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The best first cars

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The best first cars
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6 of the best first cars for around £500
Once you’ve passed your driving test, you’ll be desperate to hit the road in your own car. But buying and running a first car can be expensive. And as many people in this situation won’t have a big budget, Stuart Morton, chief sub-editor of Auto Express and Carbuyer has looked at the best buys for £500.
 
The main consideration for most people hunting for their first car will be insurance – as the premiums can cost thousands. So it’s worth starting off with something small and cheap to run, and not especially exciting, to build up some no-claims bonus.
 
For £500, you’ll be looking at cars that are between 10 and 15 years old, so don’t expect a low mileage. But you can stave off any concerns about reliability by choosing a car with plenty of MoT remaining, plus a decent amount of service history, showing that essential work has been carried out.
 
With all this in mind, we’ve rounded up six of the best £500 first cars:
Ford Ka
Ford Ka
eBay loves: Fun to drive, lots to choose from
Watch out for: Rotting wheel arches, poor safety kit
 
The original Ford Ka was on sale for 12 years, so it really is left trailing by modern cars in terms of power, performance and safety features. The 1.3-litre engine found in most examples can trace its roots back to the 1960s Ford Anglia, while apart from a driver’s airbag, the three-door provides little in the way of safety kit. But like most Fords, it’s great fun to drive, and there are loads on the market at bargain prices. Most sit in insurance group 10 or 11, so premiums for recently qualified drivers could be lower, but if you can find one of the later Collection or Luxury models, you get desirable kit like a CD player and air-conditioning.
Peugeot 106
Peugeot 106
eBay loves: Thrilling to drive, cheap to run
Watch out for: Noisy and feels raw on the move
 
The Peugeot 106 serves up a lot of the fun of the legendary 205, and although it’s now showing its age, it makes a brilliant £500 first car. You won’t be able to stretch to one of the racy GTi or Rallye versions at this price – these are now modern classics – but a 1.0, 1.1 or 1.4-litre petrol 106, or a 1.5-litre diesel, should be within reach. Plus, they all combine thrills at the wheel with decent fuel economy and insurance groups between seven and 11. The cabin feels cheap and basic by modern standards, and safety equipment is in short supply. Plus, it’s noisy on the move – but for many drivers this raw feel only adds to the appeal of the little Peugeot. 
Renault Clio
Renault Clio
eBay loves: Cheap to buy and run, safety kit
Watch out for: Poor-quality interior not very durable
 
Spend £500, and a second-generation Renault Clio can be yours. The odd diesel is available at this price, although it’ll be the sluggish early 1.9-litre with high mileage. More common are 1.2-litre 16-valve petrol cars, which appeal to first car buyers with their group seven insurance and decent fuel economy. Parents that are worried about teenage drivers taking to the road for the first time will be reassured by the Clio’s strong safety credentials. Plus, the three and five-door score with their space, and all models are really easy to drive, with a comfortable ride and good handling. This Clio isn’t quite as much fun as the Mk1, but it’s much more reliable. 
Nissan Micra
Nissan Micra
eBay loves: Great reputation for reliability
Watch out for: Not much fun, dowdy image
 
Strong reliability helps the Nissan Micra stand out as a great cheap first car. The MkII Micra was sold with a choice of 16-valve petrol engines in 1.0, 1.3 and later 1.4-litre capacities, and a £500 budget will buy a model from around 2000. The 1.0-litre is fine for town work, and sits in insurance group seven, with the 1.3 in insurance group nine. Plus, six-figure mileages should be nothing to fear with durable Nissan mechanicals, as long as the car has been serviced regularly. The three and five-door provide a decent amount of interior space, although they trail rivals on boot capacity. And while the Micra isn’t exactly fun to drive, many buyers will put up with this given the car’s reputation for trouble-free motoring.
Citroen Saxo
Citroen Saxo
eBay loves: Cheap to buy and run
Watch out for: Abused boy racer cars
 
Back in the day, the Citroen Saxo was a smash hit supermini, and there are still plenty on the road at this price range. While £500 won’t be enough to buy one of the brilliant VTS or VTR hot hatches, it should secure a fairly tidy, late 1.0 or 1.1-litre petrol model. These are nippy around town and can even manage motorway runs; the 1.5-litre diesel is best avoided, as it’s rough and unrefined. As the Saxo shares its mechanicals with the Peugeot 106, it’s just as much fun to drive, plus it stands out in this price range with its 280-litre boot capacity. And insurance as low as group seven will appeal to drivers who’ve recently passed their test.
Vauxhall Corsa
Vauxhall Corsa
eBay loves: Still lots about, easy to drive
Watch out for: Dated looks, short on safety kit
 
It looks quite dated now, but the Mk1 Corsa was one of the best-selling cars in Britain in the late 1990s. That means there are still plenty to choose from now, so £500 goes a long way for buyers in the market for their first car. Petrol fans can pick from 1.0, 1.2 and 1.4 engines, while there’s also a 1.7-litre diesel. All are noisy by modern standards, although the 1.0-litre sits in insurance group five and is reasonably efficient. Safety equipment could be better – you need to buy a GLS model or above to get a driver’s airbag, while only the top-spec CDX had a passenger airbag. But all versions of the Vauxhall Corsa are easy to drive and fairly spacious, with the five-door obviously giving easier access than the three-door.
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