Choosing a car for a teen driver means making tough financial decisions at a time when college bills and lodging expenses loom on the horizon. The temptation—and often necessity—is to buy a cheap, bare-bones model or pass down a family car. But given that the car will be transporting precious cargo, careful consideration should be given to choosing the best one your budget will allow.

The reality is that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 14- to 18-year-olds. In fact, almost half of teens involved in a crash die, according the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Selecting a car with a solid reliability track record and excellent safety marks is a great start, but we suggest going further to pick a model that's well-suited for inexperienced 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. That's why you won't find minivans, large SUVs, or pickup trucks on this list.  

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.

New models generally offer more safety features and provide better crash protection. Try to buy the most safety 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.

For this list, we didn't 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.

Each car we chose carries a Consumer Reports recommendation, meaning it meets our stringent standards for test performance, reliability, and safety.  

For complete road tests, reliability, owner satisfaction, pricing, and much more, click on the model names below.

Kia Soul - A good choice for teen drivers
Kia Soul
Make and ModelPrice Range
Chevrolet Cruze$18,525 - $23,945
Chevrolet Equinox (4 cyl.)$25,510 - $31,790
Chevrolet Malibu (non-turbo)$23,225 - $30,975
Chevrolet Sonic$15,145 - $21,215
Ford Edge$29,595 - $41,795
Ford Escape$23,600 - $30,850
Ford Fusion (4 cyl.)$22,610 - $41,120
Honda Accord (4 cyl.)$22,355 - $34,830
Honda CR-V$24,745 - $34,395
Honda Fit $15,990 - $21,265
Honda HR-V$19,365 - $26,140
Hyundai Elantra$17,150 - $22,350
Hyundai Santa Fe Sport$25,350 - $38,250
Hyundai Sonata (non-turbo)$21,600 - $38,600
Hyundai Tucson$22,700 - $31,175
Kia Forte$16,490 - $21,200
Kia Optima (non-turbo)$22,990 - $36,890
Kia Soul$16,750 - $36,800
Kia Sportage (non-turbo)$22,990 - $34,000
Mazda 3$17,845 - $24,945
Mazda 6$21,945 - $30,695
Mazda CX-3$19,960 - $26,240
Mazda CX-5$22,000 - $32,000
Subaru Crosstrek$22,445 - $30,845
Subaru Forester$22,595 - $34,295
Subaru Impreza$19,090 - $24,390

Subaru Legacy (4 cyl.)

$21,995 - $31,640
Subaru Outback (4 cyl.)$25,645 - $38,195

Toyota Camry (4 cyl.)

$23,070 - $31,370
Toyota Corolla$18,500 - $22,680
Toyota Corolla iM$18,750 - $19,490
Toyota Prius$24,685 - $30,015
Toyota Prius V$26,675 - $30,935
Toyota RAV4$24,910 - $36,150
Toyota Yaris iA$15,950 - $17,050
Volkswagen Tiguan$24,995 - $36,475
Volvo S60$33,950 - $47,400