Consumer Reports Picks the Best Cars for Teen Drivers Under $20K

While Consumer Reports rates cars for everything from owner satisfaction to drive experience, most people know the testing agency for its focus on reliability. After asking over 500,000 owners how their new models performed in 17 areas, consumers get a clear picture of what it’s like to live with a car.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit places a high priority on safety, and these days the editors will refuse to recommend vehicles that don’t protect drivers and passengers. Taken together, these focuses make Consumer Reports a good call if you’re looking to buy a car for a teen driver.

Unless the vehicle is known for its safety, reliability, and overall value, it won’t get the thumbs-up from this group. Here are the seven new vehicles under $20,000 Consumer Reports recommended for teens and other young drivers in 2019.

1. Honda Fit

2019 Honda Fit | Honda
  • Stating MSRP (new): $16,190
  • Late-model used prices: $11,000 and up

While some cars make sense buying used, the Honda Fit isn’t one of them. Not only does it start at a reasonable price; it also holds its value better than any small car on the market.

Meanwhile, Fit is a highly reliable car that gets over 33 mpg. New models feature the Honda Sensing Suite as well, checking just about every box on the Consumer Reports checklist. Prices start just over $16,000 new.

2. Kia Soul

2019 Kia Soul
  • Stating MSRP (new): $16,490
  • Late-model used prices: $12,000 and up

If you child is in a band or needs to park in the city, a Kia Soul will be a good bet. This model has excellent storage space, a compact footprint, and strong reliability ratings to keep your kids from downtime at the service center.

Fuel economy also tops 26 mpg combined, making it a good call for the demographic. Overall, you won’t be able to do much better for a new car around $16,500.

3. Mazda3

Profile view of gray Mazda3
2018 Mazda3 | Mazda
  • Stating MSRP (new): $18,095
  • Late-model used prices: $12,500 and up

There’s a lot going for Mazda3 owners at any age. The signature zoom-zoom performance, solid styling, option for hatchback, and manual transmission deliver value at an MSRP of $18,095.

For teen drivers, standard safety equipment like forward-collision warning and auto-braking will help keep them protected behind the wheel. Impressive fuel economy (close to 35 mpg) will help keep fuel costs down as well.

4. Subaru Impreza

2018 Subaru Impreza | Subaru
  • Stating MSRP (new): $18,495
  • Late-model used prices: $12,500 and up

While the Subaru Forester and Outback grab most of the attention, the Impreza compact sedan is no slouch at the starting price of $18,495. This model consistently scores well for owner satisfaction and reliability in Consumer Reports rankings.

In every Subaru, all-wheel drive comes standard, so this car is a good call for teens who live in snowy climes. Solid fuel economy and available advanced safety features are other reasons Impreza made the list for 2019.

5. Toyota Corolla

2019 Toyota Corolla | Toyota
  • Stating MSRP (new): $18,700
  • Late-model used prices: $12,000

No one will be surprised to learn the Toyota Corolla is one of the most reliable cars of the decade. Everyone knows someone whose Corolla is either 10 years old or has a stunning amount of miles on it.

With that key element down, parents can turn to safety and economy. Corolla is all set in these areas as well, with over 32 mpg and standard features like emergency auto-brake and forward-collision warning in 2019 models.

6. Hyundai Elantra

2019 Hyundai Elantra | Hyundai
  • Stating MSRP (new): $17,100
  • Late-model used prices: $11,500

In many ways, the Hyundai Elantra is an alternate version of the Corolla. Both share spacious dimensions, somewhat boring drive experiences, and excellent fuel economy (33 mpg).

Though Elantra doesn’t offer the same type of standard safety features as Corolla, its lower price give buyers more room to add on to the base model, and this model was named a Top Safety Pick+. Reliability ranks above average (as does Hyundai as a brand) for 2019.

7. Kia Forte

2019 Kia Forte | Forte
  • Stating MSRP (new): $17,690
  • Late-model used prices: $9,000 and up

For 2019, Kia delivered an all-new Forte, and its restyled exterior and upgraded transmission should make it even more appealing for young drivers. Meanwhile, the bump to 34 mpg will make it a hit with anyone looking for a value play.

Despite the full redesign, Consumer Reports predicts solid reliability for the 2019 Forte. New standard safety features include auto emergency braking, forward-collision warning, and lane-keep assist. On the used market, 2015-16 Forte is also a good bet for a young driver.

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