Best New Cars for Teens
Consumer Reports and IIHS name safe, reliable new cars and SUVs that are smart choices for teens
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.
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.
Best New Cars for Teens
|Make & Model||Price|
|Toyota Corolla sedan or hatchback (XLE/XSE sedan + Advanced Lighting; XSE hatchback + Preferred package)||$23,600|
|Honda Civic (Touring trim)||$27,700|
|Kia K5 (built after November 2020)||$23,400|
|Hyundai Sonata (Limited or Hybrid Limited trims)||$32,900|
|Mazda CX-30 (built after November 2020)||$21,700|
|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|
|Hyundai Santa Fe (Limited or Calligraphy trim)||$38,000|
|Kia Sorento (SX or SX Prestige trim)||$39,500|
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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