Best value first cars

May 26, 2016 by Joe Newman | Guides | Choose a used car

When you’re buying your first car, it can be a bit daunting to know which one to go for, especially if you’re not really into your cars. Realistically, buying a used car is the best way to save money and get the ride you want, at a price you can afford. Here at Carspring, you’ll find a great range of used cars to buy.

1) Ford Fiesta

For those who want the all-round package

The Ford Fiesta brings you a great all-round package at a fantastically accessible price. The Fiesta is the UK’s best-selling car of all time, having sold over 4 million throughout its 40 year production run. There’s no doubt the UK loves it, and we do too. That’s why we always stock them.

The all-round interior feel of the Fiesta is of quality. There’s no flimsy plastics or cheap to-the-touch surfaces. The dashboard looks great and is in-keeping with Ford’s ever-present philosophy of ‘Kinetic Design’, a philosophy that accentuates dramatic curves and potent points.

The interior philosophy, however, is more about simply providing a great space for the driver to enjoy the experience of driving. The set driving position is excellent, but is also fully adjustable depending on your own personal preferences. Ideal for really enjoying being the designated driver if you’re going on those weekend road trips with your friends.

For a car of this price, it’s unlikely you’re going to find a first car that handles as well as the Fiesta. In fact, when it comes to its handling and performance out on the road, the car is head and shoulders above every other car in its class. The steering is responsive, giving you a great feeling of control as you turn into the more challenging corners.

The ride is comfortable, yet firm enough to get a good feel of the road. If you’re heading further afield, taking on the UK’s motorway network, you’ll find the Fiesta compose, quiet and utterly refined - even if the VW Polo and Skoda Fabia are perhaps more suited to long-distance journeys.

For your first car, cost is likely to be one of your key considerations and, like many cars in its class, the Fiesta boasts fantastically low running costs. When it comes to insurance, groups for the Ford supermini start at 3 and go up to 30 for the boy-racer ST model. For fuel efficiency, all 1.0 litre Fiestas do 65.7mpg, and most of the range is in the 40mpg ballpark - so you’re never going to be spending too much on fuel. On the whole, throughout the range, you can also avoid paying much in road tax, as the Fiesta is nice to the planet.

For the machine you’re getting the Ford Fiesta is priced extremely competitively. However, by buying new you’ll instantly be losing 20% of the value as soon as you drive your Fiesta out of the showroom. If you opt to buy a used Ford Fiesta that’s still only a year old, you’ll probably be saving yourself around £4000. That’s more than enough to cover the rest of the expenses you’ll be shelling out for on the vehicle for the rest of the year.

2) Vauxhall Corsa

Although it seems to have been with us for a while now, the Corsa is still a great first car. Why? Simple. When you buy a used Vauxhall Corsa, you’re getting the freedom of the road at a truly exceptional price. What’s more, the continued popularity of the Corsa as a first car is down to one very simple reason - it’s used by so many driving instructors. This means that when you get behind the wheel, you’re going to be familiar with how the thing drives.

Stepping into the cabin, the Corsa certainly isn’t an unpleasant place to be, with a recently updated dashboard that is now shows genuine class-leader potential. Where the Corsa may let you down slightly is if you’re fussy about fabrics, as there is definite polyester feel to the upholstery throughout the car.

The car is also well equipped. If you go for one of the more recent models, and if it’s not a basic trim, you get the advantage of Vauxhall’s new Intellilink infotainment system. This is an intuitive 7” centre-console touch-screen system that both provides an easy-to-use Sat Nav and the added benefit of being able to link to your smartphone. In addition, whichever trim level you buy, you’re also getting Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, 6 air-bags, a 6-speaker stereo system and a USB port. This is a superb level of standard equipment and has clearly been well-considered by Vauxhall, aimed squarely at first-car drivers.

Out on the road, the Vauxhall Corsa performs well, if lacking the sheer brilliance in the corners of the Fiesta. However, a great unique selling point is the Luton-based company have specifically designed the suspension and the steering for UK roads. So, you’re going to enjoy throwing the Corsa into those b-road bends while staying comfortable as you traverse the ever-present British pothole.

When you’re out enjoying the freedom of the road, with the Corsa, you’re never going to be paying a significant premium to do so. The running costs of this car are fantastically low. One of the best performers within the range is the 1.3 litre CDTi diesel. This engine brings you nearly 90 miles per gallon and is predictably pleasant to the planet, with CO2 emissions so low you avoid paying tax.

Although this is certainly the standout option, whatever car in the range you opt for, you’re going to enjoy passing more petrol stations than you might expect and pay little, if any, tax. This makes the Corsa ideal if you’re already shelling out loads of cash on your insurance premiums.

If you are looking to save a few quid on your first car, it’s really worth bearing in mind that often neglected cost of depreciation. This can often be as high as 40% over the first year and drops significantly in the following years. Meaning, if you’re in business of value for money, you’ll be much better off if you opt to buy a used Vauxhall Corsa. A typical saving for buying a pre-owned Corsa after its first year on the road is around £4000, meaning a second-hand Vauxhall Corsa is really much better suited for your first car.

3) Skoda Fabia

While Skoda used to be a by-word for poor quality, times have changed dramatically over the past 15 years. The latest Skoda Fabia is an immediately obvious case in point. Yes, Skoda still lacks the sexiness of some other models, and yes, it may not instinctively feel like a car you’re going to be showing off to your friends. However, the Fabia is a great all-rounder and, as a complete package, is definitely up there as class leader.

The interior has the sophisticated feel you’d expect from any model produced by the VW group. But, you get the feeling it’s almost purposefully made to feel a bit cheaper than some of the alternative supermini models the company builds. The plastics vear on being a bit unpleasant at times, the fabric on the seats is a bit too wipe-clean and the overall in-cabin feeling is a little bit dull.

Standard equipment? This is an area where the fabia really excels. To keep you safe, you’re getting traction and stability control, plenty of airbags, ISOFIX child seat mounts and tyre pressure monitoring. To keep a smile on your face you get a DAB radio, Bluetooth connection and powered door mirrors. But, be aware, while the equipment levels for the older model are still generous, if you opt for the previous Fabia, some of these extra goodies may not be available.

On the tarmac, the car extremely refined - if a little too refined at times. You’re definitely not getting the fantastic driving experience that you’ll enjoy in the Fiesta. However, what you may loose in driving pleasure, you more than make up for when you find yourself on a long motorway cruise. When you’re pushing 70, it feels much more expensive than it is, with a smooth, quiet and refined ride.

When it comes to value for money, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised. For the latest Fabia model, insurance groups start at 2, meaning you’ll be able to minimise this large expense of owning car. In terms of tax, all the diesels are so low on CO2 emissions that you’ll avoid paying the Treasury a penny. For the petrols, the largest amount you’ll be giving away is £20 for the year. You’ll also avoid paying too much out at the pumps, with every model in the range doing over 50mpg, with the best diesel engine providing nearly 80mpg.

Overall this is car that does admirably in almost every area, but has no real stand-out razzmatazz. It’s not as fun as the Fiesta, it’s not as cost-effective as the Corsa but it is an incredibly worthy option.

4) Mini

The Mini, revitalised by BMW in the early 2000s, has gone from strength to strength in recent years. And, while this certainly isn’t the cheapest model on the list, it competes with the Fiat 500 for being the coolest. This is a car of paradoxes. For example, it fuses iconic British design with subtle drops of German Engineering and vintage styling with the latest technology. One thing’s for sure, if you end up behind the wheel of one of these, you’ll proudly boast about it being yours to all of your friends.

The evolution of this icon becomes clear once you step into the cabin. Everything is done in a very, well Mini-ish, kind of way. The dashboard features a large, circular centre console, which on higher trim levels includes a system almost identical to BMW’s iDrive system. The general feeling is of a high quality and you feel snug and protected, without feeling too claustrophobic.

Equipment levels in the Mini are as you’d expect for a more expensive car. Regardless of the trim the used Mini on offer has, you’re going to be getting DAB digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity, foglamps, alloy wheels and air conditioning. It doesn’t end there, if you find yourself in one of the most recent Mini models, you can take advantage of their new Miniteleservices system. This is sensor system that continues to monitor the car throughout its life and warns you, and then books an appointment if there are any issues with your car. On top of this, the latest Mini models also have Mini eCall, that notifies the emergency services should you be involved in an accident.

When it comes to being behind the wheel, the Mini really lives up to the mantra of its parent company of being an ‘ultimate driving machine’. Ok, so it’s not exactly a Ferrari. But, the low driving position means you always feel close to the road, demonstrating that BMW really understand how to evolve the marque’s heritage. It distinctly feels like a Mini. The steering has almost immediate response, which means you always feel in control - ideal if you’re someone who really likes the pleasure of driving. However, if you just want a car to handle as easily as possible, this may be a bit twitchy for you.

When it comes to depreciation, the Mini holds its value extremely well. However, you’re still going to be looking at a considerable cost over the first year and still immediate damage to your wallet as soon as you’ve driven it off the forecourt. For a car that has such great build quality, it really makes sense to buy a used Mini instead.

Overall then, a used Mini really is one of the best first car options out there. Cool, retro looks, fun handling and great levels of standard equipment mean that this small British-built hatchback is a car that you’ll be more than happy showing off to your friends.

5) SEAT Mii

Depending on the age and the mileage of the used SEAT Mii you opt for, this is probably going to be the cheapest car on the list and makes an ideal first car. A member of the VW city car fellowship, the Mii is essentially the same car as the VW Up and the Skoda Citigo. However, it beats the Up hands down on price and has a little more style than it Czech brother.

The Mii is extremely cheap to buy. But, when you step into the cabin, as with the Skoda Fabia and other VW offers, you immediately get the sense that this car is a quality product. The use of space is intelligent, the dashboard is clearly well-considered and there’s quality, robust.

As you’re getting a great quality car for a comparatively small price tag, you do suffer slightly in terms of standard equipment. The basic, entry-level trim comes only with a CD stereo, coloured bumpers and an adjustable steering wheel. This is the kind of standard equipment levels that was maybe more acceptable a few years ago, but now just feels a little bit stingy. This is especially true when you consider the generosity on offer with best-sellers such the Corsa and Fiesta.

One area where the standard-issue equipment is exceptional is when it comes to safety. All of the cars in VW’s city car family scored the maximum 5-stars in the NCAP safety test - a class-leading result for a city car. This is thanks to multiple airbags, stability and traction control, ISOFIX child-seat mounts and anti-lock brakes. This is great for keeping you reassured out on the road, especially when you’ve just passed your test.

When you are tootling around on the tarmac, you’ll be enjoying yourself. Owing to its comparatively small proportions, when compared with other cars on the list, the Mii feels nimble and agile. And, while it doesn’t quite offer the all-round driving thrills of the Fiesta or the refinement of the Fabia, you’ll feel satisfied on the b-roads and comfortable on the motorway. One additional point to note is that the small size of the Mii makes it easy to slot into any space, ideal if you’re still getting to grips with parallel parking.

As you’d expect from a small, city car, the Mii is an extremely cheap to run, namely when it comes to insurance. The entry level falls into the lowest bracket, which is really going to minimise those excessive premiums. In other areas the Mii is also cheap, although it doesn’t quite live up to the same high standards of the Citroen C1 or the Skoda Fabia.

When it comes to paying George Osborne, with the SEAT Mii, you’re never going to be shelling out more than £20 a year. The diesel Ecomotive is the best of the range when it comes to going easy on the fuel. This model can achieve up to 69 mpg, which, if we’re completely honest isn’t particularly impressive for such a small car - falling behind bigger alternatives such as the Vauxhall Corsa.

The slightly higher running costs shouldn’t detract from the fact that the Mii is a truly brilliant choice for a first car. And, although it’s great value to buy, you’re really going to be saving some serious cash if you opt to buy a used model. For example, taking the cheapest model in the range, you can realistically look at saving over £3000, just by buying a used SEAT Mii that’s only a year old.

So, which one is best?

For a simple answer, a used Ford Fiesta still remains the go-to first car. It’s great value, has decent equipment levels and is utterly fantastic to drive. But, depending on what matters to you the most, the other cars on the list have their own advantages. A used Vauxhall Corsa, for example, provides you with great equipment levels and a design specifically tailored to the UK market. A used Skoda Fabia provides you with an all-round package at a truly superb price, a used Mini is almost certainly the coolest first car you can buy and a used SEAT Mii is an expertly constructed, great value machine.

What are the alternatives?

This is by no means an exhaustive list of ideal first cars, there are plenty of models out there that are perfectly suited for you first set of wheels. Whichever model you choose, and however much you’re planning on paying, you’re always going to be better off buying used. So, some other models that are well worth taking a look at are: a used Citroen C1, a used Peugeot 108, a used Fiat 500, a used VW UP, a used Skoda Citigo and Used Ford Ka.