First off, a balance needs to be struck between good handling and safety. Lighter, tinnier cars may handle better than a family barge, but are more vulnerable in an accident, and statistically, new drivers are very likely to have a bump of sorts early on in their motoring life. Although it increases the mechanical complexity, try and get a car with ABS and a decent number of airbags. Smaller capacity engines are cheaper to insure, but you’ll have more fun working the engine to extract the power. Throw in a more direct steering feel, with wheels at each corner to maximise space, and you’ve all the ingredients for an enjoyable first car!
This a is real back to basics car, and handles just like a go-kart. Nippy around town, and ok for occasional longer jaunts, the steering’s direct and the power is unlikely to get you in to too much trouble. The firm ride adds to the sporty feel, as does the three-pot engine, that needs a good thrashing to make swift progress. They’re all made in the same factory, with trim details differentiating each model, so just choose the version that fits your budget best.
However you pronounce it, the previous shape Ka is one of the best handling small cars you can buy. Corners and bends can be approached with relish, and grip levels are high. The suspension soaks up all the bumps with ease, and it feels like a much more grown-up car from inside. Despite stone age mechanicals, the whole package feels like an eager puppy – faithful, but always ready for fun. They do suffer from the tin worm, and power steering problems can require expensive remedy, but parts and servicing are cheap.
Mechanically the same as the Skoda Fabia and VW Polo, Seat have managed to inject a bit more Latin charm into their supermini variant. After the 2002 facelift the styling’s funky and fresh, inside and out, whilst the handling responds well when pushed. It’s a big supermini, so will have no problem fitting today’s lanky teenagers in the back.
The original Panda was actually a square shaped piece of rust on wheels, but the Mk2 version from 2004 was a much better car all around. With the wheels at the very corners of the car, it handles crisply, with a well-damped ride for such a compact car. The interior is a fun place to be, although owners of Airfix kits may recognise the plastics used.
After you’ve bought the car…
A big part of getting your first car is putting your own individual stamp on it. But be careful with modifications that could push up insurance costs, as any changes should be declared. Much better to get a nice example in a good colour/trim combination. Having said that, a fresh set of smart alloy wheels are one of the best ways to enhance any car.
Another worthwhile tip is to give the car a proper ‘detail’, bringing out the shine of the paint and getting it looking like new again. This involves a deep clean, and the polishing out of marks and scratches on the paint’s top surface. The results can be astounding, and a far superior way to make the car stand out than by adding tacky aftermarket nick-nacks.
Finally, don’t forget to set aside a ‘fighting fund’ for maintenance and repairs – one of the joys of owning an older car is the way they can turn around and bite you for unexpected bills – and there’s no gloomier feeling than having great transport you can’t use.
By David G