When it comes time to put your teenager behind the wheel of a car, you want to make sure it’s safe and affordable. Very often, the best cars for teens aren’t small cars at all, but are crossovers or SUVs.
In this guide, we go through the top cars for teenage drivers and show you why they are ranked so high. We also explain what you want to look for and answer your most-asked questions.
Depending on the teenager’s needs, you may consider the Toyota Corolla Hybrid, Hyundai Kona, Kia K5 or Honda Civic. It’s also smart to check out the Hyundai Tucson, Subaru Forester, Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4, Honda HR-V and Subaru Ascent models.
Let’s look at what makes each one a good candidate for teenage drivers.
1. Toyota Corolla Hybrid
If you don’t want to spend a lot on fuel, the Toyota Corolla Hybrid is a great option. It’s a smaller car, so it’s maneuverable, but it also is an IIHS Top Safety Pick and has a five-star safety rating from the NHTSA. Furthermore, J.D. Power gives it a score of 81/100, meaning it’s reliable.
Even though it’s a budget-friendly sedan, the Corolla Hybrid still includes plenty of high-tech features. Even the base model includes the top safety features, such as automatic braking with pedestrian detection.
- MSRP: $22,800
- Fuel economy: 50/43 mpg
2. Hyundai Kona
Looking at subcompact SUVs, the Hyundai Kona takes the cake. It provides plenty of dependability mixed with good safety scores. It has earned a Good rating in the IIHS crash tests and a five-star score from the NHTSA. J.D. Power also gives it a rating of 79/100.
The Kona also has an affordable price, but the base model doesn’t lack anything. Most impressive is the standard Bluelink system that gives parents remote control over where the teens drive and their speeds.
- MSRP: $22,140
- Fuel economy: up to 30/35 mpg
3. Kia K5
If you prefer a car, the K5 is a great option from Kia. Not only is it an IIHS Top Safety Pick+, which is the highest possible designation, but it also has a five-star rating from the NHTSA. J.D. Power further agrees by rating it at 82/100.
The K5 continues to be one of the best values for what comes with it. Even the base model includes safety features, such as blind-spot monitoring, along with front and rear automatic braking. Plus, you can use the My Car Zone feature with the infotainment system to monitor your teen’s driving.
- MSRP: $25,290
- Fuel economy: 27/37 mpg
4. Hyundai Tucson
Another compact SUV choice is the Hyundai Tucson. The IIHS lists this SUV as a Top Safety Pick+, while the NHTSA gives it a five-star rating. Also, J.D. Power offers a rating of 79/100, proving it’s a reliable option.
Among the top safety features, the base model includes automatic braking plus lane-keep assist. We also love the Hyundai Bluelink feature, which gives you access to your teen’s driving habits.
- MSRP: $26,900
- Fuel economy: up to 25/32 mpg
5. Honda Civic
The new Civic is a complete package, ideal for any busy teen driver. It’s not over-priced but provides the features and ratings you are looking for. The IIHS gives it a rating of Top Safety Pick, plus it has earned a five-star rating from the NHTSA. J.D. Power also offers a rating of 82/100.
Not all of the models include the best safety features, but you can add them. We recommend looking at blind-spot monitoring and lane-keep assist, for starters.
- MSRP: $23,750
- Fuel economy: up to 33/42 mpg
6. Subaru Forester
The Subaru Forester is considered one of the safest models for teens, thanks to it being an IIHS Top Safety Pick and because it earned a five-star rating from the NHTSA. This SUV also has one of the best rankings from J.D. Power at 84/100.
Even at the base level, Subaru’s EyeSight suite comes standard. This innovative package includes lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and lane centering.
- MSRP: $26,395
- Fuel economy: up to 26/33 mpg
7. Mazda CX-5
You can save money by choosing the base model and still get plenty of safety features. This model includes blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist and automatic high beams.
- MSRP: $26,500
- Fuel economy: 22/27 mpg
8. Toyota RAV4
The RAV4 is a popular option among younger drivers because it has a fresh look and great safety ratings. The IIHS labeled it as a Top Safety Pick, while the NHTSA gave it a five-star rating. Plus, J.D. Power awarded the RAV4 with an 82/100 score.
All RAV4 models include the Toyota Safety Sense 2.5 package (TSS 2.5). This innovative suite includes features such as forward collision warning, automatic high-beam headlights and pedestrian detection.
- MSRP: $28,275
- Fuel economy: 27/35 mpg
9. Honda HR-V
Another great Honda option is the cute HR-V. This SUV is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ and has earned an NHTSA rating of five stars. The J.D. Power score dips a little to 75/100, but not far enough to concern us.
With the base model, you also receive the standard Honda Sensing package. With features such as adaptive cruise control, forward automatic emergency braking and lane-keep assist, you will have peace of mind while your teen is out driving.
- MSRP: $23,800
- Fuel economy: up to 26/32 mpg
10. Subaru Ascent
Rounding out our list is the Subaru Ascent. This model is also an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ and it has a five-star rating from the NHTSA. Plus, J.D. Power offers a reliability score of 82/100. Even better, this model comes with standard all-wheel drive, which is perfect if you live on a dirt road or your teen drives in the snow.
Among the standard driver-assist features, you get forward collision warning and pedestrian detection. This three-row SUV also comes with lane departure warning, automatic high-beam headlights and adaptive cruise control.
- MSRP: $33,895
- Fuel economy: up to 20/26 mpg
Buying a Car for Teens Tips
How can you hunt down a good car for your teen without this list? There are several things to consider. Look at the driver-assist features offered, the predicted reliability ratings, safety scores, value and fuel economy to find the best all-around package.
Today’s cars have a lot of available driver-assist features that ensure better protection. However, with some vehicles, you have to pay more to access these features. If you are looking for a car for your teen, you don’t want to put out more money just to ensure they are protected.
Evaluate what features come with the vehicle before making a decision. At the very least, we recommend forward collision warning, blind spot monitor and a teen driving monitor.
Predicted Reliability Ratings
How do you know if a car is reliable if it’s brand-new? J.D. Power issues a Predicted Reliability rating on all new cars.
This score is statistically driven based on information from the Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) and Initial Quality Study (IQS). The VDS looks at long-term quality over the past three years, while the IQS measures the first ninety days of ownership.
The most important reason for choosing a vehicle with good safety scores is to ensure your teen comes home at the end of the day. You can evaluate the safety scores from both the IIHS and NHTSA.
There’s another reason to look for good safety scores. It helps to bring down the insurance premium, which is going to be high to begin with.
No one wants to spend a lot of money on a new car for a teen. Budgets are tight, but you don’t want to choose a lemon that’s going to put your child in danger. That’s why it’s important to look at value over price.
The best value is a vehicle that’s low-cost but also reliable. You want a car that’s not going to cost a lot to repair or maintain. It also helps if the insurance premiums are lower, which we just discussed a minute ago.
The final consideration is the gas mileage. After the expense of buying and insuring the vehicle, you don’t want to give the rest of your money away at the pump. With hybrid models, you can find even more efficient models these days.
Evaluate the fuel economy scores of the vehicles you are looking at. Even a five mpg difference can add up over time.
What car should I buy for a 19-year-old?
If you want to get your child a sedan, consider the efficient Toyota Corolla Hybrid, Kia K5 or Honda Civic. For a new crossover or SUV, we recommend the Hyundai Kona, Hyundai Tucson, Subaru Forester, Subaru Ascent, Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4 or Honda HR-V models.
What’s the best car for first-time drivers?
For your teenage driver, you don’t want to spend a lot of money. However, you want a safe vehicle with plenty of high-tech features for their protection. We recommend Toyota, Kia or Honda sedans. There’s also a nice selection of Hyundai, Subaru, Toyota, Honda and Mazda SUVs worth considering.
What is the best car to drive in high school?
As a high school student, most drivers don’t need something more than a high-quality pre-owned vehicle. It’s best to choose a reliable brand, such as Toyota, Honda, Subaru or Mazda. Hyundai and Kia also make quality vehicles that can provide reliable transportation for your teen driver.
What is the best second-hand car to buy?
Some of the most reliable brands include Toyota, Honda, Subaru, Mazda, Hyundai and Kia. However, all brands have made lemon cars at some point, so it’s best to do your research before deciding what to have your teenager drive. Evaluate safety scores and reliability ratings before jumping behind the wheel.
Your teen driver is important to you, which is why deciding what they are going to drive is a complicated process. You can’t simply put them behind the wheel of the cheapest car you can find. Instead, you want to find a vehicle that’s safe, well-equipped and comes within your budget, which can be tough.
Among the top choices, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Toyota, Subaru and Mazda seem to have some of the best options. They tend to get great safety scores and rank high for reliability. You can look for a used model if that helps you save more money, but be careful that you choose a model year that’s highly rated or you could end up spending time at the repair shop.