Dad showing teenage son car interior

The Best Cars For Teenagers

5-minute readNovember 19, 2021

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We all want what’s best for our teenage driver, so when the time comes to help them get their first car, it’s hard to know where to start. While your teen driver will likely be drawn to a car’s style or cool technology, as a parent or guardian your focus will be on safety.

Choosing a vehicle that can help minimize risk is a priority (and bonus, your insurance premiums will stay lower while your teen is driving on your watch).

The good news is that there are options out there that will satisfy both parents and teens. We’ve pulled together the best cars for teenagers based on their safety features, affordability and popularity among teen drivers according to Insurance Institute For Highway Safety (IIHS) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). We made sure to include options with advanced safety technology, accident mitigation features and a good crash test rating, without sacrificing the opportunity for a bit of style along the way. We’ve also made sure to give you options across a variety of budgets.

What Matters Most For Teen Drivers

Prioritizing safety in car selection means paying close attention to safety ratings. You can look up any vehicle with the IIHS to see how it rates on roof strength and dry braking distances, as well as its front, side and rear collision ratings.

For that reason, we made sure that every car featured in this article has received a good safety rating from the IIHS and NHTSA.

Let’s take a look at some of the best cars for teens.

What To Look For In Cars For Teens

When reviewing advanced safety features, it isn’t always easy to know which ones provide the most value and functionality. The following features are highly recommended when shopping for a vehicle for your teen:

Automatic emergency braking system: Uses a forward collision warning system to sense an imminent collision ahead and uses automated emergency braking to apply the brakes faster than a person could react.

Electronic stability control: Detects when one or more wheels have lost traction and compensates by applying the brakes until traction is restored. This is important for inexperienced drivers because the loss of traction can cause them to lose control of the vehicle.

Anti-lock braking system: Keeps the wheels from locking so that the car can still be steered to avoid a collision while the brakes are depressed. Anti-lock brakes are now standard on most vehicles.

Blind-spot monitoring: Uses sensors to detect vehicles in adjacent lanes and provides the driver with a visual or auditory warning when they get too close.

Lane departure warning: Alerts distracted drivers if they begin to veer out of their lane so they can make a quick correction to get back on course. 

Best Cars For Teenagers Under $20,000

Top Pick: 2015 Subaru Legacy 

Best for: Good handling and collision ratings

MPG: 26 city | 36 highway

With a stylish design, low cost of ownership and impressive safety ratings, the Subaru Legacy is as reliable as it is fun to drive.

Like its family-sized siblings the Subaru Forester and Subaru Outback, the 2015 Legacy sedan got a five-star safety rating from the NHTSA and was an IIHS Top Safety Pick. It received a good rating in every category tested, and with optional safety equipment, it received superior ratings.

The Legacy comes with rear collision alert, electronic stability control, side-impact beams and braking assist.

Teens will enjoy SiriusXM radio with speed-compensated volume, a USB port and outlet to charge their devices on the go and the ability to manage the onboard entertainment system through controls located on the steering wheel. This keeps their eyes on the road so they’re less likely to be distracted. 

Runner Up: 2019 Chevrolet Equinox 

Best for: Affordability, low cost of ownership and entertainment

MPG: 26 city / 32 highway

The Chevrolet Equinox provides incredible value and a low cost of ownership with impressive fuel economy.

The fuel-efficient 2019 Equinox offers optional blind-spot detection and lane departure warning systems in addition to a rear backup camera, electronic stability control and rear seat reminder.

A six-speaker SiriusXM entertainment system with noise cancellation, Bluetooth® connectivity and a USB charging port allows your teen to remain connected and charge their devices on the go (hands-free, of course).

The available infotainment system also offers voice control to reduce distractions so your teen remains focused on the road ahead. 

Honorable Mentions

The following also received good safety ratings from the NHTSA and IIHS and make nice cars for teens: 

By Type 

Make and Model 

Best Value

2019 Chevrolet Equinox 

Hybrid

2015 Toyota Prius 

Compact Car

2019 Hyundai Elantra GT 

Sedan

2019 Subaru Impreza 

SUV

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer

All-Wheel-Drive Cars

2015 Subaru Legacy 

Good Cars For Teens Under $10,000

It’s still possible to find vehicles with advanced safety features for under $10,000. While these cars won’t offer the same range of safety features as a more expensive vehicle, you’ll want to prioritize the following features if you can:

Braking assist system: Detects an impending collision or loss of traction and applies the brakes to lower speed, reduce the severity of a potential accident or to help avoid accidents altogether.

Front and curtain airbags: Front driver and passenger airbags reduce the severity of injuries during an accident and curtain airbags protect the occupants of a vehicle in the case of a rollover event.

Top Pick: 2012 Subaru Legacy 

Best for: All-wheel drive, handling and affordability

MPG: 23 city / 31 highway

The 2012 Subaru Legacy is an IIHS Top Safety Pick and received good ratings in all crash test categories. It comes with electronic brake force distribution and vehicle dynamics control.

The 2012 Legacy also comes equipped with a front roll bar to reduce the likelihood of a rollover event and front and curtain airbags, brake assist, electronic stability control, traction control and all-wheel drive.

The Legacy is a stylish vehicle and comes equipped with a premium stereo system, steering mounted controls, illuminated entry, Bluetooth connectivity and a power outlet.  

Runner Up: 2014 Dodge Dart 

Best for: Sporty driving experience and top crash ratings

MPG: 23 city / 35 highway

The 2014 Dodge Dart is a stylish, sporty car that handles the road well, making it a fun vehicle for any teen to drive.

It received a five-star safety rating from the NHTSA and is an IIHS Top Safety Pick. Its safety features include brake assist, stability control, an airbag occupancy sensor, side-impact beams and roll stability control.

Teens will appreciate its superior handling and responsiveness, along with access to the optional touch screen infotainment system, audio streaming and Bluetooth connectivity. 

Honorable Mentions

The following popular teenage cars received top safety ratings from IIHS. The older model years make good choices for under $10,000:

By Type 

Make and Model 

Best Value

2012 Subaru Legacy

Hybrid

2013 Toyota Prius 

Compact Car

2014 Dodge Dart

Sedan

2012 Honda Civic

SUV

2012 Hyundai Tucson

All-Wheel-Drive Cars

2009 Toyota RAV4

The Bottom Line: Cool Cars For Teens Don’t Have To Compromise Safety

For teen drivers, hopping behind the wheel of their first car is an exciting experience and a rite of passage. As a parent or guardian, the experience can be nerve-wracking and stressful. By helping your teen choose a safe and reliable car (with fun features), you can rest assured that driving will be both safe and enjoyable.

With safety technology advancing and becoming more accessible each year, it’s becoming easier to explore affordable vehicles with features such as traction or stability control, front and side airbags, and sophisticated braking assist systems.

We’re constantly updating our national inventory with safe and exciting options for teen drivers, so be sure to check in when your teen becomes a newly minted driver.

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