If you ask new drivers what they want from a first car, chances are that their priorities won't necessarily tally with the real world.
A good car for a young driver needs to be safe, economical and affordable. Typically, however, a young driver might want something with sprightly performance, looks good and lets them stream music from their smartphone to the stereo.
We have prioritised the more practical purchase considerations, although there’s still a healthy crop of stylish metal on the list.
We've worked on a budget of around £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).
1. Seat Ibiza (2008-)
The Ibiza is stylish, has lots of standard equipment and it rides comfortably. Euro NCAP gave it the full five stars and the 1.2-litre petrol engine puts it in insurance group three. That said, it can feel a little underpowered on motorways. The three-door versions look great, although access to the rear seats can be an issue. Check that there's the optional auxiliary plug in front of the gearlever for playing music through your phone, while air-con appears from SE trim level up. Prices start from around £3500, but the best cars cost from £4000.
2. Citroen C1 / Peugeot 107 / Toyota Aygo (2005-2014)
If plush isn't a priority, the city car cousins from Citroen, Peugeot and Toyota have plenty going for them. It is now 10 years since the range went on sale, but despite this the styling still looks very sharp. For the purposes of refinement, we prefer the 1.0-litre petrol to the rarer 1.4-litre diesels; both average more than 60mpg, so there is little economy advantage to be gained. All models are insurance group three or below, have a four-star Euro NCAP rating and an auxiliary port for playing back music. Look hard and you'll find air-con fitted to posher models. Early ones can be yours for less than £2k, but check for starting issues and a soggy boot (a sure sign of rain ingress).
3. Vauxhall Corsa (2006-2014)
The Corsa feels pretty grown up compared to many rival superminis. It's quite big for a small car and comfortable as a result. It's safe too, having the 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, with prices starting from a little over £3500. Watch out for the asthmatic performance from the smallest engines, sombre interiors and try to find a car that'll let you play music from your smartphone.
4. Volkswagen Fox (2005-2011)
Although not loved when new, because of a perceived dearth of dynamic and interior quality, history has judged the Fox rather more kindly. While undoubtedly less charming than the charismatic Lupo, it ages well, has group one insurance for the 1.0-litre engine (even the 1.4-litre is group three), a four-star Euro NCAP rating and is cheap to run. It's also reliable – in 2013 it placed ninth and was the highest placed German car in our reliability survey. The biggest downside is that it's not that cheap to buy, although only the best creep over the £4000 mark.
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 and the vast majority of those on the market are cherished, low-mileage examples. They are very reliable, too.
6. Fiat Panda (2004-2011)
The Fiat Panda is a little slice of Italian pragmatism which is so 'no-nonsense' as to be oddly stylish. Shop for 1.1 or 1.2-litre models and the majority are in the lowest insurance groups. Diesel models are still in group three, but they are dearer to buy and more likely to give mechanical problems. In the right colour, all Pandas look good and are actually quite good fun to drive. Active-trimmed models are very spartan, not even having a CD player. Go for Dynamic models or better and you won't go far wrong. Cars can be found for very little money but a good, dealer-supplied car will cost from around £3500. At the top of the budget, you'll find the first new model cars from 2011 onward.
See all the cars for sale from the What Car? classifieds in conjunction with Trusted Dealers here