Buying your first car is a memorable experience, especially as a young driver. After all, owning a vehicle gives teen drivers a great deal of freedom.
It’s very likely that your first vehicle will shape your relationship with driving for the rest of your life. Therefore, we’ve prepared a list of 10 good first cars and included some tips on what you should be looking at when exploring the market.
What makes a car good for beginners?
We perfectly understand teen drivers who think their first car must be unique and exciting. However, a good car for beginners should be easy to drive and not too expensive to fix. Despite what beginners think, it’s unusual to go through your first year of driving without any car damage. Bruises and fender-benders are more common than it seems!
So what characteristics make a car suitable for beginner drivers?
1. Cheap to insure
Insurance companies see teenagers as the riskiest drivers. This is why they want you to drive something small, cheap, and easy to repair. When you’re seeking a cheap-to-insure car, consider the potential insurance premium.
Insurance premiums for the same model but with a different engine can vary by several times. If insurance for a 2.0-liter petrol engine car is too expensive for you, find out how much it costs to insure a model with a 1.6-liter or 1.4-liter engine.
For teen drivers who typically don’t have money lying around, fuel economy is essential.
When choosing your first car, think about how you’ll be using it. Will you drive mostly in the city or in the countryside, where you can maintain a steady speed and lower fuel consumption?
If you live in the city, choose a car with a smaller engine. It can be turbocharged or, preferably, atmospheric. This engine configuration will be more reliable and last longer.
3. Practical (at least somewhat)
Since you will occasionally have to give rides to your parents, friends, or pets, buying a rakish coupe is cool, but not very practical.
Just think about a scenario where you and your friends go on a journey. A car with a big trunk for your luggage and a substantial amount of passenger space is obviously a more rational choice than a small vehicle.
4. Has modern safety equipment
Safety features are important for any driver, but they’re particularly crucial for those who are young and inexperienced.
Most modern used cars have a lot of safety equipment, such as several airbags to protect passengers in case of an accident. While several airbags are standard practice these days, driving aids are less common.
Apart from the safety features, you may want to check if the vehicle has a Bluetooth interface. This allows you to stream music and talk with your friends while driving without causing danger to other road users.
5. It should be comfortable behind the wheel
If you feel good and comfortable behind the wheel, it will be easy to drive and park the car in a tight spot – and vice versa.
As such, one of the main characteristics of a good car for beginners is the feeling behind the wheel. Adjust the steering column, change the height of the driver’s seat, find a comfortable seating position, and adjust your side mirrors.
Top 10 best first cars
10. Audi A1
All Audi cars have a similar look and even the tiniest model in the lineup shares similarities with bigger and more expensive models.
The A1 looks like a full-fledged member of the Audi family thanks to its signature radiator grille and LED running lights. However, the little hatchback boasts a few unusual features behind its stylish appearance. For example, the vehicle’s battery is installed in the trunk to enhance the weight distribution. Additional rear light lenses are installed behind the wide tailgate to improve the vehicle’s visibility at night.
In theory, the A1 should be identical to Seat Ibiza or Volkswagen Polo because they share the same platform, petrol and diesel-powered engines, and transmission. However, the Audi A1 feels and drives like a different car.
The most impressive feature of the Audi A1 is the interior. Everything is wrapped in high-quality details and easy-to-use technology, making it feel like the bigger and more expensive Audi A4.
5 reasons the Audi A1 is a good car for beginner drivers
- Impressive interior quality
- Every beginner driver will find a favorite engine and transmission combination
- Safe, but not boring
- Small footprint will help to maneuver in the tight spots
- Audi A1 has more residual value than competitors
9. Citroën C1
Citroën has a long history of manufacturing small, cheap, and funky-looking city cars. This attitude has been very successful in France and the United Kingdom, where Citroën is a true hero for beginner drivers.
While the Citroën C1 was made in a new era of motoring, this model managed to preserve the true values of a city car. It’s cheap to buy and offers the most modern equipment. Depending on specifications, the C1 can have a helpful infotainment system with a Bluetooth connection, keyless entry, hill-start assistant, climate control, and heated seats. It even has the Airscape version with a folding fabric roof.
So how did Citroën manage to create a fashionable car at a relatively low price?
Citroën partnered up with Peugeot and Toyota to split the development and manufacturing costs. For this reason, Citroën, Peugeot, and Toyota are using the same architecture, engines, transmission, and even electrical wiring.
5 reasons the Citroen C1 is a good car for beginner drivers
- A cheeky exterior
- Low maintenance cost
- The turning circle is just 4,8 m. Maneuvering will be a doodle
- Three-cylinder petrol engines have more than enough power and torque
- Offers a wide range of colors. 26, in fact
8. Ford Fiesta
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Ford Fiesta wasn’t a car that would capture people’s attention. However, after the 2000s, Ford changed their manufacturing attitude and the Fiesta became one of the best-selling small cars in the world.
The most groundbreaking version of the Ford Fiesta debuted in 2008 and remained in production until 2019. During this time, Ford introduced several versions of the Fiesta and installed features that were instantly approved by teen drivers and their parents.
For example? The Active City Stop – an autonomous emergency braking system designed to prevent low-speed accidents. Fiesta has also become the first Ford car in Europe to feature MyKey, which allows parents of teenage drivers to limit both the car’s speed and the volume of its audio system.
The Ford Fiesta is available as a three or five-door model. While both versions offer the same passenger and trunk space, the five-door version is more practical in day-to-day situations.
The same can be said about the engine line-up. All Fiestas have small capacity engines that are underpowered but offer a good fuel economy and low maintenance costs, with the ST version being an exception.
5 reasons the Ford Fiesta is a good car for beginner drivers
- Economical diesel engine produces just 98 g/km of CO2
- Fuel consumption is only 3.6 liters/100 km
- A variety of safety and technological improvements
- 152 mm of ground clearance – useful when climbing onto a curb
- Easy Fuel system prevents filling the tank with the wrong fuel
- Top five-star rating for safety in Euro NCAP crash tests
7. Fiat 500
Since its revival in 2008, the Fiat 500 has remained a very popular city car for several reasons. It offers a cute, stylish, retro exterior coupled with a joyful interior.
The Fiat 500 is only 3,5 m long and 1,6 ms wide, which means you can squeeze into any parking space and turn around at any junction. Even if you start struggling, the Fiat 500 has “City” mode, making you feel like you’re turning the wheel with no effort whatsoever.
The Fiat 500 will exceed your expectations in the city, but you will struggle on the motorway because of its underpowered engine. While this model feels great at lower speed, it struggles when acceleration gets rough and demanding. And forget about the diesel version — such an engine just doesn’t belong in a car like the Fiat 500.
5 reasons the Fiat 500 is a good car for beginner drivers
- The most beautiful city car on the market
- Excels in urban environments
- The Twin-Air two-cylinder engine has a nice sound
- The “City” steering mode helps when parking or maneuvering in tight spaces
- Spare parts are very cheap
6. Honda Jazz/Fit
If practicality and unbeatable reliability are the most desirable features for your first car, then Honda Jazz should be your choice. Numerous publications have acknowledged Honda’s efforts to outlive its owners for decades.
The Honda Jazz’s key to success is quite simple — Honda offers more traits of a mini-MPV than a traditional hatchback. It has a long wheelbase and provides passengers with more interior space.
Also, it has a unique Magic seat feature. In Utility Mode, rear seats fold forward and the seat base is lowered into the footwell. In Tall Mode, the seat base can be locked upwards (like a cinema seat) to give a height of 1,280 mm from floor to ceiling.
Honda has also made another brilliant decision. Jazz has the City Brake Active System by default, which helps mitigate the risk of low-speed accidents when driving between 8 and 32 kph (it monitors the distance between you and the car in the front). The system sounds a warning or even applies the brakes if the driver doesn’t react.
Better-equipped models have Forward Collision Warning, the traffic sign recognition system, an intelligent speed limiter, and a lane departure warning.
5 reasons the Honda Jazz is a good car for beginner drivers
- Naturally-aspirated engines are economical
- Size of interior space is unique in this segment
- Modern safety equipment comes by default
- Very durable
- MPV-like shape offers good visibility all around
5. Mercedes-Benz A Class
Previous Mercedes-Benz A-Class iterations were more reminiscent of an MPV than a traditional hatchback. It was a unique selling point. Since then, Mercedes-Benz has chosen a more traditional, sleeker route.
A low-to-the-ground shape means that Mercedes-Benz A-Class benefits from a very low drag coefficient. It helps cut CO2 emissions, reduce wind noise, and improve comfort on longer journeys. But that’s not the most prominent A-Class feature.
The smallest Mercedes-Benz model has a wide range of technology, such as fatigue detection, the self-parking function, voice-activated controls, and blindspot monitors. These features are important for every beginner driver as they can help you avoid costly accidents.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Mercedes-Benz A-Class is the most expensive model on this list. If you can afford it, the A-Class has qualities that few competitors can match.
5 reasons the Mercedes-Benz A-Class is a good car for beginner drivers
- Advanced safety systems to avoid accidents
- Sporty and exciting look
- Exceptional residual value
- Diesel-powered engines offer a very low level CO2 emissions and fuel consumption
- Great standard equipment
4. Renault Twingo
Renault has a habit of experimenting with small city cars. The very first generation of Renault Twingo looked like a bubble, while the latest one owns some properties of the Porsche 911. Most vehicles of this type use proven and tested front-wheel and front-engined configurations, but Renault Twingo has rear-driven wheels and an engine located under the trunk floor.
This unusual configuration has a number of benefits. The third-generation model is 10 cm shorter than its predecessor, offering ample interior space. In fact, Renault Twingo provides an astonishing 33 cm of extra interior cabin length. Furthermore, this unique configuration helps reduce the turning radius to just 4.3 m.
Enviable turning angle complemented by nippy handling and eager engines. Renault Twingo is offered with petrol or electric engines whose power ranges from 70 to 110 hp. While a petrol-powered model provides more freedom and driving involvement, the electric version with 250 km range may be a more desirable option.
5 reasons why the Renault Twingo is a good car for beginner drivers
- Offers a greater degree of customisation
- Beginner drivers can choose from petrol or electric powertrains
- Hard-to-beat turning circles
- Rear-wheel drive configuration
- Large interior
3. Mazda CX-3
The Japanese company’s entry into the trendy SUV segment is a sensible choice for beginner drivers. The Mazda CX-3 offers higher ground clearance, a more upright driving position, and easy-to-use technology. It looks like Mazda created a vehicle from the “good first car” textbook.
The Mazda CX-3 looks heavy and muscular but it uses the same architecture as the light and nimble Mazda 2 hatchback. This means Mazda CX-3 offers a low maintenance cost and the handling properties of the smaller hatchback.
Similarities with the hatchback don’t end here, as Mazda CX-3 doesn’t feel like a bigger car. Depending on your driving position, you may notice a slight squeeze for legroom in the back, which could be troublesome if you want to take company with you.
5 reasons the Mazda CX-3 is a good car for beginner drivers
- Has a better ground clearance than a traditional hatchback
- Easy-to-use technology
- Smooth petrol engines
- Great standard equipment
- Plenty of driving aids
2. Toyota Corolla
Toyota Corolla is the best-selling car globally.
After 12 generations and 50 million cars sold worldwide, Toyota has unlocked designers’ creativity when creating the Corolla’s exterior. The latest model is just so different from its predecessor, and rightly so. Corolla was an ideal car for older drivers for decades, but the newest generation will also attract teen drivers.
Despite changing its exterior, the Corolla has remained faithful to its original formula. It offers three body styles (hatchback, saloon, and station wagon) and three petrol-powered engines.
The most attractive version for a beginner driver is the Toyota Corolla hatchback with a 1.2-liter turbocharged petrol engine and manual transmission. It has more than enough power for a teen driver while offering decent economy figures.
5 reasons the Toyota Corolla is a good car for beginner drivers
- Exceptional reliability
- Frugal engines keep low maintenance costs
- Youthful styling will make the Corolla stand out
- Generous standard equipment
- Driving aids are not intrusive
1. Volkswagen Golf
Volkswagen Golf has been the most obvious choice for thousands of drivers for decades, as it’s sophisticated, easy to maintain, and very practical. While the Golf has never had an adventurous style, it’s the car that pleases the crowd.
Volkswagen Golf’s suspension absorbs and isolates all the bumps of broken roads. Yet, with all that comfort, Volkswagen Golf delivers more grip and excitement than some hot hatchbacks. It’s just so utterly and magnificently balanced, especially the version with a more expensive multi-link rear suspension.
Volkswagen Golf offers a trouble-free experience when sitting behind the wheel. During the MK7 lifetime, Volkswagen introduced a series of revisions to the Golf’s cabin, which helped to make it one of the most ergonomic vehicles on the market. Also, the interior and trunk space is another area where Volkswagen Golf stands out from its rivals.
5 reasons why the Volkswagen Golf is a good car for beginner drivers
- A wide range of engines
- Refined and practical interior
- Composed chassis
- Outstanding residual value
- Low maintenance cost
Check the history before buying the best used first car
Buying your first car can be a satisfying process. However, some car dealers play by their own shady rules and sell abused vehicles, especially for people who know nothing about cars.
Check the car’s history at carVertical to view its registration history, mileage, and accident records if you don’t want your first car to be a long-lasting nightmare of high repair bills.
With a wide variety of cars available on the market, make sure to select the best used first car that fits your needs. Inspect the vehicle, test-drive it, and check the VIN for history.