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Best cars

Top 10 best first cars for new drivers 2024

A good first car needs to be many things, including affordable, reliable and safe. Here’s our pick of the best

The best first cars 2023

For every motorist, their first car will be a milestone purchase, representing the first major taste of freedom and independence for many. In the past, it was almost expected that your first car had to be a decades-old banger which was barely hanging on, but nowadays you can get some of the best brand-new first cars on the market at an affordable price thanks to competitive leasing and finance deals. It’s tempting to go for the cheapest option as your first car, but there are quite a few things to consider, with cheap insurance and running costs being some of the most important.

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With Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) and Hire Purchase (HP) finance deals having taken off in popularity in recent times, your options for a new first car are more diverse than ever. Newer cars should prove more reliable and safer too, which will keep parents happy. The latest engines are more fuel efficient, meaning running costs should be low, particularly with small cars and superminis, which are – more often than not – ideal choices for a first car.

Best used cars for young and learner driversTop 10 best used cars for young and learner drivers

Features that were once exclusive to premium cars, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital instrument displays and lane-keeping assistance, have found their way into some humble hatchbacks and city cars in recent years, so budget-friendly motoring doesn’t have to be as bare-bones as it once was.

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It wasn’t long ago that names like the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo, and Vauxhall Corsa were a no-brainer when it came to considering your first car. But, as Fiesta production has ended after nearly five decades, and with the arrival of more body styles and electric cars, our top 10 best first cars list may be more varied than you expect.

The best first cars on sale

Read on for our rundown of the best first cars, or if you’d like to dig deeper into a specific requirement, our list of the best cheap cars on sale today is a good place to start, and our list of the best cheap cars to insure will be important for first-time buyers, too.

Skoda Fabia review - a great-value, practical supermini

Carbuyer best small car Skoda Fabia
Carbuyer rating

4.4 out of 5

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A brand-new Skoda Fabia launched in 2021, with a host of improvements and shared parts with the latest Volkswagen Polo. The Fabia now has more space to transport family and friends, and the updated tech brings it back in line with the best in class. While the Fabia may not be the most eccentric pick, it may be a sensible one as standard equipment includes a 6.5-inch infotainment screen, air conditioning, lane keep assist and an e-Call system that will automatically call the emergency services if you find yourself in an accident.

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For younger buyers, we’d recommend the entry-level SE Comfort model with its 1.0-litre 79bhp engine. This falls into insurance group four, so it should be cheap to insure and the extra power over the now-discontinued S trim’s engine is a welcome addition. While insuring the Volkswagen Polo with the same engine may be cheaper still, the Fabia is cheaper to buy and better value to buy in the first instance, so it takes our top spot.

Volkswagen Polo review – an iconic supermini

Volkswagen Polo - front 3/4 dynamic
Carbuyer rating

4.2 out of 5

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For a long time the Volkswagen Polo was a rival to the late Ford Fiesta, and almost as iconic. It’s been around now for 48 years, and in more recent decades it’s differentiated itself from other superminis by offering a slightly more premium image and sturdier build quality, and yet it still sits in the lowest insurance group one in entry-level Life guise.

With the 79bhp 1.0-litre engine, the Polo is very cheap to insure, which makes it a great choice as a first car for new drivers, when your insurance can be the most expensive. Admittedly, that version’s a little slow, but if your budget stretches to afford the slightly more powerful 96bhp turbocharged version, insurance is only marginally more expensive as the model sits in group eight out of 50 – that’s still pretty low in the grand scheme of things, and for slightly older first-time buyers it might be a better choice.

Kia Picanto review – facelifted city car with lots to offer

Kia Picanto facelift review
Carbuyer rating

4.2 out of 5

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There are many reasons to love the Kia Picanto, but first time drivers will especially appreciate its affordability, low running costs and seven-year warranty. With three engines to choose from and better practicality than a Volkswagen Up!, the third-generation Picanto is a strong pick as a first car.

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All Picantos are cheap to insure, with the majority of the 66bhp lineup sitting in groups one to five, while the 99bhp GT-Line S sits in group 11 – that may be the most expensive to insure, it’s still not too bad for a top-spec model. The entry-level 66bhp 1.0-litre is our pick for first-time drivers because of its good fuel economy and low insurance group rating. Reliability is excellent and the Picanto has regularly finished with a good placing in our Driver Power Survey, coming in an impressive second place in 2021, with its most recent placing at 26th in 2023.

Hyundai i10 review - tech-filled and practical small car

hyundai i10 facelift
Carbuyer rating

4 out of 5

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The Hyundai i10 is another city car with a relatively cheap purchase price, helping to keep things affordable for first-time car owners. Added peace of mind comes from Hyundai’s five-year warranty, which could keep running costs even lower, as you won’t need to worry about footing the bill if it goes wrong in that time.

Like the related Kia Picanto, it’s more practical than you’d expect for a car its size and your friends won’t feel too cramped in the back. It’s pretty good to drive, too, as well as sharp to look at, while all the engines combine good fuel economy and decent performance: the 1.0-litre version returns up to 54.3mpg. During our time with the i10, we were impressed by its infotainment setup, which feels similar to the bigger cars in Hyundai’s range, like the i20 supermini and Bayon crossover.

Renault Clio review - E-Tech hybrid takes on EV rivals

Renault Clio UK
Carbuyer rating

4.4 out of 5

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A regular sight with learner plates, many drivers who’ve recently passed their test will have cut their teeth in the stylish and safe Renault Clio. The latest model is a step up in quality over previous generations with most of the hard plastics replaced with soft-touch materials, it is now a classy competitor to upmarket models like the Audi A1 or MINI.

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A five-star safety rating and low running costs make the Clio an even more attractive proposition. There is also up-to-date technology, with the option of 9.2-inch screen making the Clio a car that’s hard to ignore when shortlisting a first car.

Toyota Aygo X hatchback review

Toyota Aygo X Undercover
Carbuyer rating

3.8 out of 5

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The Aygo X (pronounced cross) isn’t quite the SUV that some may expect, it certainly wouldn’t hold up against a Range Rover or Land Rover Defender off-road, but this small city SUV does have some great features for those who plan to stay on the road. This includes a slightly lifted driving position that is easier to get in and out of and a better view of the road ahead.

The Aygo X also doesn’t have the fuel economy of a giant SUV either, instead, its 1.0-litre engine is cheap to run and maintain and feels zippy with 71bhp on tap, which will likely be more than enough for a first car. You can also get it with a manual transmission or an S-CVT automatic gearbox, so even if you’ve got an auto-only licence the Aygo X could be a winner. For most buyers, we’d recommend sticking with the manual, though, because the automatic isn’t as fun to drive, or quite as economical.

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First car buyers who are worried about maintenance will be even more impressed by the 10-year warranty offered as long as you service the vehicle with the main dealer.

Dacia Sandero hatchback review

Dacia Sandero review
Carbuyer rating

4 out of 5

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The Dacia Sandero may not have all of the plush interior materials or technology of other cars on this list, but it instead offers simple, reliable motoring with an ultra-affordable purchase price and low insurance costs.

Styling is functional, and without the flair of the Renault Clio on which it's based, but the Sandero is comfortable and surprisingly refined for one of the cheapest cars on sale in the UK. If you want something with a higher driving position and tougher looks, Dacia offers the Sandero Stepway, a rugged version of the regular hatchback, although insurance costs will be slightly higher for this model.

If you search the internet for the new Sandero you may find its safety questioned after a disappointing score from NCAP. However, you should note the test became much stricter in 2020 and so competitors that were tested prior to that date may appear safer on the star scoring system, but they may score poorly if retested today. Happily, Dacia updated its warranty in 2024, so now cars are covered for up to seven years or 75,000 miles (activated with regular servicing), whichever comes first – this even applies to some used models, so look into this before buying.

Vauxhall Corsa review – the best Corsa yet

Vauxhall Corsa facelift
Carbuyer rating

4.1 out of 5

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The Vauxhall Corsa was a top-selling car during 2023 and for good reason. Entry-level Design models start from just over £19,000 and are good value, coming equipped with a generous level of standard equipment such as a seven-inch infotainment touchscreen, LED headlights and a leather steering wheel. Image-conscious buyers can also step up to the GS trim to give the Corsa a sporty makeover, including a contrasting black roof, tinted rear windows, rear parking sensors and a set of 17-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels. It also boasts a ‘Sport’ mode that plays synthesised engine sounds through the car’s speakers; a feature that may be deemed cool or kitsch, depending on your own personal tastes.

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For first-time drivers who want to start their driving life with an EV, they can also look at the Corsa Electric. It’s pricier to buy than a petrol model and will likely have a higher insurance premium, however, with free VED (road tax), lower fuel costs, and free entry into congestion zones it may work out cheaper overall for first-time drivers in the city.

Mazda2 hatchback review

Mazda2 2023 facelift
Carbuyer rating

3.4 out of 5

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The Mazda2 has been around for a few generations now but tends to be forgotten amongst all of its more well-known rivals, which is perhaps a little unfair. The stylish little hatchback is well-equipped, feels good to drive and is one of the most fuel-efficient petrol cars on sale, with some of the range achieving up to 60.1mpg, making it very frugal indeed. 

The entry-level 75bhp 1.5-litre petrol model isn’t too far behind that, with a fuel economy figure of 58.5mpg, and is cheaper to buy and slightly cheaper to insure. Sitting in group 14 means that while it’s not as cheap to insure as some rivals, it’s still acceptable in the grand scheme of things, and might suit slightly older first-time drivers who will already benefit from lower premiums thanks to their age.

Fiat 500 review - a fun and affordable EV city car

Fiat 500 electric
Carbuyer rating

4 out of 5

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The Fiat 500 has been a popular vehicle ever since its rebirth in 2007, thanks to its appealing interior and exterior styling. Now the 500 electric is available with the same look and zero-emissions running costs, making it an attractive choice for a first car.

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In electric form, the 500 has lost none of its charm and suits the city even more thanks to its silent running, and free entry into congestion zones, not forgetting zero road tax. It is one of the more expensive purchases on our list, and EVs are typically slightly more expensive to insure, with the electric 500 starting in group 17 – however, lower running costs for city drivers may soon make up the difference.

How to buy your first car

As it’s almost always the biggest cost for new drivers aside from the car’s purchase price, you should always start by checking the insurance group of your potential first car. Don’t assume that because a car has a smaller engine and lower power it will be cheaper to insure, as there are a lot of factors insurers take into consideration.

The insurance group alone isn’t the only thing that will affect your insurance, so it’s always worth running an insurance quote before committing to buy any car. Also consider the price of VED (road tax) before buying so that some of the biggest motoring bills are accounted for.

Cars that cost over £40,000 incur an additional supplement for the first five years, although none of the cars on the above list meet this threshold. At present, zero-emission cars are exempt from VED, but this will end in 2025. Cars registered before April 2017 are taxed using the older system based on CO2 emissions.

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If you’re a new driver, we also recommend starting small with your first car. Driving can be daunting, especially around tight, busy city streets, and a city car or supermini is usually your best bet as a first car. If a hatchback isn’t for you, most small SUVs are just as manoeuvrable if you’d feel more secure with a higher ride height – again, check this is in your budget and that the insurance and running costs are affordable.

While it’s tempting and very possible to go for a brand new car, increase your scope by considering a used first car. There have been countless models released over the years, many of which have since been discontinued but offer rock-bottom running costs and are cheap to buy second-hand. If you are keen to buy a new car, starting off with a used example that allows you to get a few years no claims bonus and driving experience under your belt might mean you can spring for something even nicer down the line.

Just be aware that safety and infotainment technology marches on, and that the independent safety body Euro NCAP regularly updates its testing, so a car with a five-star Euro NCAP safety score from a few years ago won’t be as safe as a brand new car with the same rating.

Take an experienced driver along to view the car you’re considering. They may think about things you wouldn’t have yet considered and asking for their advice to avoid any pitfalls can be invaluable.

Looking for a new car but you’re on a tight budget? Check out our top 9 most economical cars...

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Charlie writes and edits news, review and advice articles for Carbuyer, as well as publishing content to its social media platforms. He has also been a regular contributor to its sister titles Auto Express, DrivingElectric and evo. As well as being consumed by everything automotive, Charlie is a speaker of five languages and once lived in Chile, Siberia and the Czech Republic, returning to the UK to write about his life-long passion: cars.

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