Best first cars 2023
Just passed your driving test? You’ll need an affordable first car that’s cheap to insure and reliable – here are some of the best
Shopping for your first car? You're no doubt excited about the possibility of owning your own car, but we get it might also feel a touch daunting if you don't really know what you're looking for. There's a lot of money involved in buying a car, but we can help you get a good value deal on the right car.
Whether you need a car for commuting, driving to uni, or even just to get out and about and enjoy some newfound freedom, getting your first car is a big moment. But you which car is best, or more importantly, which car is going to best suit your needs, we've laid out all of your best options below.
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. That's no good if you need a reliable car, or you're trying to make your student loan last until the end of term.
A better long-term solution would be to spend a bit more on the car itself, with the knowledge that it should be safer and more reliable for you in the future, which could even help you to save money in the long run if you don't need to shell out cash to keep it running.
The best, and most secure way to save money in this way is to shop for a good quality and well-maintained used car. Something that's around three 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.
Good first cars
Best first car for safety and luggage space
The Skoda 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. 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.
Best first car that doesn't look like one
One of the major selling points of the Peugeot 208 is that it doesn’t look basic and cheap. 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). However, these entry-level 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.
Best first car for value
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.
Best first car for interior space
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, 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.
Best first car for a cheap price
Used Vauxhall Corsas can be 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 boot lid. 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.
Best first car for latin flair
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 petrol 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 6.5-inch 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.
Best first car for small size and spacious interior
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, digital radio and wireless Bluetooth connectivity for your mobile phone. The Take Up version was around £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.
Best first car for parental supervision
A used Ford Fiesta is perhaps the best small car you can buy. It's cheap, well equipped and great to drive, while it also features plenty of safety tech 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.
First car tips: opt for a finance deal
One of the more affordable ways to purchase a car 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. Meanwhile, Hire Purchase features higher monthly payments, but no large payment is needed at the end.
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 it 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 Hire Purchase, meanwhile, your deposit and monthly payments cover the whole cost of the car, so instalments are higher than with a PCP contract with the same terms (deposit and contract length), but you automatically own the car once all the payments have been made.
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 Hire Purchase has higher instalments but 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.
*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:
48 monthly payments of £192
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
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.