Top 15 Best First Cars for New & Young Drivers

14 minutes Published: 24/11/2020
Rowan Harris

So, you’ve just passed your driving test. Congratulations! All that studying for your theory test and those endless hours of lessons after work or school/uni have finally paid off.

If you’re looking for a good first car, chances are you're amongst the nation’s young drivers looking for something in the lowest insurance group, with little or no road tax (you’re in luck, road tax is included when leasing!), and low running costs.

Your best bet is an entry level model with a small engine that offers decent fuel economy. Think city cars, superminis and hatchbacks. To help you make the right choice, we’ve compiled a list of the best first cars below.

These models are great options for new drivers - they’re easy to drive, cheap to run and come with basic features that are simple to use.

Passed your test as soon as legally possible? Have a look at our good first cars for 17 year olds. On a tight budget? Check out our list of the best cheap cars. If you’re starting uni and are looking for something that can handle the commute, you might also be interested in our post on the best student cars.

1. Volkswagen UP

RRP: £8,940 - £16,555 | From £152.67 per month to lease
  • Doors: 3 - 5
  • Engine: 1.0
  • Fuel: P
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 95 - 110g/km

The Volkswagen UP is high up on the list of best city cars - and for good reason. Just like the Skoda Citigo, this model is rated 5 stars for Euro NCAP, which is great for a city car and better rated than its rival, the Seat Mii.

The entry model is fine (maybe a little basic) but if you choose a higher trim level or upgrade pack, you can get extra features like a height adjustable boot floor for easier storage. Pick the Beats audio pack and you’ll enjoy a 300W seven-speaker sound system with a subwoofer for booming bass.

Volkswagen has prioritised economy in this model - with an mpg rate of 51.4-55.4 you won’t have to worry about hefty fuel costs. This model is also great for keeping your insurance costs low - with many specs coming under insurance groups 1 and 2.

While the UP does seat 4, overall space for passengers is limited so if you’re planning to take the mates for a drive, bear in mind that it could be a tight squeeze.

2. Ford Fiesta

RRP: £12,520 - £26,805 | From £177.98 per month to lease
  • Doors: 3 - 5
  • Engine: 2.0
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 179g/km

The Ford Fiesta is always one of the best selling cars in the UK. So, what makes it such a popular choice?

For a car in this price range, it’s fun to drive and offers a good bit of tech. This Ford is definitely not a car your nan would drive. Its precise handling and well weighted steering wheel make the Fiesta feel surprisingly sporty.

The fun doesn’t stop there - on the inside you’ll find a bright 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system and if you really want to show off to your mates (and annoy your neighbours), you can upgrade to the Bang & Olufsen stereo.

Hopefully your mates are also pretty small, because this car doesn’t have the largest rear footwells and can be restrictive above.

The Fiesta isn’t all flash and no substance - its 5 Star NCAP rating also makes it one of the safest cars around. Depending on the spec, a Fiesta can fall into insurance group 2 - giving you some serious savings on insurance. You can also get some decent fuel economy as this model offers 40.4-65.7mpg - it’s one of the most economical cars on the list.

3. Hyundai I10

RRP: £12,290 - £17,165 | From £171.25 per month to lease
  • Doors: 5
  • Engine: 1.2
  • Fuel: P
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 141g/km

With a spacious interior, and plenty of room in the back, practical and comfortable are the watch words for the Hyundai i10. Its boot is one of the largest for a car of its size, and the five-door body makes for plenty of space for a couple of taller people sitting in the back of the car.

Reliability is also one of this car’s strong points. Hyundai cars are frequently cited as being amongst the most reliable; the fact that the car comes with an unlimited mileage five-year warranty suggests that Hyundai is pretty confident that their little car can handle anything you could throw at it.

Unfortunately, it’s not one of the cheapest cars to insure - it's definitely not an outrageous rate but it’s a bit more than others on the list. When it comes to safety, the i10 is on par with the Kia Picanto, offering a decent 4 star Euro NCAP rating. At 50.3-71.4mpg, it’s quite a bit more efficient than the Picanto and many others on the list - something to note if you’re concerned about spending on fuel.

4. Peugeot 208 Hatchback

RRP: £16,065 - £25,295 | From £198.30 per month to lease
  • Doors: 3 - 5
  • Engine: 1.6
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 79 - 149g/km

Crowned 2020’s Car of the Year, the Peugeot 208 is a stylish little hatchback that will serve new drivers well.

If you dream of driving an Audi but don’t have the budget, this Peugeot is a surprisingly great dupe. It’s got a striking exterior, comfortable seats and handling that holds its own on the motorway. It is more expensive than others on this list but the entry level model is better kitted than most. 16 inch alloy wheels, air conditioning and a phone mirroring infotainment system are standard.

The 208’s boot is average - about the same as the Renault Clio and Ford Fiesta but less than the Seat Ibiza. You can fit a few carry-on bags but there is no adjustable floor like in other models. The 208 does offer a good amount of room for two rear passengers though so you should have no trouble carting around friends.

With a Euro NCAP rating of 4 stars, safety in the 208 is fine but not the best. You’ll be paying a bit more for insurance though as this model is also one of the most expensive on the list to insure. On the plus side, the 208 is also one of the most economical cars on the list, offering around 50-70 mpg so it’s fairly cheap to run.

5. Toyota Aygo

RRP: £9,515 - £15,435 | From £161.33 per month to lease
  • Doors: 3 - 5
  • Engine: 1.4
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 93 - 109g/km

At the top of the list for best city cars and with sharp styling and plenty of paint and personalisation options available, the Toyota Aygo is perfect for the practical driver who’s also style-conscious.

It’s also cheap to run with a 54.3-56.5 mpg rate and a good reliability score so you shouldn’t have to worry about running into any unseen costs in the short-term. If you needed any extra reassurance, the car comes with an above average 100,000 miles, five-year warranty.

Unfortunately, like its stablemate the Citroen C1, the Aygo is quite cosy in the back seats with very little leg or head room. Don’t be mistaken, Toyota hasn't included a big boot to make up for this. You can’t carry that much in the back, as the boot space is small even by city car standards.

The Aygo also isn’t the safest car on the list according to its 3 Star Euro NCAP score and while it’s not too expensive to insure, you probably won’t be saving much on that front.

6. Vauxhall Corsa Hatchback

RRP: £15,365 - £28,105 | From £124.28 per month to lease
  • Doors: 2 - 5
  • Engine: 1.8
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 203g/km

The Vauxhall Corsa is smart, efficient and practical which is why it’s one of the best selling cars in the UK.

One of the key ways you’ll keep running costs low is to limit fuel consumption and reduce road tax. With a 48.7-70mpg rate and one of the lowest emissions in its class, the Corsa is a great energy saver and one of the most economical cars on the market. It is on the more expensive side to insure though so that’s something to think about.

If storage is a big thing for you then you’ll appreciate the model’s decent sized boot - though not as big as the Volkswagen Polo or Skoda Fabia, the Corsa’s boot is pretty easy to load and unload.

Vauxhall’s entry level offering for the Corsa is also fairly good - you get a touchscreen infotainment system that supports smartphone connectivity and a range of safety aids. Despite these aids though, the Corsa has a 4 Star Euro NCAP rating - less than the Volkswagen UP and the Ford Fiesta.

7. Dacia Sandero

RRP: £5,780 - £10,075
  • Doors: 5
  • Engine: 1.5
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M
  • CO2: 90 - 135g/km

You get what you pay for with the Dacia Sandero - if you want to keep your spending as low as possible then this model is for you. It’s a no frills cheap-to-get car with a decent 49.6-51.4mpg rate and a surprising amount of storage and room for passengers. Drivers looking for something more beyond that may be disappointed.

At entry level, Dacia offers a pared back kit - you have to opt for a higher trim level if you want a driver’s seat that’s height adjustable and an infotainment system. But this car is also one of the most reliable cars in its class - coming second only to the Honda Jazz.

Depending on your spec choice, you could wind up with an insurance group 2 model for extra savings. Safety in the Sandero is fine and on par with many others on the list with a 4 Star Euro NCAP score.

So, if you’re really just looking for a vehicle to get you to school/work and back with hardly a dent in your wallet, the Sandero will do just that.

8. Kia Picanto Hatchback (2017)

RRP: £9,255 - £15,150
  • Doors:
  • Engine:
  • Fuel:
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive:
  • CO2:

If you want a stylish but practical city car, the Kia Picanto might be the one for you. It’s got a pretty large boot, which makes it one of the best small cars around - though rear passengers in the back might find themselves digging their knees into the seats in front as a result.

The Picanto is cheap to run - with a solid fuel economy at 52.3-58.7mpg and a low insurance group range of 3-10, it is one of the most economical cars on the market.

It’s also got a massive 7 year/100,000 mile manufacturer’s warranty. It’s definitely not every day that you see a standard warranty like that, and Kia wouldn’t be offering it if they knew their cars weren’t built to last.

At entry level, the Picanto is not great in the safety department. You’ll have to spend extra for the safety pack which includes automatic emergency braking and kicks Euro NCAP rating up to 4 stars.

9. Mini Hatchback (2014)

RRP: £12,180 - £31,065 | From £189.29 per month to lease
  • Doors: 3 - 5
  • Engine: 2.0
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 216g/km

The word ‘iconic’ gets thrown around a lot but there’s no arguing - the Mini hatchback is definitely that. In the aesthetics department, it’s a standout and one the best selling cars in the UK because of it.

But Mini aren’t resting on their laurels - this hatchback is also surprisingly cheap to run and great to drive. At entry level, the driver’s seat is comfortable and you’ll get a range of driving modes to cater for your journey. Depending on your choice of engine, the hatchback can give you up to 50mpg so you can enjoy some fuel savings.

Safety in the Mini hatchback is decent but not outstanding - like many in its class, it’s got a 4 star NCAP score. It’s also predictably more expensive to insure than most cars on this list.

On the lowest trim, the infotainment system is straightforward but a little bare - if you want smartphone mirroring you’ll have to pay extra and get the Navigation Pack. When it comes to passenger and boot space, the hatchback is comfortable but not generous - the boot in particular should fit some weekly shopping but don’t expect more.

10. Renault Clio Hatchback

RRP: £11,710 - £22,740
  • Doors: 5
  • Engine: 0.9 - 1.6
  • Fuel: P
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 94 - 135g/km

The Renault Clio often crops up in lists of the best small cars and for good reason. It’s got a great sense of balance - a relatively compact outside but offering a boot that’s bigger than some models from the class above.

Renault have furnished the standard Clio with a variety of safety features including automatic emergency braking and lane keeping assist. The model also has a 5 Star Euro NCAP rating so you don’t have to worry about your budget getting in the way of safety.

You’ll also get some decent savings by opting for the smooth hybrid engine. It will up the Clio’s efficiency to 64.2mpg, keeping your fuel spending low - it’s a double whammy if you’re also concerned about emissions. Depending on the spec you go for, you could also end up with an insurance group 3 car so there’s more savings to be had.

The infotainment system is where the Clio falls behind - the basic model comes with radio, USB and Bluetooth connectivity. You can opt for smartphone mirroring with the Play trim but be warned - the system is laggy.

11. Seat Ibiza

RRP: £12,915 - £21,385 | From £143.88 per month to lease
  • Doors: 3 - 5
  • Engine: 2.0
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 193g/km

When you hear the word Ibiza, you probably think of the sun-drenched Spanish party island with its vibrant nightlife and hordes of drunken revelers. The Seat Ibiza is just as fun, only you don’t have to be drunk to enjoy yourself… in fact, we’d strongly advise against it.

That’s not to say you wouldn’t make a great designated driver on a night out. There’s plenty of room in the rear footwells and you should be able to fit three in the back fairly comfortably so the party can carry on. Where the Seat Ibiza really comes into its own is handling. It makes easy work of tight manoeuvres through town and is responsive at higher speeds.

With an mpg rate of 47.1-54.3, fuel economy is decent but not spectacular but you could be making some savings when it comes to insurance with some specs coming under insurance group 2. You’ll also be happy to know that the Ibiza is one of the safest cars on the list with a full 5 Stars Euro NCAP score.

This model from Seat stands up pretty well against its main rivals and the standard trim comes with automatic emergency braking system and a tricked out infotainment system which includes smartphone mirroring.

12. Volkswagen Polo

RRP: £13,660 - £24,280 | From £163.19 per month to lease
  • Doors: 3 - 5
  • Engine: 2.0
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 206g/km

The Volkswagen Polo consistently features among the bestselling cars in the UK year after year. It’s also Volkswagen’s second most popular car, second only to the VW Golf, but the Golf is also the more expensive option, so less suited to a first car.

The Polo may be a bit more expensive than some of its rivals, but it’s a great choice for those looking for a little more practicality. There’s a decent sized boot and lots of head room for passengers in the back, so if you’re going to be moving to uni soon and need something that can get you and your mates to the supermarket each week, the Volkswagen Polo is a great choice.

The Polo’s 49.6-54.3 mpg rate is pretty good but not the best on this list but the model performed excellently in the safety department, earning a top Euro NCAP score of 5 Stars.

All models also include an 8-inch touchscreen as standard but you’ll have to pick an SE trim or above if you want smartphone mirroring. Unfortunately it’s not the cheapest for insurance compared to a city car, but it’s by no means expensive.

13. Fiat 500 Hatchback

RRP: £10,835 - £18,860 | From £125.05 per month to lease
  • Doors: 3
  • Engine: 1.4
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 149g/km

If you’re looking for a first car with character, the Fiat 500 has it in spades. It’s often labeled one of the best city cars for its chic looks and low running costs at up to 53 mpg.

Passenger and boot space are nothing to write home about but they are suitable for carrying a couple friends and a few shopping bags, respectively.

If you’re a new driver that feels a bit intimidated by driving in the city, this is where the 500 truly shines. Its small turning circle makes parking a cinch and the steering is light - perfect for weaving in and out of traffic.

The 500 does not have the highest Euro NCAP score though - at 3 Stars, it is beaten out by the Sandero and the Fabia which are much cheaper. It also comes under the higher insurance groups so don’t expect savings in that area.

Like all other Fiat models, the 500 comes with a two year warranty and given that this model does not have the best track record for reliability, this might be something to think about.

14. Nissan Micra

RRP: £11,800 - £22,750 | From £171.46 per month to lease
  • Doors: 3 - 5
  • Engine: 1.6
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 163g/km

The Nissan Micra is a beloved first car for many for the simple fact that it offers a decent amount of space and is fun to drive. Bear in mind that it is not the most fuel efficient car on the list. At approx 45-50mpg, it’s by no means a gas guzzler but you won’t be seeing tremendous savings on that front.

The Micra has lots of room in the front, with a height adjustable driving seat as well and a steering wheel that adjusts for both reach and height. It also has a pretty decent litre boot, and the rear seats should squeeze in all but the tallest of passengers relatively easily.

When it comes to safety, this Nissan model performs fairly well - you’ll want to opt for the safety pack though as this increases the Euro NCAP rating to 5 stars.

This model is also a great choice for those concerned about insurance costs. Depending on the trim level you choose, the Micra could fall into insurance group 1 - making it one of the cheapest cars to insure.

15. Skoda Fabia Hatchback

RRP: £11,760 - £19,020 | From £147.85 per month to lease
  • Doors: 5
  • Engine: 2.0
  • Fuel: P, D
  • Body: Hatchback
  • Drive: M, A
  • CO2: 88 - 187g/km

The Skoda Fabia will tick a good few boxes for new drivers wanting value for money - it’s cheap and spacious. It’s not the prettiest car or the most memorable to drive but practicality is where this Skoda model really shines.

The Fabia’s boot space is similar to the Volkswagen Polo - impressive for a car that’s quite a bit cheaper. The boot also has a blessedly wide opening - ideal for moving furniture into the new flat.

While the interior is solid, it may feel a bit stale compared to others on the list. The standard model does come with a bright touchscreen and smartphone mirroring though so if looks aren’t important to you, we doubt you’ll mind. The Fabia performs great in the safety department with a max Euro NCAP score of 5 stars so you don’t have to worry about sacrificing safety to stay within budget.

The Fabia is a good choice if you’re also interested in keeping insurance payments low - depending on the spec you choose, this model can come under insurance group 1. You should also see some decent savings when it comes to fuel - at approx 48-53mpg, the Fabia is efficient even if it's not the most efficient.

Summary

Whether you’re a young driver or someone who’s learned to drive later in life, the list of cars above are ideal options for any new driver on a budget.

Their relatively small size does keep car insurance payments and running costs low but it also makes it easier to navigate cities and manoeuvre into parking spots that even seasoned drivers struggle with. There's a good reason why many of these models are also on the list of best selling cars in the UK - in this case, less actually is more.

So, choose your new car with confidence and get motoring!

If you’re a first-time driver who wants a car with cheap insurance, you might be interested in our post on good first cars for 17 year olds. You could also check out our best cheap cars if you’re on a tight budget. On the hunt for something to ride around campus in? Then take a look at our student car recommendations.