Happy lady hugging her new white car in the dealership

Which popular car is the best value for money?

author: Helen Fox

By Helen Fox

As of last year, more than 70% of car buyers say the rising cost of living has changed the way they’re looking at their next car purchase.

Used car prices rose by as much as 53% between 2020 and 2021, thanks to a shortage of parts slowing down the production of new cars. This now looks to be steadying, but combined with other rising costs, this means many on the hunt for a new(er) car are considering cheaper or smaller cars - if they’re still going to buy at all.

We’ve rounded up three popular cars available to buy second-hand and compared their costs to buy and run. Which one will come out on top?

What cars have we compared?

We’ve compared:

  • Ford Fiesta
  • Vauxhall Corsa
  • Volkswagen Golf

These make up the top three best-selling used cars in the UK according to used car sales data by SMMT. For the purpose of this comparison, we’ve looked at 5-year-old cars that have done up to 50,000 miles.

Of course, there are lots of different variants of each of these models, so we compared the following specifications as an example of each car:

  • Ford Fiesta 1.0L Ecoboost Zetec (Hatchback, 3 door, petrol, manual)
  • Vauxhall Corsa 1.4i ecoTEC Energy (Hatchback, 3 door, petrol, manual)
  • Volkswagen Golf 1.4L TSI S (Hatchback, 5 door, petrol, manual)

This means that if you’re looking at a different specification, you may find that the costs we’ve stated are quite different. So, remember that our comparison is simply designed to give you an idea of what different cars cost – it’s not set in stone.

Cars compared at a glance

We’ve put together this handy table to help you compare cars at a glance.


Ford Fiesta

Vauxhall Corsa

VW Golf

Cost to buy




Insurance group




Annual road tax




Tank of fuel cost




Combined MPG




What is the cheapest car to buy?

According to our comparison, the Vauxhall Corsa looks like the cheapest option, costing a little over £8,600 for a 5-year-old model. Meanwhile, the Ford Fiesta costs close to £8,800, and the Volkswagen Golf costs significantly more, with a price of £12,350 for the model we compared. This price difference is perhaps to be expected, as the Corsa and Fiesta are the smallest models available from their manufacturers. But, Volkswagen also offers the Up and the Polo which are both smaller – and cheaper – than the Golf.

But what do you get for your money?

Of the three cars we compared, the Volkswagen Golf comes with the most power at 123bhp and the most extra features. It has parking sensors, automatic driving lights, and handy safety features like brake pad wear indicators and tyre pressure monitoring. The Corsa and the Fiesta each have some, but not all of these features. So, whether the additional bells and whistles are worth approximately £3,500 more is up to you.

Which car is the cheapest to insure?

In theory, the lower the insurance group a car is in, the cheaper it is to insure. This would make the Ford Fiesta and the Vauxhall Corsa, falling in groups 10 and 3 respectively, good options for cheap insurance.

However, insurance costs are determined based on the driver as much as the car. Some cars in low insurance groups are known for their appeal to young and new drivers, which can push premiums on them up. This can still be the case even if you’re neither young nor new to the roads. So, a car like the Volkswagen Golf, which is in a higher insurance group, could work out cheaper to insure.

If you’re shopping around for a car, it’s best to get insurance quotes as you browse, rather than assuming a lower insurance group means a lower premium.

Which car is the cheapest to run?

On the surface, the Ford Fiesta looks like the cheapest car to run, with a tank of fuel costing just over £60. However, there’s more to a car’s running costs than meets the eye, and there are a few things to consider when working out a car’s true running costs:

  • How big a car’s fuel tank is
  • How many miles per gallon (MPG) the car does
  • How far you plan to drive

Which is the cheapest car to service?

Due to the unknown possibilities of issues occurring to cars of this age, it's not easy to state specific figures. Naturally, as cars become older, they are more prone to unexpected problems, which can range in cost.

Although services are available with main dealers, you could save a substantial amount on costs by taking your vehicle to a reputable local garage or mechanic instead.

Remember, getting your car serviced every year is recommended, but optional. Getting your MOT, however, is not. Having a valid MOT is a legal requirement for the majority of cars that are 3+ years old. The cost of an MOT is fixed at a maximum of £54.85.

Our verdict: Which popular car is the best value?

In this comparison, both the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa proved financially economical, but insurance and driving style can still be key differentiators. They're the cheapest to buy, without being too basic in terms of safety and other features. 

However, while cost is one aspect of buying a car, it’s not the only factor. The type of driving you do, comfort, and how the car handles are all crucial in your decision making. So, it’s important to do your research and test drive any car you’re considering so you can make an informed choice, and buy a car you’ll love for its lifetime.

Got your new car sorted? Next, find out how to save money on petrol costs.

Methodology and sources

We calculated the price for each car based on the cheapest available Autotrader listings for the models stated. These prices are correct as of 6th July 2023.

Insurance groups shown and features mentioned are those included in Autotrader listings for the car models and variants stated, and may vary from car to car.

Road tax has been calculated using the emissions information from Autotrader listings.

The cost of a tank of fuel has been calculated using the fuel tank size stated on Autotrader listings for each car compared, and fuel price data from RAC Fuel Watch, sourced on 6th July 2023.


Disclaimer: We make every effort to ensure that content is correct at the time of publication. Please note that information published on this website does not constitute financial advice, and we aren’t responsible for the content of any external sites.

Author Profile Image: Helen Fox

Helen Fox

Personal Finance Editor

Helen is a personal finance editor who’s spent 11 years (and counting!) in the finance industry. She creates content on everything money with the goal of getting people thinking – and talking – about their finances in ways they may not have done before.

Happy lady hugging her new white car in the dealership Happy lady hugging her new white car in the dealership