choice is the 1.0-litre TSI petrol engine producing 95hp with a manual gearbox. The reason being is 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 Jeep above is a better choice for those who want to drive off the beaten track, even if you want to stick to two-wheel drive models, though four-wheel drive versions are available with the Renegade.

SEAT ARONA BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Toyota Yaris

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

Our pick Toyota Yaris 1.5-litre Hybrid Icon CVT
Used deals from £7,965
Monthly finance from £147

Those looking for a small, affordable second-hand hybrid (a non-plug-in model, which has a smaller battery pack than a plug-in hybrid but cannot be charged by plugging into the mains) 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.

TOYOTA YARIS BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Kia Rio

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

Our pick Kia Rio 1.25-litre 1 5dr
Used deals from £4,990
Monthly finance from £101

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 seven-year/100,000-mile 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 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 1.3-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 taxation rules are starting to issues surcharges for older diesels, so if you cover less than 20,000 or so miles per year, we'd be tempted to go for 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, 1 versions make a great option for 18-year-olds.

KIA RIO BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Vauxhall Adam

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

Our pick Vauxhall Adam 1.2-litre Jam
Used deals from £4,750
Monthly finance from £94

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, as the 1.2-litre petrol engine (best suited for low insurance premiums) is quite sluggish, so impatient drivers will want to maintain speed through the bends to save time getting back up to speed.

VAUXHALL ADAM BUYERS' GUIDE

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 from £4,880
Monthly finance from £87

Our pick Citroen C1 1.0-litre VTi Airscape Feel Edition
Used deals from £5,880
Monthly finance from £109

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 Skoda Citigo. Fortunately for the Citroen C1 and Peugeot 108, though, none of the main alternatives are offered with a retractable roof, so if this appeals, the C1 and 108 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.

 

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