Best cars for teens
The best cars for teens in 2017

It's a highly anticipated (and scary) time in every parent’s life: Your son or daughter has just turned 16 and is about to get their driver’s license. But what will they drive? Will you let them use the family car or buy them a new one? New cars have more and better safety features, warranties, and are likely to be more reliable than cars even just a few years old. So if you’re in the market for a new car, how do you pick one?

Your teen might want a fast sports car or a big SUV. That’s understandable, but those aren’t the best match for new drivers. For one thing, teens may struggle to control their impulses, and buying them a sporty car is an invitation to drive aggressively. Insurance costs are likely to be much higher, too. And big SUVs are harder to control and more prone to rolling over at their handling limits.

Teen with dad

What should you buy?

AAA recommends a midsized sedan or crossover with a 4-cylinder engine, automatic transmission, and high crash-test scores. We also set a base price limit of $40,000.

  • A midsized car—based on EPA interior volume classification—is big enough to protect occupants in a crash but small enough for a new driver to handle easily.
  • A crossover can be a good alternative to a midsized car. With their higher seating position, crossovers afford a better view of the road.
  • A 4-cylinder engine limits a car’s acceleration (and hopefully a teen’s desire to show off) and generally provides better fuel economy and a smaller carbon footprint.
  • Cars with automatic transmissions are easier to drive, allowing teens to focus on steering, proper speed, and braking.
  • Traffic crashes are the leading cause of teen deaths. A car with a high crash-test score could reduce the chance of your teen being killed or seriously injured in a crash.

Our list

The Automotive Research Center, operated by the Automobile Club of Southern California, has developed the following list of 2017 midsized cars and crossovers, all of which meet the above criteria. Crash-test scores come from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); we chose only vehicles with the maximum 5-star overall rating at the time our list was compiled. Finally, we used criteria from the EPA’s 2017 Fuel Economy Guide to determine that a vehicle met the definition of a midsized sedan or small crossover.

The manufacturer’s suggested retail prices listed are for 2017 base-model vehicles with automatic transmissions, including destination charges. You may want to consider all-wheel drive for your teen’s new car, especially if you live in an area with a lot of rain and snow, because it improves traction in poor weather. Finally, avoid cars with too many electronic gadgets or complicated controls, as they can distract teens from the task at hand.

Make

Model

MSRP (including destination charge)

Acura

RDX

$35,800

Buick

Encore

$22,990

Buick

Envision

$34,065

Buick

LaCrosse

$32,065

Buick

Regal

$27,065

Cadillac

XT5

$39,395

Chevrolet

Cruz Hatchback

$20,400

Chevrolet

Malibu

$21,680

Chevrolet

Trax

$21,000

Ford

Fusion

$22,120

Ford

Fusion Hybrid

$25,295

Ford

Edge

$28,950

Ford

Escape

$23,850

Ford

Focus Hatch

$21,275

Honda

Civic

$19,540

Honda

Accord

$23,255

Honda

Accord Hybrid

$29,605

Honda

CR-V

$24,045

Honda

HR-V

$20,915

Honda

Pilot

$30,745

Hyundai

Elantra GT

$19,800

Hyundai

Sonata Hybrid

$26,000

Hyundai

Santa Fe Sport

$24,950

Hyundai

Tucson

$22,700

Kia

Forte

$17,600

Kia

Optima Hybrid

$25,995

Kia

Sorento

$25,600

Kia

Sportage 

$23,200

Lexus

NX 200t

$35,285

Lexus

NX 300h

$39,720

Lincoln

MKZ

$35,170

Mazda

3 5-Door

$20,395

Mazda

6

$22,995

Mitsubishi

Outlander AWD

$24,995

Nissan

Altima

$22,900

Nissan

Pathfinder

$30,290

Subaru

Legacy

$21,995

Subaru

Impreza

$20,215

Subaru

Forrester

$24,470

Subaru

Outback

$25,645

Subaru

Crosstrek

$24,370

Toyota

Avalon Hybrid

$37,500

Toyota

Camry

$23,495

Toyota

Camry Hybrid

$27,800

Toyota

Corolla

$18,550

Toyota Highlander  $30,630
Toyota Highlander Hybrid $36,270
Toyota RAV4 $24,410
Toyota RAV4 Hybrid $29,030
Toyota Prius $23,475
Volkswagen Passat $22,440

Safety features worth considering

  • This technology uses radar to detect objects crossing behind a vehicle when it’s in reverse. When a possible collision is detected, audible and visual alerts warn drivers not to proceed.
  • These systems use radar and cameras to help drivers avoid hitting pedestrians and other vehicles (including motorcycles and cyclists) in low-speed situations such as urban intersections.
  • Driver-support systems can be a great boon, especially to inexperienced drivers like teens, but as with any electronics system, they don’t always work, nor are they infallible.