Best New Cars for Teens

Consumer Reports and IIHS name safe, reliable new cars and SUVs that are smart choices for teens

teenage boy car GettyImages-187557231

It is an exciting, and worrisome, time when a teenager first gets their driver’s license. Parents want to empower their child to be safe and responsible behind the wheel, starting with a good driver’s education program, car insurance, and an appropriate car.

Picking the right car can be the hardest part, as there are so many factors to consider. That is why Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have combined forces to recommend new and used cars that testing and analysis have shown to be best suited to inexperienced drivers.

We understand that most families are budget-conscious, factoring in the likelihood of dings and dents, in their car selection. But we come at the problem looking for vehicles that can help avoid collisions and limit injuries should a crash happen, then direct families to choose what works best for their budget and needs.

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The reality is that driving risk is highest at age 16, according to IIHS. Its data shows that the fatal crash rate per mile driven for 16- and 17-year-olds is about four times the rate for drivers 20 and older. This underscores the importance of keeping teens safe during those first driving years as they gain maturity and experience.

Buying a used car or giving a child a hand-me-down is the natural choice, especially if college costs and independent living may be on the horizon. We have recommendations for the best used cars under $20,000, with many available for less than $10,000.

But there's another path. Rather than give your teen an older model, buy him or her a new car, even if that means driving an older model yourself. This strategy isn’t for everyone, but it has its merits, especially this year.

Used-car prices are 18 percent higher than they were a year ago, according to vehicle valuation company Kelley Blue Book. Demand for vehicles rose during the pandemic as some people abandoned public transit and others decided to put their government assistance checks toward cars. At the same time, supply chain issues have constrained new vehicle production.

“The high prices for used cars may lead more families to consider buying a new vehicle for their teen,” IIHS President David Harkey says.

Of course, new cars come with a comprehensive bumper-to-bumper warranty. And they have the promise of being dependable through high school and beyond, a time when young adults have other things to focus on than worrying about roadside emergencies and potentially expensive repairs.

We understand that this path is the exception rather than the rule.

“While buying a new car for a young driver is less common than buying used, new cars provide the opportunity to give a young driver an advantage in terms of providing the latest in both crash avoidance and crash protection technologies,” says Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at CR’s Auto Test Center. “If you’re putting out the additional money to buy new, why not choose the safest models and configurations available?”

To help families considering the new-car strategy, CR and IIHS developed this list of cars that balance accident avoidance, crash protection, performance, and reliability. These selections are ideal for teens, but they can serve any shopper looking for a vehicle that excels in those areas.

These best new cars for teens range from $19,000 to $39,500, slightly less than the price of the average new car ($39,930), according to the National Automobile Dealers Association.

To make the cut to be considered among the best new cars for teens, vehicles must have:

  • A Consumer Reports recommendation, meaning that it meets our stringent standards for reliability, safety, and road-test performance, including achieving particular thresholds for braking and handling.
  • Good ratings in four IIHS crashworthiness tests: Moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints.
  • Standard forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking.
  • Average or better scores from CR's emergency handling tests.
  • Dry braking distances of less than 140 feet from 60 mph in CR's brake tests.
  • A curb weight over 2,750 pounds. This rules out the smallest vehicles, which tend to be most vulnerable. We also omitted large SUVs, which can be hard to handle and often have long braking distances, and sports cars, which can encourage dangerous driving.
  • A designation as either a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick Plus by the IIHS based on the model’s performance in key crash, accident avoidance, and headlight tests.
  • A rating of Good or better by CR for controls that are easy to use.
  • Four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (if rated).

All of the vehicles listed below are 2021 models. Selected trims or option packages include those where the headlights were rated Good or Acceptable in IIHS’ headlight tests, qualifying them for the Top Safety Pick designations.

The list excludes vehicles that had substantially higher than average insurance claim rates under medical payment or personal injury protection coverage in recent model years and haven’t been redesigned.

Click on the model names for complete road tests, reliability and owner satisfaction ratings, pricing, and much more.

toyota rav 4 hybrid 19
2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Consumer Reports Consumer Reports

Best New Cars for Teens

Make & ModelPrice
Mazda 3$19,900
Honda Insight$21,900
Toyota Corolla sedan or hatchback (XLE/XSE sedan + Advanced Lighting; XSE hatchback + Preferred package)$23,600
Honda Civic (Touring trim)$27,700
Subaru Legacy$22,300
Kia K5 (built after November 2020)$23,400
Mazda 6$23,600
Nissan Altima$23,600
Toyota Camry$23,800
Honda Accord$25,700
Hyundai Sonata (Limited or Hybrid Limited trims)$32,900
Mazda CX-3$20,800
Mazda CX-30 (built after November 2020)$21,700
Subaru Forester$24,200
Mazda CX-5$25,200
Chevrolet Equinox (LT trim)$27,300
Hyundai Tucson (Ultimate, Sport or Limited trims)$27,700
Honda CR-V (Touring, Hybrid Touring, Hybrid LX, Hybrid EX or Hybrid EX-L trim)$30,300
Lexus UX (with Triple-Beam LED Headlights)$33,500
Kia Sportage (SX Turbo trim)$34,600
Toyota RAV4 (Hybrid Limited trim with Adaptive Front Headlight System)$36,900
Subaru Outback$26,100
Mazda CX-9$32,600
Hyundai Palisade$32,700
Nissan Murano$33,100
Toyota Highlander$34,700
Hyundai Santa Fe (Limited or Calligraphy trim)$38,000
Kia Sorento (SX or SX Prestige trim)$39,500
Honda Odyssey$31,500

Prices are rounded to the nearest $100 and reflect Kelley Blue Book New-Car Fair Purchase Prices for the least expensive trim level that qualifies for the recommendation. If a particular options package is needed, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for that package has been added to the price.

Some listed models include a “built after” date. This applies when a manufacturer makes changes to improve safety in the middle of a model year. Information about when a specific vehicle was manufactured can be found on the certification label, usually affixed to the driver door or near it.

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