So, starting to drive in the UK can be quite expensive, since the insurance for the new and young drivers is ridiculously costly. But it can be achieved; even on a student budget. Also, that does not mean driving a 10-year-old 1.0LTR Vauxhall Corsa, a car notorious with ‘youths’ and boy racers.
I’m going to show you my picks for a young student car, that isn’t a Fiat 500 or Peugeot 107. All of them can be bought for up to £1,500 and with one exception: they are all in insurance group 5 or lower as of early 2017.
Citroen C3 XTR
This tiny car is a ‘wannabe’ off-roader, however, it’s simply adventure city car with slightly higher suspension, big chunky plastic bumpers, and some really cool roof rails. That said, it can’t take much more than some deeper-than-usual potholes and some rocky country roads. The car sits in the fairly cheap 5th insurance group with its 1.4LTR petrol engine delivering an astonishing 90 bhp (break horse power), which while not making it a speed demon, it is the most powerful engine on this list. It should perform well, in city as well as out on the motorway without the need to rev it high to keep up with the traffic. This is combined with spacious interior for added comfort for the driver and passenger, however the back seats struggle with leg room. It still makes for a good option for your first car, furthermore all XTR’s have rich equipment for a car that can be bought from as little as £800; it includes amazing extras, like a large electrical sunroof, automatic heated mirrors, and side airbags.
So, you might wonder, why is this car in 5th place? Well for me, the design of the car isn’t fantastic – I know there are people who like it, but it’s just not for me. This is the car that I do poke fun at for being ugly. Plus, the digital dash makes this car something I want to stay far away from. However, if you don’t mind these two things, the humble little Citroen will make for probably one of the best first cars.
Fiat Grande Punto
Next on the list are the 1.2LTR and 1.4LTR petrol versions of Fiat Grande Punto, both can be picked up from £700 upwards. In contrast to the ugly C3, this one is by many considered the best looking one in its class. It’s also bigger than any of its predecessors and similar small cars like the Fiesta or the Corsa, making it once again a good choice if you plan to road trip with a couple of your mates in the back, and still have some space in the boot. But don’t let the sporty style fool you; the weaker 1.2LTR is in the third insurance group is good for 65 bhp, while the 8v 1.4LTR will provide you with slightly more ‘exciting’ 77 bhp but bump you up to the sixth insurance group. While the cheap versions of the Grande Punto have quite a sluggish engine, their light weight, good suspension, and enjoyable steering, (as well as the sporty aerodynamic design) makes this the best car for young petrol heads. However, it is a Fiat after all and its reliability reviews are mixed and vary on spectrum from ‘works like a dream’, ‘god-awful’. One of the most common issues I have noticed were those concerning the gearbox, so be sure to check thoroughly on a test drive.
Skoda Fabia (2000 Model)
Now for the often overlooked, Skoda Fabia. Even though its production started in 2000 it continued well into 2007, so it’s still possible to pick one up under 10 years of age. The prices vary on the version, but they start at about £700, up to the £4,000 mark. If you decide to go for the version with a tiny 3 cylinder 1.2LTR engine with either 54 or 64BHP, you’re looking at it falling into the lowest insurance group on the list, group two. However, being part of the Volkswagen group, you can expect similar level of build quality in this car as in its German cousins, and therefore it packs quite a bit of weight and if you plan to do some highway driving 54 bhp might not be enough – so try and get yourself the 64 bhp, and if you are willing to spend slightly more for insurance you can chose from 1.4 petrol and diesel engines producing 75 bhp for the petrol and 70 bhp for diesel, moving it into the 5th and 6th insurance group respectively. Due to relatively low power combined with the heavy weight, and main target market, this isn’t really a driver’s car and, and we can’t really expect it to be different. It’s a small and cheap family car, and that’s what you should expect. Furthermore, it’s an early 2000’s family car; it’s probably the car with least optional equipment and gadgets on the list, but at the same time it’s probably the cheapest car to insure.
Volkswagen Polo (2002- 2009 Models)
The trusty Volkswagen Polo (from 2002- 2009), falls next on the list, which now can be purchased for £400. Now, while we don’t recommend buying a 14-year-old German car to any student, it’s VW badge makes it probably the priciest to maintain, the insurance starts from the third group up. Its platform was the basis for the earlier mentioned Skoda Fabia, and it also shares some of technology with the Fabia. 1.2LTR engines are used in both cars, which in the Polo range in power from 55 to 70 horse power. The best option in my opinion being the 60bhp version which sits in very affordable third insurance group while the more powerful 70bhp is on the fifth. In many aspects, the Polo is just a more refined and more luxurious version of the Fabia, also offering much richer interior equipment. This, of course, comes with the higher price of maintenance and insurance, but, in recent years, VW badge had gained itself a reputation for bulletproof reliability therefore the need to replace expensive parts should be fairly low.
Ford Focus MK2
And last, but not least, is the Ford Focus MK2. It’s 1.4LTR engine version is relatively high for student car, dropping it into the sixth insurance group. However, what you get for your money, in my opinion, is fully worth the slightly higher asking price and insurance. Now this probably the most boring or most dull car on the list; but it has won several ‘Best Car of The Year’ and ‘Best Compact Family Car’ awards, both of which sound rather ‘un-student’ like, and it feels and drives exactly like that. It’s by far the biggest and thus the heaviest on the list which makes driving anything but dynamic or exciting. However, unlike all the other cars on this list, this one isn’t classed as ‘super-mini’ , this means you can pack 5 people inside, fit considerable size luggage, and go for longer than 30 minute drive without passengers wanting to kill each other. It’s a car you get if you don’t care about driving experience or the looks, you just want it to get you comfortably and reliably from point A to B, nothing more, nothing less.
So here it is, a selection of vehicles that aren’t as much of a sting on the student budget. It’s important to point out that the list isn’t in any particular order. Each of these cars have pros and cons, and you should probably choose one that suits you best. If you want good styling and a very dynamic feeling car, you should go for the Punto, if you want something that will get you and your mates along to a festival comfortably, you should probably for something like the Focus.