top 5 cars for learner drivers

andy enright takes a look at the cars you should turn to first if you're looking for a first new car.

top 5 cars for learner drivers

For many of us, our first car was a banger and the buying criteria were that it was cheap, it had tax and MoT, it was halfway insurable and it looked as if it would get you home without chugging its coolant onto the hard shoulder. The combination of the scrappage scheme and an increasing focus on safety has meant that dirt cheap cars are no longer the preferred option for new drivers. What's more, a modern car is now so efficient that an old clunker often makes no financial sense purely in terms of fuel consumption. Here's where I'd be looking if I was shopping for a vehicle for a learner driver.

5 Vauxhall Corsa This is the vehicle chosen by more driving schools than any other, so thousands of driving instructors surely can't be wrong. With a solid feel, low cost of body parts in the case of a minor scrape, a relatively high seating position and low insurance, starting at Group 1 for the Expression 1.0 EcoFLEX, the Corsa makes all kinds of sense. Couple that with a EuroNCAP 5 star rating for occupants and you have a vehicle that even the most ham-fisted of drivers should be able to handle. Of all our top five contenders, this feels the most substantial vehicle and the one most capable of handling longer journeys. With a combined fuel economy figure of 56.5mpg, it's certainly not going to break the bank when it comes to fuel bills.

4 Ford Ka

Around £1,500 cheaper than the Corsa is Ford's Ka. At 69bhp, its 1.2-litre engine offers a little more pep than the heavyweight Corsa's 1.0-litre unit and this will be the choice for the keener driver who is looking for something that offers some entertainment behind the wheel. Its combined economy figure of 55.4mpg is typical for the class. If there was one car in this list that has the ability to get a young driver falling in love with driving, it's certainly the Ka. Though there's only a three-door bodystyle on offer, there's an airy feel inside with an abundance of headroom for front seat occupants and the boot too is of a useful size for a citycar but 224 litres won't go that far after a major supermarket splurge. Fold the rear seats and 747 litres is available. Fun, practical and at Group 2, easily insurable, the Ka is an appealing option.

3 Chevrolet Spark

The Spark might not be too familiar with British buyers but it ticks all the boxes for a new driver. Powered by a 1.0-litre 68bhp engine and falling into insurance group 1, the Spark is good looking and, with its micro-MPV silhouette, the most practical of all our contenders here if you're looking to put people in the back seats. The Spark looks strong value but bear in mind that the entry-level version is about as well equipped as a man climbing Everest in Speedos and a sombrero. With no stereo, manual windows and not even a clock, the main purpose of this model is attracting buyers into showrooms with its low asking price. The real value is to be had at Spark + level where air-conditioning, electric windows, central locking and a USB compatible four-speaker stereo are all included for a modest price increase.

2 Smart Fortwo

The Smart Fortwo is a car that always merits inclusion in any list of vehicles for learner drivers but it's also a vehicle that you can legally drive if you've passed an automatic test. DVLA classes an automatic as `A vehicle in which the gear ratio between the engine and the wheels can be varied only by the use of the accelerator or brakes'. Therefore, the Fortwo, with no manual clutch is regarded as an automatic. It's also the easiest of all our top five to drive. With a 71bhp engine, the Pulse model with micro hybrid drive is the best bet. It falls into insurance group 3 so may well be a little pricier to cover than some rivals but many will see that as a fair trade in return for the most distinctive style statement of all the cars here. If you're at all shaky about parking, the Smart is the car to go for. At just 2,695mm long, the Smart Fortwo can even be parked end on to the kerb in some places.

1 Toyota Aygo / Citroen C1 / Peugeot 107

At the top of our selection is not one car but three. They're all spawned from the same vehicle, so it would be invidious to choose one over the other and much will depend on the proximity of a dealer or what kind of deal you can strike. Taking the Toyota as an example, the Aygo 1.0 typically retails at around £8,500 and features a 67bhp three-cylinder engine. It's effortless to drive, easy to see out of, features group 1 insurance and 62.8mpg combined fuel consumption, making it a superb choice for a new driver.

Any of these vehicles makes a great option for the new driver and a three year finance deal will help them gain confidence in a safe, reliable vehicle and, with any luck, build up a bit of no-claims bonus.