It’s that time of year again: time for school leavers to become university students, to head off to every corner of the country to begin their lives away from home; a time of mixed emotions for parents.
If you’re in that situation, you might be contemplating helping your new student a set of wheels to help them navigate the big wide world – and come home safely again too.
To help you out, we’ve put together our list of the best cars for students – and we’ve found one for every budget. So whether you want a bargain basement cheapie or you’re prepared to stump up for the newest, safest car you can buy, we’ve got the answer below.
£1,000: Vauxhall Corsa (2006-2014)
When the fourth-generation Vauxhall Corsa was released in 2006, it was to a fairly rapturous reception. It won What Car? magazine’s Car of the Year award that year, for example, with journalists praising its comfortable ride, high-quality soft-touch plastics and spacious interior.
But as with all Vauxhalls, depreciation has hit the Corsa hard since then, with the result that you can now buy this excellent little car for less than £1,000.
Granted, you’ll have to go for a low-spec model with a 1.0- or a 1.2-litre engine – but given the exorbitant costs of insurance these days, that’s probably all you’ll want anyway. Running costs are reasonable, and the Corsa is cheap and easy to repair if and when it goes wrong. And with a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, you can rest assured that your beloved offspring (and their friends) are about as safe as they can be for the price.
Price to pay ⇢ from £800
We found ⇢ 2008 Corsa 1.0i 12v Life, 80,000 miles, full service history, £995
Watch out for ⇢ Noisy wheel bearings, broken heater controls, inoperative wipers, lumpy 1.0s, diesel particulate filter (DPF) issues.
£2,000: Toyota Yaris (2006-2011)
If you’re after a reliable small car, you can’t really go wrong with a Yaris, and this second-generation version holds true to that reputation. The unusual interior design means it isn’t quite as dull as Toyota’s normal fare from this period, and while the plastics aren’t quite as high-quality as some of the Yaris’s rivals the payoff is that it should go on and on forever without a hitch.
This generation of Yaris was the first to score a five-star Euro NCAP crash test result, too, which makes it safe as well as dependable. And for this budget, you can take your pick of the 1.0-litre, with its lower insurance costs, or the 1.3, which is a little more at home on the motorway for those long journeys home.
Price to pay ⇢ from £1,500
We found ⇢ 2006 1.0 VVT-i T3, 58,000 miles, full service history, £1,995
Watch out for ⇢ Oil leaks, glitchy Multimode automatic, grumbling water pumps on 1.0s, various problems with diesel versions.
£5,000: Ford Fiesta (2008-2017)
If you’re a regular reader, you’ll be aware that we’re big fans of the seventh-generation Fiesta. We love the way it drives and rides, with fun, agile handling and a big-car feel despite its supermini dimensions.
For £5,000, we can think of no finer choice as a student car. This budget allows you to pick and choose from a huge number of tidy, well kept examples. And the Fiesta’s pretty well equipped, roomy, and safe, with a commendable Euro NCAP crash test score.
And while it doesn’t have quite as good a reliability record as some of the Japanese and Korean options you can buy instead, the Fiesta is cheaper than any of them to service and repair, which combined with its impressive fuel consumption, will keep running costs low – and that means more cash left over to spend on essential study equipment (or, more likely, at the union bar).
Price to pay ⇢ from £2,000
We found ⇢ 2013 Fiesta 1.25 Zetec, 58,000 miles, full service history, £5,000
Watch out for ⇢ Notchy power steering, jerky Powershift automatics, heater fans only working on full power, diesel DPF issues.
£10,000: Hyundai i20 (2015-2020)
You’re never going to see a poster of an i20 adorning a bedroom wall in a hall of residence, but having one in the car park outside means your not-so-little one will enjoy years of trouble-free, easy-going motoring.
For £10,000, you can get them into a second-generation example with a couple of years of its five-year manufacturer warranty left – and that means they shouldn’t have to worry about repairs if it goes wrong.
Having said that, the chances are it won’t, given Hyundai’s impressive reliability record. The i20 has a reputation as one of the most dependable small cars out there – but that isn’t its only benefit. It’s good to drive, too, with neat handling and a comfortable ride, and while the interior is rather dour, it is at least spacious, meaning plenty of room to lug belongings back and forth from student house to student house.
Price to pay ⇢ from £5,000
We found ⇢ 2018 i20 1.2 SE, 19,000 miles, full service history, £10,000
Watch out for ⇢ Slipping/juddering clutches.
£20,000: Toyota Yaris (2020-present)
The Yaris’s second appearance on this list is in its latest form, and with good reason: this is quite a bit of cash to spend on a car for a student, so you’ll want to spend it well, and if you simply must have the newest, safest and most reliable student car you can, the Yaris is it.
Not only do you get the benefit of Toyota’s excellent new warranty offer, which can last as long as 10 years, but all modern Yarises are hybrids, which means they’re super-cheap to run and environmentally friendly, too. And with its stylish looks it’ll certainly turn a few heads on campus.
What’s more, all Yarises are automatics nowadays, which means they’re incredibly easy to drive, a characteristic aided and abetted by super-light steering and easy-going controls.
Price to pay ⇢ from £17,000
We found ⇢ 2021 Yaris 1.5 Hybrid Design, 2,000 miles, £19,995
Watch out for ⇢ Nothing of note as yet.
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