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Best first cars for new drivers 2022

Last updated: 22/04/2022 | Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

You’ve just passed your driving test and received your licence. You’ve probably been practising on a car belonging to a family member or friend, so now it’s time to buy wheels of your own. 

It's the stuff of American teen movies, stories for your grandkids, and internet passwords. But buying your first car can also be overwhelming. Petrol, diesel, or electric? New or used? City car, hatchback, or crossover? You have a lot of decisions to make.

Consider this article a cheat code: a list of cars that are sure bets for almost any newly minted driver. But first, we’ll run down what you should prioritise when you search for a ride.

In This Guide:

What to look for in a car for a new driver

  • Low cost: As a new driver, you’re unlikely to have a lot of cash to splash around. The best vehicles for novices come in at between £10,000 and £20,000 new, and even cheaper used. Remember to also consider running costs, road tax, and, if you’re buying a used model, MOT.
  • Cheap insurance premiums: Inexpensive, small, lightweight vehicles are cheaper to insure, knocking money off the notoriously steep premiums new drivers face. Cars are each placed in an insurance group from 1 to 50, with those at the lower end of the scale earning the cheapest car insurance premiums.
  • Good safety ratings: According to Brake, one in five new drivers will be involved in a collision within their first year of driving. So, safety for you and your passengers should be a priority. All cars sold in the UK have Euro NCAP ratings: look for models given four or five stars.
  • Easy to drive: You’ve aced your practical test but you’re not quite ready to tackle Silverstone. Amateur drivers will want a car with responsive steering, smooth acceleration, decent grip on the road, good visibility, and easily accessible controls.
  • Environmental impact: Many young people are concerned about the climate crisis and want to limit their impact on the planet with a low-emissions vehicle. You’ll also get relief on road tax for driving a cleaner car. 

Vauxhall Corsa

The Corsa was Britain’s best-selling car in 2021, chosen by everyone from commuters to the school run set to new drivers. This crowd-pleaser strikes a good balance between fuel economy and engine pep, interior comfort and sporty looks. With eleven trims, you can customise to your heart’s content. And with so many on the road, you can nab a used Corsa at a bargain.

  • Pricefrom £15,485 new, from £9,775 used
  • Safety: 4-star Euro NCAP rating
  • Fuel economy: 45.6 - 54.4 mpg (petrol), 62.8 - 70.6 mpg (diesel)
  • Emissions: 125g/km (petrol), 109g/km (diesel)
  • Insurance group: 10 -23

Ford Fiesta

It’s little wonder this supermini is ubiquitous in garages and car parks. The Fiesta is reasonably priced and super safe (check out that five-star Euro NCAP rating). It checks all the practical boxes but also manages to be nimble and fun to drive—just like its name promises. It also has more high-tech swag than its price tag would suggest, employed for entertainment (infotainment centre operating through a touch screen) and safety (adaptive cruise control and autonomous braking).

  • Price: from £17,560 new, from £6,000 used
  • Safety: 5-star Euro NCAP rating
  • Fuel economy: 40.4 - 57.6 mpg (petrol), 54.3 - 65.7 mpg (diesel)
  • Emissions: 112-128g/km
  • Insurance group: 2 - 30

Volkswagen up!

City cars are a great bet for novice drivers, perfect for zipping around town and easy on your wallet. More than a decade after its launch, the Volkswagen up! remains the best in this class. The up! is versatile, designed for urban hopping but not overwhelmed on the motorway, and comfortable both to drive and to ride in. It offers a smartphone sat-nav system that will appeal to young buyers and practicalities like great mileage. 

The most recent models of the up! only boost a 3-star Euro NCAP safety rating but if you can bag a pre-2019 model you’ll benefit from autonomous braking and a 5-star rating that will reassure your parents. Those used models can run as cheap as £2,000.

  • Price: from £12,675 new, from £2,000
  • Safety: 3-star Euro NCAP, 5-star before 2019
  • Fuel economy: 48.7 - 55.4 mpg
  • Emissions: 117-128g/km
  • Insurance group: 1 - 17

Kia Picanto

The Picanto certainly looks groovy, but it’s also surprisingly sensible, with ultra-low running costs from a good fuel mileage and a deceptive amount of space for both passengers and luggage. Tech-hungry young drivers won’t feel cheated: the Picanto offers USB plugs as standard, while higher trims offer a touchscreen infotainment centre.

The Picanto’s engines aren’t the most powerful but that contributes to the city car’s low insurance group ranking and cheap insurance premiums. You’ll also benefit from Kia’s signature seven-year or 100,000-mile warranty.

  • Price: from £10,590 new, from £5,000 used
  • Safety: 3-star Euro NCAP
  • Fuel economy: 42.2 - 60.1 mpg
  • Emissions: 121g/km
  • Insurance group: 1 - 11

SEAT Mii Electric

Electric vehicles have traditionally been outside of the price range of most new drivers. But with pressure mounting on the UK to slash emissions, and petrol and diesel prices at record highs, an EV might just be the smartest choice. 

Luckily, car manufacturers are now accommodating eco-conscious drivers with thinner wallets, launching entry-level vehicles like SEAT’s Mii Electric. It’s a zippy, no-frills city car, surprisingly comfortable inside.

If the Mii Electric looks familiar, that’s because it’s essentially just the Volkswagen up! with a few detailing differences. You’ll pay more for the Mii Electric than the up!, but the Mii Electric qualifies for the government’s Plug-in Car Grant, now worth £1,500. You’ll also benefit from low running costs, especially if you can charge at home, and won’t have to pay road tax.

  • Price: £22,800 (£21,300 with the plug-in car grant)
  • Safety: 3-star Euro NCAP rating
  • Fuel economy: 4.8 miles/kWh
  • Range: 155-161 miles
  • Emissions: 0 g/km
  • Insurance group: 12

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