Best cars & vans

Top 10 best first cars for new drivers 2024

A new car for a first time driver 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. To help make your search as easy as possible, our experts have rounded up the very best first cars for new drivers right here.

The cost of buying and running a car can be steep, so we’ve chosen these cars based on their value for money, reliability, fuel economy, and insurance costs. All of these models are brand new, but many great examples can also be found on the used market. Either way, they are all available for a reasonable price, particularly if you finance them through a Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) finance agreement or a Personal Contact Hire (PCH) leasing deal.

The best first cars for new drivers

Read on to find the best first cars for new drivers, as based on our thorough real-world testing.

10. 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.

9. 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 2035 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 City Car of the Year twice. 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 larger 42kWh battery, as this offers a claimed range of up to 199 miles. 

8. 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.

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 7.

7. 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.

6. 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.

5. Fiat Panda

Italy’s best-selling car doesn’t quite enjoy the same success in the UK as it does on home soil, but the charming Fiat Panda is one of the cheapest cars for new drivers to run, thanks to its low Group 6 insurance. With a mild-hybrid system on board, the dinky Fiat even introduces a bit of technology that is unusual for this class of car; in practice, the total output of 69bhp makes the Panda a match for its rival city runabouts. 

Its tall body makes the most of the short, narrow footprint, so the Fiat is fine for occasionally carrying a few passengers. At under £15,000, the Panda is cheap to buy, too, although it’s short on the most modern features, both for passenger comfort and safety.

4. Toyota Aygo X

Toyota’s funky-looking Aygo X wants to introduce a little SUV style into the city-car class. Chunky plastic cladding on the wheelarches and 17-inch alloy wheels give the car an upright stance, but its 3.7-metre length still enables it to squeeze into the tightest of parking spots, while a reversing camera means that there’s less chance of unintended bumps, too. 

The thrummy little three-cylinder engine has plenty of character, but its modest power output means it’s in Group Five. Body-coloured splashes on the insides of the doors add some charm to the cabin, while the central touchscreen features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It isn’t quite as refined or as spacious as the Kia or Hyundai, but there’s still plenty to like.

3. Hyundai i10

The Hyundai i10 hasn’t only been treated to a facelift, but it’s also available with Group 1 insurance. This is because it uses a 1.0-litre petrol engine and an automated-manual gearbox. Unfortunately, this gearbox is pretty jerky in operation, but If you want the more pleasant five-speed manual, it’s a Group five car. 

On the plus side, the little Hyundai city car is great to drive, and the i10 is very well equipped for a small car; the base Advance trim comes with 15-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, an eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, rear parking sensors, a reversing camera and cruise control. There’s even lane-keep assist to help out those nervous drivers. 

However, having all this kit included as standard makes the i10 more expensive than its Kia Picanto sister car. Prices start at just under £16,000.

2. Kia Picanto

For buyers who have earned themselves an automatic-only licence, you can’t get any cheaper than the Kia Picanto. The self-shifting version of the Korean brand’s dinkiest car slots into the lowest Group one category, so it should be relatively cheap to run. If you have a full licence, we’d try to avoid that option, because the gearbox is so slow and jerky to shift that many drivers will feel like they’ve been taken back to their first lesson all over again. 

With a five-speed manual gearbox, the Picanto instead sits in Group 5. It’s a hoot to drive, though, and its tiny dimensions make it a doddle to park and easy to manoeuvre around town.

1. Skoda Fabia 

Buying a car for a first-time driver can be tricky. Not only do you want something that’s small and easy to handle, but with rising running costs, a low insurance group and a low asking price are an absolute must, too. The car that manages to blend all of these things together best of all is the Skoda Fabia

Group four insurance means that it won’t cost an arm and a leg to cover, and you’re getting one of the most refined and spacious superminis around. Its little 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol only puts out a modest 79bhp, so there’s just enough power for an over-enthusiastic 17-year-old to get around without getting too carried away.

Top 10 best first cars for new drivers

  1. Skoda Fabia
  2. Kia Picanto
  3. Hyundai i10
  4. Toyota Aygo X
  5. Fiat Panda
  6. Volkswagen up!
  7. Volkswagen Polo
  8. Dacia Sandero
  9. Fiat 500
  10. Citroen Ami

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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