Transaid learner car

The learner car. What makes a good one, and what’s the most popular?

Cars Culture

What car is best for a learner driver?

The learner car. What a life.

Firstly, does anyone else ever anthropomorphise cars into having human-like emotions and feelings? If not, bear with me. Imagine you’re a new car, pleased at being bought new and then discovering you’re going to be used as a learner vehicle. Would this be a harsh life of stalling, kerbing, and struggling to make it to the other side of 70(mph)? Or am I being silly and cars are actually just a collection of metal, plastic and oil and I should get a life? Am I no better than someone who starts sticking eyelashes on Beetles? Maybe, but I have a fondness for the ’learner car’, due to what it gives us all – the route into freedom for the rest of our lives.

These cars are the first ones most drivers experience – and are probably a lot better than the first car they buy for themselves. I learned to drive in a Focus Ghia, and then had to make do with a diesel Uno after I’d passed. In hindsight, I should have failed more than once (second time lucky for me) and spent more time enjoying the reliability, quiet engine, and comfy interior of the modern learner car before being subjected to the unassisted steering, eardrum-piercing wiperblades and wobbly gearknob of Uno-shaped reality. I’m glad I didn’t learn to drive in that thing. It was so rough I’m sure ‘Uno’ was just short for ‘unoiled’. The Focus, however, was solid and smooth.


So what makes a good ‘learner car’?

It’s a question which seems fairly simple to answer – a car with all the bits you need to drive, and not much else. One that can take missed-gear and emergency-stop abuse – and isn’t worth too much, in case the driver is less proficient at driving than they are at Snapchatting. Preferably small enough to give a bit of leeway when things get a bit cosy on the lean streets of the UK too. Oh, and pretty much guaranteed to start in the morning. Right?

In that case, why aren’t the roads full of L-plate-adorned steel-wheeled flat-painted Dacias?

The truth is, learner vehicles rarely actually crash. Usually travelling at slower speeds, more cautiously (and having a very proficient driver with their own set of pedals in the passenger seat) means the chance of impact is very low. Combine this with graphics on the vehicle making it clear who the car belongs to (putting car thieves off) and these cars are unlikely to end up being joy-ridden or in a police chase, either. Which also means they’re actually rather cheap to insure – especially through special driving instructor policies that the likes of Adrian Flux have available. Indeed, learners are such a low risk compared to newly qualified drivers that you could even get a provisonal licence holder insured on their parent’s car for £1 a day – subject to a couple of special learner insurance terms.

Learner driver

Now that the risk of scratching the bodywork is disregarded, what is left is simply the need for a reliable car without much in the way of driver aids. That means a modern, smallish car with a bit of credibility to attract potential customers. So sorry, Korea, your cars may be ideal but the Hyundais, Kias etc of the world are far from the most, er, ‘lit’ or ‘reem’ or whatevs.

I wanted some science and stats here rather than subjectivity, so tapped on the shoulders of my friends at Adrian Flux to see what the most popular cars were for driving instructors’ policies – they crunched some numbers and generated this top six:

  1. Ford Fiesta
  2. Vauxhall Corsa
  3. Renault Clio
  4. Toyota Yaris
  5. Citroen DS3
  6. MINI

These are the vehicles actually chosen by people whose career depends on selecting the best vehicle for the job, so is essentially devoid of speculation and preference – these are the cars that do the job best.

Ford Fiesta learner car

That ‘job’ is not only to be the tool in which new drivers learn their craft, but also to attract new gear-crunchers to choose that school above all the others.

There were, of course, some Hyundais and such on the books too, but nowhere near making it into the list above. The real stars, though, are the top two which each had more than double the number of examples as the third place Clio. More luxurious models appeared too – with Audi A3s and VW Golfs outnumbering bargain basement Picantos, Sanderos or i10s – showing desirability actually counts for something in your choice of learner car.

And at the other end of the scale, which learner car is the most obscure? Whilst I was poking Adrian Flux for its data, the team at Influx couldn’t help wondering what the most obscure vehicles were. So we looked. These all appeared just once on the data –

Austin Mini

VW Wizard (Beetle-based roadster)

Nissan 350Z

Santana PS-10

And, finally –

Alvis CVRT & GKN Sankey FV432 (I’m guessing these were not for standard driving licences…)

A mixed bag, for sure, and nice to see an original Mini there. The 350Z, though, we’re assuming is for some kind of advanced motoring – or maybe not – Adrian Flux wouldn’t give me any details, of course.

All in all the learner car has a lot to be thankful for – most are driven freely between lessons by their skilled instructors, and then on lessons they don’t get too abused. And they’re helping new drivers achieve their dreams of freedom. And that’s a great gift to give anyone.

A lifetime of travelling and adventures await those who pass their test – through adulthood, having a family, and driving through the future and into old age, where a harsh life of stalling, kerbing, and struggling to make it to the other side of 70(mph) potentially awaits.


Pics via Ford Europe / Vauxhall / Transaid and Adrian Flux