Top 10 Best First Cars
Nothing quite matches the excitement of getting your first car. Whether you’ve passed your test first time or made things official after several ‘practice’ attempts, it’s time to tear up the L plates and get behind the wheel of your very own first car.
If you’re looking for a guide to the best of the best first cars, you’ve come to the right place – we’ve put together a selection of models that deliver on price, value and reliability.
The cars we’ve picked out are perfect for new drivers, but they’re also well worth considering if you’re looking for something to learn in too.
It’s easy to get swept away by looks when choosing your first car but of course, there’s much more to take into account. Running costs like MPG, drive quality, safety, size and price are all factors likely to affect your final choice.
Ideally, a first car should combine as many of these elements as possible, being compact enough to manage for new drivers, reliable, and economical to run.
We’ve put together a list of our top ten best first cars to give you an idea of which models tick off most boxes.
The 10 best first cars on the UK market are reviewed below:
- Skoda Citigo
- Kia Picanto
- Dacia Sandero
- Volkswagen Polo
- Hyundai i10
- Toyota Aygo
- Ford Fiesta
- Fiat 500
- Vauxhall Corsa
- SEAT Ibiza
1. Skoda Citigo
If budget is a key concern, the Skoda Citigo should be high up on your list of potential first cars. With almost identical looks to the Volkswagen Up! and the Seat Mii, the Citigo undercuts both on the used car market while delivering impressive value for money.
Yes, sadly (or not so) the Citigo and Mii are not EV only, you can still purcahse a petrol powered Up! but prices are fairly steep these days starting at £13,280.
The three-door Citigo model can be found from as little as £3,500 with around 28k miles on the clock, but if you want a nearly new 2019 model expect to pay around £7,500.
Kit levels are decent from even the entry level model, including electric front windows, remote central locking, an immobiliser, an antilock braking system and electronic stabilisation control.
Ideal for cruising around town, the Citigo is compact enough to squeeze into the smallest of spaces, yet the cabin is surprisingly roomy.
There’s enough space to seat four adults in comfort and room for several (small) bags of shopping in the boot. The interior is clean and functional, but not particularly stylish – but at this price who’s to complain?
For its price bracket, the Citigo offers excellent value for money. All models sit in the lowest insurance groups and the 1.0L engines achieve up to 68.9 miles per gallon.
Price: Starts used from £3,500
- A surprisingly fun drive
- Excellent value for money
- Boot is on the small side
- Interior lacks style
2. Kia Picanto
With its sporty looks, the Kia Picanto is instantly eye catching but you might be surprised to discover that this compact car combines style with some serious substance.
Solidly built and spacious, Kia’s smallest model is as practical as it is pretty. Awarded the title of City Car of the Year 2019 by What Car?, the Kia Picanto delivers on all fronts, from reliability to roominess.
Kitted out with electric front windows, electronic stability control and remote central locking, the entry level Picanto ‘1’ also comes with lots of security and safety spec, including twin front, side and curtain airbags and a brake assist system.
The Picanto is fitted with a 1.0L economical engine and offers an easy, enjoyable drive with light, responsive steering, making it an ideal choice for new drivers. It’s also surprisingly spacious for a small car.
Styling and cabin quality have both improved in recent years, and the boot is roomy for a car of its size.
If you needed a little something extra to sweeten the deal, the Picanto also comes with a whopping seven-year warranty – all this for under £11,000.
For a few more niceties like air conditioning, Bluetooth with music streaming and heated door mirrors, you’ll need to upgrade to the Picanto ‘2’, which is still great value, priced from £11,575.
Price: Starts from £10,480
- Solid, stylish build
- Cheap to run
- Basic spec at entry level
- Engine could be more powerful
3. Dacia Sandero
The Dacia Sandero is a compelling consideration for a first car, combining space and sturdy build quality. What’s more, nothing comes at a more pocket-friendly price. Literally: nothing.
Scooping the title of Car of the Year 2019 by What Car? in the Small Car Less Than £12,000 segment for the seventh consecutive year, the Sandero is the cheapest new car currently on offer in the UK, priced from just £6,995.
Of course, at such a staggering price you can’t expect any luxury touches, and the entry level Sandero is decidedly basic.
It does, however, boast several standard yet important features like airbags, electronic stability control, an antilock braking system, split folding rear seat and ISOFIX points.
For the price, the Sandero delivers a surprisingly decent ride quality – the engines are pretty smooth, although the steering could be a touch more responsive.
And while the cabin is devoid of style, interior space is plentiful and the boot is generous, too.
Opt for the base 1.0L engine and running costs are low – the entry level Sandero sits in insurance groups three or four depending on the trim level and returns up to 55.4 miles per gallon, according to Dacia.
Price: Starts from £6,995
- Cheap to buy
- Cheap to run
- No frills whatsoever
- An average drive
4. Volkswagen Polo
Perennially popular as a first car of choice for drivers with a penchant for quality, the Volkswagen Polo is recognised as one of the very best superminis on the market, leading its segment for over 40 years.
It’s a bit bigger than many rivals but not quite the same size as its beefier sibling the Golf.
What this little extra size translates to, however, is more room inside the cabin than many competitors offer.
Building on this more than adequate space inside the car, the cabin is nicely laid out and comfortable for the driver and passengers.
The entry level ‘S’ Polo comes with a decent infotainment system, Bluetooth interface, manual air conditioning, ISOFIX anchor points and automatic emergency braking as standard, and benefits from a five-star safety rating from 2017.
On the road, the Polo is a dreamy drive, gliding over bumps with ease. The same is true on the motorway, where wind noise is kept to a minimum. The low powered engines aren’t the fastest but steering is nice and precise.
The Polo is a little more expensive than many rivals on initial outlay, but residual values tend to be stronger and running costs are reasonable.
Combining so many positives in one package, it’s really no wonder the Polo was named What Car? Small Car of the Year for 2019.
Price: Starts from £15,875
- Top quality build
- Spacious interior
- Higher pricetag than many rivals
- Small engines can feel a bit sluggish
5. Hyundai i10
If you want your first car to be fun to drive, stylish AND practical, the all-new Hyundai i10 is well worth your attention.
This fun supermini is funky, fuel-efficient and well-engineered. Gliding quietly through town, the entry level i10 can also handle trips on the motorway, although the 1.2L engines available with the ‘SE Connect Premium’ trim and above are more comfortable for regular long journeys at speed.
Eye-catchingly styled, the i10 has simple yet sophisticated looks and an attractive interior for the price bracket.
It also boasts one of the largest boots in its class, electric front windows, a tyre pressure monitoring system, remote central locking, an immobiliser and split folding rear seats.
The i10 is a practical, compact model that shines in the city with its light handling, which can make parking a doddle. There are six airbags, you also get lane keep assist, front collision assist and a forward collision warning system. Impressive tech on such a small car.
Running costs are good – i10 models sit in insurance groups two through to about seven and servicing is cheap for the class, too. Meanwhile, the basic 66bhp 1.0-litre engine returns up to 50.4 miles per gallon, making the i10 a pretty economical option for a first car.
Price: Starts from £12,820
- Economical and fuel efficient
- Spacious interior
- Not as fun to drive as some rivals
- Price has increased steeply over the old model
6. Toyota Aygo
The fun, funky Aygo by Toyota is another great choice for a first car that’s small in size but big on style, and it comes with plenty of personalisation options, too.
Very closely related to the Citroen C1 and Peugeot 108, the Aygo offers something more in terms of distinctive styling, with buyers able to choose from all kinds of colour combinations and really put their stamp on the motor – something many other manufacturers just don’t provide.
Inside, the Aygo is comfortable with supportive seats and a solid build quality about it. All models are fitted with a 1.0L petrol engine, which is ideally suited to driving around town – it’s not really cut out for the kinds of speeds associated with motorway driving where it runs out of puff.
A compact car that just about fits four adults, the Aygo isn’t one of the roomiest options in its class – especially in terms of rear space. The boot’s also on the small side, but that’s not necessarily a deal breaker unless you need to regularly transport big loads.
Running costs make the Aygo an attractive prospect – the car achieves up to 57.7 miles to the gallon and sits in the lower insurance groups, ranging from about five to nine.
Price: Starts from £12,440
- Personalisation options
- Funky styling
- Cramped rear
- Low powered engine
7. Ford Fiesta
The Ford Fiesta is one of the country’s bestselling superminis year after year, having cemented its reputation as a fun-to-drive first car that also delivers on performance and reliability. The ultimate small car perhaps?
Ticking off the style credentials, the Fiesta is a sporty-looking, agile model that can take on the city streets as well as the motorway with its nippy range of engines, which start with the 1.1L 85hp powertrain offering up to 48.7 miles per gallon.
The entry level ‘Trend’ model is kitted out with 16-inch alloy wheels, LED projector headlights, rear privacy glass, an electronic stability programme and the NCAP pack, which includes a raft of safety features like a lane-keeping aid and alert and a speed limiter.
Not content just to deliver in the style and spec stakes, the Fiesta also impresses with its drive quality and easy handling, as well as being compact enough to park with ease.
The car’s cabin is practical and spacious, and the Fiesta scored well on safety in tests back in 2017, scooping the top five-star rating.
Running prices are competitive for the Fiesta, with the base model slotting into insurance group five. Economical to run, Ford’s popular supermini is competitive on fuel efficiency and comes with a three-year warranty as standard.
Price: Starts from £16,640
- Stylish looks
- Safe and spacious
- Not as cheap to buy as some rivals
- Advanced safety equipment costs extra
8. Fiat 500
If you can’t bear to sacrifice style in favour of practicality, the Fiat 500 has got to be in the running for a first car that’s guaranteed to turn heads.
As well as being seriously stylish with its retro charm, the Fiat 500 is fun to drive and comes with a competitive pricetag for a compact city car.
The entry level ‘Pop’ trim is kitted out with a five-inch infotainment system, seven airbags, seven speakers and USB connectivity, while the ‘Lounge’ trim adds creature comforts like air conditioning, rear parking sensors and a leather steering wheel.
Available with a choice of three engines, the 500’s base 1.2L engine is ideal for nipping around town with a few friends in tow, although the rear of the car can feel a little cramped as a result of the sloping back end.
The ride quality is good, with only the biggest of potholes causing a bit of bounce, and the design of the car makes for good visibility.
Running costs are competitive – the Fiat 500 manages up to 47.1 miles per gallon according to the official figures, and starts at insurance group seven. It’s also achieved a great reputation for safety, scoring the full five stars from Euro NCAP in the most recent crash tests.
Price: Starts from £13,020
- Stylish retro looks
- Scores well on safety
- Not the most exciting drive
- Rear feels a bit cramped
9. Vauxhall Corsa
The Vauxhall Corsa is another of the country’s favourite models. This sporty family hatchback is competitively priced and boasts loads more spec than many rivals.
With an attractive interior finish and impressive build quality, the base model Corsa achieves up to 43.5 miles to the gallon and is economical to insure, with the lower spec engines sitting in insurance groups three and four.
The base engine may be the cheapest outright but it’s only really suited to lower speeds, which is ideal if you’re not venturing out of town. If you’re planning to tackle the motorway regularly, look at the mid-range engines for the power you’ll need.
Drive quality is good – this all-new Corsa is based on the Peugeot 208 and offers improved suspension and body control compared to the last generation. It’s also quieter than it used to be and deals with bumpy road surfaces pretty well.
Inside, the Corsa’s interior looks smarter than many budget rivals and there’s plenty of headroom for four people, although legroom can get a bit tight.
The base ‘SE’ trim kits out the Cora with a range of features, including a 7-inch colour touchscreen, LED headlights with high beam assist, 16 inch alloys, air con, cruise control, speed sign recognition and automatic emergency city braking.
Price: Starts from £16,415
- Quality build
- Good standard of spec
- Base engine is sluggish
- Legroom is bit tight
10. SEAT Ibiza
SEATs Ibiza is an award-winning supermini that regularly excels in its class. This compact city car is an all-round performer that pretty much anyone would be proud to have as a first car.
With appealing exterior looks and an equally attractive cabin, the Ibiza is spacious and practical, with a well-sized boot and lots of handy cubby holes.
Among the best cars in its class for ride comfort, the Ibiza breezes over road imperfections better than many rivals, while the handling is simply excellent.
In terms of engines, the entry level option is a bit sluggish but it should suffice for getting around town. The 95bhp version is far superior while still being competitive on fuel economy.
Entry level Ibizas come equipped with a good array of spec, including 15-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, hill hold and a height adjustable driver’s seat, as well as a 6.5-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Models score well on reliability and safety. Running costs for the Ibiza are competitive, too – most models sit in insurance groups two to 19 and the base Ibiza engine returns up to 57.6 miles to the gallon.
Price: Starts from £16,475
- Excellent ride quality
- Lots of kit as standard
- More expensive to buy than many rivals
- Base engine is sluggish
The best first cars for making memories
Your first car is often the one you’ll remember with most fondness, so getting it right is crucial for building those motoring memories.
Whether your priority is an affordable pricetag or something that boosts your confidence behind the wheel, there are dozens of cars to consider. Our guide brings together ten of the best first cars in terms of reliability, reputation and running costs.
We’ve picked out models to sit all tastes and requirements, from the super stylish superminis to the lowest priced models on the road for the tightest of budgets.
Beyond your first car? There’s more
Now that you’ve got an idea of the best first cars available in 2020, take a look at the following guides for more info about where to buy a car online, how to find a competitive finance deal and which cars really deliver on running costs.