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Best new cars for teens

Reliable, safe models for your young driver

Last updated: February 2014

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 also highlights models that perform well in our testing and 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, all 2014 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.

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- to 60-mph acceleration times faster than 8 seconds or slower than 11 seconds, those with braking distances longer than 145 feet in dry conditions, or those with mediocre emergency-handling scores. The newest versions of many of the vehicles here are designated as Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS). Vehicles with electronic stability control should be your first choice for less-experienced drivers. ESC is a proven device that keeps cars from sliding, thus preventing crashes in the first place. The availability of ESC and reliability scores are the reasons some vehicles are differentiated by specific model years.

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.

For pricing information, check out our best new car deals and our new car price reports.

Model Price range
Acura TSX $30,635-$39,275
Buick Regal
$26,690-$39,270
Chevrolet Sonic Sedan
$14,170-$21,610
Honda Civic $18,190-$24,240
Hyundai Elantra $18,750-$22,700
Hyundai Elantra Touring $18,750-$22,700
Hyundai Sonata $21,450-$27,000
Kia Optima $21,500-$35,300
Mazda CX-5 $21,395-$29,495
Mazda 3 $16,945-$26,495
Scion xB
$16,970-$17,920
Subaru Forester $21,995-$32,995
Subaru Impreza (nonturbo) $17,895-$23,195
Subaru Legacy 2.5i $20,295-$28,895
Subaru XV Crosstrek $21,995-$29,295
Toyota Camry (4-cyl.) $22,235-$30,465
Toyota Corolla $16,800-$21,300
Toyota Prius $24,200-$34,905
Volkswagen Golf $25,200-$27,995
Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen $20,995-$30,265
Volkswagen Tiguan $23,305-$38,835

Consumer Reports' recommendations

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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