Best cars & vans

Top 10 best first cars for new drivers 2023

A new car for first time drivers should be cheap, easy to drive and safe. Here are the 10 best first cars

​Once you've passed your driving test, the next hurdle between you and a whole new level of freedom is finding your first car. Of course, in an ideal world, you’ll want a car that’s safe and well equipped, with the practicality you need and, hopefully, a bit of style and driving fun thrown in. On top of all this and perhaps most importantly, it’ll need to be affordable, too.

The costs of buying and running a car can be steep, so the best way to maximise how far your money goes is to choose one that's good value, reliableeconomical, and cheap to insure. While many first time car buyers will focus on used cars, some new cars can be found for a very reasonable price, particularly when financed through a PCP deal

Top 10 best first cars for new drivers

First cars certainly have a big list of requirements to fill, but we’ve picked out 10 cars that are up to the challenge. These models boast affordability, safety, an easy driving experience and a manageable size. What’s more is that there are even some luxuries for you to enjoy. Read on to find our top 10 first cars for new drivers listed in reverse order below…

10. Fiat Panda

The Fiat Panda is one of the oldest cars on this list – with an all-new model due in 2024 – but it’s still worth considering as a first car. Ride comfort, entertaining handling, excellent all-round visibility, and clever storage can all be found within the compact Panda. The latest cars are powered by a 1.0-litre mild-hybrid engine, so running costs are low.

Another reason that the Panda should be on your list of potential first cars is that it can still be found for a very reasonable price. A brand new Panda can be yours for under £15,000, with used examples going for even less – especially if you don’t mind an older example. 

9. Citroen Ami

Who says you can’t drive before you turn 17? The Citroen Ami is legally designated as a quadricycle, so this means that it can be driven legally by a 16 year-old with a valid AM moped licence. There are a few limitations, though.

The main downsides to the Ami are that it’s limited to a 28mph top speed, only offers up to 46 miles of battery range and is far from being the most practical car on the road. However, if you live in the city and need an affordable, easy to drive vehicle to zip around in, you can bag a brand new Ami for less than £9,000. The fully-electric powertrain means running costs should be minimal and you’ll be exempt from emissions-based charges, too.

8. Fiat 500

The car market is rapidly switching over to electric power, and with the UK ban on petrol and diesel cars coming into effect in 2030 you may be considering going electric from day one of holding your licence. If you are, the Fiat 500 should definitely be on your radar.

The 500 may be one of the smallest and lower-priced EVs on sale, but it’s so good that we named it our 2022 City Car of the Year. Much like its petrol-powered predecessor, the 500 offers flair and style in bulk, only this time with the added bonus of zero-emissions. If you’re a bit concerned about range then you’re best-off opting for the 42kWh battery, as this offers a claimed range of up to 200 miles. 

7. Dacia Sandero

The Dacia Sandero is one of the cheapest cars on sale in the UK, and the latest-generation car is based on the current Renault Clio, which itself is a great supermini.

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Admittedly, equipment on the Sandero is rather more sparse than in some of the other cars on this list, but the essentials are all still there. With pricing starting from below £14,000 though, you won’t feel like you’re being short-changed. The latest Sandero should also prove practical for everyday use, with five seats, five doors and a 320-litre boot. While it won’t give any major thrills from behind the wheel, the Sandero is reasonably cheap to insure for new drivers – it starts from as low as insurance group 8.

6. Toyota Aygo X

If you like the idea of owning an SUV but without the sheer bulk and difficulty of parking it, the Toyota Aygo X could be the ideal solution. Admittedly, the Aygo X doesn’t feel quite as modern as some rivals due to its 1.0-litre 3-cylinder petrol engine, but, on the plus side, this should return over 50mpg without too much effort.

Take a seat inside and the Aygo X’s cabin is a colourful and rather pleasant place to be. When it comes to creature comforts, the base-model Aygo X features 17-inch wheels, a seven-inch touchscreen, adaptive cruise control and a reversing camera as standard.

5. Skoda Fabia 

The Skoda Fabia doesn’t just offer plenty of practicality, equipment and low running costs, but it’s also cheaper to buy than the closely-related Volkswagen Polo.

Opt for the base model and you will get air-conditioning, lane-keeping assist, autonomous emergency braking, and a DAB radio with USB-C and Bluetooth connectivity all fitted as standard.

4. Kia Picanto

Now in its third generation, the Kia Picanto, has developed into a rather sporty-looking little car. But while the latest looks give the Picanto more of the fun factor, it actually remains a very sensible city car choice.

Inside, there is a healthy amount of equipment available across the range. Expect to find electric front windows, USB inputs, auto lights and hill start assist. Additional soundproofing, tweaked engine mounts and a new engine cover also make the Picanto much more refined than its predecessors.

Ownership costs should be minimal, with fuel consumption that can top 50mpg, and all Picanto trims find themselves in low insurance groups. Kia’s signature seven-year/100,000 mile warranty should keep maintenance worries at ease, too.

3. Volkswagen Polo

If what you desire is a ‘grown-up’ supermini, the Volkswagen Polo is very hard to beat.

There are a few versions of Polo to choose from, but the base ‘Life’ trim offers plenty of features, including alloy wheels, automatic headlights, a DAB radio, electronic stability control, and rain-sensing automatic wipers. 

While the Polo is notably larger than the VW up!, it should still prove easy to drive and park. That said, there is the option of the Driver Assistance Package, which includes parking assist.

2. Hyundai i10

Hyundai has taken a slightly bolder approach to the latest i10’s styling, and while it still isn’t the prettiest car out there, it does look much sharper than before. 

The latest i10 features a full array of safety kit fitted as standard across the range. However, if you want features such as a rear-view camera, climate control or even front foglights, you will need to opt for the Premium or N-Line trims, both of which command a higher price.

Insurance should prove pretty affordable across the i10 range, with the different variants ranging between insurance groups 3-10. No matter which i10 you choose, though, you will get the brand’s five-year/unlimited-mileage warranty as standard. 

1. Volkswagen up!

We think that the Volkswagen up! is such a good small car that we awarded it the title of our City Car of the Year for four years in a row from 2017 to 2020. While it no longer holds this particular title, it’s still a solid choice as a first car.

The key to the up!’s appeal is its low price, plus all trims sit in insurance group 10 or lower (with the exception of the hot GTI model). The only engine offered in the standard petrol models is a 1.0-litre three-cylinder which produces 64bhp and should return more than 50 mpg. 

Despite being so cheap to buy and run, the up! doesn’t skimp on safety. All brand new models get Electronic Stability Control, multiple airbags, and a multi-function front facing camera. Interior quality also defies the budget price, with brand new models coming with air-conditioning and a DAB radio with Bluetooth connectivity as standard.

The up!’s small dimensions make it easy to drive and park, and actually rather fun, too, and while the engine is only a small unit, it doesn’t feel too strained when making the occasional motorway trip. There’s even the option of the fully electric VW e-up! if you’d prefer a zero-emission car. It offers up to 159 miles of battery range and the same level of quality as the petrol car, but does command a higher price as a result.

What to look for in a first car

One of the biggest obstacles for new drivers to overcome is sky-high insurance costs. As a new driver, your shortage of experience will count against you in the eyes of an insurer. If you can keep out of trouble for 12 months, you will accrue a no-claims discount which will give you a percentage reduction on your premium. If you continue to not make any insurance claims, then this discount will only grow over the years. There are even some finance deals which include free insurance, although this usually raises the monthly payments drastically. 

One way of boosting a no-claims discount is to fit your car with an insurer-approved 'black box'. This electronic device plugs into your car's electronics and monitors your driving, and you and your insurer can review your performance to see how and where you can improve. Return a good score, and the insurer can further reduce your payments.

Some parents will be in a position to buy their children their first car, and if you're in that enviable situation, then you'll likely want to buy the safest car possible. You need to find the cars that come with the highest Euro NCAP safety rating: the higher the score for a car, the safer it is.

Still, buying a new car rather than an old second-hand one will mean it's inherently safer, because it will feature the most up-to-date safety equipment. This could include more advanced systems such as autonomous emergency braking and lane-keeping assist, which allow the car’s systems to intervene in an emergency and try to avoid a collision.

We'd recommend going for a petrol car over a diesel. There aren't many small diesel cars on sale anyway, and you'll only reap the benefit of their better fuel consumption if you do lots of motorway miles, which is unlikely if you're an inexperienced driver. It's better to go for a small petrol, and if the option of stop-start is available then that should help to reduce running costs even more. While the experience of the engine cutting out when you put the car in neutral might be unnerving at first, you'll soon get into the habit of saving fuel and making your money go further.

Alternatively, if your budget allows, an increasing number of smaller hybrid models are going on sale. These cars use both a petrol engine and electric motors to lower fuel consumption and emissions, meaning that you could make savings on both running costs and tax, all while reducing your carbon footprint. If you are looking at a hybrid car, it is important to remember that there are different types of hybrid, and these carry their own advantages and disadvantages depending on how you use them.

If you’d prefer to go all-electric, there are some small, easy-to-drive models to choose from. However, prices for electric cars are still higher than their petrol, diesel and hybrid counterparts in the majority of cases, so insurance premiums could also be a lot higher as a result. Calculate it correctly, though, and the fuel and tax savings could help to counteract this. It is, of course, important to make sure that you would indeed be able to live with an electric car, such as having the space for a home-charger.

Other highlights to look out for when buying a car for a new driver include light steering, good visibility, a responsive engine and brakes, user-friendly controls and a positive gear shift; all of these will help a new driver build confidence during their time behind the wheel.

Keep reading to find everything you need to know about learning to drive, getting your driving licence and choosing your first car...

Learning to drive

Passing your driving test

Getting your first car

Shane is responsible for looking after the day-to-day running of the Auto Express website and social media channels. Prior to joining Auto Express in 2021, he worked as a radio producer and presenter for outlets such as the BBC.


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