The 25 Safest and Cheapest Cars for Teen Drivers
Few things are scarier for a parent than your teen getting their first car, but that’s an inevitable part of both of your lives. You can spend hours teaching your child the skills and knowledge they need to be safe on the road, but in the end, you have to let them go out on their own. The best you can do once the law says they’re ready to drive on their own is buy them a car that’s safe, reliable, and not too fast.
Finding that perfect car for your teen driver isn’t easy. Luckily, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety regularly puts together a list of the best cars for teen drivers. The IIHS also lists prices given by Kelley Blue Book. We’ve taken that list and distilled it down to the 25 safest and most affordable used cars you can buy today. These are cars that scored a good or acceptable rating in all crashworthiness testing and received four stars or better from government crash testing. Additionally, all cars listed come with electronic stability control, and performance cars are excluded no matter how safe they are. With this list, you’ll find the vehicle that’s just right for your teen.
1. Volvo XC90 (2005 and newer)
Price: From $2,500
If we could choose only one automaker for this list, it’d be Volvo. The company has been known as “The Safety Brand” since the 1950s, and it just so happens that its used vehicles are very affordable, too. Take the Volvo XC90 for example. It’s a large, safe, seven-passenger SUV that can be had with a five-cylinder, inline six-cylinder, or V8 engine under the hood. The XC90 is a great first car because it’s not fast or sporty, but is reliable and has plenty of room.
2. Volvo S80 (2007 and newer)
Price: From $4,000
We know that a sedan with a luxury badge on its grille probably isn’t at the top of your list when it comes to a car for your teen, but you should definitely consider the Volvo S80. The big Swedish sedan may have been available with a V8 under the hood, but that doesn’t mean it’s fast. It’s designed to be soft, large, and safe. You can bet any fender bender your teen gets into will do little damage, either to the S80 or your still-learning kid.
3. Dodge Avenger (2011 to 2014)
Price: From $5,300
The coolest thing about the Avenger was its looks — like a Dodge Charger, but smaller and more affordable. Today, it’s a car that your kid can be proud to be seen in without the risks of a muscle car. The vehicle came with either a four-cylinder or a V6 engine under the hood, and you should be able to find one for a reasonable price. Opt for the smaller engine, and you can breathe easy knowing your kid probably isn’t getting into too much trouble with it.
4. Chrysler 200 (2011 and newer)
Price: From $5,900
The Chrysler 200 was never rated highly by car reviewers like Car and Driver or Road and Track, but that’s because the competition in its segment was very good. There’s really nothing wrong with the car, and it’s one of the safer sedans out there. The Chrysler 200 isn’t exciting or sexy, but those are two things you want your teen to avoid for a while. The Chrysler 200 comes with either a four-cylinder or a V6 engine under the hood. You should have no problem finding one with low miles for a seriously low price.
5. Mitsubishi Outlander Sport (2011 and newer)
Price: From $6,900
If you’d like your teen to have a compact crossover SUV with available all-wheel drive, then the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is an excellent choice. The vehicle is safe, affordable, and not very powerful. It sits up higher than a typical sedan, which means your teen will have better visibility. When you sit up higher and can survey the road, you can make better decisions about when to go, how soon to stop, and how close to get to other vehicles and obstacles around you.
6. Ford Flex (2010 and newer)
Price: From $7,200
The Ford Flex is a quirky but not unattractive crossover SUV. It seats up to seven and for something so large, it gets pretty good gas mileage (up to a combined 24 MPG). The best part about it is that it’s safe and relatively cheap. The vehicle is available with either naturally aspirated or turbocharged V6 engines. The non-turbocharged version of the vehicle is probably the smartest way to go for a teen driver. You should be able to find one with all-wheel drive too, which will help keep your kid out of a snow drift in the winter.
7. Kia Optima (2011 and newer)
Price: From $7,600
If you’re looking for a good midsize sedan, the Kia Optima is one of the best choices out there. Don’t go older than 2011, though — it really wasn’t a great car before then. The vehicle shaped up its act in a big way that year, and has since become a stylish, comfortable, and safe sedan. There are two four-cylinder engine options to choose from. It’s probably smart to get your kid the model with the non-turbocharged one, as it’s 74 horsepower weaker, and will help to keep them out of speed-related trouble.
8. Volkswagen Passat (2013 and newer)
Price: From $8,700
Want a German-engineered midsize sedan instead of a Korean car? Check out the Volkswagen Passat. This car offers precise steering and good handling in a car that isn’t too powerful. What’s more, it’s not a bad looking car either. Your kid definitely won’t be doing any street racing in a Passat; an inline five-cylinder engine or a V6 are the only engine choices. While the V6 makes for a truly great car, a new driver is probably best off with the moderately powered five-cylinder under the hood.
9. Volkswagen Jetta (2015 and newer)
Price: From $9,200
If you feel the Passat is too big a car for your teen, consider something a little smaller from the same manufacturer. The Jetta and Passat are similar in many ways and even drive somewhat alike, but they’re definitely not the same car. The Jetta is a little lower rent in most trim levels, and it doesn’t offer a V6 or a five-cylinder engine (at least not for 2015 or newer). Instead, there are a number of four-cylinder options out there and even one that comes with a hybrid powertrain. The best choice for a younger driver is the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 115 horsepower. It’s not much power, but more than enough for your teen to get around.
10. Nissan Altima (2013 and newer)
Price: From $9,500
The Nissan Altima competes in a very tough segment, but it always manages to hold its own thanks to a mix of comfort, up-to-date technology, good engines, and affordability. Car shoppers have responded by buying plenty of them, which means you should be able to find an affordable used one out there. The Altima comes with either a four-cylinder or V6 engine under the hood. Like the other cars on this list, the four-cylinder is the smartest choice for a teen driver due to its adequate but not overwhelming power. Stay away from anything older than 2013, as it’s not as safe, efficient, or powerful as the newer car.
11. Ford Fusion (2013 and newer)
Price: From $9,600
Simply put, the Fusion is one of Ford’s best cars. It’s a versatile sedan, and Ford even offers it as a hybrid and plug-in hybrid. All models have up-to-date technology inside the spacious and comfortable cabin. If you just want a good, solid American midsize car, the Fusion with the non-turbocharged four-cylinder under the hood is probably your best bet. It provides adequate power and respectable fuel economy without making this attractive car too overpowering for a teen driver.
12. Volvo S60 (2011 and newer)
Price: From $9,800
Yep, another Volvo. Our list started out with two of them, but there are many more models from the Swedish automaker that are suitable for teen drivers, thanks to their high level of safety and good driving dynamics. That being said, the S60 isn’t the boring old Volvo that many people associate with this manufacturer. It’s genuinely engaging to drive without being overtly sporty. In other words, your teen will have a good time in this car, without getting into too much trouble. The only engine option is a 300 horsepower inline six-cylinder, so you may want to have a long talk about safe driving habits and speeding before your teen gets behind the wheel. Still, its high levels of safety and affordability cannot be ignored.
13. Subaru Legacy (2013 and newer)
Price: From $10,700
Anyone who lives in an area that gets snowy winters will feel more comfortable with an all-wheel-drive car for teen drivers. The IIHS points to the Legacy as an excellent choice for anyone looking for a safe and affordable car. The version with a four-cylinder engine under the hood (there’s also a six-cylinder), is a smart choice for a teen because it offers good power, but not too much. Match that with an inviting interior and Subaru’s ironclad customer satisfaction record, and you have a vehicle that your teen is likely to love for a long time.
14. Chevrolet Malibu (2014 and newer)
Price: From $10,900
The Chevrolet Malibu was updated in 2014 with newer technology and improved powertrains, making the car a true contender against vehicles like the Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, and Honda Accord. Even after a few years, the design stands out as a truly good sedan for just about anybody, including a teen driver. There’s a hybrid version of the car and two different four-cylinder engines. The best option for a young teen driver is probably the non-turbo four-cylinder.
15. Mitsubishi Outlander (2014 and newer)
Price: From $10,700
Mitsubishi has struggled in recent years, but the Outlander has remained the company’s best vehicle. It helps that the vehicle is safe and comes with an excellent warranty that transfers to other drivers. Other automakers offer similar deals, but Mitsubishi’s 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty shouldn’t be overlooked. The Outlander comes with either a four-cylinder or a V6 engine and available all-wheel drive, making it a smart choice for anyone who lives in an area that gets regular snowfall.
16. Honda Accord (2013 and newer)
Price: From $11,100
The Honda Accord has been the go-to family car for decades. It frequently gets the hand-me-down treatment. If you don’t have an Accord you can hand down to your child, consider buying a used version of the car for them. A 2013 or newer Accord will serve them well and keep them safe over the next several years. The car can be equipped with a V6 engine, but the four-cylinder is probably a better choice for teen drivers. Plus, there are two- and four-door versions of the Accord.
17. Toyota Camry (2014 and newer)
Price: From $11,200
Not a Honda fan? Don’t worry, Toyota has you covered. The Camry spent decades as the best-selling car in America until the Nissan Rogue overcame it. With good reason: The car is just an all-around good vehicle to have. It’s practical, comfortable, reliable, and long-lasting. Like the Accord, the Camry is often passed down to teens as they grow up. The best engine for a teen driver is the four-cylinder, but there is a V6 option and a hybrid version of the car.
18. Mazda6 (2014 and newer)
Price: From $11,400
If you want to get your teen a car that’s both safe and fun to drive, the Mazda6 is one of the best choices around. The company is known for its sports car, the Miata, and it makes sure to instill a little of that sportiness in all of its cars. Aside from that, the Mazda6 has up-to-date technology, a sleek exterior, and a comfy interior. It’s powered by a strong but not overwhelming 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine.
19. Hyundai Sonata (2015 and newer)
Price: From $11,900
The Hyundai Sonata has some seriously tough competition in the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, and Chevrolet Malibu. Because of all of those cars, it’s often overlooked. That’s a shame, because this vehicle offers a lot in an affordable and safe package. It features an upscale-looking interior, a straightforward layout for controls and tech, and a ton of engine options including a hybrid. If you want to get your teen a safe, reliable, and efficient vehicle, the Sonata Eco with a small and fuel savvy four-cylinder is the way to go.
20. Chevrolet Trax (2015 and newer)
Price: From $11,800
The Chevrolet Trax isn’t the company’s best looking car; in fact, it’s like a shiny bright potato on wheels. However, it does offer a heightened ride height, a practical interior, and a reasonably efficient turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It’s not the best vehicle on this list, but if your teen has their heart set on a small crossover, this is a legitimate option thanks to its low price and high levels of safety.
21. Chevrolet Equinox (2014 and newer)
Price: From $12,100
Everywhere the Chevrolet Trax fails, the Equinox succeeds. This SUV is a truly good vehicle. It’s often overshadowed by the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4, but it doesn’t deserve to be overlooked. The vehicle offers high levels of interior comfort, a simple and user-friendly interior layout, and a couple of engine options that are both powerful and fuel efficient. The V6 offers more power, but your teen should be happy with the four-cylinder option, due to the fact that they’ll spend less money on gas.
22. Fiat 500X (2016 and newer)
Price: From $12,600
You probably weren’t planning on buying your teen a 2016 model year vehicle. But with the 500X’s price being so low, and the vehicle’s safety ratings being so high, it’s hard to pass up. If your teen likes the cute styling of the 500X crossover and you’re not scared off by the Italian automaker’s unreliable reputation, then this vehicle is an excellent choice. There’s a pair of four-cylinder engines to choose from. Either will do just fine, but the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine will likely return best results when it comes to fuel economy.
23. Nissan Rogue (2014 and newer)
Price: From $12,900
The latest version of the Nissan Rogue stands triumphantly atop the best-seller list, but you don’t have to buy the newest version of the vehicle for your teen. The 2014 model is almost just as good. The four-cylinder engine under the hood is a potent and efficient mill, and the agreeable interior and attractive styling make this one of the most handsome crossover SUVs on the road. It’s also very safe and reasonably affordable. No wonder it sells so darn well.
24. Lincoln MKZ (2013 and newer)
Price: From $13,300
Now, you may balk at this choice. Lincolns are reserved for retirees and people well into their professional careers, right? Well, yes, but the MKZ is also suitable for your teen. The car depreciates like nobody’s business, which means you can find one at a very reasonable price. It also gets high safety marks and has a luxurious, comfortable interior. If you’re buying it for your teen, get either the hybrid powertrain or the turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Avoid the V6: It’s pretty potent and may contribute to speeding tickets.
25. Subaru Outback (2013 and newer)
The Subaru Outback used to be a utility station wagon. Over time, it morphed into more of a crossover SUV than a wagon. No matter where it fits, one thing is certain: It’s a good car for a teen driver. The Outback is safe, offers plenty of room for hauling around school supplies or classmates, and enjoys a reputation as one of the most reliable and long lasting vehicles on the road. If your teen is into the great outdoors, the Outback is an excellent choice. Its all-wheel drive system is perfect for heading out to a hiking trail or campground. It also works wonders in the snow.