March 2

10 Best Cars for Teens


If your teen just got their driver’s permit, it’s time to think about getting them a car. Most likely, they will love the freedom and independence of their own vehicle, but having the right “ride” is more important than just a “cool” one. Which model is right for a first-time driver?

As a parent, your key considerations are most likely the car’s safety, reliability, and cost. If you are reading this, you probably already agree with us: a used car is a great option. Used vehicles have already been tested and proven reliable, and you won’t break the bank to get a fantastic deal. Standard safety features are found on most models from 2008 or later. You can get a cheaper car from earlier than 2008, but much older models may require more repairs and increased maintenance costs.

To help you begin your search, we’ve created a list of reasonably priced, medium-sized cars. We believe cars of this size offer your teen more protection than compact cars. Your new driver may ding and scratch larger sedans in tight quarters or be more likely to crash cars with a higher center of gravity, like an SUV. Extra features, like Bluetooth connectivity (while important for hands-free calls) and stylish interiors are a bonus for teens, but we chose to focus this list on the basics.  Unless otherwise noted, models and mileage are quoted from the 2008 version of the cars.

And now, in no particular order, our top 10:

Honda Civic

Engine: 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder

City/Highway (mpg): 26/36

We are starting our list with a standard small car that has been rated year after year as a top pick in safety, value, and overall best buy. It handles smoothly, but with no notable pickup. Be sure to double check what features are on the car, as the base model can come without any extras, like air conditioning or power locks.  

Chevrolet Malibu

Engine: 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder

City/Highway (mpg): 22/30

Next on our list is a bigger and more sturdy option. With additional space and a more powerful engine, you can handle a car full of people more comfortably than with the Honda Civic listed above. There is also a hybrid version that offers slightly better gas mileage.

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Toyota Prius

Engine: 1.5-liter in-line with a 50-kW electric motor

City/Highway (mpg): 48/45

For the environmentally conscious buyer looking to add a car to the family without adding pollutants to the atmosphere, the Prius is the way to go. It’s mix of electric and gasoline gives great mileage, low to no emissions, and a quiet ride under 30 mph. While the electric engine does take up some space, it is still comfortable for 4 adults. This is one of the more costly cars on the list and as such, more price conscious buyers may want to look at the Toyota Corolla.

Toyota Corolla

Engine: 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder

City/Highway (mpg): 28/37 (manual), 26/25 (automatic)

Another solid car with almost 40 years of reliability history, the Corolla is a compact sedan offering low emissions with a traditional gas engine. While it may not have as many features as other cars in its class, like the Honda Civic, it has some of the best resale value and one of the most efficient engines.

Nissan Altima

Engine: 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder

City/Highway (mpg): 23/32 (manual), 23/31 (automatic)

The Altima could be a good choice for those looking to find a car with more interior space and extras. You might be able to find this mid-sized sedan with more customizations than its competitors.

Mazda 3

Engine: 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder

City/Highway (mpg): 26/36

This small car balances fun with safety. It’s great responsiveness and pickup are helpful for a teen maneuvering away from a potential collision. A repeat IIHS Top Safety Pick from 2010 on, the Mazda also boasts 30 mpg in fuel efficiency and a stylish interior. It comes in a hatchback version as well, making it convenient for a teen heavily involved in athletic or after-school programs.

Scion xB

Engine: 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder

City/Highway (mpg): 22/28 (manual/automatic)

A unique looking car and another previous IIHS Top Safety Pick, the Scion xB comes as an affordable basic package with many options for user customization. With some investigation, you’ll be able to find an excellent price on a base model without added frills. This is a solid choice for those who have big items to transport as the seats fold flat, giving lots of cargo space. The 2008 and newer versions offer more power than the older models.

Kia Soul

Engine: 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder

City/Highway (mpg): 24/30

The Kia Soul has a big personality and a standard engine. It’s boxy form, like the Scion xB, gives lots of interior space and positions the driver to be higher than sedans, providing a clear view of the road. This car is quoted at its starting year, 2010.

Ford Focus

Engine: 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder

City/Highway (mpg): 24/35 (manual), 24/33 (automatic)

Here’s one of the smallest and simplest cars on our list. Like the Civic and Corolla, the Focus comes with a few extra features, such as power windows and power locks.. This is an affordable car and a great choice if you want your teen to learn to drive stick.

Toyota Tacoma

Engine: 2.7-liter, 4-cylinder

City/Highway (mpg): 20/26

Yes, we did include a truck on this list. It has a better engine than sedans and comparable responsive handling. Like all Toyotas, it’s well known for its reliability. Older Tacomas are smaller than their current counterpoints and the 2-door version will be lower in price than the 4-door. Finally, it has the option for 4-wheel drive, offering good versatility for certain locations.

Hopefully, you’ve picked up some strong leads from this list and found some cars to investigate further. Keep an eye out for deals that blend the safety features you need and the style your teen wants.


Chevy, first car, Ford, Honda, Kia, Mazda, Nissan, Scion, teens, Toyota

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