Best Cars for Teenagers
Finding the best car for teenagers – finding the best anything for teens, really – is hard to do. As parents of teenagers know, even teaching a kid how to drive can be nerve wracking. First, imparting all of the knowledge built from years of experience takes time and patience. That doesn’t include the process of learning how to operate the car. Once that’s settled, finding the right vehicle for your teen will give you peace of mind when they hit the road.
There’s nothing wrong with purchasing a compact car for teenagers, as they’re easy on the wallet and often have all the safety features you’re looking for. However, you’ll want to avoid the smallest cars on the market for your teenager’s first car; crumple zones on tiny cars don’t offer the extra level of protection your new driver needs. Some parents believe that big trucks and SUVs are the answer to that problem, but research has shown that the opposite is true: bigger vehicles require more skill and special awareness teen drivers haven’t yet developed.
And, please, for the love of all creatures great and small on the road, don’t hand the kids keys to a performance monster with more horsepower than they need. Teens’ cerebral cortexes aren’t fully formed, and they will be tempted to speed even more than new drivers tend to do.
Also, remember that the safest used car for teenagers and the cheapest used (or new) cars for teens aren’t the same thing. When you’re talking about what’s “best” for your young driver, your priorities will lead you down one path or another. In our list, we’ve curated a group of cars that are not only highly rated with a slew of safety features, they’re also not overly expensive.
Honda CivicKristin Shaw
Teaching your teens how to drive a manual transmission is highly recommended. If you don’t know how, ask a friend to help; it’s a critical survival skill if your teen needs to pilot a friend’s car home from a party or in an emergency situation. There’s a reason the Civic sells like hotcakes; it’s that good and it’s eminently affordable. Starting with model year 2016 you’ll find reliable used cars for teens in the Civic, it’s equipped with a 158-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which is zippy enough for confidence but not overpowered. The Civic also comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission that’s excellent for new drivers.Key Safety Features
The Honda Sensing safety package is optional for 2018 and standard for 2019 and newer models. This package includes lane departure warning and intervention, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control. If you’re going to buy a Honda, this set of features is a must. For models from 2018 and newer, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the Civic a safety rating of five out of five stars.
Competing with the Honda Civic directly is Toyota’s Corolla, which is the most popular nameplate of all time with more than 50 million units sold as of 2021. In 2020, the Corolla got a handsome facelift and even more features. And as a bonus, it gets between 33 and 34 miles per gallon, which is stellar fuel economy. Historically one of the most popular used cars for teens, this car’s solid reputation holds.Key Safety Features
Between 2014 and 2020, the Corolla remained mostly unchanged. However, you’ll want to start with model year 2017, when Toyota added a rear view camera, forward collision warning, lane departure intervention, and adaptive cruise control as standard on this compact car. All 2017 and newer Toyota Corollas come with stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, and a bunch of airbags: front side, side curtain, a driver knee airbag, and passenger seat cushion. For 2017 and newer models, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the Corolla a safety rating of five out of five stars.
Subaru Legacy Subaru
Car and Driver says that the Subaru Legacy is considered one of the safest car for teenagers in America, and with its redesign for model year 2020 it has an attractive profile, too. Every Subaru comes with all-wheel drive, giving it extra grip on the road in inclement weather. The base model is powered by a 182-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, which is plenty of room to merge and get going from a stop. Get-up-and-go aside, having the right safety features is foremost when shopping for the best cars for teenagers.
All Legacy units are also equipped with Subaru’s Eye Sight, which is the brand’s driver-assist set of features including adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane centering, and lane departure warning. It even warns the driver if someone in the second row isn’t buckled up. A quick check shows that National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the 2018 Legacy a safety rating of five out of five stars and it has retained that rating.
2021 Volvo S90 Volvo
Volvo’s sturdy sedan is a smart buy for you to drive now and pass onto your teenage driver in a few years. It’s gorgeous inside and earned a IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award in 2021, representing the brand’s reputation for safety quite well. It’s a big car and it’s not meant for speed but for peace of mind, which is what you want when you’re looking at the safest used cars for your teen.
It’s also worth considering that Volvo is a luxury model that will hold its value for a long time, and it’s a brand that values strength and safety, so the steel cage is designed quite well to protect the occupants inside. In terms of handling, the Volvo S90 shines; the steering will feel a little stiffer than that of the Civic or Corolla and befits the velvety-smooth ride. Braking is noticeably stellar on just about any Volvo you pick, too. Key Safety Features
Even as far back as 2018, the S90 was packed with safety features like forward collision warning and mitigation with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a drowsy driver alert system, a traffic sign reader, and more. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the Volvo S90 a Top Safety Pick rating for 2017, 2018, and 2019 models and that jumped to a Top Safety Pick+ rating for 2021.
A small SUV with a cool name, the Kona is a great pick for a teen driver for the standard drivers-assist features and ideal size. Not too big and not too small, this car is easy to park just about anywhere and the visibility out of the back windows is impressive. And that’s something your new driver will appreciate as they’re learning how to assess their surroundings.
The Kona starts with a 147-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that isn’t super zippy, but it gets the job done. For a bit more oomph, go for the 175-hp turbo 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine in the Limited trim. Steering the Kona takes very little effort and it’s firmly planted, meaning your teen will feel confident driving this car. Key Safety Features
Hyundai’s Kona earned an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award in 2018. The following year, even more safety features were added, including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, and a driver attention monitor.
When you’re looking for a safe, reliable car for teenagers, you’ll want to have it checked out by a mechanic and help them understand basic maintenance. It’s never too early for new drivers to start learning how to look out for their wheels. And once they’re on the road on their own, you’ll breathe a little easier.