Have you or a loved one just passed your driving test? It can be a difficult ask for newly-qualified drivers to find the ideal first car. After months of coveting that licence, the time has come to head out to the forecourt – and the anticipation is understandably high.
On a practical level, there are a few things first-timers should bear in mind. Style will no doubt be on the list of your priorities, but the best cars for new drivers are ones that are also safe, easy-to-drive and affordable – not only in terms of price and running costs, but also how much it’ll cost to get insured as a first-time driver.
Things to consider
Buying a used car is a great way for new drivers to find a fantastic deal. It can be well worth getting a pre-purchase car inspection carried out on the option you’re keen on. Any car bought from an AA approved dealer will already have undergone these checks, but you can still take advantage of this service even if you buy elsewhere.
Our vehicle checks give you extra peace of mind about the car’s mechanical condition. You can also get a vehicle data check from us too. This confirms the mileage of the car, the number of previous owners and whether it’s been stolen or involved in an accident – as well as if it’s got any finance outstanding on it.
Check if the cars you’re looking at have any active safety features, such as anti-lock brakes (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESC). These can help to prevent road accidents. Euro NCAP safety ratings are an important guide too but bear in mind the test has changed over the years so you can only directly compare cars of a similar age.
Have you thought about insurance premiums? If you’re looking to save money, you should see which insurance group your preferred car is in. Every car belongs to a ‘group’ between 1 and 50. The lower the number, the cheaper it normally is to insure. All the cars we’ve recommended tend to be in lower insurance groups, but this will depend on the exact model.
The best cars for new drivers can help to keep insurance costs down, but only to a point. With no experience and no “No Claims” bonus, you’re almost certain to pay more for your insurance than experienced motorists. In some cases, you may find it’ll cost you more than the vehicle itself.
How much will Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) set you back? Also known as car tax, it can drive up the cost of running a car. The way VED works has changed a couple of times over the last 20 years, so how much you’ll have to pay will depend on the age of the car. It’s possible the CO2 emissions of the car or list price when new will be a factor too.
The good news is that the right car could cost you nothing in VED. But some vehicles may cost you anywhere up to £570 a year – so it’s important you know what’s what.
One more thing to consider is the MOT status of the car you’re thinking about buying. If it’s 3 or more years old, it must be tested every year to ensure it meets the minimum standards for roadworthiness and emissions. You can check the status of any car by using the DVLA’s vehicle information service.
We know there’s a lot to bear in mind when buying a car for the first time, but it’s much better to be prepared. With this in mind, here are 10 of our favourite first cars for new drivers:
Insurance group range: 1-32
One of the most popular small cars around, the Vauxhall Corsa comes with everything a new driver is looking for in a compact, stylish package. It’s small, dynamic, responsive and a nifty car to drive in the town or city centre.
The Corsa is available in a range of engine sizes for economical driving and is affordable – costing around £11,000 brand new. Buying used? You’ll easily find a 5-year-old Corsa with less than 50,000 miles on the clock for under £5,000.
It has relatively low insurance costs too.
Insurance group range: 5-39
Sleek, fun and practical – the Renault Clio is a seriously good car for new drivers. With affordable and small engine sizes available, it comes with a sporty exterior and fantastic features such as automatic headlights and wipers, and a 7-inch touchscreen.
As well as being well-suited to style-conscious drivers, the Clio is a reliable performer. If your budget stretches to £6,000, it’s possible to pick up a 2014 Expression+ with cruise control, speed limiter, Bluetooth connectivity and the Renault Bass Reflex sound system.
Insurance group range: 5-30
It’s the best-selling car of all time in the UK so it’s no surprise the Ford Fiesta is one of the best used cars for new drivers. The innovative MyKey system – introduced in 2012 – lets safety-conscious parents limit the stereo volume and maximum speed of the car.
Newer models also feature Electronic Stability Control (ESP) and optional autobrake.
To underline its safety credentials, Fiestas made since 2008 have scored 5 stars in Euro NCAP tests (based on the tests at the time). In terms of cost, you can get superb value with this car – a 2015 1.25 Studio with just 30,000 miles is priced at around £5,500.
Insurance group range: 15-24
Not all the best cars for new drivers are small hatchbacks. A used Nissan Qashqai can prove an excellent solution if you’re after something a bit bigger. It’s incredibly practical – great for festivals, road trips and pet owners.
With many models sporting a 1.2 or 1.5-litre diesel or petrol engine, a Qashqai can work out relatively inexpensive to run – depending on how you drive it, of course. With 5-year old Qashqais available used from under £6,000, it won’t cost the earth to buy either.
Insurance group range: 3-30
The VW Polo is a popular choice for new drivers. Not only can you rely on the durability of your Polo, it suits the image-conscious driver too. Other rivals in its class may have a little bit more wow factor in the looks department, but this has a lot more to offer.
With an ‘S’ model, the Polo comes with electric front windows, autonomous emergency braking, ABS and manual air-conditioning – delivering in terms of comfort and safety.
Fuel efficiency is another strong point of the Polo. A 1.0 TSI 95 BlueMotion, for example, has an official economy of 67mpg, while a 1.4 TDI officially returns 74.3mpg. When you come to purchase, there are definite deals to be had under £7,000.
Insurance group range: 14-36
The Audi A3 is a great first car for new drivers looking to break into the luxury segment straight away. It’s a classy compact boasting a well-designed interior and stylish exterior. Beautifully-built and punchy to drive, its modest size means it’s perfect for city and urban drivers.
It’s a great car for the price too. If you don’t mind a few miles on the clock, used 2014 Audi A3s can be found around the £7,000 mark. It’s surprisingly efficient too, offering attractive fuel economy and low CO2 emissions – plus reasonably affordable insurance premiums too.
Insurance group range: 5-38
Since its relaunch in 2007, the Fiat 500 has been riding a wave of popularity. Its iconic, retro design makes it a hit with new drivers of all ages – not least those hoping to leave a lasting impression when driving around town.
The 500L version is available for those looking for 5 doors and extra space in the rear. Both the 500 and 500L promise excellent fuel economy and low running costs. You’ll easily be able to find a used 5-year-old model in the £4,000-£5,000 range too.
Insurance group range: 2-15
By far one of the best used cars for new drivers in terms of value, the Toyota Yaris is a straightforward car to maintain and more than capable of standing up to the test of time. Ease to drive, good ride quality and outstanding reliability are just some of the Yaris’ features, as well as a Euro NCAP 5-star safety rating.
It’s relatively affordable to run thanks to its fuel efficiency. The 1.0-litre Yaris falls into Insurance Group 3, making it one of the cheapest cars to insure. Expect to pay around £6,000 for a 5-year-old model with a reasonable number of miles on the clock.
Insurance group range: 6-36
VW secures a second entry in our top 10 with the Golf – a high-quality first car for new drivers. It’s a step up from the Polo in the VW range, with impressive refinements and reliability. Bear in mind it’s a slightly heavier option as first cars go and insurance bills are higher compared to other models, but fuel costs are reasonable when compared with other options.
Some used VW Golfs from 2014 onwards at the lower end of the price range can have more than 100,000 miles under their belt. But don’t let this put you off. Golfs are very durable and will keep running for many years to come.
Insurance group range: 6-43
Safe and sensible, the Ford Focus is more spacious than a Fiesta and one of the most popular cars on the road – not far behind its smaller sibling. Fun to drive with a smooth ride, the Focus handles nicely and has impressive official fuel economy ratings – a 1.0T EcoBoost 100 quotes up to 65.7mpg.
Due to the popularity of the Focus since it first launched, the used car market has many opportunities for a great value purchase. If your budget can stretch to the £8,000 mark, it’s possible to find a 3-year-old Focus packed full of features including ABS, Auto-Start-Stop System, Bluetooth, automatic temperature control and heated windscreen.
With so many good cars for new drivers available, be sure to look through our selection of used cars to see what’s for sale in your area. And don’t forget – when you buy from one of our approved dealers, you get 12 months’ free breakdown cover and the security of knowing your car has undergone a mechanical check.
Image courtesy of iStock.