If you’re the parent of a son or daughter who’s about to learn to drive, chances are you have one question on your mind: 'what's the best car for a new driver?'
Your offspring will be focusing on looks, performance or the quality of the stereo. Parents, on the other hand, will probably value more practical considerations, such as how safe it is and how much it will cost buy, run and insure. Cue hours of family squabbles.
To help you out, we've produced a list of the five best new cars and five of the best used cars for a young driver. We have prioritised the more practical purchase considerations, although there’s still a healthy crop of stylish metal on the list.
For the new cars, we’ve opted for a maximum budget of £10,000, while for the used cars we've reduced it to £5000. All the cars achieve a minimum of four stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests, and are no higher than insurance group three (out of 50).
The best new cars for young drivers
1. Ford Fiesta
The entry-level Fiesta 1.25 60 Studio just sneaks within our £10k budget, at a cost of £9995. It scores a maximum of five stars for the Euro NCAP crash test and is in group three for insurance. It’s also one of our favorite small cars to drive, it’s cheap to run, and it looks stylish so it should appeal to style conscious tastes.
Ford often has a range of finance packages and special editions that could potentially boost the value aspect even further. Certain Fiesta models are also available with the MyKey system, which enables parents to limit certain functions for added safety (see below).
2. VW Up
You can get the 1.0 60 Move Up and opt for VW’s portable sat-nav for under £10k. It’s in insurance group one and will average over 60mpg. This surprisingly roomy city car achieves the full five stars from Euro NCAP. We love its solid build, funky looks and excellent dynamics, although the 59bhp engine struggles on the motorway. VW doesn't offer big discounts, but the Up makes up for this with impressive resale values.
3. Hyundai i10
The i10 might not be as stylish as the Up or Fiesta, but its roomy interior, comfortable ride and high equipment levels helped it pick up our 2014 Best City Car award. Average economy of 60mpg plus a group one insurance rating make it cheap to run, and it achieved four stars from Euro NCAP. Neither the driving experience nor the quality of its interior match the Up's, and the 1.0-litre engine struggles at higher speeds, but otherwise it’s a great little car.
The Corsa offers plenty of space and is comfortable and well finished inside. It’s not as good to drive as the Fiesta and the 1.0-litre engine that is available for our £10k budget isn’t great on the motorway. The Corsa’s group two classification means insurance is cheap and it gets a full five stars in the Euro NCAP tests. As well as cheap running costs, Vauxhall dealers often run running promotions, and there’ll be even greater bargains to be had because a new model is due next year.
5. Seat Mii
The Mii is cheaper than the virtually identical VW Up, with the S version starting at just over £8000. Upping the budget to £9995 will get you the i-Tech model, which comes with alloy wheels, sat-nav, plus Bluetooth as standard. It's also safe, having achieved five stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests, and it’s in the lowest group one insurance category. This, combined with excellent fuel economy, means it won’t cost the earth to run.
The best used cars for young drivers
1. Seat Ibiza (2008-)
The Ibiza has a stylish look, lots of standard equipment and a decent ride quality. Euro NCAP gave it the full five stars and the 1.2-litre engine is in insurance group three – although be aware that this engine struggles on faster roads. The only other negatives are poor access to the rear on three-door models and some cheap-looking interior plastics. Prices start from around £5000.
2. Citroen C1 (2005-2014)
The C1 is a great city car, and remains popular because of its funky styling and decent dynamics. Both the 1.0-litre petrol and 1.4-litre diesel will average over 60mpg, and have just enough power for motorway use. All models are insurance group three or below, and despite its tiny proportions it still achieved a four-star Euro NCAP rating. Not only is it cheap to run, it’s cheap to buy too, with prices starting from around £2300.
3. Vauxhall Corsa (2006-)
The Corsa majors on comfort, space and cheap running costs, and has a maximum Euro NCAP score of five stars. There are plenty of used examples to choose from; most 1.0-litre petrol models are group two insurance, but a couple of early examples even fit into the cheapest group one. There should be a Corsa for all budgets too, with prices starting from a little over £2000.
4. Volkswagen Fox (2005-2011)
In terms of dynamics and interior quality, the Fox is average rather than excellent. However, it has all the qualities that fit in with our theme, such as group one insurance for the 1.0-litre engine (even the 1.4-litre is group three), a four-star Euro NCAP rating and cheap running costs. It's also reliable – in 2013 it placed ninth and was the highest placed German car in our Reliability Survey. Decent cars with sensible mileages start at around £2000.
5. Toyota Yaris (2006-2011)
The Yaris is easy to drive. Its small proportions and high driving position making it simple to place on the road. Despite its size it remains practical, but its ride and handling are adequate, rather than outstanding. To take advantage of group two insurance you need to go for the 1.0-litre petrol engine, which is economical but does feel a little underpowered. The fact that it comes loaded with safety kit helps it achieve five stars from Euro NCAP. Used examples start from approximately £2250.
Wild Card – Dacia Sandero
While it’s basic and perhaps doesn't have the image of some of these cars, the 1.2-litre engine gives decent performance and economy, it’s in insurance group two and Euro NCAP awarded it four stars. The reason it’s our wildcard is that you can buy a brand new one with all the benefits that entails - such as a full manufacturer's warranty and no fears over past history - from a whisker over our used car budget at £5995.
Other factors to consider
Ford has launched a feature called MyKey on Fiesta models. The system provides a master key, which parents can use to restrict settings. These include the vehicle’s maximum speed, the stereo’s volume or its ability to be turned on at all if seatbelts aren’t worn, and removing the ability to disengage safety features such as traction control. Once the system is set, a ‘slave’ key will ensure the limits are adhered to and cannot be overridden.
The system isn’t an option on the Studio model listed above. However, we found a deal at Orangewheels.co.uk for a Fiesta Style, which has MyKey as standard, for less than our £10,000 budget.
Telematics is another system worth considering, especially if you are struggling with exorbitant insurance quotes. This option offers reduced insurance premiums if you have a ‘black box’ fitted to the car, that monitors how the car is being driven. The system then grades the quality of your driving on a scale of one to five, which insurance companies can use to set your premium.