I'd recommend a vw Polo really reliable cars and cheap on fuel too!
It's got a lot of bootspace, however rear legroom room is lacking in the normal modus - see if you can find one with a long wheelbase, or opt for the grand modus, which has adjustable rear seats.
very nippy for a first car! I have a diesel 1.4 that pushes 90hp and is still super cheap to insure as nobody but old men drive it. Only issue with performance is that it rolls a bit since its quite high off the ground and tall. It gets 50 mpg on B roads, and about 40 in the city. I did 90 from Cornwall to London and still hit 45 mpg.
Or a clio, they're great too! In all honesty having been given the option again, I would have tried for an equally specced clio, although the insurance is quite high.
Fiat Punto's are good, six gears too which may come in handy
polo's or golf's too. Expensive to buy but very reliable, especially the mk 4 (which also happens to be the best looking of that era.) If you can afford it, go for the 1.9 tdi, it's the only engine capable of breaking the sound barrier and all the other dads fear it.