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Best First Cars in 2023

Best First Cars in 2023

Congratulations on passing your driving test! In an ideal world, you’d be jumping into a brand-new supermini with CarPlay, Hybrid technology and more. But for most of us, that’s just not realistic, luckily there are still some reasonably priced, reliable and safe second-hand cars for sale in the UK.

Everyone remembers their first car, usually not for the luxury, comfort or performance, but for the freedom and excitement that comes when first starting to drive. Two things everyone needs in a first car, though, are safety and reliability. In this article, we’ll do a run-down of the best first cars for new drivers in the UK, in 2023.

What to look for in a first car

When car shopping, it’s good to establish first and foremost your basic needs. Have a big dog? You’ll need a big boot. Regularly need to transport more than one other person? A 5-door car would be much more convenient than a 3-door.

Safety Features

Buying used cars is a little more tricky than buying new ones, but it’s still worth checking out what safety features any prospective vehicle has before you buy. Most cars newer than 2010 will have at least 4 airbags, ABS and traction control. Older or very basic cars may not have these features.

Check the car's NCAP rating on EuroNCAP.com, making sure to select the correct model year. Whilst the NCAP ratings are adjusted every year, so new cars cannot be compared to older ones, if all the potential cars are of roughly the same age, this will help make a comparison.

Insurance

Car insurance for new drivers can be crippling, with the average cost paid by a 17-year-old over £1,000, it's important to check what cars are most economical to insure.  

We recommend using a comparison site such as Go Compare or Confused.com to check what various car makes and models cost.  

Reliability

Regardless of the length of your driving career, a reliable car is better than an unreliable one. When you’ve found a car you like the look of, check for common faults and reliability issues online. e suggest checking out forums such as Honest John and the reliability index.

Running costs

With petrol prices as high as they are, selecting a car that’s cheap to run is always a smart move, use a site such as AutoTrader to compare:

Fuel economy

VED rates (road tax)

Depreciation

13 Best first cars for 2023

So what are the best first cars available now? Below we’ve split the options up into different categories, so there’s some for each budget.

Best first cars under £2,000

1. Mazda 2

At the time of writing, there are 32Mazda2s on Autotrader for under £2,000, some with less than 80,000 miles, and a few in the amazing vivid green colour Mazda featured on most of their cars in the 2008 to 2011 era.

We’d opt for the 1.3 petrol engine, it’s a reliable chain-driven engine that should easily achieve 40 mpg whilst still giving just enough ‘pep’ to be interesting.

2. Suzuki Swift

Suzuki has always made great small petrol engines, and the Swift sold in enormous numbers, the modern equivalent is one of the most popular superminis on sale today. The 2005-2010 generation gives a reasonably comfortable driving experience along with bulletproof reliability.

If you can afford the insurance, we’d suggest the 1.5L over the 1.3L, as the latter was known for having a slightly weak gearbox that could eventually need replacing. It’d definitely not be a reason to not buy one though, but make sure to check first, second and third gear.

3. Ford Fiesta

The Ford Fiesta has been a hit since its first launch in 1976 and remains the single most popular car on UK roads, it has grown slightly into the ‘small-compact’ sector but is still a perfect car for first-time drivers.

The car you can buy now, for £2,000 with be either the Mark 5 (2002 - 2008) or Mark 6 (2008 to 2016) with less than 100,000 miles. The 1.25L engine is well known for reliability and is ideal if you’re looking to get insurance premiums down. For a bit more power the 1.4 petrol is a better balance between economy and frugality.  

Best first cars under £5,000

4. Toyota Aygo - 2nd generation

An Aygo could probably be put into the previous, under £2,000 category too, but £5,000 will get you a car made in 2015 or newer, with less than 100,000 miles. This is very similar to the current generation of Aygo so it still looks modern and fresh.

It’s available in a 1.0 petrol or very rarely a 1.4 Diesel, we’d opt for the former. The engine used is a Toyota unit that is reliable, fun to rev and economical, stick to the basic servicing and you should have little trouble.

5. Citroen C1

Arguably the same car as the Aygo, the C1 (and Peugeot 107) share the same underpinnings but with different body panels and badges. Typically though, for the same money, you can get more features and fewer miles with the C1.

Be sure to check the service booklet though, as different manufacturers specify different service intervals, Toyota usually recommends every year, whereas Citroen every two - something to be aware of.

6. Toyota iQ

If you live in a city where parking is difficult, and you don’t need much space for people or luggage, the iQ is an excellent car, with loads of tech and clever packaging they can offer a lot in a small package.

Only one engine option is available, the 1.0 petrol, most commonly seen with the manual 5-speed gearbox. £5,000 can get a nice example from around 2013 with less than 80,000 miles on the clock.  

Good first cars for long-distance driving

If you have a longer commute, a supermini can become tiresome, and it may pay to get something with a little more power, refinement and soundproofing.

7. Volkswagen Golf

If you need a little more refinement and motorway cruising potential, then a VW Golf is a perfect choice. The 1.6 or 2.0 diesel engines are reliable and economical. They’re not necessarily sporty either so you may be pleasantly surprised when getting insurance quotes.

For £5,000 you can bag a 2014 - 2015 Mk7 version, that has only just been replaced by a newer model, so they still look quite modern.  

Volkswagen isn’t overly forthcoming with included extras so look out for ones with cruise control, climate control and all-round electric windows to make things a little more refined.

8. Volvo V40

Known for their comfort and safety, Volvos may not seem like the obvious choice for new drivers, but due to their large range of engines and low insurance bands, they can be an option.

The V40 is their medium-sized hatchback offering great passenger comfort as well as moderately compact packaging, meaning they’re easy to park. New drivers would be best off staying away from the larger 2.0 and 2.5-engined cars instead of the 1.6 petrol or diesel versions.  

Good examples can be found for under £4,500 with less than 90,000 miles. The level of tech is usually reasonable but not extensive, but their renowned safety features are all included.  

Best cars for luggage space and pets

If you’re looking for a good-size family car,, these cars offer more luggage, people and pet space whilst still being a great buy and reasonable to insure.

9. Mazda 3

Based on the Ford Focus platform the Mazda3 is a much larger vehicle than those previously suggested, the 5-door version would be perfect for a new driver that has to move children or other family members frequently.

Mazda has a great reputation for petrol engines but the diesels have been known to have some issues, so we’d recommend the 1.6 Tamura specification, which is a good all-round package of economy and power.

10. Dacia Logan MCV

Dacia entered the scene in the UK in 2013, and have since become a mainstay for producing  reasonably priced, practical vehicles. The Logan MCV is an estate car that boasts an impressive 573 litres of storage space.

There is a selection of petrol and diesel engine/gearbox combinations, with the 1-litre petrol being the best-reviewed we’d suggest that, alongside a trusty manual gearbox.  

Best automatic first cars

In the last decade (‘12 to ‘22) the number of people passing with an Auto-only licence in the UK has doubled from 550,000 to 1.1 million. So if you’re one of them, the next section is for you.  

Years ago, automatics were traditionally only found attached to larger engines, this was usually because these gearboxes were sluggish, inefficient and usually only had 3 or 4 gears, necessitating a powerful engine. Modern autos are much better.

11. Skoda Fabia

Since Skoda joined the Volkswagen group, they have been producing some great quality cars at very reasonable price points. The Fabia, based on the VW Polo, is a compact hatchback that will seat 4 adults.

Offered with a variety of engines, we’d recommend either the 1.4 TSI petrol or the 1.4 TDi Diesel. Both can be found with a great automatic gearbox. A 2015 model will set you back around £8,000 with reasonable miles.  

12. Kia Picanto

Kia’s supermini is a great option for new drivers, mainly due to its small stature and low insurance group, but it’s even better if you need an Automatic first car, as the auto gearbox supplied has received great feedback.

Usually in cars of this size, a semi-automated gearbox is found, these are more fragile and prone to breakdowns than a traditional automatic gearbox, but the Picanto has the better of the two paired to its sprightly 1.25L engine.  

For around £6,000 you can be driving a 2015 model, with electric windows, climate control and that all-important automatic gearbox. With Kia’s great included service plans from now you have some peace of mind it’s been looked after too.

13. Honda Jazz

If reliability is your main concern, a Honda has to be considered, the 1.4 engine featured in the Automatic Jazz is excellent, it's a timing chain-driven engine with no cambelts to replace, and can get upwards of 40 mpg on a journey.  

For around £6,500 you can get a well-specced, tidy Honda Jazz from circa 2014. This will have the CVT gearbox which can take some getting used to if you’ve driven a conventional automatic, but is very dependable and offers a more refined experience for you and your passengers.

The Jazz has some very clever packaging methods such as folding seats and storage spaces up-front, and is more than capable of transporting 4 adults whilst being reasonably compact.

Repairs and servicing

Regular service and maintenance are important for keeping your car safe. They can also save you money in the long run, which is particularly important when you’ve just bought your first car.

Split the cost of repairs and servicing into interest-free monthly payments at 1,000s of reliable repairers nationwide.

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