Best first cars 2024

If you’ve only recently passed your driving test you’ll want an affordable first car that’s cheap to insure, fun to drive and reliable. Here are some of the best options.

By Craig Cheetham January 22, 2024

The average age at which someone passes their driving test in the UK is higher than ever, with the most recent data showing it’s now 24 – compared with 20 just a few years ago.

The move shows a shift in priorities for today’s younger people, with those living in urban areas favouring public transport, or choosing not to drive until they’re a bit older due to the cost of car insurance and rising car prices. 

But that doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of great first car choices. If you’re shopping for your first car then you’re no doubt excited about the prospect, but it might also feel a touch daunting if you don’t really know what you’re looking for. That’s where BuyaCar can help.

It might be tempting to spend a few hundred quid on an older used car, but opting for the very cheapest end of the scale could mean you find yourself having to deal with poor reliability and expensive maintenance costs.

A better long-term solution would be to spend a bit more on the car itself, which should be safer and more reliable for you in the future, helping you to save money in the long run.

Something that’s around three-to-five years old will tend to be a good compromise in terms of value for money and reliability. Opting for a finance deal can also be a good way of making your car purchase more affordable and your costs predictable. Here we’ve picked what we believe are the best first cars around.

Fiat 500

Best first car for cult appeal
Our pick: Fiat 500 1.0 Lounge
Read our full Fiat 500 review

The Fiat 500 has been around for nearly 16 years now, basically unchanged in its outward appearance even if it has evolved quite a bit under the skin during that time. It remains one of the best first cars you can buy.

It drives well, with entertaining steering and handling and low running costs, while a wide choice of models of multiple ages means there’s a lot of choice for new drivers, whatever their budget. All versions have small engines and are cheap to run, so you can’t go too far wrong.

The rare 1.3-litre diesel probably makes the least sense. Although it’s efficient on long trips, the 1.0-litre and 1.2-litre petrols are better suited to town use. The 0.9-litre TwinAir is a fantastic engine for city driving, but less efficient and less reliable. It has loads of character though.


Nissan Micra

Best first car for safety
Our pick: Nissan Micra 1.0 IG-T Acenta
Read our Nissan Micra review

Banish memories of frumpy Nissan Micras of old. The most recent model, introduced in 2017, is a world away from those. Stylish inside and out and offering plenty of mobile phone integration and safety equipment, it’s now a proper alternative to the finest small cars and one of the best first cars you can choose.

It’s bigger than the old Nissan Micra, too, with more interior space. The rear seats suffer from a lack of headroom but there’s decent legroom. It’s a pity the boot isn’t bigger. At 300 litres it trails the SEAT Ibiza by 50 litres, but for most people this won’t be a major sticking point. 

There’s plenty of safety equipment, too. Lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian and road sign recognition and automatic full-beam headlamps are standard, along with surround view cameras that give a full view when parking or manoeuvring.


Skoda Fabia

Best first car for practicality
Our pick: Skoda Fabia 1.0 MPI 75 SE
Read our Skoda reviews

The Skoda Fabia provides more options than most small cars, because it was previously available as a hatchback or as a big-booted estate car (pictured). If you’re a university student or head away on camping trips, the wagon holds a unique appeal, as it’s as cheap as the hatch to run and insure. 

Anyone in the back should be comfortable, too, thanks to a decent amount of legroom, while a five-star safety rating delivers peace of mind.

The cheapest option is the entry-level S model with a weedy 61PS engine, which isn’t powerful but is in insurance group 2. Upgrading to a 76PS model in SE trim provides more power and improved equipment (including air-conditioning and alloy wheels) and is just one insurance group higher.


Peugeot 208

Best first car for spec and performance
Our pick: Peugeot 208 1.2 VTi PureTech 68 Active
Read our full Peugeot 208 review

One of the major selling points of the Peugeot 208 is that it doesn’t appear basic or cheap. The design 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 (although this does still have Bluetooth). However, these entry-level cars do have air-conditioning and are cheap, so may still be worth considering.

You’re likely to be better off with Active models, though, as these have alloy wheels and a leather steering wheel in addition to the touchscreen plus are only one insurance group higher. The key to keeping insurance costs low is the 69PS 1.2-litre engine, although it’s not particularly zippy.


Hyundai i10

Best first car for value
Our pick: Hyundai i10 1.0 SE
Read our full Hyundai i10 review

It’s cheap enough as a new car, but a second-hand Hyundai i10 is one of the best first cars on the market. Thanks to the five-year warranty, you can pick up a model that’s virtually half the price it was new and which still has some of the original cover remaining.

This version, which first went on sale in 2014, has a comfortable ride, spacious interior and is nimble around town. You shouldn’t need to spend much on fuel, either, although it can get a bit loud and boomy on faster roads. 

Both the entry-level S and more expensive, but far better-equipped, SE are in insurance group 1, making them ideal for first-time drivers.


Fiat Panda

Best first car for interior space
Our pick: Fiat Panda 1.2 Easy
Read our full Fiat Panda review

It may not be as fashionable as the Fiat 500, but the Fiat Panda is one of the most practical options for first-time drivers, enjoying low insurance groups and surprisingly good passenger space.

It’s ideal for trips out with your friends, as the rear seats will fit a couple of adults in reasonable comfort thanks to the generous headroom. The cheapest Fiat Panda to buy and insure is the entry-level Pop, but the cost of upgrading to an Easy version is minima, and that means 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 and while it’s not particularly fast, the Fiat Panda is nippy enough around town and will sit comfortably at motorway speeds.


Vauxhall Corsa

Best first car for familiarity
Our pick: Vauxhall Corsa 1.2 Sting
Read our full Vauxhall Corsa review

The Vauxhall Corsa was recently updated and is among the most stylish small cars around. But the previous-generation model is a perennial favourite among young motorists and is easy to buy, own and run. 

This version of Vauxhall Corsa is comfortable, agile and well made, with a more mature feel than most of its rivals. It’s not as technologically advanced, though – the car enjoyed a production run of 14 years, which means the basic platform dates back to 2006. There are plenty of cheap parts around, though and you can pick up a Vauxhall Corsa to suit any budget. 

Especially popular with younger drivers is the Sting special edition, with white alloy wheels and twin white stripes that run from the bonnet, over the roof and onto the boot lid. They are only available in three-door hatchback form, but the 76PS 1.2-litre engine keeps insurance costs down.


SEAT Ibiza

Best first car for styling flair
Our pick: SEAT Ibiza 1.0 75hp SE
Read our full SEAT Ibiza review

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

Insurance premiums for newer-generation models are cheapest if you pick the least powerful 1.0 petrol engine with 81PS, which puts the car in insurance group 3. Track down one of the earlier 76PS versions, however and you can cut that to insurance group 2. The difference in performance is negligible, but the newer models have superior tech features and a modernised cabin. 

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


Volkswagen Up

Best first car for city driving
Our pick: Volkswagen Up 1.0 60hp Move Up
Read our full Volkswagen Up review

It’s cheap to run, compact and easy to manoeuvre, but can still carry four people in safety, making the Volkswagen Up one of the most sensible purchases as a first car.

The VW Move Up Start-Stop (shortened to S/S), with a 1.0-litre, 61PS 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. 

Despite its small engine, the VW Up is zippy, as well as economical. It’s virtually identical to the Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii, which were developed together to save costs. All make great first cars, but the Volkswagen Up is the pick of the bunch as it holds its value the best.


Ford Fiesta

Best first car for vast choice
Our pick: Ford Fiesta 1.1 Ti-VCT 70hp Style
Read our full Ford Fiesta review

In many ways, a used Ford Fiesta is the best first car you can buy. It’s cheap, well equipped and great to drive, while it also features plenty of safety tech. Plus, it was the UK’s best-seller for many years, which means used examples are plentiful while parts availability and pricing are as cheap as it gets. 

There’s enough space in the back for adults to sit comfortably and a decent boot. 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 running costs, a used 71PS Style 1.1 Ti-VCT is the one to go for since it sits in insurance group 2, whereas the more powerful 86PS Zetec 1.1 Ti-VCT is in group 5. Style trim includes air-conditioning, Bluetooth, electric front windows and lane-keep assist.