Best first car 2024
Your first car is like your first kiss – it’s something you’ll never forget. You’ll inevitably upgrade to something larger, faster and more expensive when you get older, but nothing beats the feeling of getting behind the wheel of your first car.
Unless you have particularly deep pockets and you’re prepared to fork out a small fortune on car insurance, your first car is unlikely to be a hot hatch or sports car. Instead, you’ll need something small, practical and inexpensive to run, not to mention safe, because being a new driver puts you at risk of having an accident. You might care more about the infotainment system and alloy wheels, but your parents will be more interested in the Euro NCAP safety rating and insurance group.
With this in mind, we’ve selected 10 of the best first cars you can buy new today. Sure, it’d be cheaper to buy a used car, but thanks to the availability of cheap finance, a new car could be more affordable than you realised. Plus you get the bonus of a warranty, so that’s one less thing to worry about.
Best first cars
The Volkswagen Polo is one of the best first cars on the market. The company has even created well-loved advertising campaigns around it, stressing the fact that if parents want to give their children a car that will look after them, the Polo is the perfect choice. It looks upmarket for starters, and the well-built interior feels solid. The 1.0-litre TSI engine is available with 80PS, 95PS or 110PS, with prices starting from around £20,000. Best of all, the 80PS version gets a super-low group 1 insurance rating, so you won't to pay, ahem, a mint to insure your Polo.
Meet one of Britain's cheapest new cars. In Essential trim, the Dacia Sandero costs a bargain £13,795 or around £190 a month, which is exceptional value for a car of this size. Okay, so you don't get an infotainment system, but Dacia provides a handy smartphone holder on the dashboard, so you can play your own music and get directions via your favourite sat nav app. You also get air conditioning and cruise control, but for an extra £1000 you can upgrade to the Expression trim, which adds keyless entry, rear parking sensors and an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
It's still based on the Volkswagen Polo, but the latest Skoda Fabia no longer looks like the German's frumpy cousin. Indeed, with cheaper prices, the smart money could be on the Fabia, especially when you consider the group 4 insurance rating of the 1.0-litre MPI 80PS version. The entry-level £18,500 SE Comfort trim comes with 15-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, DAB radio with 6.5-inch display, rear parking sensors and air conditioning. For an additional £2500, the SE L adds extra equipment, including stylish 16-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control and 9.2-inch colour display, but it's worth noting that this trim isn't available with the insurance-friendly 80PS engine.
The latest Toyota Yaris is stylish small car that offers sporty style by the bucketload. The regular five-door supermini has plenty in common with the rally-bred GR Yaris hot hatchback at a glance, bolstering its appeal. It’s also smart inside, and has decent space despite its compact dimensions. The latest Yaris comes with a ‘self-charging’ hybrid engine, which means an automatic gearbox is standard, as is the potential to drive for more than 50% of an average journey in zero-emissions EV mode – thus saving fuel. Parents will also find the Yaris’ five-star Euro NCAP safety score extremely reassuring. It set a new benchmark when tested in 2020, scoring top marks despite the toughened-up test.
If you want your first car to stand out from the crowd, look no further than the Suzuki Ignis. It might be smaller than some of the other cars on our list, but it feels incredibly spacious on the inside, while the SUV-like styling cuts a mean figure in the urban jungle. Not that you need to confine yourself to the city, because the Ignis is available as a 4x4 for some off-road capability. All versions come with an 83PS 1.2-litre petrol engine mated to a mild-hybrid system for swift acceleration and excellent fuel economy. It's also cheap to insure, thanks to a group 9 insurance rating.
The Picanto is Kia’s smallest car, which will be a boon for helping new drivers get used to life behind the wheel. Despite being compact on the outside, however, it’s still spacious on the inside, with a five-door layout offering good space up front and a surprising amount of room for two adults in the rear. The boot isn’t the biggest, but it’s passable, and the rear seats fold flat to increase space. It also has a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty as standard, so even the most ham-fisted of new drivers can rest easy.
We’re not going to rename this article, but the Citroen Ami isn’t technically a car. It’s legally a quadricycle, which means you can drive one in the UK from the age of 16 and you don’t need a full driving licence. It’s a tremendously quirky electric city ca… vehicle, but it won’t be for everyone, because it can’t go faster than 28mph. That means it’s strictly a ride for the city, but if you fit the criteria you’ll have a brilliant time in the Ami. It’s genuinely affordable, will turn heads as you drive by and it’s very entertaining to drive, with a tiny turning circle and dimensions that’ll fit in parking spaces no one else would dare attempt.
The Volkswagen Up is brilliant for those who live in a city and are buying their first car. It measures just 3.6 metres long, so is really easy to park on busy streets, but it still provides five-door flexibility and decent passenger space front and rear. Volkswagen integrity means the Up is solid and well-built, and the 1.0-litre engine is fuel-efficient. It also enjoys a group 2 insurance rating to keep annual premiums low. Factor in the Up’s fine retained values for a car that should be competitive in terms of finance payments – and one that’s likely to prove very reliable, too.
The Hyundai i10 is one of the most sensible small cars you can buy. It's bigger than the average city car, so your mates won't complain about a lack of space, while the relatively large boot means there's plenty of room for shopping bags and the luggage for a weekend away. It's also backed by a five-year unlimited mileage warranty and powered by a range of economical petrol engines. The 67PS 1.0-litre engine gets a group 1 insurance rating when paired with an automated manual transmission, but frankly, you'd be better off choosing the manual gearbox and paying a little extra for the cover.
Toyota Aygo X
The Toyota Aygo X is a city car with a touch of SUV attitude. Although it's less practical than the Suzuki Ignis, the bold styling, raised driving position and long list of standard equipment combine to make the Aygo X one of the most interesting small cars on the market. It's even available with a retractable canvas roof for some open-air fun. There are four trim levels available – Pure, Edge, Air Edition and Exclusive – with prices starting from around £16,000. The cost of insurance will be kept in check by insurance groups 5 to 7, while the four-star Euro NCAP safety rating is impressive for a car of this size.
What is the best first car for a 17 year old?
Unsurprisingly, 17-year-old drivers are the most sensitive to high insurance bills. They will have little experience on the road, so car insurance companies consider them among the highest-risk drivers. The best first cars for 17-year-olds are therefore models with the lowest insurance group ratings: cars such as the Hyundai i10, Kia Picanto, Volkswagen Polo and Volkswagen Up. Choosing one ensures the overall cost of motoring is not quite as eye-watering as it could be. A left-field option could also be the Citroen Ami, which can be driven from the age of 16.
Which car is best for first-time drivers?
First-time drivers will probably have passed their test in a manual car, but perhaps won’t have much confidence when they’re out on their own. Why not consider an automatic, then, so they have one less thing to worry about? From our group here, the Toyota Yaris comes with an automatic gearbox as standard, courtesy of its hybrid engine – which offers the happy bonus of also saving a new driver money on fuel. Other cars featured above are available in automatic guise, although not always with the most cost-effective engine to insure.
Which is the safest first car?
All of the new cars listed here come with a good amount of standard safety equipment, including electronic stability control to keep the car stable on slippery and icy roads. It is a real life-saver. The latest cars also come with an autonomous emergency braking system, which automatically slams the brakes on if the car detects a possible collision and the driver doesn't react. It’s worth checking out the Euro NCAP crash safety scores, which highlight the very safest cars of all. Currently, the Skoda Fabia, Toyota Yaris and Volkswagen Polo are the front-runners in the small car sector, with five-star ratings from Euro NCAP.