No matter whether you’re a newly qualified 17-year old driver or a little older and only just taking to the road, choosing the best car as a first-time driver is a big step.
Spending a few hundred pounds on an old runaround can be tempting. But remember, reliability may not be guaranteed and they may not be as good to drive or as safe in an accident as more modern cars. That’s why we’ve set the bar at £5000; it affords first time drivers a relatively new and safe car with all mod cons.
When choosing your first car, it’s important to look beyond just the price and image and consider how easy they are to drive and park, how affordable running costs such as fuel economy, insurance and servicing are, and whether the car will be easy to sell on in a few years time without losing lots of money.
The three following cars all fall within the £5000 budget, and significantly they are all available through the manufacturers’ approved used car programmes. This offers the greatest peace of mind and protection to inexperienced drivers who’ve never bought a car before.
Once you’ve browsed the selection, be sure to read our tips for haggling over the price of a car, as they could just save you a few hundred quid. And talking of savings, our guide to insuring young drivers has some sound advice to cut costs.
Best £5000 first car: Fiesta’s a great all-rounder
Not so long ago the Ford Fiesta was considered a pretty dismal car. Happily, Ford heeded criticism and the current model is an outstanding small hatchback – arguably the best supermini money can buy. It drives with panache, managing to pull off the impressive trick of combining the vim of a small car with the refinement and comfort of a much larger, more expensive model.
It’s also a more spacious and practical car than the Mini and Volkswagen (below) which makes it a better choice for new drivers who need to carry equipment, luggage or passengers. And helping keep everybody onboard safe, it scored a maximum five stars in the Euro NCAP independent crash tests.
Other practical considerations that will affect first-time drivers include the wide availability of the Fiesta – it’s Britain’s best-selling car, so there’s masses of choice – affordable used prices and low running costs.
In this price range, you’ll get a choice of the 1.25-litre engine in 59bhp or 80bhp specification. It’s worth getting insurance quotes for both as the bigger engine offers more zest on motorways and may not be too much more expensive.
Best £5000 first car: Mini’s style on a budget
The Mini is proof that your first car doesn’t have to look as sensible as a pair of grey slacks from Marks & Spencer. With its cute ‘face’ and wide range of colours and personalisation options, it’s rare to find any two Minis that look the same. That means first-time drivers who want to make a style statement are likely to feel at their best behind the wheel of this car.
They’ll also feel good as soon as they get on the move. The Mini feels reassuringly solid when you’re sitting in it but it’s also fun to drive. The steering and road holding feel sporty meaning young drivers will be able to enjoy themselves while staying safe and well within the speed limit.
There are two models worth looking at. The First has a 75bhp 1.4-litre engine so it’s more than powerful enough for a new driver. However, the Mini One with its 88bhp engine is in more plentiful supply. Both are easily available for our £5000 budget.
The Mini offers roughly the same fuel economy as the Ford Fiesta (50mpg-plus) and similarly competitive running costs. Also that square, box-like shape makes it easy to see all four corners when it comes to parking. The price for this solidity, style and spirit is that it’s not the most spacious supermini on the road.
Best £5000 first car: VW up! is cheap to insure
With its cheeky good looks, the up! instantly appears less sober than other models in the Volkswagen range. However, this is no fanciful investment: for £5,000, first-time drivers can afford a 2013 model with relatively low mileage, via VW’s approved used car programme.
Affordability is this car’s strong suit. It’s not only good value for money, but the insurance costs for the up! are among the lowest of any car on the road, and servicing won’t break the bank.
It’s the smallest car of this trio, which makes parking a doddle. However, that also means that it feels at its happiest in town or around the suburbs. On motorways you’re conscious that this is a tiddler swimming in a sea of bigger fish, and it’s quite noisy.
There is a choice of three- or five-door models, and naturally the latter is the most practical. There’s precious little boot space, and the cabin feels the most sparse of the three cars here. But you can take comfort from knowing that the pint-sized up! scored a big five-stars in the Euro NCAP crash test.
More expert advice: buying guide to the best student cars