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What's the best first car?

What's the best first car?


Buying your first car is an exciting time; motoring journalist, John Swift, takes a look at which cars make the best first car and the ways they can be financed.

It’s a big moment, when you hold that Driving Test Pass Certificate in your hand and can think about buying your first car and the independence that’ll come with it; however, it’s also a big time for your budget, so, here we look at some things you may not have considered but which can help you into a car you may not have thought financially possible.

5 things to think about when buying your first car:

  • Insurance - would a finance package like Peugeot Just Add Fuel work out cheaper
  • Engine size - insurers like first time drivers to have the smallest engine possible.
  • Driver assist features - newer cars with driver assist features can lower your insurance costs
  • Safety - EuroNCAP safety ratings and driver assist features can put parents mind's at rest
  • New v used - don't discount a new car, insurance is oftern lower and can balance out your budget

When choosing what to buy for a first car the obvious and overwhelming factor is the cost to buy and run…and assuming you’re a newly qualified driver, who’s not been driving long enough to have built up a no-claims bonus, then a major element of that cost will be the insurance.

With first time drivers looking at initial premiums of £1,500 or more any way of bringing that under control should be embraced which is why the PSA Group’s special three-in-one packages are so popular and make ownership of a brand new car so much more affordable.

Just Add Fuel and SimplyDrive fiance packages

The PSA Group covers Peugeot and Citroën and its multi award-winning packages (called Just Add Fuel for Peugeot, SimplyDrive for Citroën) bundle the finance on the car, road tax, servicing and – critically – the insurance into one monthly payment which is much easier to budget for.

Purple Peugeot 108 driving quicky from left to right

They’re incredibly cost-effective too. To take just one example, if you go with either scheme, a 19-year-old can drive away in a brand new Peugeot 108 or Citroen C1 for less than £300 a month over three years, based on a £2,000 deposit (perhaps the bank of Mum and Dad can help with this!) and the fitting of a telematics `black box’, which comes as part of the package for under-21s, so the insurer can monitor your driving.

To have the safety and reliability and all the connectivity/infotainment toys younger drivers want these days plus the asset value of a new car for £299 pcm looks like a very good deal when you could easily pay five times that amount just to insure a second hand car for a year let alone finance or service it.

Just Add Fuel and SimplyDrive have been named time and again by consumer and trade groups as one of the easiest, most affordable ways for younger drivers to get the benefit of a brand new car and this example underlines why.

Driver Assist features

Even if a particular manufacturer doesn’t have something like this, there are cars which are inherently cheaper to insure because the insurance industry rates them as being a lower risk and/or cheaper to repair than others.

One of these is the SEAT Mii, a characterful city car which shares a lot of its components with the VW Up! and Skoda Citigo. The Skoda is the cheapest of the trio to insure, but all have one crucial bit of safety technology, AEB, the automatic emergency braking system which slows the car down, without the driver’s intervention, if it senses the gap to the car in front is closing too fast for safety.

Graphic demonstration of automatic braking system

This driver assist feature dramatically reduces the chance of a silly car park bump or the very common accident where you set off from a roundabout, assuming the vehicle ahead in the queue has moved off, only to find it hasn’t and your front bumper gets familiar with its rear one. Insurers love AEB and reward cars fitted with it, hence the SEAT’s first-time-buyer-friendly premium costs.

Best used cars for first time drivers

Even with these cost benefits not everyone has the budget for a new car and there are some used cars which stand well ahead of their rivals as suitable for first time buyers.

One of these is the Volkswagen Polo or the versions from sibling brands, the Audi A1, SEAT Ibiza and Skoda Fabia all of which share the same basic chassis design. Taking the facelifted versions of the last generation model built between 2014 and 2017, before it was replaced by the current model, the Polo provides a roomy interior, nearly as big as a Golf, a lovely 1.0 litre petrol engines which are fine around town or 1.2 TSI options if you need more power and diesels if you want some amazing fuel economy.

Bright blue Volkswagen Polo parked on gravel outside old gatehouse

A Ford Fiesta may be a more entertaining drive on a twisty road, but the Polo feels solid and substantial, has big car driver aids and cockpit features and is one of the cars seen as the gold standard, a car which others are measured by in the used car sector. A key advantage of this is it enjoys glacially slow depreciation which translates into a considerable chunk of that element being removed from the purchase and finance costs.

Then there’s the Fiat 500. A perennial favourite on both the new and used market, this baby Fiat is the best of the retro-inspired city cars suitable for a first time buyer and in addition to its low cost you have all its charm and charisma. You can hear similar claims made for the MINI, but a newly qualified driver would be lucky indeed to have the budget for one of them.

Close up of a burgundy coloured Fiat 500 driving towards you down a country lane

The Fiat has been around for several years now and with plentiful supply lowering prices, a tidy one can be picked up from around £2,000. This in itself will catch the eye of our buyer but the 500 has another ace up its sleeve because it has the brilliant 875 cc TwinAir engine and the point here is that insurers love engines smaller than 1.0 litre and that will be reflected in the premium.

It's not quite as stylish, but the Fiat Panda is another among the cheapest cars to insure for a first timer.

The Nissan Micra, Hyundai i10, Toyota Aygo (similar to the Peugeot 108 and Citroen C1) and Suzuki Swift are all often named as good first-time buys, but you can’t help but be drawn by the advantages and cost of the two schemes from Peugeot and Citroën which could have been tailor made for people looking to enjoy having the keys to their own brand-new first car.