This is the moment you feel like you’ve been waiting for all your life. The instructor has just confirmed you’ve passed your driving test, meaning automotive freedom awaits. Borrowing a car from your parents sucks, though, meaning you’ll be wanting your own wheels. So, what’s it going to be?
As the Car Throttle YouTube crew has demonstrated time and time again, you can pick up all manner of cars for very little in the UK used car market. The problem for the average 17-year-old with a fresh license, of course, is insurance.
To make sure each of these cars are insurable for younger drivers, we obtained quotes for a fictitious 17-year-old student living in a Cambridgeshire city. ‘Geoff Stevenson’ has a clean driving record on his fresh license, will drive up to 8000 miles a year, and is the only person on the policy. Our man can insure these cars from £1350 to £2500, with a telematics box needed to get the lowest prices - more on the pros and cons of these devices another time.
We haven’t listed individual premiums for each since they vary greatly depending on your circumstances, so it’s super important to get your own quote before buying anything.
The cars are grouped into three brackets based on the lowest price you can get a decent one for, although with many of these vehicles enjoying long production runs, it’s possible to spend much more on a newer example in some cases.
Starting price from under £1000
The Ford Ka was considered the go-to first car before 2021’s 17-year-olds were even born, and it remains a great choice today, not least because it’s the cheapest to insure on this list for Geoff. Supplies are still good, helped by how disarmingly simple these things are - there’s precious little to go wrong and kill them off, save for rust.
The Ka’s trademark giant grey bumpers (some were body-coloured) look distinctive and ensure any manoeuvring fails shouldn’t leave your new pride and joy with painful battle scars.
The 69bhp offered up by Ford’s 1.3-litre inline-four may not sound like much, but as we found out racing one of these in the EnduroKa series, they’re great fun to drive.
You can’t hate on the Panda - it’s an adorable little workhorse that’ll take everything you throw at it. Those box-like dimensions mean the already spacious 200-litre boot grows to a massive 861 litres with the seats folded flat, and with them up, there’s a decent amount of space for passengers.
Fiat made this generation of Panda for nine years, giving used buyers a massive amount of choice. Whether you want a sub-£1k bargain or something more recent, you’re covered. There’s even a 4x4 version, although, for affordable insurance, you’re best off sticking with something like an early 54bhp 1.1-litre example.
The Fully Integrated Robotised Engine (FIRE) petrol engines need a cambelt change every 36,000 miles, so it’s worth checking for evidence of this in any included service history. Also, head gasket failures aren’t unheard of, so do the usual check under the oil filler gap for gunky white stuff indicating an unceremonious mixing of fluids.
The Citroen C2 had the thankless task of following up the much-loved Saxo. Reception was lukewarm, but fast forward to today, and the supermini is looking a lot more tempting. You can now pick one up for buttons, whereas you’ll struggle to find a Saxo at all.
It’s one of the more interesting cars here and is a lot safer than its predecessor. There is a VTS model, but don’t get too excited - it’s not brilliant, and you won’t be able to insure it anyway. Instead, your chariot will be powered by a 1.1-litre inline-four producing 61bhp.
Just remember, this is a mid-noughties Citroen, so expect patchy build quality. It’s also one of the more expensive cars to insure here.
Starting price from £2000 - £3000
They may all have different manufacturer and model names, but these three are effectively the same car built on one production line in the Czech Republic. Interestingly, though, the insurance quotes we got varied significantly between models.
Go with whichever one you can cover for the lowest figure, and if there isn’t much difference between, let the styling guide your decision. Engine choice is nice and simple: you’ll be going for the 1.0-litre inline-three petrol producing 67bhp, as the 1.5-litre diesel is painfully slow and extremely rare since few buyers bothered with it originally.
Water ingress through the rear window and light clusters is a known issue, so check the boot for any damp patches.
That’s right, your first car doesn’t necessarily have to be a tiny hatchback. Every slower two-door we could think of (Honda Civic coupe, Hyundai Coupe etc) returned a ‘does not compute’ with our chosen insurance company (and some shocking premiums with firms we’ve never heard of on a popular comparison site), with the exception of one: the Toyota Paseo.
It may be slow in general terms, but its 0-62mph time of 11.2 seconds actually makes it one of the fastest things here. It looks great, you can pick one up for not much more than a grand, and they cost peanuts to run. The only issue is finding one - there are very few surviving examples out there.
Yes, the 2 is a Ford Fiesta underneath, but Mazda‘s take on the supermini is far more interesting. The Mazda 2 looks better, is a less obvious choice, and was praised for great handling when first launched.
The third-generation ‘DE’ 2 is the one to go for. This is the version that ditched the weirdly tall, MPV-like body for a more conventional shape, while also trimming the weight figure relative to its predecessor.
You’ll be wanting to go for the 74bhp version of the 1.3-litre inline-four petrol to keep the insurance premium down, although there is a Miller Cycle version producing a more useful 89bhp.
The Sport may be the Suzuki Swift that gets all the praise, but the entry-level version of the hatchback shouldn’t be overlooked. You get interesting looks, reliability and decent handling all wrapped up in a thoroughly affordable package with one of these.
The 1.3-litre Swift is one of the more powerful cars on our list with around 90bhp to its name, although that does come at a cost of higher insurance premiums. In 2010 a heavily updated version arrived, which sits some way between being a facelift and an all-new model. It’s worth going for if your budget allows.
Starting price from £2000 - £3000
Just to throw a curveball into the mix, here’s the MG ZR. Using the fusty starting point of the Rover 25, the brand came up with a surprisingly desirable hatch with great looks and sharp handling.
The 1.4-litre inline-four version is still reasonably pokey with around 100bhp to its name, making for a circa 10-second 0-60mph. So as well as being the most fun to drive, it’s also the quickest car here. And yet, with a bit of shopping around and by adding Geoff’s equally fictional 44-year-old mother Julia to the policy as a named driver, we were able to find some reasonable quotes out there.
Downsides? Well, there aren’t many left out there. You might luck out with a bargain, but most of the ones we’ve seen kicking around are later, tidier examples and are priced accordingly. The ZR’s K-Series engine also has a deserved reputation for popping head gaskets, although it is at least better than the bored-out 1.8 fitted to more powerful versions.
If you want the simplicity of some of the older vehicles here like the Ford Ka but in a safer, more modern package, look no further than the Dacia Sandero. The bargain-basement Access-trimmed models are refreshingly basic, with an absence of electric windows, air conditioning, alloy wheels and even remote central locking. Like the Ka, these entry-level Sanderos also eschew body-coloured bumpers.
If that’s too basic for you, the mid-grade Ambiance is a good compromise, and it opens up more engine options. Alongside the 75bhp 1.2-litre inline-four you’re forced to pick with the Access, there’s a more economical 90bhp 0.9-litre four and a 1.5-litre diesel which can clock up to 80mpg if you’re careful.
Despite being one of the younger cars here, though, early Sanderos can suffer from rust issues. Be sure to check any potential purchase thoroughly.
When the Toyota Aygo and its chums were released, VW‘s answer to the city car question was the Fox. Which wasn’t particularly good. Thankfully, the car that replaced it, 2011’s Up! (exclamation mark optional) is a whole different ball game.
Like the Aygo, it was one of three near-identical siblings, with the Skoda Citigo, Seat Mii and the Toyota all built at the same factory in Bratislava, Slovakia. The Up is the best looking and has the best badge, while the Skoda arguably represents the best value.
The Seat should be discounted, though - you can’t go far wrong with any of these. They’re solidly-built, well thought-out cars that shouldn’t give any expensive surprises down the road. The sole engine on offer is a 1.0-litre inline-three, although it’s produced in different states of tune. Best stick to the entry-level 59bhp for lower insurance costs, though.