Guide: The best car for a 17 year old driver?

Passing your driving test is a defining moment in many young people’s lives. It gives them freedom and responsibility, but it also comes with some pitfalls when choosing a new car.

Size, engine, specification, age and even desirability all come into play when choosing your first car, and for many 17 year olds, cost is a huge factor when choosing.

Before we give a rundown of some of the best cars for a 17 year old, here is a short list of things to consider when looking for a new car:

Age – Older cars are generally less reliable than newer cars (although it varies by manufacturer) simply because they tend to have been used more often, causing wear and tear to the parts. An older car may be cheaper, but it could lead to more costly visits to the garage in the long run.

Condition – Chances are, as a newly qualified driver, the first car will be a used model. Always ensure you read our car buying advice before viewing or buying a car, but also check for the car’s condition. If the car hasn’t been looked after on the surface, how can you be sure the engine, suspension etc are not in a similar condition?

Cost – Sadly, figures show a higher proportion of young drivers are in accidents than any other age range due to lack of experience. With this is mind, do you really want to be shelling out to fix a scratch or bump of an expensive and difficult to fix car?

To find out about paying for your car, or about the different methods of payment you can use, read our guide to paying for your car.

Another thing to look out for is depreciation. Read our guide on depreciation and what it means for you for more information.

Engine – This is a big one for 17 year olds. Larger engines mean larger insurance premiums, and for young drivers these can be steep. Finding a balance between a capable unit and insurance (and fuel) costs are important for anybody, but even more so for a young driver.

For example, a small 1.0-litre engine used in a Ford Ka will be cheaper to insure than a V8 engine in a Jaguar, for obvious reasons.

If you’re unsure about whether to choose a petrol, diesel or alternatively fuelled car, read our guide to different fuel types.

You can read our guide to finding cheaper insurance to find out what will affect your insurance quote and what insurance bands are.

CO2 emissions– This is one of the most important figures in the industry at the moment because it impacts on so much.

For example, cars with CO2 emissions under 100g/km will be exempt from Vehicle Excise Duty (or road tax) and, if they live in the area, the London congestion charge. The higher the CO2 emissions the higher VED will be. If you want to know how much you’ll be paying take a look at our guide to VED ratings.

You can find out which cars are road tax free because of CO2 emissions by reading our guide.

Safety– A huge aspect for young drivers and parents of young drivers is safety. The statistics show younger drivers are more likely to have an accident, so it makes sense to buy the safest car possible.

Newer cars are generally safer than older ones, but you can see the safety rating of your car on the EuroNCAP website. Alternatively, our guide to safety ratings is the perfect starting point for understanding safety ratings and how safe your car is.


We’ve touched on insurance above, and as the major cost for a young car buyer, it is a big issue at the moment. Recent reports across the UK highlighted a 17 year old who was quoted over £70,000 for insurance to cover his Vauxhall Corsa.

While this is an extreme case, the rising cost of insurance is all too evident, and unfortunately for newly qualified drivers, they are higher for younger and inexperienced drivers.

Insurance is based on a number of things, including the experience of the driver and age. It can also rise sharply if there have been any previous claims. For a 17 year, there won’t be any no claims bonuses yet, but if you go several years without claiming, it can reduce the premium.

Other things such as where the car is parked (a garage will be less than on the street), how much it is used (for work or just at weekends) and even the address of the driver cana ffect premiums.

It is also worth pointing out going on a parents insurance when the car is in fact the child’s is illegal, and if found out will result in prosecution.

The main driver behind insurance however, is the car itself. Engine size, power, age and price of the car all come into play. In the UK, cars are grouped in different insurance groups to give a vaque outline of how much they will cost.

Below we’ve highlighted some of the cars in the first three – or three least expensive groups of insurance. Choosing one of these models could save a 17 year old driver a lot of money when it comes to insuring the car.

Remember, it is based on engine size, so some models will straddle several insurance groups depending on what size engine they use.

Group One

Very few modern cars remain in Group 1 of the car insurance tables, but the Chevrolet Spark, released in 2010, is probably the newest. Other models, such as the Citroen C1, Fiat Panda, Renault Megane Sport Tourer and Vauxhall Corsa all fall into group 1.

Group Two

There are more models to choose from in group two, including the Citroen C1 and larger Citroen C3, Fiat Pandam Fiat Qubo, Ford Ka, Ford Fiesta, Peugeot Partner Tepee and the Vauxhall Corsa.

Group Three

In group three, you will find the Chevrolet Spark, Citroen C1, C2 and C3, Citroen Nemo Multispace, Fiat Panda, Fiat Qubo, Ford Ka, Ford Fiesta, Peugeot 107, Seat Ibiza (hatchback and Sport Coupe) and the Vauxhall Corsa.

All of the above are important when buying a car, but we are also aware 17 year old drivers do not want to drive an ugly, embarrassing car as their first drive.

So, we’ve collected five cars, available both used and new, which are superb cars for a newly qualified driver and should meet the tricky criteria of low costs, desirability and enough practicality to cart friends around in the back.

1) Ford Ka

The smallest Ford builds comes in two generations – you may know them as the ‘old’ Ka with black wraparound bumpers, or the ‘new’ model with body coloured bumpers and a more grown up look.

Older models come with a ‘cute’ charm and those bumpers are ideal for the inevitable scrapes and bumps as you get used to driving solo. They will also be cheap and the used car market regularly turns up bargains.

Its small size enables the Ka to use small engines, meaning lower fuel costs, road tax and of course, insurance.

The newer models will be slightly more expensive, from around £7,500 new with Perrys, but bring styling similar to the Ford Fiesta.

Both generations however, offer manoeuvrability, the ability to squeeze into the smallest of parking spaces and low prices – all with the popular Ford badge adorning the front.

You can read a full Ford Ka review here

2) Chevrolet Spark

You may not have seen many Chevrolet Sparks out on the roads since its launch in 2010, but the Spark is worthy of consideration for that reason alone.

Breaking away from the plethora of Ford and Vauxhall cars sold in the UK, the Spark is set up for young drivers. Stylish with a range of bright and breezy exterior colours and optional graphics, the Spark also has five doors and a raised rear for extra head room in the back.

The cheapest models are equipped with very little compared to larger cars, but a radio and air con are included.

The real benefit however, it the fact a Chevrolet Spark comes in at the bottom end of the price scale, and means you can buy a new car for the same price as many used cars from more established rivals, without sacrificing quality.

You can read a full Chevrolet Spark review here

3) Fiat 500

In terms of small cars, we’ve had the frugal (Ka) and inexpensive (Spark) options, now it’s time for a little bit of style.

Enter the world’s sexiest car – the Fiat 500. That is according to Top Gear, which rated the retro-styled little car ahead of supercars from Ferrari and Lamborghini in a recent competition.

It’s cute and stylish, with several fashionable special editions e.g. the Fiat 500byGucci alongside more brash alternatives such as the Fiat 500 Pink.

Drop top Fiat 500C versions are available, and under the looks that will turn heads wherever you go, the Fiat 500 also houses award-winning engine technology including frugal diesels and the stunning TwinAir petrol, which is road tax free in the UK.

However, fashionistas looking for the most stylish small car on the market will pay a premium over other models for the Fiat 500.

You can read a full Fiat 500 review here

4) Ford Fiesta

But these ‘city cars’ may be too small for your needs. If you’re looking for more generous space in the back than the city car can offer, the Ford Fiesta may be right up your street.

In fact, it probably is, because the Ford Fiesta is one of the most popular cars in the UK thanks to its modern styling, superb drive and range of cheap-to-run engines.

We recommend the 1.4-litre petrol engine for a mix of performance and efficiency, but there is a wide range of petrol and diesel options with the latest Fiesta.

Alternatively, older models are fine cars too, and the popularity of the Fiesta means a bargain is never far away.

You can read a full Ford Fiesta review here

5) Vauxhall Corsa

The Ford Fiesta is the most popular ‘supermini’ in the UK, but the Vauxhall Corsa is hot on its heels.

Once so far behind the Fiesta, a number of upgrades have given it a practical but comfortable interior and an exterior designed for the city, with bright colour options modern but understated design.

Where Vauxhall has made the biggest strides however, is under the bonnet. The ecoFLEX range of engines is new and could be out of the price range of the 17 year old driver, but a selection of petrol and diesel engines all offer low fuel costs and road tax rates.

A three- or five-door hatchback with space in the back and boot, attractive interior and frugal engines, the Vauxhall Corsa of the past ten years is a superb choice for a newly qualified driver.

You can read a full Ford Fiesta review here

Do none of these cars interest you? Take a look at our one-sentence reviews of other small, frugal cars which could take your fancy…

Alfa Romeo MiTo – small supermini with strong engines and the iconic Alfa Romeo styling, but as a new model, could be £10,000+.

Chevrolet Aveo – What you see is what you get with this inexpensive supermini. A new model is on the way. Chevrolet Aveo review.

Kia Picanto – Budget small car with basic equipment, but low price and superb warranty.

Citroen DS3 – Stunning small car with desirability, quality, performance and, unfortunately, a £16,000 price tag. Citroen DS3 review.

Peugeot 207 – Regularly in the top ten sellers because of its all-round ability. Quality, but at a price new. Used models could be a bargain.

Renault Clio – Long running, stylish model which has moved away from reliability issues to deliver a solid, if unspectacular challenger.

Seat Ibiza – Different from the pack with typically attractive Seat styling and in newer models, some of the most efficient engines around. Worth a look.