Ask the Expert: What’s the best learner-friendly small car to replace a Fiat 500?

There’s a wealth of choice of small manual cars suitable for learner drivers
There’s a wealth of choice of small manual cars suitable for learner drivers - Kzenon /Alamy

Dear Alex,

My leased Fiat 500 is due for renewal in the summer. With two growing teenagers learning to drive soon, I would like to buy a small car for me to do my 5,000 annual miles as well as for them to learn in. I think a manual gearbox would be best for them so they are ready for anything. We need five doors, good safety and reliability, low emissions and reasonable cost to insure for learners, all on a £10,000 budget. What would you suggest?


Dear LT,

It is a good idea to learn with a manual gearbox. As you say, it means they’re ready in case they one day need to drive a manual for work reasons or even an emergency. There’s a wealth of choice of small manual cars for your budget; which you choose is going to depend on your priorities.

If, for example, reliability and low emissions are key, the Hyundai i10 is a strong contender. It is easy to drive as well as park, which will reduce the likelihood of low-speed scrapes, and it’s one of the most dependable small cars around. But while its adult occupant protection score of 79 per cent in crash tests is decent enough, it isn’t quite as good as other cars.

The Toyota Yaris has a better score, at 83 per cent, although to get the lowest insurance group you’ll have to get the 1.0-litre version which isn’t very quick. That might be a bonus for learners, but you might find it frustrating. However, if you use a Toyota dealer for servicing, you’ll get a year’s warranty until the car is 10-years-old; the Yaris has a sterling record for reliability regardless.

The safest small car within your budget is the Renault Clio. Its occupant protection score of 96 per cent is about the best in this segment. But the Clio’s dependability is a bit hit-and-miss and Renault tends to finish in the lower half of most reliability surveys.

The Ford Fiesta is a perennial favourite of new drivers and there are many thousands of used examples to choose from. Its crash protection score of 87 per cent is respectable, too, and while its reliability record isn’t as good as that of the Hyundai or the Toyota, it’s slightly better than the Renault’s. What’s more, Ford servicing and repairs tend to be cheaper than most others, so looking after a Fiesta shouldn’t break the bank.

However, insurance costs are slightly higher than for other cars here, even with the basic 1.1-litre engine. This is, at least, peppy and punches above its weight. The Fiesta is also sweet to drive, so you are less likely to lose interest than with any other car mentioned here.

I would choose the Fiesta as the best all-rounder of the bunch, while the Yaris should prove the most durable and offer the most peace of mind – as long as you can live with the fact it’s a little more dull and a touch less protective.

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