Buying a car for a teen driver is a difficult balancing act. On the one hand, they’re almost guaranteed to crash whatever you give them, so you don’t want to spend too much money on a car. On the other hand, they’re almost guaranteed to crash whatever you give them, so you want to make sure they’re as safe as possible in whatever car they’re given.
Buying older cars usually means you save money, but the cheapest cars are usually also the least safe.
Consumer Reports recently looked at used cars and found the ones with stability control, anti-lock brakes, side and curtain airbags, good emergency handling, and short braking distances. Taking price into consideration, the editors then recommended these 10 cars for teen drivers as the best compromise between safety and cost.
1. Chevrolet Malibu (2000-2012)
The Chevrolet Malibu is popular with rental car companies, and while it’s not exciting, what makes it a popular rental car also makes it a great car for a teenage driver. It’s quiet and comfortable with accurate steering and responsive-enough handling. As for fuel economy, it won’t beat a Prius, but it will still get a respectable 25 miles per gallon combined.
2. Ford Focus (2009-2011)
The newest Ford Focus has been extremely popular lately, but the previous generation is still a good car. It’s somewhat fun to drive, and its upright seating position provides good visibility. Despite being a small car, there’s also a surprising amount of room for rear seat passengers. The interior is cheap and the ride is noisy, but as a first car, who cares?
3. Ford Fusion (2010-2012)
If you like the Ford Focus but want your teen driver to have a little extra space, the Fusion offers exactly that. You also get a nicer interior, an improved ride, and better handling than you would in the Focus. If you avoid MyFord Touch, the controls are easy to use. Other highlights include a smooth engine and high-quality seats.
4. Hyundai Sonata (2006-2014)
This recommendation includes not just the previous generation Sonata but the one before that as well. Both generations are comfortable and have a great ride even if the handling isn’t exactly sporty. Older versions offer more back seat headroom and legroom, but newer versions make up for that with striking looks and better fuel economy.
5. Kia Soul (2010-2011)
Known for the hamsters in its commercials, the Kia Soul is a pretty good car for teens, too. Its boxy shape provides more room inside than you would expect out of such a small car, and it still gets pretty good gas mileage. Small A-pillars and an upright seating position will give your teen driver an easy view of the road. Versatile and practical, the Soul also comes with a surprisingly fun personality, too.
6. Mazda3 (2011-2013)
Always a great choice no matter how old you are, it’s no surprise the Mazda3 makes the list. It’s safe, fuel efficient, and reliable, but it’s also remarkably fun to drive. The front seats are comfortable, and its nimble handling makes it safer for avoiding emergency situations. You can also find higher-end models with more luxurious features that still fall under the $10,000 mark.
7. Mazda6 (2009-2013)
The midsize sedan segment is traditionally where fun goes to die, but the Mazda6 never quite accepted that idea. It’s one of the sportiest midsize sedans on the market, with great steering and handling, but it also still provides a comfortable ride. The four-cylinder engine provides plenty of power but still returns strong fuel economy. This car has enough room even for tall teens, and with the number of features it offers, you may have a hard time not keeping this car for yourself.
8. Toyota RAV4 (2004-2012)
If your teen has a lot of stuff to carry, consider purchasing a Toyota RAV4. It’s reliable and handles well, offering the security of all-wheel-drive, too. The 2006 redesign gave the RAV4 significantly more room for dorm supplies, laundry, cellos, or whatever else it is that your teen driver will need to carry. Third-row seating is available, but Consumer Reports recommends avoiding that option since accident rates increase with the number of passengers in a teen driver’s car.
9. Volkswagen Jetta (2009-2010)
While it’s still an affordable small car, the Volkswagen Jetta has built a reputation over the years for being a little bit more sophisticated than the rest of its competition. Its cabin offers more high-end materials and features than you would expect at this price point – like an air conditioned glove box and center console. Great visibility and better-than-average handling make the Jetta enjoyable to drive, too, not just to sit in.
10. Volkswagen Golf (2009-2014)
Called the Rabbit up until 2010, the Volkswagen Golf has been one of the best-selling cars in the world for years even if it hasn’t caught on as much in America. Like the Jetta, the interior of the Golf feels like it’s been pulled out of a car that costs significantly more than what you paid. It’s also fun to drive, comfortable, and provides secure handling. As a hatchback, it also offers surprising amounts of versatility and utility.