Top 10 best cars for students 2021
If you're a student, and you're looking for a new car, chances are you're after something compact, inexpensive, practical and cheap to run. The cars on our list below should fit the bill and demonstrate that decent economy need not be boring.
New-car ownership was once a distant dream for students but that’s all changed today. Thanks to manufacturer incentives and reduced ownership costs, owning a car while at university is increasingly feasible.
Trying to maintain an old car with a pre-2000 reg plate can often seem appealing to students as a route to motoring freedom but breakdowns are inconvenient and an expense that most students can’t afford. Although the idea of buying a new car may seem unrealistic, it can often make more sense to know exactly how much a car will cost you per month by buying a new one on a competitive PCP finance deal - you also benefit from the peace of mind offered by a warranty too.
There’s also more reassurance for both students and their parents in the knowledge that virtually all new cars meet the latest stringent safety standards. Newer cars are more fuel efficient too, especially city cars and superminis, and the only running costs you should expect are fuel, insurance, servicing and general maintenance, such as replacement tyres. MoTs aren’t required until cars are three years old and breakdown cover is often included as an incentive when buying the car. We also recommend getting a service plan if it’s available; while it seems expensive, it actually works out cheaper if you spread the cost over monthly payments, rather than paying for the services individually.
When weighing up a new, nearly new or used car, it's worth considering that brand-new cars often work out less expensive on monthly finance. That's because of the way PCP finance works, and manufacturers frequently offer finance incentives to drive up sales figures – which can be very handy if you're on a budget. Don’t forget that you can haggle with dealers to try and get a better deal - read our guide to find out more. You can also check out our guides to the best cars for £150 per month and the best new cars for £10,000.
Students typically face the same challenges as young motorists in general when it comes to expensive car insurance costs and those attending urban universities are likely to feel the pinch the most. Fear not, though – most of the cars on our list occupy the lowest insurance group ratings and none are what insurers would classify as high risk. If affording to insure your car is one of the key factors in preventing you from owning a car, it’s worth knowing that there is another way to bring down the cost of your premiums with black box insurance. If you’re happy to have your driving habits monitored, this is a great way to reduce your premiums. The safer your drive, the more your insurer will reward you.
While some of the best cars for students here on our list may be more stylish and fashionable than others, all of them are easy to live with, safe to drive, and should prove reliable in the long term. Many are practical, too, which is handy for lugging all your possessions from home to your student accommodation once or twice a year.
The latest Skoda Fabia possesses three key qualities, making it the ideal car for students: it’s spacious, practical and comfortable. It shares its platform and engines with two other cars on this list, the slightly more expensive SEAT Ibiza and Volkswagen Polo. The Skoda is no longer the cheapest supermini on the block - that accolade goes to the Dacia Sandero, which undercuts the Fabia by several thousand pounds. Nevertheless, the Fabia is a better all-rounder than ever before, with more style, more equipment and improved driving dynamics.
The hatchback’s boot space stands at 380 litres, which means the Ibiza and Polo are now slightly smaller in that department. Attractive PCP deals on the Fabia are common, as are cheap servicing packages.
The Dacia Sandero isn’t the most fashionable, comfortable or luxurious car money can buy but it’s not meant to be. The Sandero’s USP is to be the cheapest new car you can buy and, although it doesn’t boast the headline-grabbing bargain price it used to, you can still buy one for under £8,000.
Though it has increased in price, the Sandero is still spectacularly good value, and easily one of the most spacious and practical cars on this list. It certainly offers a huge amount of car for your money – it's cheaper than the Kia Picanto but comparable in size to the bigger Kia Rio. It all adds up to enjoyable, practical, and remarkably affordable motoring. Low insurance groupings and a low price make this an easily recommendable new car for students.
City cars aren’t always spacious enough for four adults but the latest Hyundai i10 rivals some superminis for practicality. The newest model is 40mm longer between the wheels, meaning the cabin feels light and spacious, and the boot is the same as before at a class-leading 252 litres. The mid-spec SE Connect features all the kit - and more - that would appeal to young drivers; the eight-inch touchscreen includes sat nav, smartphone mirroring, digital radio and a reversing camera. There’s also wireless phone charging, air conditioning and cruise control.
You can expect super-low running costs from the i10, as both engines manage around 55mpg. Not only that, but the i10 looks sharp and stylish too, and can be had with two-tone alloy wheels and a contrasting black roof to make it stand out in a college car park.
An evergreen name in British motoring, the Ford Fiesta is no longer being built here, but it's still one of the most popular and trusted small cars you can buy. In part, this stems from Ford's dealer network being by far the largest in the UK, with branches in most large towns, so servicing and repair should be straightforward. Mostly, though, it's because the Fiesta is just such a brilliant car.
The latest is more expensive than previous models, but Ford is often generous with its discounts and finance incentives. The good-looking, well equipped Fiesta is still good value, and you'll think the same when you get behind the wheel, as it ranks among the most rewarding superminis to drive. While the top-spec models get goodies such as Bang & Olufsen stereos and sporty bodykits, the Fiesta Trend has SYNC3 infotainment and all the convenience features most drivers will ever need.
The Volkswagen up! is the upmarket sister car to the Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii but the others are now electric-only and much more expensive. It might not be as good value for money as some other city cars, but it does come in a range of trims, including one with an uprated stereo system known as the up! Beats.
The interior is a nice place to be and the up! is arguably one of the most desirable cars on this list. While its price may start at over £12,000, PCP deals are often offered with 0% interest, making it an attractive choice on a monthly basis. All up! models fall into low insurance groups, unless you go for the up! GTI.
The SEAT Ibiza is the most stylish choice out of the three related VW Group superminis, which also includes the Skoda Fabia and Volkswagen Polo. The Ibiza is one of the newest cars on this list and it's a much better car than the one it replaced. It offers a 350-litre boot, a practical five-door bodystyle, split folding rear seats and lots of interior space for five passengers.
As ever with cars in the Volkswagen group, the Ibiza offers a strong range of engines, all of which are economical and about as powerful as the average student can realistically wish for. The Ibiza is the ideal car for students looking for something that feels a little more practical and grown up to drive than a city car.
The Volkswagen Polo has earned a reputation as a classy, well-built and comfortable small car and its desirability helps it to hang onto its value impressively well. This means PCP finance deals can be very attractive, which is good news if you're trying to keep monthly outgoings low. The latest, sixth-generation Polo is sportier and more spacious than before – fold the rear seats down and there's plenty of space for all the gear that students need to lug from home to uni accommodation.
The entry-level version is reasonably priced, but it's easy to get carried away with the options list and higher-spec versions are like miniature limousines – you can have features such as an Active Info Display electronic instrument cluster and active cruise control that were once reserved for far bigger cars. With this in mind, it’s worth checking your budget and making a list of the key options you actually need before heading into a dealership. The cheapest versions use a 64bhp petrol engine, but our favourite is the 94bhp 1.0-litre TSI, which is better on the motorway.
Citroen's smallest model gets off to a good start by being reasonably priced. Not only that, but the brand offers a 'Simply Drive' package that covers VED (road tax), servicing and insurance for the first three years of ownership. Like the similar 'Just Add Fuel' package from Peugeot, drivers under 21 need a telematics box to be fitted so their driving habits can be monitored, but you won't find this intrusive.
On top of all this common-sense stuff, the C1 is also a thoroughly enjoyable car to drive, and even the entry-level model is reasonably well equipped. You'll need the Feel trim level or above for standard air-conditioning, and the economical 1.0-litre petrol engine can manage around 52mpg. The Citroen C1 is a car that will please you with its friendly looks and delight you with its low running costs.
It doesn't look like it from the outside, but the Toyota Aygo is actually closely based on the Citroen C1 listed above. However, while the engine and running gear are shared by the two (and the Peugeot 108, incidentally), the Aygo has a look all of its own - and that’s what makes it a popular choice for young drivers. From its X-shaped grille to its sharply angled rear end, the Toyota is certainly distinctive, and a wide range of customisation options means you're unlikely to park next to an identical example.
As well as visual appeal, the Aygo offers extra peace of mind compared to its French sisters – it's covered by a five-year/100,000-mile warranty. Like the C1 and 108, the Aygo is a fine handling machine, with a real go-kart feel that'll please enthusiastic drivers. It doesn't have an especially big boot, but two adult passengers will be comfortable enough in the rear seats on relatively brief trips, and you can choose an automated manual gearbox to take the effort out of stop-start urban driving.
The Vauxhall Corsa is one of Britain’s best-selling cars for several good reasons; it’s easy to drive, reliable and cheap to buy, which is why so many are bought by hire car companies and driving schools. Like the SEAT Ibiza, it also looks and feels like a more sensible, upmarket car. A big part of the Corsa’s appeal is the value for money it offers - even now you can buy a new Corsa for reasonable monthly payments.
All models are well equipped, with SE models boasting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, DAB radio, alloy wheels and LED headlights. The 99bhp petrol is our pick of the range; its average 51mpg is almost identical to the lesser-powered model but its turbocharger means it’s quicker and a sixth gear means it’s more refined than the entry-level 74bhp version.
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