Top 9 Best Cars For New Drivers
You’ve completed the theory, passed the test – now comes the real driving. Buying your very first car is one of those special moments you’ll always remember. But the headache of choosing it? Probably something you’d rather forget.
We’ve made things a little easier by rounding up the nine best cars to buy as a new driver. Some come in under £5,000 for the most sensitive of wallets.
These cars are economical, affordable to maintain, great on real-world MPG and won’t break the bank when it comes to insurance. Perfect. They also all rank highly when it comes to safety too.
So whether you’re a teen who’s just qualified, a mature new driver or a parent looking for something for their kids, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for in this ultimate guide to cars for new drivers. Ditch the ‘L plates’ and read on!…
We’ve gone for new driver options on the smaller side that err towards efficiency, are easy to drive and are stepping stones to potentially bigger, more challenging cars to drive at a later date.
The best cars to buy for new drivers are reviewed below:
1. SKODA Citigo
It’s no surprise that those sensible sorts at SKODA make the list for new drivers. Not exactly a newbie, the Skoda Citigo was launched way back in 2011 alongside the almost identical cars – Volkswagen UP! and SEAT Mii. Since then it’s gone on to win a host of awards – including ‘Best First Car’ in the 2015 Car Buyer Awards.
The reason the Citigo reigns over its siblings is down to the fact that it came top of the table in Co-op Insurance and Thatcham Research’s list of safest used cars for young people.
It ticks all the boxes. Small, but practical. Safe, but fun to drive. Cheap to buy and cheap to run. All of this means the SKODA Citigo is inexpensive to insure – most models fit into group one or two (that’s a good thing, you want your first car to be in groups one to three as they’re the cheapest). SKODA even boast stats like 67.3mpg with CO2 emissions of 96g/km.
So let’s talk roominess. A lot of cars claim to be Tardis-like, but the Citigo genuinely surprises with its space. The interior has been efficiently designed. In fact, when the back passenger seats are folded down, you can fit objects as long as 1.75 metres back there. Perfect for going back and forth from university.
And what about the big one – safety? As previously mentioned, the Citigo has come top in lists of the safest cars to drive. It was also awarded the maximum five-star rating in its EURO NCAP testing.
There are the practical qualities, but how does it fare on fun? It may not be a race car by any means, but it feels quick when you’re behind the wheel. It’s performance is perky and characterful. And because it’s such a compact car, it’s a doddle to park (something you’ll be grateful of during your first year of driving, that’s for sure).
WhatCar awarded the Citigo four out of five stars, and added that “The Skoda Citigo is one of the best city cars around; it’s cheaper to buy than a VW UP! and just as brilliant to drive, with a ride quality that’s far above its budget price.”
SKODA gave the Citigo a refreshed look in 2017 and it’s comes out the other side looking sharper, more modern and chicer thanks to a more prominent grille, redesigned bumpers and angular headlights.
And the best is yet to come with the Citigo. The electric version – the e-Citigo – is coming later in 2019, with a range of an incredible 186 miles on a single charge.
Price: From £8,885 new, £2,000 used
- A lot of car for little money
- Practically identical to the VW UP! at a lower cost
- Multi-award winning car
- Interior is a little minimalist
- A little basic
2. MINI Hatch
Sitting at the more premium end of the scale, the MINI Hatch isn’t the cheapest option on the list – but it’s hard to top as a memorable first car. This isn’t just a car you buy to run around in, it’s a car you fall in love with. There are also a host of practical reasons you might go for a MINI too, but before we get into those let’s talk about the drive.
The MINI really feels like no other car. It has what MINI like to call ‘go-kart handling’ thanks to its low centre of gravity – which makes it a joy to drive. The interior really adds to that sense of fun too, there’s the iconic oversized speedometer, a 6.5” screen set within a round control centre and a steering wheel with control functions built in.
It’ll win your heart easily, but what about your head? The good news is that MINI’s are typically reliable, easy to maintain and fairly cheap to run. The entry-level One model claims to be able to achieve 47.9mpg.
Add to that, MINIs make for a sensible investment. Few cars hold their residual values quite as well. That means when it comes to selling and sizing up, you can expect it to retain half its original value at three years or 60,000 miles.
Where the MINI Hatch falls down is on space in the back and the boot. But if you were buying a MINI and expecting space, then that’s really not the car’s fault now is it. You’ll be able to seat four just fine and fit a suitcase and some bits in the boot, but that’s about it.
Price: From £16,190 new, £5,030 used
- Iconic design
- Fun drive
- Good residual values
- Small boot
- Premium price tag
3. Ford Fiesta
Owning a Ford Fiesta is a rite of passage for all drivers. And you could make far worse decisions than choosing one as your first car. The Fiesta is highly praised and a household name for good reason.
In short, it’s fun to drive, loaded with quality features and has a good selection of engines to choose from. It also does extremely well in our list of best small cars. There’s lots of reasons why it’s the UK’s best selling car.
Let’s start with the drive. Fans of the Ford Fiesta will rave for days about its precise steering, weighted grip and supreme suspension. Together, these things all make the Fiesta a really fun car, whether you’re winding down country roads or navigating city streets.
What it does well is match all that driving fun with the sophistication of a car from a different class. Because the Fiesta is well-controlled, it makes for a refined drive. It feels spacious and road noise is barely noticeable. It’ll give you the confidence you need while you’re getting used to driving solo.
Young hearts will be won over by the Fiesta’s amazing array of technology features. Aside from the entry-level model, all trims come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, allowing you to sync your smartphone and control selected apps through the car’s touchscreen, including sat nav and Spotify.
What’ll win parents – or more sensibly-minded sorts – over is the incredible range of safety tech. The MyKey system allows the maximum speed of the car to be restricted to a set number – and the stereo volume can be limited too. To that, the Fiesta also comes with seven airbags as well as driver assistance features like Active Park Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Aid and Traffic Sign Recognition.
While trying out the latest Fiesta, evo put the aforementioned driver systems to the test; “There are several driver assistance systems on offer from a lane keeping system to blind spot warnings, collision warnings, a driver alert system and traffic sign recognition, and all work well although the collision warning can be a little over eager in town driving.”
When it comes to choosing an engine, the EcoBoost petrol options are pretty efficient, seeing returns of up to 65.7mpg. Not bad going. And as with every car on this list, if you opt for a lower-powered Fiesta, you’ll find it sits in a more competitive insurance group.
Price: From £13,965 new, £7,410 used
- Soft touch plastic makes it feel more premium
- Fun to drive
- A little predictable
- Top end models get pricey
4. Hyundai i10
The i10 is the smallest car Hyundai make, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in value, refinement and comfort. And boy does it win big on refinement. When you sit inside, the i10 doesn’t really feel like a small city car. It’s well laid out – clean and modern – and comes with premium-feeling finishes.
It’s the perfect car for city driving, thanks to its good visibility and poised handling. And because it feels light under your feet – nippy, some might say – it’s fun to drive. Made even more fun by the ability to hook your phone up to the sound system via Bluetooth.
The i10 isn’t just made for tucking down tidy city streets. It’s a great car for building confidence, which makes it ideal for new drivers. It can take on motorways with ease, thanks to its impressive build quality. And where other cars feel unsure, the i10 feels self-assured.
While we’re on the subject of motorways, if you think you’re going to find yourself spending a lot of time on them then the 1.2 litre with 86bhp is the way to go. It has a quicker 0-62mph of 12.1 seconds and handles longer journeys best.
The i10 will win some points with friends as you can fit five in, but if we’re talking comfortably it’s more like four. Especially if you’re on a drive that’s longer than 45 minutes.
And when it comes to industry back-up, the i10 has plenty of accolades. It was even awarded the title of Most Highly Rated Car of the Year at the 2018 Honest John Awards (based purely on owner reviews). Dan Powell Managing Editor of HonestJohn.co.uk said: “Riding an avalanche of positive reviews, the Hyundai i10 is miles ahead of the competition when it comes to ownership satisfaction with drivers declaring it to be the best small car they’ve ever had. Easy to drive, comfortable and efficient, the i10 is a worthy winner of our Most Highly Rated Car of the Year.”
The i10’s engine line-up features a host of small and efficient options, which means it’s cheap to run, tax and insure. The entry-level model sits in insurance group one. Impossible to beat. That five-year warranty is a nice touch for new drivers too, well above the standard three-year warranty most other car makers offer.
Price: From £9,195 new, £2,865 used
- Fun to drive
- Not particularly exciting
- Trim is basic
5. Toyota Aygo
The Toyota Aygo makes the list thanks to its frugal qualities. Fuel economy is good, insurance options are optimistic and road tax is tiny. Tick, tick, tick. But can it win over new drivers with its handling and styling?
What’s really fun about the Aygo is its design. It has that typical sharp styling Toyota is known for. The iconic ‘X’ frontal design may be polarising, but if you like it, you’ll really like it. You can’t argue that it’s distinctive and eye-catching.
It’s definitely been designed for the style-conscious. There are dozens of personalisation options, paint options and ways to make it your own (but be mindful of resale values when you’re choosing those colour combinations).
The Toyota Aygo’s 1 litre engine may not be big, but it is characterful. It’ll give you a good rev and perform with heaps of enthusiasm. It feels perky on city streets thanks to sharp steering and suspension, too.
The Aygo is loaded with driver assistance technologies that’ll give you a boost of confidence – perfect for new drivers. They allow you to be self-assured, even under the most intense of driving pressures, from hill starts to motorway driving.
Toyota recently updated the Aygo and made improvements to CO2 emissions (which have been reduced by 5 g/km to ensure best-in-class efficiency) as well as drive and handling by improving the engine’s response.
While it doesn’t beat the Citigo or i10 in terms of cheap insurance, the entry level model sits in group six – not bad at all. The rest of the range sits in group seven.
Price: From £9,295 new, £3,150 used
- Unique, fun design
- Frugal performance
- Personalise the look until your hearts content
- Limited engine range
- Small boot
6. Volkswagen Polo
Like the Fiesta, the Volkswagen Polo is a household name. It’s known for its astounding build quality, stylish looks and strong residual values. The Polo is by no means the most thrilling car on this list, but it excels in almost every other department. The Polo won’t let you down as your first car.
The Polo is a small car, which makes it easy to maneuver and park. Trust us, you’ll be grateful for that in your first year of driving. It’s also supremely comfortable thanks to its spacious cabin, plush materials and reams of technology.
Volkswagen have really stepped up their game when it comes to tech. The features found on the Polo help drivers, new and experienced, feel more confident behind the wheel. There are advanced safety features like Pedestrian Detection and Front Assist with City Emergency Braking that help to minimise your risk of an accident. And the optional Adaptive Cruise Control helps to reduce the stress of long drives. The Polo also features effortless smartphone connectivity which makes taking and placing audio calls easy.
Autocar awarded the Polo 4.5 stars, commenting that “The Volkswagen Polo brings ‘big car’ space, class, kit and finish to this class like never before.”
Pound for pound, the Polo is a sound choice. Volkswagen claims it can achieve 64.2mpg for the 94bhp version with CO2 emissions of 101g/km. Opt for the Basic S and SE models (with the 1.0-litre MPI engine) and you’ll find yourself in insurance group one. Cheap as chips.
Price: From £13,855 new, £9,495 used
- Spacious boot
- Comfortable drive
- Extras add up
- More exciting alternatives on offer
7. Fiat 500
The Fiat 500 is a popular choice amongst young drivers thanks to its stylish design, spirited drive and efficient results. Its retro styling and funky colours make it a great budget alternative to the MINI Hatch.
The Fiat 500 has the ability to win folks over before you even put the key in. Some will fall in love with it as soon as they see it. For others it’ll be when they get behind the wheel. The interior is cheerful and funky and features a 5” infotainment screen. To that, there are also aux and USB connections as standard. So streaming your favourite playlists from your phone won’t be a problem.
If you find yourself doing most of your driving around town and in the city, then the 500 will suit you perfectly. It’s compact, easy to maneuver with light steering and good visibility. The grip feels good too – it handles winding roads and bendy lanes with ease and helps you to feel in total control.
The fact is, 500 drivers love their cars – as proven by their win in the Auto Express Driver Power Survey back in 2017. The folks at Fiat took silver in the Best Premium Supermini category and were absolutely over the moon about it. Alejandro Noriega, Head of Brand at Fiat UK, said: “We are delighted that the Fiat 500 has been honoured in this way, especially in this landmark year for the model.
This award means so much as it’s based on real feedback from our customers and shows we continue to produce a model which really appeals to them.”
The Fiat 500 isn’t the cheapest car on our list when it comes to insurance, but the costs are still low. Our recommendation would be to opt for the 1.2 litre engine which fits into insurance group seven.
And while we’re talking about rational reasons to opt for the 500, Fiat offer a unique warranty that covers unlimited miles for two years (extending to three years as long as you haven’t exceeded 100,000 miles). Not bad at all. On top of that you get three years’ cover for the paintwork and an eight-year warranty against rust.
Another great thing about the Fiat 500, like the MINI Hatch, is that it holds its value well. So if you’re thinking of leasing instead of buying, you should be able to bag a pretty neat price per month.
Price: From £12,010 new, £1,455 used
- Quirky design
- Good warranty
- Safety rating isn’t as good as other cars on the list
- Ride is a touch too firm
8. Kia Picanto
The Kia Picanto has total youth appeal thanks to its sporty looks, compact frame and peppy performance, but it also has a lot of practical qualities too.
The Picanto has grown up a lot over the years. It looks more sophisticated thanks to its longer and wider frame. Also, it’s now comes with five doors as standard, which makes it one of the most spacious and pal-friendly cars on the list.
Step inside and you’ll discover just how much there is on offer in the Picanto. There’s electric front windows, a two-speaker stereo, USB connectivity, automatic lights and touch screen sat nav with infotainment.
It’s an easy drive too, which will appeal to those who’ve just bagged their licence. The ride is smooth and the noise levels are low, with little road and wind noise to speak of. Steering can feel a touch heavier than other cars on this list, like the i10 and Citigo, but it doesn’t ruin the overall driving experience.
The Picanto snagged the title of WhatCar City Car of the Year 2019. “A high-quality interior also helps to seal the deal for the Picanto over the Skoda Citigo and Suzuki Celerio, justifying its higher price point. Plus, Kia came fourth out of 31 brands in our last Reliability Survey, and beats every other marque on the market with its impressive seven-year/100,000-mile warranty.”
As with every car on this list, the Picanto delivers strong results when it comes to running costs. The 1 litre engine emits just 101g/km of CO2 and Kia claim it can achieve 67.2mpg. Pretty impressive numbers.
Where other cars really can’t compete with Kia is on warranty. Kia are well known for their confidence in their cars, which is why they offer industry-leading seven year warranty. Something that should put new drivers’ minds at ease.
Price: From £9,720 new, £5,440 used
- Spacious interior
- An enjoyable drive
- Unbeatable warranty
- Firm ride
- A less stylish option
9. SEAT Ibiza
Think of the SEAT Ibiza as the sportier, Spanish cousin to the Volkswagen Polo. For a new driver and first-time buyer, it’ll no doubt win you over with its exciting looks and bounty of equipment. But there’s more to this car than its racy appearance.
The Ibiza is by no means an underdog anymore. Look around on your next trip to town and you’ll start to spot dozens. In fact, over 5.5 million Ibizas have been sold since its launch in 1984. And it’s easy to understand why. It doesn’t just look sporty, it acts it too. It delivers a rewarding drive that’s smooth and responsive, thanks to the three-cylinder engine.
But don’t worry – that engine won’t cause issues when it comes to your insurance. Opt for a smaller engine, like the 1.2, and you’ll typically fall into middling insurance groups.
The Ibiza is built on the Volkswagen MQB A0 platform, which can only be a good thing. It means this Spanish wonder is packed with premium technology and safety features that you won’t find on other cars in its price range. Like pedestrian detection with auto braking for example. And don’t forget those wireless charging points for smartphones.
The SEAT Ibiza’s spaciousness will be welcomed by students. In fact, opt for the Ibiza and it’ll get you – and all of your things – to and from university without even breaking a sweat.
But what about running costs? The 1 litre engine can achieve around 60mpg. Pretty good stuff. Warranty is standard, but good; three years or 60,000 miles (whichever comes first).
Price: From £15,495 new, £7,245 used
- Sporty looks
- Spacious interior
- Interior feels a little cheap
- Extras can add up in terms of cost
Time to hit the road as a new driver….
There you have it. Nine of the best cars to start your journey as a new driver. The main takeaway should be to go with your head as much as your heart – opt for a car that’s efficient, fun to drive but helps to build your confidence and keep your insurance costs low. Happy driving!
Looking for more small cars? Hankering to find out which motors have the lowest MPG?
If you’re looking for a little more reading, then try these other useful buying guides and ‘top lists’ for different types of car to buy on the UK market.
We highly recommend checking out our ‘Best Cars for MPG’ guide below if you are looking for a new car with cheap running costs:
- Best small cars
- Best electric cars
- Best cars for MPG (fuel economy)
- Best 7-seater cars
- Best used cars under £5,000
- Best used cars under £10,000
- Best estate cars