Buying a ‘First Car’ is an exciting purchase, but finding something in your budget can be hard. We’ve enlisted the help of experts at Thatcham Research to find some fantastic first cars, that won’t break the bank. Whether you’re after a car that looks good, is easy to park or just cheap to run, there will be something here to suit you.
For those on a tight budget
1.3 VVT (3+5 Door)
Extra Urban: 57.60MPGCombined: 52.30MPG
|CO2 Emissions||Banc C (127g/km)Road Tax: £115.00|
The tiny engine is so fuel efficient you may well forget which side of the pump to park. The Yaris might not be the flashiest car on our list, but the inside is comfortable and spacious. This thrifty little car will get you where you need to go without any fuss. The three-door option will make you choose between carrying equipment and passengers but the Yaris is cheap, safe and sensible. If your parents are buying you a car, don’t be surprised if they come back with one of these.
Buying Tip - If you’re looking to get running costs even lower, keep your eye out for a second-generation (XP90) Yaris (2005-2011). This newer version might be slightly more expensive but it’s even more economical and potentially cheaper to insure.
Expert Opinion - From the year 2000 the Yaris impressed with its all-round safety performance and though it lacked side airbags it does have two front airbags and pre-tensioning seat safety belts with load limiters to reduce injuries to the occupant’s chests.
For the safety conscious
1.9 TDI Diesel
Extra Urban: 58.90MPGCombined: 48.70MPG
|CO2 Emissions||Band C (132g/km)Road Tax: £115.00|
The VW Golf is a reliable hatchback with back seats big enough for adults and space in the boot for their bags. The Golf has scored 5 stars on the Euro NCAP safety assessment since 2004, putting them way ahead of the competition. The Golf is not the most exciting car on our list, but it’s safe and reliable. The higher bigger engine and sports packages give you the opportunity to turn your nose up slightly at the standard VW Polo drivers.
Buying Tip - Volkswagen recommend changing the cambelt (timing belt) after 4-5 years. This is much lower than other manufacturers. If you’re buying a car that is around this age or has covered 30,000-40,000 miles, check whether this has been changed. You could be saving yourself about £400.
Expert Opinion - Parents may wish to know that the 1998 Golf was one of the first models with ISOFIX type child restraints and pre-tensioning safety belts, and the 2004 model added side curtain airbags to the safety features so both were considered safe by the standards of the day. The 2004 version also featured Electronic Stability across the range as standard, a feature we all expect on cars today.
For the budding executive
Extra Urban: 49.60MPGCombined: 38.70MPG
|CO2 Emissions||Band E (175.00g/km)Road Tax: £165.00|
Compared to the rest of our list, a 3-Series is very expensive to run and insure, but you have the cabin space of a saloon. Even the older models are incredibly reliable but beware of the maintenance costs. BMW parts are more expensive than most and you may need to go to a BMW specialist for repairs. The 3-Series was never designed to be a first car, but if you can handle the costs, a 3-series is a classic, executive car, that can keep running for years to come.
Buying Tip - Check the service history carefully. If the car has been regularly serviced at a BMW garage you can be more confident that it will have less issues in the future. A full BMW service history will also increase the resale value should the running costs become too great.
Expert Opinion - Safety levels in early models were not good, with later models improving significantly. Despite this the ‘compact’ model largely helped BMW become so popular, with the E46 model being the star performer. The E90 (2005) models saw ultra-high strength steels used for the occupant cell, reinforcing the structure to protect passengers in a side impact.
For those who have trouble parking
MINI Hatchback One
MINI One Hatchback (Automatic)
Extra Urban: 54.30MPGCombined: 42.20MPG
|CO2 Emissions||Band D (161.00g/km)Road Tax: £140.00|
The MINI was re-launched by BMW in 2000 as a mid-range car that would retain the fun of the 1960s style icon, but with the benefits of BMW build quality and a more modern focus on safety. The length of the MINI and it’s go-kart like handling, make it easy to squeeze into even the smallest space. Combine this with the Urban and Extra Urban fuel efficiency and the Mini is great for the city. These compact, fun cars will put a smile on your face.
Buying Tip - The MINI Hatch can work well as a first car, but be aware of the higher spec engines and interiors. Even a few minor improvements can drive your insurance premiums up.
Expert Opinion - the MINI features front airbags, door impact beams, and seat safety belts with pretensioners and load limiters to protect the front occupants. A range of engines from 90 – 218hp and 9 body colours should ensure there is a model for everyone. The body itself includes the use of some advanced steels for the time to help protect you in a crash.
For those who want to blend in
Extra Urban: 56.50MPGCombined: 45.60MPG
|C02 Emissions||Band C (147g/km)Road Tax: £115.00|
You can’t really call the Fiesta just one car. There’s a huge choice of models with different engines and interiors in three or five door options with more or less space in the cabin or boot. You can almost guarantee there is a combination for you. Their wide appeal over the years means there are now a huge number of second hand Fiestas for sale and thousands of Ford dealers so servicing should be cheap and simple.
Buying Tip - Being fun-to-drive has led to many larger engine Fiestas being abused and neglected by first car owners. Make sure you ask for a service history and take the car for a full test drive.
Expert Opinion - The Fiesta has evolved with greater safety on each generation as can be seen above, with optimised reinforcement to cope with heavier and offset impacts, additional airbags and anti-lock braking being added over the years. 2006 saw the significant addition of Electronic Stability Program, and 2008 saw another big step forward with knee airbags, optional curtain airbags, and external features to protect pedestrians and other vulnerable road users.
Hopefully there’s a car here for you. For advice on what to look out for, read our article on buying a second hand car. Also check out our car insurance advice, so no matter whether you’re a parent or driver, you can celebrate your automotive independence with confidence.