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10 great first cars

Few purchases are as exciting as your first car, which provides a ticket to independence like you’ve never enjoyed before. Last year we published a guide on the key things to consider when buying your first car – once you’ve read and digested that, these are the models that should be on your shortlist.

Citroen C1/Peugeot 108/Toyota Aygo
Launched in 2014, this trio of cars replaced a similar set introduced in 2005 by the same three car makers. The focus of these cars is economy, which means frugal engines and cheap insurance and little in the way of luxury on the cheaper editions. As small cars with small engines you can’t expect much in the way of performance or practicality either, but that doesn’t mean the cars aren’t fun to drive. There’s a choice of 1.0 or 1.2-litre petrol engines; it’s worth opting for the bigger unit if you can.
Fiat 500
Launched almost a decade ago (in 2008), the Fiat 500 still cuts a dash with its retro styling. It’s worn well too thanks to regular updates to keep it fresh. You can choose between a regular hatch and a cabriolet that’s effectively a 500 with a tiny boot and a big sliding cloth sunroof. Neither the hatch nor the cabrio offers much cabin space, but the funky design inside and out makes up for it – get one of these for your first car and all of your mates will be jealous.
Ford Fiesta
An all-new Ford Fiesta is about to hit showrooms but the outgoing model still looks fresh and it’s still the best car in its class to drive. As the UK’s best-selling car pretty much continuously since it arrived in 1976 (the eighth-generation edition is about to hit UK roads), you’re spoiled for choice when buying thanks to a massive model range and vast numbers on the used market to choose from. Avoid the entry-level Studio and Edge models and you’ll get decent equipment levels too.
Kia Picanto
We’re now on the third-generation Kia Picanto, with an all-new car launched earlier this year. Just like its predecessors the latest Picanto looks sharp and offers excellent value, plus it offers a big-car feel and is good to drive. Thanks to a class-leading seven-year warranty the Picanto offers peace of mind along with low running costs; when it comes to reliability, few cars are more dependable than a Kia. There are 1.0 or 1.2-litre petrol engines, with the bigger unit offering a useful boost in performance.
Another car that’s now in its third incarnation, this baby BMW has taken the supermini segment by storm thanks to its cute looks and upmarket image – although the latter means you pay a premium to buy one. The latest model (launched in 2014) is a great all-rounder, whereas its predecessors offered limited practicality thanks to a tiny boot and cramped rear seats. Massive sales volumes means there are loads to choose from on the used market, or if buying new the opportunities to personalise are endless.
Peugeot 208
Peugeot’s Just Add Fuel scheme allows drivers aged over 18 to pay a monthly fee and everything is taken care of, including insurance for up to three drivers. Also available on the 108, the cost covers servicing, breakdown cover and car tax – but young drivers must have a black box fitted. Even without this enticement the 208 is a great car with its efficient engines, ample equipment and roomy cabin. It’s safe and stands out from the crowd too – which is why it’s one of our favourite small cars.
Renault Clio
The original Renault Clio reached showrooms 25 years ago, in 1992. Since then the small Renault has made a big impact in the supermini segment with its distinctive design and strong value – it’s also fun to drive. The current Clio is the fourth-generation model and it’s by far the best yet. While previous ones could be fragile and weren’t all that spacious, the Clio that arrived in 2013 is a quality product that’s also got a wonderfully roomy cabin.
SEAT Mii/Skoda Citigo/Volkswagen Up
When this trio of city cars arrived in 2012 they shook up the city car market, raising the bar significantly with their refinement, excellent build quality and keen prices. While entry-level models aren’t very well equipped, if you buy further up the range you’ll get all of the goodies you need to make every drive enjoyable. There’s just one engine available (a 1.0-litre petrol unit) but it comes in 60bhp or 75bhp forms.
Seat Ibiza
The Ibiza was the focus of Seat’s range when the brand arrived in the UK in 1985; a fifth-generation all-new model will reach showrooms imminently. From the outset the Ibiza has offered sharp design at affordable prices and thanks to Seat being part of the Volkswagen Group you also get efficient engines, decent build quality and a reasonable level of standard kit. Choose between three- and five-door hatchbacks with the former looking especially eye-catching.
Vauxhall Corsa
It’s a driving school favourite and one of the most popular cars with new drivers thanks to its affordability – especially when buying used. It’s easy to see why the Vauxhall Corsa is so popular as it’s easy to drive, there’s a huge model range and it’s one of the most practical small cars available. A spacious cabin and decent boot are complemented by smart design inside and out. Avoid entry-level models and equipment levels are generous.
Volkswagen Polo
Despite its premium reputation the VW Polo needn’t be costly to buy if you stick with the models that sit low in the range. You get less equipment for your money, but you do get a car that’s well built and very strong, so it’s safe too. The Polo also comes with some perky engines that are also very efficient. With an all-new Polo set to reach showrooms in January 2018, values of the outgoing model will soften a little – but bargains tend to be few and far between.
Richard Dredge