It may be the moment to upend the time-honored tradition of giving your fledgling teen driver your hand-me-down clunker. Rather than debating whether your new car will be cherry red or electric blue, we recommend that the newest driver in the house get the newest car.

Why would we suggest that cruel reversal of fortune? Because new cars today have key safety and accident-avoidance systems such as electronic stability control—which wasn’t required until 2012—as well as forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking. (Learn more about car safety.)

Of course, every driver needs those features. But a more experienced motorist can more deftly navigate an emergency maneuver in an older car with fewer safety devices.

For teen drivers, we recommend a moderately sized sedan or hatchback, or a small, car-based SUV. Consider a car with a stick shift; with both hands engaged, the temptation to text is eliminated. But a base-model stick shift often won’t offer forward-collision warning or automatic emergency braking.

Also nix full-sized pickups and large, truck-based SUVs. Their higher center of gravity makes them more prone to roll over in a sudden move, handling is cumbersome, and braking distances are longer. Three-row vehicles are another no-no, because the extra seats tend to get filled with distracting friends. Also avoid sporty cars, which beg to be driven too fast and usually have higher insurance premiums.

The cars on our list, featured in the photo gallery below in alphabetical order, performed well in our testing and did adequately or better in government and insurance-industry crash tests, plus they have average or better predicted reliability.

We ruled out cars with 0-60 mph acceleration times faster than 7.5 seconds or slower than 11 seconds—the better to avoid drag racing or sluggish highway merging—as well as cars with braking distances longer than 145 feet in dry conditions, and those with mediocre emergency-handling scores.

For more safety information, visit Consumer Reports' Guide to Distracted Driving & Teen Safety.

Top Used Cars for Teens

Not every family can afford a brand-new car. If you’re watching your budget, a used car with low mileage can fit the bill, too. Here are our recommendations. 

Make

Model

Year(s)

Acura

TSX

Buick

Regal

2012-13

Chevrolet

Equinox (4-cyl.)

2012 or later


Malibu (4-cyl.)

2009 or later

Ford

Focus sedan

2010-12

Fusion (4-cyl. and hybrid)

2010-12
2014 or later

Honda

Accord (4-cyl.)

2008 or later


Civic

2012 or later

CR-V

2015 or later


Fit

2011 or later

Hyundai

Elantra

2012 or later

Santa Fe

2007-09
2011-14, non-3rd row

Sonata (4-cyl., nonturbo)

2006 or later

Tucson

2010 or later

Kia

Forte

2010-11

Optima (nonturbo)

2011 or later

Soul

Sportage (4-cyl., nonturbo)

2011 or later

Mazda

Mazda3

2011 or later

Mazda6 (4-cyl.)


CX-5

Mitsubishi

Outlander (non-3rd row)

2007-13

Nissan

Altima (4-cyl.)

2010-12

Rogue

2010-13
2015

Sentra

2011-12

Scion

xB

2008 or later

xD

2012 or later

Subaru

Crosstrek

Forester (nonturbo)

2009 or later

Impreza (nonturbo)

2011 or later

Legacy (4-cyl.)

2009 or later

Outback (4-cyl.)

2009 or later

Toyota

Camry (4-cyl.)

2010 or later

Corolla

2010 or later

Matrix

2010 or later

Prius

2010 or later

RAV4 (4-cyl., non-3rd row)

2004 or later

Volkswagen

Jetta

2009-14

Jetta SportWagen

Rabbit

2009

Golf

2010-14

Tiguan

2013 or later

Volvo

S60

2012 or later

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the September 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.