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Consumer Reports, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety team up to offer list of best cars for teens


Photo: Kevauto

Teenagers are among the riskiest drivers, but they often end up with vehicles that don’t provide adequate protection in a crash. Often, they drive old cars that lack modern safety features such as side airbags or electronic stability control. And, when teenagers do drive a new car, it’s usually one of the smallest models, which don’t protect as well as larger vehicles in crashes. 

This year, for the first time, Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have worked together to provide a list of safe, reliable, and affordable used vehicles for teenage drivers.

The list of 65 recommended used vehicles ranges from $5,300 to $19,600.

“Our focus has always been safety, as reflected in our vehicle ratings, but we recognize that a lot of other factors go into families’ purchasing decisions,” said IIHS President David Harkey. “This partnership with Consumer Reports will help new drivers and their parents zero in on the best used vehicles overall.”

The list doesn’t contain any sports cars or other vehicles with excessive horsepower because these vehicles can tempt teens to drive fast, said Harkey. In addition, there are no minicars or vehicles under 2,750 pounds.

The biggest, heaviest vehicles, including those in the large SUV class, have also been left off the list because they can be hard to handle and often have increased braking distances, he said.

The list of recommended vehicles is divided into good choices and best choices, which offer a slightly higher level of safety. Both good choices and best choices have:

  • Standard ESC.
  • Above-average reliability, based on Consumer Reports’ member survey, for the majority of the years listed.
  • Average or better scores from Consumer Reports’ emergency handling tests.
  • Dry braking distances of less than 145 feet from 60 m.p.h. in Consumer Reports’ brake tests.
  • Good ratings in four IIHS crashworthiness tests — moderate overlap front, side, roof strength. and head restraints.
  • Four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, if rated.

In addition, the best choices have a good or acceptable rating in the IIHS driver-side small overlap front test. The test replicates what happens when the front left corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or utility pole.

The top tier also excludes vehicles that have substantially higher than average insurance claim rates under medical payment or personal injury protection coverage. Both coverage types pay for injuries to occupants of the insured vehicle.

“Injury claims provide another window onto safety in the real world and may capture things that crash tests don’t,” Harkey said.

Before buying a used vehicle, consumers should check for outstanding recalls and have the vehicle inspected by a qualified mechanic.

Recommended used vehicles for teens starting under $20,000

All listed vehicles earn good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraint tests. If rated by NHTSA, they earn 4 or 5 stars overall or 4 or 5 stars in the front and side tests under the old rating scheme. All come with standard ESC and have a curb weight greater than 2,750 pounds.

In addition, all recommended vehicles have above-average reliability scores from Consumer Reports (4 or 5 out of 5) for the majority of model years listed and Consumer Reports’ emergency handling scores greater than or equal to 3 out of 5. They also have dry braking distances, going from 60 m.p.h. to zero, of 145 feet or less.

Prices, provided by Kelley Blue Book and rounded to the nearest $100, are average U.S. values from July 1, 2020, for the lowest trim level and earliest applicable model year. The estimates are based on the following criteria: vehicle in good condition, typical mileage, and private party purchase.

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 typically attached to the driver door or near it.

Best choices

In addition to the criteria listed above, these vehicles also have a good or acceptable rating in the IIHS driver-side small overlap crash test, and none of them have substantially higher than average insurance claim rates under first-party injury coverages.


Mazda 3 (2014 or newer; built after October 2013)


Subaru Impreza (2014 or newer)


Hyundai Elantra GT (2018 or newer)


Kia Forte (2019 or newer)


Kia Niro (2018)


Toyota Corolla hatchback (2019 or newer)


Honda Insight (2019 or newer)


Subaru Crosstrek (2018 or newer)


Toyota Prius Prime (2017 or newer)



Subaru Legacy (2013 or newer; built after August 2012)


Subaru Outback (2013 or newer; built after August 2012)


Honda Accord sedan and coupe (2013 or newer)


Volkswagon Jetta (2016-2018)


Mazda 6 (2015 or newer)


Volkswagen Passat (2016-2018)


Toyota Prius v (2015-17)


Lincoln MKZ (2016 or newer)


Volvo S60 (2017-2018)


Nissan Altima (2019 or newer)


Audi A3 (2017, 2020)


BMW 3-series sedan (2017 or newer; built after November 2016)



Hyundai Genesis (2016)



Mazda CX-5 (2014 or newer; built after October 2013


Buick Encore (2016 or newer)


Chevrolet Equiox (2016 or newer)


Honda CR-V (2015-2016, 2019 or newer)


Mazda CX-3 (2017 or lower)


Subaru Forester (2016 or newer)


Nissan Rogue (2017 or newer)


Toyota RAV4 (2015 or newer; built after November 2014)


Honda HR-V (2017-2018; built after March 2017)


Hyundai Kona (2018 or newer)


Audi Q3 (2016 or newer)



GMC Terrain (2014, 2016 or newer)


Kia Sorento (2016 or newer)


Nissan Murano (2015 or newer)


Hyundai Santa Fe Sport (2017-2018)


Hyundai Santa Fe (2017 or newer; built after March 2016)


Mazda CX-9 (2017 or newer; built after Novemer 2016)


Lincoln MKX (2017-2018)



Toyota Sienna (2015 or newer)


Honda Odyssey (2015-2016)


Kia Sedona (2016-17)


Good choices


Mazda 3 (2011-13)


Honda Civic sedan (2012-2015)


Toyota Corolla sedan (2012 or newer)


Toota Prius (2011 or newer)



Subaru Legacy (2011-12)


Lincoln MKZ (2011-12)


Subaru Outback (2011-12)


Toyota Camry (2012 or newer)


Toyota Prius v (2012-14)


Honda Accord sedan (2012)


Hyundai Sonata (2015-16)



Ford Taurus (2011-15)


Hyundai Azera (2012-14)


Buick Regal (2015-16)



Hyundai Tucson (2011-2015)


Ford Escape (2015, 2018-2019)


Kia Sportage (2015, 2018)


Toyota RAV4 (2013-14)



Toyota Venza (2009-15)


Toyota Highlander (2008-2019)


Ford Edge (2014-15)



Toyota Sienna (2011-2014)




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I'm driving a Prius right now but it's a 2007. Still, love the gas mileage. So glad I don't have teenagers anymore.

gek kar

it is difficult to find the right car for a teenager

stafir geron

Today, a used car can be purchased both directly from the former owner and at car dealerships. The financial factor usually plays in favor of choosing such vehicles. However, the lack of basic knowledge and illiterate actions when choosing a car in the secondary market can turn into serious troubles and unplanned expenses. Therefore, before buying such a car, you need to check the history of the car and this will protect yourself from many troubles

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