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Reliable and Safe New Cars for Teens

Smart picks for your young driver

Last updated: February 2016

If you are looking to buy a new car for your teen driver, there are some good options that are safe and reliable, and won’t break the bank.

The following list highlights recommended models that perform well in our testing and adequately in government and insurance-industry safety tests, plus have average or better predicted reliability, based on our subscriber surveys. (Consumer Reports maintains reliability Ratings on our website going back 10 model years.) Making selection easier, as of 2012, all cars offer standard electronic stability control, a proven lifesaver that is especially beneficial to less-experienced drivers.

Generally speaking, bigger and heavier vehicles perform better in crash tests. But very large vehicles can have unwieldy handling, offer poor fuel economy, and allow for more passengers, a potentially dangerous distraction that has been shown to increase a young driver’s crash risk. Thus you won't see them here.

Large pickups and SUVs are not recommended for inexperienced drivers because their high centers of gravity make them more prone to roll over than other vehicles. Sports cars are also a poor choice for young drivers. They beg to be driven too fast and have a higher rate of accidents than other cars. Consequently, they often carry high insurance premiums for young drivers.

We did not consider cars with 0-60-mph acceleration times faster than 7.5 seconds or slower than 11 seconds, those with braking distances longer than 145 feet in dry conditions, or those with mediocre emergency-handling scores. Many of the vehicles here are designated as Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS).  

New models generally offer more safety features and provide better crash protection than older cars. Try to buy the most safety that your budget can afford, because no one needs those safety advantages more than a teenage driver. Specifically, features such as forward-collision warning (FCW) and automatic emergency braking (AEB) have been shown to have real-world safety benefits in avoiding crashes.

Click on the model links below to access the complete road test, reliability, safety, owner satisfaction, pricing, and other key data.

Model Price range
Chevrolet Equinox (4-cyl.) $25,410-$31,690
Chevrolet Sonic Sedan
Ford Edge $28,700-$40,900
Ford Fusion $22,600-$35,730
Honda Accord $22,205-$34,680
Honda Civic $18,640-$26,500
Honda CR-V $23,745-$33,395
Honda Fit $15,890-$21,165
Honda HR-V 19,215-$25,990
Hyundai Elantra $17,150-$22,350
Hyundai Sonata $21,750-$34,075
Hyundai Tucson $22,700-$31,300
Kia Optima $21,990-$35,890
Kia Soul $15,800-$35,950
Mazda3 $17,845-$26,495
Mazda6 $21,495-$30,195
Mazda CX-3 $19,960-$26,240
Mazda CX-5 $21,795-$29,870
Nissan Rogue $23,290-$33,400
Scion iA $15,700-$16,800
Scion iM $18,460-$19,200
Subaru Crosstrek
Subaru Forester $22,395-$33,795
Subaru Impreza $18,295-$23,595
Subaru Legacy (4-cyl.) $21,745-$29,945
Subaru Outback (4-cyl.) $24,995-$33,395
Toyota Camry (4-cyl.) $23,070-$31,370
Toyota Corolla $17,300-$23,125
Toyota Prius $24,200-$30,935
Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen $21,625-$29,385
Volkswagen Tiguan $24,890-$36,420
Volvo S60 $34,150-$59,300

Consumer Reports' Recommendations

Honda Civic
Photo: Honda

Choosing a car for a young person will usually involve compromises between budget, desirable features, and the wants of an image-conscious teen. The best bet is to buy the newest, most reliable model with the most safety equipment you can afford. Do not even consider a car without antilock brakes. If you can reach a little deeper and get a car equipped with multistage advanced front air bags, side and head-protection curtain air bags, antilock brakes, and electronic stability control, so much the better. The lifesaving potential assistance those systems can provide is worth every penny in an emergency situation and can be especially beneficial to an inexperienced driver. Another benefit can be gained by an advanced driving training course. Such courses are offered by various advanced driving schools at closed tracks throughout the country and teach car control and proper driving.

Tremendous advances in crash protection have been made in the past 10 years. Check the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration websites to see crash results for models you are considering. Both sites post results that go back to the 1990s.

Distracted driving & teen safety

Find out more about distracted driving, and learn how teenagers can become safer behind the wheel.

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