Best New Cars for Teens

·6 min read

Consumer Reports and IIHS name safe, reliable new cars and SUVs that are smart choices for teens

By Jeff S. Bartlett

It is an exciting, and worrisome, time when a teenager first gets their driver’s license. Parents want to empower their child to be safe and responsible behind the wheel, starting with a good driver’s education program, car insurance, and an appropriate car.

Picking the right car can be the hardest part, as there are so many factors to consider. That is why Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have teamed up to recommend new and used cars that testing and analysis have shown to be best suited to inexperienced drivers.

We understand that most families are budget-conscious, factoring in the likelihood of dings and dents, in their car selection. But we come at the problem looking for vehicles that can help avoid collisions and limit injuries should a crash happen, then direct families to choose what works best for their budget and needs. (See the best used cars for teens under $20,000.)

The reality is that driving risk is highest at age 16, according to IIHS. Its data shows that the fatal crash rate per mile driven for teens is about four times the rate for drivers 20 and older. This underscores the importance of keeping teens safe during those first driving years as they gain maturity and experience.

Buying a used car or giving a child a hand-me-down is the natural choice, especially if college costs and independent living may be on the horizon. We have recommendations for the best used cars under $20,000, with many available for less than $15,000.

But there’s another path. Rather than give your teen an older model, buy or lease them a new car, even if that means driving an older model yourself. This strategy isn’t for everyone, but it has its merits, especially this year with pandemic-related factors driving up prices for all cars.

New cars come with a comprehensive bumper-to-bumper warranty. And they have the promise of being dependable through high school and well beyond, a time when young adults have other things to focus on than worrying about roadside emergencies and potentially expensive repairs.

We understand that this path is the exception rather than the rule, especially amidst elevated prices for new cars and inflation.

“While buying a new car for a young driver is less common than buying used, new cars provide the opportunity to give a young driver an advantage in terms of providing the latest in both crash avoidance and crash protection technologies,” says Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at CR’s Auto Test Center. “If you’re putting out the additional money to buy new, why not choose the safest models and configurations available?”

To help families considering the new-car strategy, CR and IIHS developed this list of cars that balance accident avoidance, crash protection, performance, and reliability. These selections are ideal for teens, but they can serve any shopper looking for a vehicle that excels in those areas.

These best new cars for teens range from $21,200 to $38,900, slightly less than the price of the average new car ($46,526), according to Kelley Blue Book (KBB).

To make the cut to be considered among the best new cars for teens, vehicles must have:

  • A Consumer Reports recommendation, meaning that it meets our stringent standards for reliability, safety, and road-test performance, including achieving particular thresholds for braking and handling.

  • Good ratings in four IIHS crashworthiness tests: Moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints.

  • Standard forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking systems.

  • Average or better scores from CR’s emergency handling tests.

  • Dry braking distances of less than 140 feet from 60 mph in CR’s brake tests.

  • A curb weight over 2,750 pounds because small, light vehicles don’t provide enough protection in multiple-vehicle crashes. Despite their mass, many large SUVs don’t make the list as they can be hard to handle and often have long braking distances. Sports cars are also excluded as they can encourage dangerous driving.

  • A designation as either a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick Plus by the IIHS based on the model’s performance in key crash, accident avoidance, and headlight tests.

  • A rating of Good or better by CR for controls that are easy to use.

  • Four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (if rated).

All of the vehicles listed below are 2022 models. Selected trims or option packages include those where the headlights were rated Good or Acceptable in IIHS’ headlight tests, qualifying them for the Top Safety Pick designations.

The list excludes vehicles that had substantially higher than average insurance claim rates under medical payment or personal injury protection coverage in recent model years and haven’t been redesigned.

Prices are rounded to the nearest $100 and reflect Kelley Blue Book New-Car Fair Purchase Prices, as of April 28, 2022, for the least expensive trim level that qualifies for the recommendation. If a particular options package is needed, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for that package has been added to the price.

Click on the model names for complete road tests, reliability and owner satisfaction ratings, pricing, and much more.

2022 Honda CR-V Hybrid

Photo: Honda

Best New Cars for Teens

Make & Model

Price

SMALL CARS

Mazda 3

$21,200

Honda Insight

$26,100

MIDSIZED CARS

Subaru Legacy

$23,800

Kia K5

$24,700

Lexus IS

$38,900

SMALL SUVS

Chevrolet Trailblazer

$21,900

Mazda CX-30

$23,200

Hyundai Tucson

$25,800

Mazda CX-5

$26,800

Ford Bronco Sport

$28,200

Buick Encore GX (Essence trim)

$28,800

Toyota RAV4 (XLE, XLE Premium,  Adventure, Limited, or TRD trims)

$30,300

Honda CR-V (Hybrid EX, Hybrid EX-L, Touring or Hybrid Touring trims)

$32,300

Lexus UX (with Triple Beam LED Headlamps with Auto-Leveling)

$35,300

MIDSIZED SUVS

Subaru Outback

$27,500

Hyundai Santa Fe (built after July 2021)

$27,800

Hyundai Palisade

$34,300

Nissan Murano

$35,000

Mazda CX-9

$35,700

Toyota Highlander

$37,100

MINIVAN

Honda Odyssey

$33,300

Prices are rounded to the nearest $100 and reflect Kelley Blue Book New-Car Fair Purchase Prices for the least expensive trim level that qualifies for the recommendation. If a particular options package is needed, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for that package has been added to the price.

Some listed models include a “built after” date. This applies when a manufacturer makes changes to improve safety in the middle of a model year. Information about when a specific vehicle was manufactured can be found on the certification label, usually affixed to the driver door or near it.

Teen Driving

On the "Consumer 101" TV show, Consumer Reports expert Jen Stockburger explains how to choose the right car for your teen.



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