Top 10 best first cars 2022
A good first car needs to be cheap to buy and to run. It also needs to be well-equipped, reliable and safe. Here's a rundown of the best
Most people can remember their first car; they tend to have symbolic and sentimental importance. Speak to many people and the idea of buying a brand new car as their first was little more than a dream. Now, however, thanks mainly to Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) finance deals, it’s much more feasible for your first car to be a new one.
New cars bring modern safety technology and ease of use, which are obviously of huge importance to the more inexperienced driver. They also bring more creature comforts too, including smartphone connectivity (such as Apple CarPlay or Android Auto), air conditioning and cruise control. Reliability is generally good for new cars, provided you keep up with basic maintenance.
New cars are more fuel efficient than ever, meaning running costs should be low, particularly with small cars and superminis. There are also deals out there to make the ownership experience as affordable as possible for a buyer on a budget. Peugeot’s ‘Just Add Fuel Telematics' finance package, for example, covers all the main motoring costs other than fuel - including insurance, which will appeal if your insurance premiums are high.
If the model on your first-car shortlist isn’t available with such a neat deal, you’ll need to balance various manufacturer and dealer discounts with cheap insurance costs.
The current VED structure means that as of April 2017, you pay a first-year rate based on the vehicle’s CO2 emissions. The tax is rolled into the on-the-road price of the car. Every year after, you then pay a flat annual rate. Cars that cost over £40,000 incur an additional supplement for the first five years. At present, zero-emission cars are exempt from VED. Cars registered before April 2017 are taxed using the older system based on CO2 emissions.
This can all look slightly scary, especially to a new driver, which is why we’ve put together this list of our favourite new cars for first-time buyers. They’re all affordable and cheap to run but that certainly doesn’t mean they’re dull. These cars all variously offer scope for customisation, impressive driver enjoyment or styling flair and desirability.
Another advantage of buying a new car is that it’ll come with the latest safety equipment, should the worst happen – something that will be a huge comfort to the families of young and inexperienced drivers.
The Volkswagen up! has been among our best first car champions for a long while. As a complete package for new drivers, it’s near unbeatable and scores highly for the first-time buyer. Not only is it economical but some models also fall into insurance group two, meaning it’s one of the cheapest cars on the market to insure.
We also reckon the up! is one of the more stylish cars in its class, and it’s pretty good fun to drive too. While the up! has the same underpinnings as the Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii, it’s the only one still on sale. Both the Skoda and SEAT are still well worthy of consideration but new electric versions are much more expensive than their petrol counterparts.
The Ford Fiesta is a true household name and frequently sits at the top of the best-sellers list. It’s a terrific car to drive and, thanks to an innovation called MyKey, it’s a car that parents can confidently entrust to a younger family member. Essentially, it enables a number of behaviour-related settings to be imposed, such as a maximum speed, a seatbelt reminder and even a maximum volume for the stereo. The settings are coded to one key, but normalised settings take over when another key is used.
This way, every member of the family can enjoy a car that may be a little more expensive than some of the other cars on our list, but it’s a good deal more spacious and practical than many of them. You get a similar level of standard equipment as you do on the Hyundai i10, but the Fiesta is much more comfortable on the motorway and some models are just as cheap to run. One thing that does count against the Ford – especially when compared to Kias, Hyundais and Toyotas – is its very average three-year/60,000-mile warranty, but with any luck this concern will be well outweighed by the smile it can put on your face.
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.
Thanks to its new, more sophisticated underpinnings, the new Fabia is much more refined than before and should be comfortable on longer journeys. For younger buyers, we’d recommend stepping up to the mid-range SE Comfort model with its 1.0-litre 79bhp engine. This falls into insurance group 3, so it should be cheap to insure and the extra power over the entry-level S trim’s engine will be a welcome addition.
We rate the Picanto as one of the best small cars for first-time buyers because it’s cheap to run, attractive and comes with a seven-year warranty. It’s more practical than the Volkswagen up! too. This third-generation Picanto is a great all-rounder, with three engines to choose from.
The entry-level 66bhp 1.0-litre is a good choice for first time drivers because of its good fuel economy and low insurance group rating. Reliability is excellent and the Picanto finished in a hugely respectable second place in our 2021 Driver Power Survey.
South Korea has demonstrated that it makes mobile phones that are hard to beat, and the Hyundai i10 says exactly the same thing about how good the country is at making small cars, too. The i10 is affordable to buy, very well equipped and offers the peace of mind that comes with a five-year warranty.
Available only with five doors, it’s more practical than many rivals and your friends won’t feel too cooped up 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 56.5mpg.
The closest you’ll probably get to an SUV for a first car, the Aygo X (pronounced cross) is Toyota’s latest iteration of their popular Aygo hatchback. The Aygo X differs from its predecessors due to its muscular SUV-inspired styling and slightly raised driving position. This doesn’t mean it’s some gas-guzzling 4x4 as underneath its rugged exterior, the Aygo X is front-wheel-drive and uses the same frugal 71bhp 1.0-litre three cylinder petrol engine as before. However, unlike the old car, the Aygo X is now available with either a five-speed manual or a new S-CVT automatic gearbox - perfect for those with an automatic-only licence.
On the inside, the Aygo X is just as funky, thanks to flashes of your chosen paint colour on the interior trim. Entry-level ‘Pure’ cars start from just under £15,000 and come with all the standard equipment you should need such as a 7-inch central touchscreen, air conditioning, cruise control and a reversing camera. Safety systems such as forward collision warning, lane keep assist and emergency steering assist are also standard; the Aygo X should be safe and (perhaps more importantly) cheap to insure.
There are few more stylish superminis than the latest Renault Clio, our reigning Best Small Car champion. While the exterior redesign is more evolution than revolution, inside it’s all change, with the option of a huge 9.2-inch portrait touchscreen. With a smattering of soft-touch materials thrown in as well, it feels at least as upmarket as an Audi A1 or MINI.
Traditionally, the Clio couldn’t come close to the Fiesta in terms of handling but Renault has really upped its game for this new model and, as a result, it’s closer than ever. A five-star safety rating and impressively low running costs win extra points for the Clio - overall it’s a package that will likely suit young drivers and their parents.
The Dacia Sandero is proof that cheap can still definitely be cheerful. Starting from just over £11,000, the Sandero undercuts every other entry on this list. Yet, unlike the last-generation Sandero, the latest model isn’t based on some outdated car that is no longer sold anywhere. Third-generation Sanderos share the majority of their parts with one of our favourite small cars; the Renault Clio. This means that the Sandero, whilst not the most dynamic car in class, drives in a much more comfortable and refined manner than it has any right to given its price tag.
To achieve this low price, the entry-level ‘Essential’ trim cars come only with the, well, essentials. This includes manual air conditioning, cruise control and electric front windows. Instead of an infotainment screen, Essential buyers will have to make do with mounting their smartphone in a specialised dock on the dashboard. We recommend stepping up to the Comfort trim as this benefits from an infotainment screen with the latest phone connectivity as well as keyless entry and a rear-view camera.
The Vauxhall Corsa dethroned the Ford Fiesta as Britain’s top-selling car in 2021 and it’s easy to see the appeal. Entry-level SE Edition models start from around £17,500 and represent great value for money. These models come 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 SRi 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.
Behind the wheel, the Vauxhall Corsa is easy to drive thanks to its light controls; however, its stiff, sporty suspension can become a tad uncomfortable on longer stints. For new drivers, we recommend opting for the entry-level 1.2-litre petrol engine with 74bhp. This should be fine for around-town driving and shouldn’t struggle too much on the motorway. Vauxhall does now offer the Corsa with a futuristic electric powertrain, though its £25,000+ asking price and high insurance group will alienate most first-time buyers.
The Volkswagen Polo is a household name that’s recognised for its classy design, sturdy build quality and its impressive ability to hold on to its value. Now in its sixth generation, the latest Polo looks sportier and wider, and this increase in dimensions means there’s more space inside, too, with a boot that’s now 25% larger. Technology has also taken a big step up, with features like a digital Active Info Display instrument cluster and adaptive cruise control shared with much more expensive machinery.
A broad selection of engines is offered, but the 1.0-litres are most likely to appeal to anyone buying their first car. The 64 and 74bhp versions are modern engines that are perfectly at home around town, but if you can stretch to it, the turbocharged 1.0-litre TSI with 94bhp is our pick of the range, with livelier acceleration making it adept at tackling country roads and motorways.
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