Whether you’ve just passed your test and you’re looking to get out on the road to enjoy your freedom, or whether you’re a concerned parent seeking out a car that will protect your precious offspring, buying a vehicle for a first-time driver can be a perilous business. So, here’s our rundown on the five best used cars you can seek out, suited to all budgets. The key thing you must remember here is that you need to keep below a 1.2-litre engine, as that will make insurance much easier to secure for a novice behind the wheel.
Ford Ka Mk1 (1996-2008)
Used values: circa €1,500 for solid examples
Why: This was such a brilliant car when it launched back in the 1990s and it remains the best Ka to date. After this model departed in 2008, Ford’s budget baby became a rebodied Fiat 500 and wasn’t anything special, and then eventually morphed into a repurposed bargain-basement run-around called the Ka+, which was designed in Brazil and built in India; fine enough, but not as characterful as the original. The difficulty with an original Ka is that they’re hard to find and they rust, but get a good one and you’ll revel in its cheerful design, its sprightly handling and its unerring mechanical simplicity – making them easy to maintain and ensuring second-hand parts supply is both abundant and cheap.
Toyota Yaris Mk1 (1999-2005)
Used values: €500 for bangers, €1,500 for best ’05 cars
Why: Again, this is a run-around that has, until the excellent brand-new model arrived this year, become less interesting and likeable over the years. The original looked great on the outside, with a clean, simple and appealing design and, as it’s a Toyota with small, straightforward engines, then the reliability level is off the charts for cars of this age and diminutive size. Again, finding straight examples will be tough and you can easily find ropey-looking vehicles for three-figure prices, but set a budget of €1,000 to €2,000 and you should end up with an incredibly dependable starter car. If you really don’t want to drive something this old, though, you can look at the Mk2, which launched in 2005, although you’ll be paying €2,000 to €3,000 for the earliest examples of those.
Opel Corsa Mk4 (2006-2014)
Used values: €3,000-€4,000 for early ’06 models, rising to no more than €7,000
Why: So many people of a certain generation would have learnt to drive in the Opel Corsa and it, along with the Yaris, has the distinction of being the only supermini on this list, when all the others are smaller city cars. You could lower your budget and go for a Corsa Mk3, built from 2000-2006, or alternatively go for the Corsa Mk5, which launched in 2014 and only went out of production last year, but we reckon the Mk4 provides plenty of choice on the second-hand market, without breaking the bank. As little as €3,000 to €4,000 should see you or your beloved adolescent child in the tidiest early examples from 2006 and 2007, but pay no more than €7,000 for a Corsa of this generation, even if you look at the later 2012 and 2013 cars.
Hyundai i10 Mk2 (2014-2019)
Used values: entry point €6,000, low-mileage and newer cars €16,000-€17,000
Why: Hyundai’s first i10 was everything you would imagine of a budget car from a marque that, at the time, was struggling to break into the mainstream in the public’s perception. So, it was built to a (low) cost and it felt it, even if the company’s long warranty and generous equipment levels went some way to mitigating its ‘cheap ’n’ cheerful’ nature. The Mk2, though, which launched in late 2013, was a completely different proposition. Hyundai styled it to look great on the outside, offered only a pair of modest 1.0-litre three-cylinder and 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engines, gave it a decent and capacious cabin complete with some useful standard equipment, but – best of all – significantly ramped up the refinement levels. This made the Mk2 i10 the most comfortable thing in its class to drive, especially on motorways where it feels like a lot bigger car than it actually is. Beware spending €16,000 to €17,000 on a lightly used 182- or 191-plate model, and instead look at the earlier 2014-2016 cars, which kick off at around €6,000. As a final sweetener on the deal, if you can pitch your purchase just right for your budget then your used car could still have a decent chunk of the original five-year, unlimited-mileage manufacturer warranty remaining intact – a later 2017 car would be a good choice for this reason.
Volkswagen up! (2013-now)
Used values: starts from €5,000, later 2018 and 2019 cars €13,000 to €14,000
Why: Certain city cars share mechanical details to ensure they can be built. For instance, the Peugeot 108, Citroen C1 and Toyota Aygo are all essentially the same car underneath, only they’re all fitted with different badges and headlights. Same goes for the Renault Twingo and Smart Forfour, and the already-mentioned Ford Ka Mk2 and Fiat 500. Well, the Volkswagen up! is also available as the Skoda Citigo or the SEAT Mii, if you fancy a cheaper version of the same car, but if you want that plush sheen of desirability that only the ‘VW’ logo can bring, the up! is the only choice. Smooth engines, classy styling and a surprisingly roomy cabin are the up!’s hallmarks, while its refinement and demeanour are only upstaged by the i10 Mk2. There’s also good chance that if you buy a decent second-hand up! with lowish kilometres showing on the odometer, it could protect your money and hold a good portion of its value for another owner a few years down the line. Surprisingly, just €5,000 bags an early 2013 car.