Car Choice: New drivers – beware the elephant in the showroom

Denise Pieri wants to know what type of car is economical, reliable, and has reasonable tax and insurance costs. Oh yes, and it has to be "good looking" enough for an 18-year-old. Her daughter is hoping to take her driving test this month, and Denise's husband feels she should have a car. They can probably come up with about £3,000 – either to buy a used car or as a deposit on a new one.

A car for the head

It's the most frequently asked question I get – just what should we buy our nipper to drive. There is no single answer, and as ever we need to mention the elephant in the showroom – insurance. There is a trade-off between the cost of the car and the cost of the insurance, which for an 18-year-old is unlikely to be less than four figures for a year. The car for the head really ought to be the one that Denise can afford. For reliability and low running costs it would have to be a Toyota Yaris 1.0. Toyota is a byword for reliability and mechanical quality. Denise could get a GS, with between 70,000 to 90,000 miles on the clock, for around £800-£900. I found a few year 2000 examples, some with road tax and a full MOT. That would leave Denise with over £2,000 to spend on insurance, and she will definitely need that, even though it's only Group One.

A car for the heart

If Denise wants to go for the new car option then it will mean looking around at the best finance packages on offer at the moment. One that fits the bill is the Citroën C1. The basic VT has ABS brakes, Cornering Stability Control, driver and passenger airbag, and it was awarded four out of five stars in the adult occupancy protection rating by the European New Car Assessment Programme. The variable power-assisted steering, rear windscreen wiper, plus the radio/CD player with a socket for an MP3 player, should keep the youngster comfortable and entertained. It will be Group One insurance and it officially delivers 62.8mpg. The emissions, at 103g/km, are low enough to qualify for a tax-free first year and £20 thereafter. Citroën has a special offer valid until the end of this month. This scheme, called Elect 4, is a four-year rental deal. At the end of the period the car gets handed back and you have the option of getting a new one. At the moment it costs £109 a month. Obviously, terms and conditions do apply.

Looking to buy?

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF or email James Ruppert at, giving your age, address and phone number, details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested, and your budget.