Top 10 best learner driver cars 2023

Learning to drive can be a nerve-racking experience. So, to keep stress to a minimum, the best cars for learner drivers are those that are easy to drive and park, cheap to insure and affordable to buy and run. Used cars are a sensible choice for learners, too, as not only do these represent some of the biggest bargains, but you’ll probably be a bit less upset if it picks up a few dents along the way.

Of course, a brand-new car is tempting, so once you’ve passed your test you can always treat yourself to an upgrade. This means you’ll have already built more confidence on the road, reducing the likelihood of any prangs or mishaps.

Here we’ve listed 10 of the best used cars for learner drivers. They are all small enough to be manoeuvrable and easy to drive, can be found at reasonable prices, and, perhaps most importantly, sit in lower insurance groups. 

They also have small, efficient petrol, diesel or hybrid engines, so while they may not be the quickest cars, they make up for this by offering low running costs. Most petrol models on this list will easily manage 40-50mpg. There’s also an all-electric option for learners who want to reduce their carbon footprint and running costs. Remember, however, that if you learn to drive and take your driving test in an automatic car, as all EVs are, you won’t be able to drive a manual. 

Top 10 best cars for learner drivers 

Read on to find the best used cars for learner drivers in the UK, listed in reverse order…

10. Fiat Panda (Mk3)

While the petrol-powered Fiat 500 is a firm favourite with many new drivers, the Panda is an even better choice for learners. Both cars share the same underpinnings, but a tidy used Mk3 Panda can easily be found for under £4,000, making it a bit of a bargain.

When Fiat introduced the original Panda in 1979, it was sold as a utilitarian car that was cheap to buy, cheap to run and would quite happily ferry around five passengers and their luggage. The Mk3 is a far more modern car than its ancestor, but the basic principle remains the same. It’s a no-frills city car that should prove easy to live with and even easier to drive. 

You don’t have to go without the basics, though, as opting for a Panda in Easy trim will get you comforts such as air-conditioning, a six-speaker MP3 stereo system, and electric windows.

9. Toyota Yaris Hybrid (Mk3)

If you want to keep your carbon footprint low but don’t wish to go fully-electric, the Toyota Yaris Hybrid could prove to be the perfect half-way point. 

Although there are also conventionally-fuelled versions of the Mk3, we’ve chosen the hybrid for this list as earlier examples can now be found for under £8,000 and should return well over 55mpg while emitting less than 85g/km of CO2.

There are several different types of hybrid car, and as the Yaris is a full-hybrid – referred to as ‘self-charging’ by Toyota – It never needs plugging in. All you need to worry about is filling it with petrol, something you shouldn’t need to do very often. Regenerative braking automatically puts energy back into the battery as you drive around, so it’s especially effective in urban traffic. Toyota’s hybrid engines are also renowned for their reliability.

8. Ford Focus (Mk3)

Although most learner drivers tend to opt for smaller models like city cars or superminis, the Ford Focus is a sensible choice for those who need a bit more space. The Mk3 Focus is available as a hatchback or an estate, both of which are family-friendly. Clean, low-mileage examples can now be found for less than £4,000, and you’ll even have the choice of petrol or diesel power.

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Inside, all variants of the Mk3 Focus are pretty well equipped. Opting for the Zetec trim will get you a few useful extras, though, including Ford’s QuickClear windscreen tech – this can prove particularly useful on cold mornings. You’ll also get some sporty styling tweaks like alloy wheels.

If you’re hoping for an element of excitement, the Focus is one of the better cars to drive in its class. The hot ST version is the pick of the performance crop, but insuring one of these as a learner driver will almost certainly result in some alarmingly high premiums. Don’t worry, though, as the regular variants still offer decent performance and better handling than a Volkswagen Golf.

7. Vauxhall Corsa (Mk4)

A firm favourite of driving schools across the country, the Mk4 Vauxhall Corsa offers a similar level of quality and practicality to the Mk6 Ford Fiesta. It’s not quite as sharp as the Ford, but it’s still good to drive.

Standard equipment is pretty generous, too, and with the entry-level ‘Life’ trim being surprisingly rare, the odds are that you will find a better-equipped Corsa that’s well within your budget. The Excite trim is particularly plush with air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB digital radio, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel.

Also, just like the Fiesta, there are a range of both petrol and diesel engines to choose from. The vast majority find themselves in single-digit insurance groups but, sadly, the better-performing turbocharged petrol units are best avoided, as these can push up the premiums by a considerable amount.

6. Renault ZOE (Mk1)

With the UK set to ban petrol and diesel cars in 2035, many motorists are starting to make the switch to electric cars. If you want to get a head start, a used Renault ZOE could be the ideal EV.

Earlier ZOEs can now be found on the second-hand market for less than £5,000. One thing to be careful of, though, is that a number of these earlier ZOEs have a leased battery back, which means you will have to pay an additional monthly cost. To avoid this extra charge, it might be a better idea to spend a bit more on an example with an owned battery.

Smaller 22kWh ZOEs are the most common at the lower end of the pricing spectrum. These cars possess a single 89bhp motor and should be good for a driving range of around 100 miles realistically. If you’re planning on making frequent long journeys then the ZOE might not be the choice for you, but for shorter urban trips it could be a solid buy – especially when you consider the savings on Vehicle Excise Duty (road tax) and low-emission zones.

5. Kia Picanto (Mk3)

The Mk3 Kia Picanto has been on sale since 2017, and used examples are starting to drop in price. This means you won’t have to search too far to find a tempting finance deal on this city car. 

The Picanto’s basic trim levels are some of the easiest to understand, too. If you exclude the special editions, you simply have the choice of levels 1, 2, or 3 – the higher the number, the higher the spec.

The entry-level Picanto 1 trim features electric front windows, remote central locking, a two-speaker stereo system and steel wheels. We’d recommend opting for the 2, though, as this brings 14-inch alloys, electrically heated and adjustable door mirrors, air-con, powered rear windows, Bluetooth and a four-speaker audio set-up. 

4. Toyota Aygo/Citroen C1/Peugeot 108 (Mk1)

Although they come from different manufacturers, the Toyota Aygo, Citroen C1, and Peugeot 108 are all pretty much the same car – the only noticeable difference is their exterior styling. While the model you choose will mostly be down to price and personal tastes, all three make a great choice for a learner due to their sheer simplicity.

Compact, equipped with the essentials, and very cheap to run – thanks to a frugal 1.0-litre engine that should easily return over 55mpg – there’s little to complain about if all you need is a dependable, no-frills set of wheels.

All three models are reasonably safe, but be sure to shop around as some used examples will have been fitted with optional active safety features for added peace of mind.

3. Skoda Fabia (Mk3)

The Skoda Fabia is another supermini that offers refinement, practicality and reliability – thanks to its proven underpinnings that are shared with the Volkswagen Polo. The reason why the Fabia makes this list over the VW, though, is that it tends to sell for a lower price, making it great value.

There are three petrol and one diesel engine to choose from, and if you aren’t too fussed about power, the non-turbocharged 1.0 mpi petrol sits in insurance group one with a number of trim levels. If you’re not pushing it too hard, another upside of this engine is fuel economy of more than 55mpg.

On the subject of trim levels, the basic ‘S’ spec is a little sparse when it comes to equipment, so we’d recommend opting for at least ‘SE Drive’ as this includes some useful additions such as front fog lights and rear parking sensors. 

2. Ford Fiesta (Mk6)

Whether you’ve been driving for days, weeks, or years, the Ford Fiesta has proven itself as a great all-rounder for generations – so much so that it often topped the UK car sales charts before being axed in 2023. It’s fun to drive, practical for its size, reliable, and reasonably priced.

Our choice here is the Mk6 Fiesta which was produced from 2008-2017, as these cars are currently sitting in the sweet spot of low prices and modern features. There’s also plenty of variety on offer with multiple trim levels and a range of petrol and diesel engines readily available nationwide. 

Find a Fiesta Mk6 in Zetec trim and you will get a fair helping of creature comforts; such as electric front windows, remote central locking, a heated windscreen, air-conditioning and alloy wheels. 

1. Volkswagen up!/Skoda Citigo/SEAT Mii

As a three-time winner of the City Car of the Year title at our New Car Awards, it’s no secret that we are very fond of the Volkswagen up! – along with its sister cars, the SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo. In fact, not only is this whole family of compact cars easy to manoeuvre and park, but they’re comfortable and fun to drive, too.

All three versions are plentiful on the used market, and they can be found for very reasonable prices. Although there are electric versions available, these command much higher prices so we recommend sticking with the perfectly capable 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol. This engine should easily deliver over 50mpg, and it’s even a fairly low polluter with CO2 emissions of 117g/km.

Things get even better when it comes to insurance. There is at least one variant of each model residing in insurance group 1, so this will help to keep those premiums under control.

The best cars for learner drivers 

  1. Volkswagen up!/SEAT Mii/Skoda Citigo (Mk1)
  2. Ford Fiesta (Mk6)
  3. Skoda Fabia (Mk3)
  4. Toyota Aygo/Citroen C1/Peugeot 108
  5. Kia Picanto (Mk3)
  6. Renault ZOE (Mk1)
  7. Vauxhall Corsa (Mk4)
  8. Ford Focus (Mk3)
  9. Toyota Yaris Hybrid (Mk3)
  10. Fiat Panda (Mk3)

Planning to buy brand new instead? Check out our list of the best first cars for new drivers

Shane is responsible for looking after the day-to-day running of the Auto Express website and social media channels. Prior to joining Auto Express in 2021, he worked as a radio producer and presenter for outlets such as the BBC.

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