The best first cars for new drivers 2022

  • Parkers rounds up the best new cars for new drivers
  • Cheap to buy, cheap to run, yet still cheerful
  • Cars to suit broad range of lifestyles

Whether you pass in your teens, or take lessons at a later date, learning to drive is one of life’s rites of passage. Once you’ve passed your test, your focus turns to buying your first car. Budgeting for such an occasion isn’t an easy task though. First there’s the outright purchase, or monthly commitment. Then there’s all the extras like insurance, tax and nowadays, connectivity subscription. 

Some of us are privileged enough to be gifted a little runaround—sucking up the lack of technology and fancy features for a veritable freebie of a jaunty jalopy. Other new drivers out there, however, may have scraped together the smallest budget for their first motor and are looking for the holy trinity of affordability, style and higher-than-basic spec newness.

Fortunately, car makers are savvy to the needs of a new driver in today’s modern world. There’s no longer a need to compromise on aesthetic appeal, in favour of safety equipment because brands are creating stylish superminis and saucy city cars that offer a brilliant combination of attractive design, cool equipment and low running costs.

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With all our driving experience, here at Parkers, we very much advocate new drivers investing in a cheaper used car initially; one that can be knocked and chipped without any heart-stopping financial repercussions for the first few years. The greatest financial implication to driving is insurance. Needless to say, a slow tin can is much cheaper to insure than a fancy new car, especially if it’s hybrid or electric. Sadly, saving the planet comes at a cost. 

It is actually an act of fraud to put a new driver as a named driver on another person’s policy, if the primary policyholder doesn’t actually drive the vehicle in question, or drives it less than the named driver—parents, we’re looking at you. It’s called ‘fronting’ and aside from the illegal bit, it doesn’t really help a newly qualified motorist build up ‘No Claims Discount’ for the future. 

What’s more, there’s a much broader range of insurance policies aimed at younger and inexperienced drivers these days. By using telematics black boxes, which monitor speed and driver behaviour, new motorists can get into some good habits that will help keep the running costs of their commuting reasonable.

So what models are recommended as first cars for new drivers? Taking all of the above points into account, we’ve put together this helpful list to help you navigate your new purchase.

Top 10 first cars for new drivers 2022

1. Renault Clio
2. Volkswagen Up
3. Kia Picanto
4. Ford Fiesta
5. Fiat 500
6. Vauxhall Corsa
7. Skoda Fabia
8. Hyundai i10
9. Nissan Micra
10. Volkswagen T-Cross

1. Renault Clio 

The Parkers award-winning first car

Parkers Best first car of the year 2022

Once again, for the third consecutive time, the Clio is Parkers’ ‘Best First Car’. Frankly, it’s the best small car you can buy at the moment. From its fresh, youthful looks, to the great price and fun driving style, the Clio has it all. Basic models are in reassuringly low insurance groups, and every model comes with loads of safety equipment. Mid-spec trim levels have all the tech you’d want, while top-end cars get some really premium stuff like digital dials, a 9.3-inch portrait infotainment touchscreen, and wireless charging.

Offering brilliant value on finance and significantly cheaper than most of the competition to buy outright, it’s no wonder the Clio holds such popularity.

Price new: From £18,590
Price used:
From £9,400
Lease this car:
 From £245 per month
Search for a used Renault Clio on Parkers here

2. Volkswagen Up 

Small but mighty, and great to drive

VW Up

City cars are really excellent little vehicles. Though there’s not many to choose from, the Up is one of the best of the bunch. Roomy with enough space for four full-grown people, and as it’s available with five doors. It even has a reasonably-sized boot, at 251 litres in capacity.

It may only have 60hp on offer from its 1.0-litre, three-cylinder engine, but the Up is a fun ride, striking a great balance between comfort and cornering performance. For safety, there’s lane-keep assist and cruise control will help you eke fuel economy out to around 60mpg, unless you consistently razz around.

Price new: From £12,705
Price used:
From £2,080
Lease this car:
 From £219 per month
Search for a used Volkswagen Up on Parkers here

3. Kia Picanto 

Stylish, safe and appealing, with a seven-year warranty

2020 Kia Picanto

More conventional than the Up, the Kia Picanto has a sporty exterior style coupled with a sensible interior. The cabin feels very ‘premium’ for such a small car, no doubt helped with high-end optional extras, like heated seats, and the big infotainment touchscreen featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.

With a choice of a peppy 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine or a punchy 1.2-litre four-cylinder, we’d opt for the 1.0-litre as it’s in insurance group 4 rather than 8 and is enough for urban street and longer haul motorway excursions. It offers a great blend of practicality and dependability, plus the peace of mind that comes with Kia’s impressive seven-year warranty.

Price new: From £11,450
Price used:
From £5,165
Lease this car
: From per month
Search for a used Kia Picanto on Parkers here

4. Ford Fiesta 

Ever the best small car to drive

2020 Ford Fiesta

A UK bestseller for many years now, the Ford Fiesta has a timelessness that others on this list will never match. Ford’s supermini formula works incredibly well, meaning an inexperienced driver can feel right at home behind the wheel in a matter of moments.

All models come with all impressive standard equipment, such as air-con, remote central locking, and Ford’s highly intuitive SYNC 3 infotainment suite. Drive-wise, the characterful 1.1-litre Ti-VCT is efficient and insurance group-4 friendly, offering brilliantly low running costs.

Price new: From £17,070
Price used:
From £6,780
Lease this car
: From £356 per month
Search for a used Ford Fiesta on Parkers here

5. Fiat 500 

Popular for a reason – it’s adorable and cheap to run

Fiat 500

It’s easy to understand the 500’s popularity among young buyers. It’s cute and dinky, with pastiche styling that’s beautifully balanced. The 500 may be common, but not in such a way to affect its desirability. A natty interior, personalisation with fancy options does, of course, come at a price. Nonetheless, basic 500s have sufficient spec to work well with smaller budgets.

The basic 1.2-litre engine is the engine we’d recommend, blending strong efficiency with more than enough power for a city car. It also falls into Group 5 insurance, which keeps costs lower.

Price new: From £13,020
Price used: From £1,015
Lease this car: 
From £266 per month
Search for a used Fiat 500 on Parkers here

6. Vauxhall Corsa

French flair adds ‘je ne sais quoi’ styling to popular supermini

Vauxhall Corsa

Though Vauxhall isn’t technically British in production or ownership, the Corsa always sells very well on the shores of Blighty. Since Vauxhall was acquired by Peugeot/Citroen, the Corsa has shared its underpinnings with the 208 and C3 respectively and a makeover from the French has given the Corsa more style than ever before.

With 11 trim levels (yes, 11!) there’s plenty of choice for a range of budgets. Engine-wise, the 100hp blasts about finding a great balance between fuel economy and fun, though there’s a 75hp available if the insurance is getting a bit too steep. In the cabin, it’s a more upmarket feel than the two continental siblings and much simpler, which we love.

Price new: From £17,380
Price used: From £10,320
Lease this car: From £186 per month
Find a used Vauxhall Corsa on Parkers listings

7. Skoda Fabia 

Sees off sibling rivalry with poppin’ range-toppin’ petrol-powered 1.5-litre punch

All-new Skoda Fabia

Sharing its architecture with the Volkswagen Polo and Seat Ibiza, the Skoda Fabia has a maturity that other superminis lack. Sure, the Skoda brand hasn’t the serious street-cred abundant in the Fiat 500 but practicality and reliability count for something in the small car market.

Space does too and the new-generation Fabia sports larger dimensions and a fancier new connected cabin to truly take on rivals. The 95hp engine is eager enough to ensure decent performance and low running costs, though there’s a punchier 1.5-litre (150hp) petrol-powered range topper if you like a faster drive.

Price new: From £15,305
Price used:
From £11,750
Lease this car: 
From £242 per month
Find a used Skoda Fabia for sale on Parkers here

8. Hyundai i10 

Good grown-up fun where small doesn’t mean cramped

Hyundai i10

What’s not to like about the Hyundai i10? The i10 seats four comfortably in an amazingly small footprint and retains one of the largest boots of any city car, making it ideal if you’re the first of your friends to get a driving licence.

A well-designed, well-built interior provides an acceptable compromise with the engine. The basic 67hp 1.0-litre engine isn’t a pocket rocket but it’s more than enough for everyday use. Though the i10 boasts low running costs and a long warranty, the higher purchase price might put off a few, unless you can wheel and deal.

Price new: From £13,420
Price used:
From £8,155
Lease this car: 
From £189 per month
Find a used Hyundai i10 for sale on Parkers here

9. Nissan Micra 

A great interior and stylish body

Nissan Micra

Look carefully and you’ll notice that the Micra is big, it’s handsome, it’s safe, and it’s in insurance group 1.

Ok, so yes, the retirement-home reputation isn’t an easy one to shake but, consider the Corsa shares a lot of its technology, including its engines, with the Renault Clio. Sure, the 71hp 1.0-litre needed for that low insurance group isn’t going to set you on fire, it’s sufficient for a first car. Top-spec versions get especially generous tech, including Bose audio, while still being insurance group 1 insurance. Definitely enough to make us look again.

Price new: From £16,670
Price used:
From £5,820
Lease this car: 
From £227 per month
Find a used Nissan Micra for sale on Parkers here

10. Volkswagen T-Cross 

Appealing small SUV is great for young families

Volkswagen T-Cross

Young people with kids will benefit from considering a small SUV like the T-Cross. Its height makes it easier to get a child’s seat in and out of. Coupled with a clever boot, sporting a variable floor height, newly qualified parents will embrace anything that makes life a fraction of a second less complicated.

Though the initial purchase price may set you back a wedge, insurer Admiral reckons it’s among the cheapest cars in the UK to insure for young people. The engine choices are peppy and while it won’t be doing any off-roading (the 4×4 appearance is merely for show), the elevated ride height will really appeal.

Price new: From £21,430
Price used:
From £14,150
Lease this car: 
From £275 per month
Find a used Volkswagen T-Cross for sale on Parkers here

Further reading:

>> Best small automatic cars

>> Best cheap electric cars

>> The best leasing deals for young drivers