For most people with kids, age 16 is arguably the most terrifying year in parenthood due to one factor above all: your teen, provided they obtain proper licensure, can legally operate a motor vehicle in the big, scary world of drunk drivers, careless or negligent operators, superhighways, cyclists and pedestrians, and all other sorts of hazards that come as a part of the territory. As a parent, it’s only natural to ensure that your child enters this world as gracefully as possible.
Cars.com has some recommendations for vehicles that can help ease the transition and appeal to teenage finances — inexpensive cars that are cheaper to insure, don’t guzzle gas, but provide reliable and safe transportation. “From a pool that included our Best Bets and all the newer cars we’ve driven since, we considered coupes, sedans, convertibles, hatchbacks, SUVs, and regular-cab pickup trucks that cost less than $20,000,” Cars.com said. “Top criteria included overall value and safety features, but our experts also considered gas mileage, exterior styling, and interior comfort.”
Most folks will likely go the used route for a teen’s first car, in fact the vast majority do. But if you’re feeling especially generous, or if you’re a first time driver reading this now, Cars.com has a selection of new cars that it believes would be the best bets for you — based on the aforementioned criteria.
1. Chevrolet Sonic
At just $14,995, the Chevrolet Sonic is a sensibly priced, easily manageable vehicle that, as Cars.com notes, features motorcycle-inspired headlamps and gauges, as well as Chevy’s teen and app friendly MyLink system, which can allow for hands-free voice texting by means of Apple’s Siri Eyes Free program — though for beginner drivers, we recommend avoiding any unnecessary distractions altogether.
2. Honda Civic
Due to its dependability, low maintenance costs, high fuel economy, and low insurance rates, the Honda Civic makes for the ideal first car — and the Civic has likely been the first car for many. The Civic also won top scores in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s challenging new small-overlap test, as well as stellar safety ratings all around, making it as safe as it is efficient and practical.
3. Hyundai Elantra GT
“The Hyundai Elantra GT has enough premium options — a panoramic moonroof, heated leather seats, keyless access with push-button start — to exude entry-level luxury car panache,” Cars.com says. That’ll certainly make your young driver happy, but knowing they’re in a safe yet affordable hatchback will make you happy. The Elantra sedan is also cheaper (though not as capable as the hatch), but if you wanted to start your teen out on something a little more bare bones, we fully understand — otherwise, the Hyundai offers some tremendous value.
4. Kia Sportage
If you feel more comfortable putting your kid in a stockier car that sits a little bit higher, the Kia Sportage might be worth a look. It starts just shy of $20,000, and is Cars.com’s “sole SUV pick for first time drivers.” However, “stick with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder,” it warns, “as the optional turbo four-cylinder is a lot of power for a first time driver.”
5. Subaru Impreza
The Subaru Impreza is one of those cars that looks good from every angle — not appearance-wise, though that too. It boasts ample fuel economy, decent cabin space, all-wheel drive, enviable safety scores, and so on. It starts for around $18,000, but features “the new multimedia system’s smartphone integration with internet-radio app Aha [which] should keep up with tech-savvy teens.”
6. Toyota Prius c
It’s scraping on the edge of the $20K mark, but technically the Toyota (TM) Prius c is the most affordable hybrid, and therefore a sensible starting car for your teen who you love so much (that you would buy them a new car.) “Teens fishing for cupholder change to fill the gas tank will love the affordable Toyota Prius c, whose EPA-estimated 53 mpg city rating beats all non-pluggable cars,” Cars.com says. “Friends might mock the eco-hatch styling, but after a few fill-ups in their own cars, they’ll be begging for a ride.”
7. Toyota Tacoma
Before you protest, remember back your childhood, when the Back to the Future franchise was just introduced. Remember how badly you were aching for Marty McFly’s lifted Toyota pickup? Well, this is the closest today’s teens will get to it, as the Tacoma is the direct ancestor of that glorious lifted truck that McFly drove, though you’ll have to grab the flood lights and those rims separately. It starts at under $19,000 too, so it’s even cheaper than the Prius.
8. Volkswagen Jetta
“The Volkswagen (VLKAY.PK) Jetta remains an inexpensive sedan with solid ride quality and a roomy cabin,” Cars.com said. It starts at a very reasonable $16,365, but can head north from there quickly depending on what powertrain is chosen, as well as bits and pieces from a lengthy options list. However, the Jetta comes fairly well equipped as standard, so your teen certainly won’t be lacking anything.