The best cars for teen drivers

National

The Honda Civic Type R sits on display at the Chicago Auto Show Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The moment a teen gets their license can be a bittersweet time for parents. While it’s exciting to be officially relinquished of chauffeur duties, it’s also worrisome handing the keys over to a newly-minted driver. And for parents who choose to help their teen with the car search financially, it can be overwhelming to find a safe and reliable car that falls within budget. 

To help parents find peace-of-mind, iSeeCars determined the best cars for teens across multiple vehicle categories. These cars achieved a score of 8.5 or above (out of 10) on iSeeCars quality analysis that takes into account long-term reliability, value retention, and highest average safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Based on this criteria, an iSeeCars Quality Score was calculated. While available advanced safety features vary across models, they all have basic safety features like electronic stability control and front airbags. Additionally, the vehicles on this list have a combined MPG of over 20 to help minimize the amount of money new drivers will need to spend on gas.

While the list includes cars across all sizes and categories, it’s worth noting that larger cars tend to perform better in vehicle crashes than smaller ones. An iSeeCars study found that smaller cars tend to be the most dangerous cars and have the most occupant fatalities. This is because large cars are heavier and have larger crush zones that provide more of a safety barrier in frontal crashes. However, a young driver’s best line of defense from a car crash is safe driving, which should be emphasized regardless of vehicle size. We have included cars across all budgets and sizes that meet our stringent criteria to help you decide which vehicle is the best option for your new driver.

Best Cars for Teens By Vehicle Category:

Here are the best cars for teens by vehicle category:

Best Cars for Teens By Vehicle Category
Vehicle CategoryVehicleiSeeCars Quality ScoreMSRPAverage 3-Year-Old Used Car Price
Best Small CarHonda Civic9.0$21,050-$27,250$20,085
Best Luxury Small CarLexus IS 3508.9$36,550-$43,690$35,500
Best Midsize CarHonda Accord9.0$24,970-$35,545$23,203
Best Luxury Midsize CarLexus ES 3508.9$42,900-$44,900$29,598
Best Large CarToyota Avalon8.6$35,975-$42,975$24,942
Best Luxury Large CarBuick LaCrosse8.6$29,570-$47,070$23,805
Best Small SUVSubaru Outback8.7$26,795-$39,945$25,468
Best Midsize SUVHonda Pilot8.8$32,550-$50,220$29,813
Best Luxury Midsize SUVAcura MDX9.0$32,090-$47,820$33,198
Best MinivanHonda Odyssey9.2$46,900-$60,650$30,229
Best WagonSubaru Impreza8.9$19,295-$26,395$19,257
Best Luxury WagonBMW 3 Series8.5$45,000-$45,000$34,694
Best Hybrid CarToyota Camry Hybrid8.8$27,270-$32,720$23,296
Best Luxury Hybrid CarLincoln MKZ Hybrid8.5$36,750-$42,500$25,756
Best Hybrid SUVToyota Highlander Hybrid9.2$38,510-$50,415$35,960
Best Luxury Hybrid SUVLexus RX 450h8.9$47,820-$53,620$42,552

Best Small Cars for Teens

1. Honda Civic (Coupe)

iSeeCars Quality Score: 9.0

Reliability Score: 8.7

Retained Value Score: 8.8

Safety Score: 9.5

MSRP: $21,050-$2,7250

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $20,085

Although the Honda Civic’s coupe body style was discontinued for the 2021 model year, drivers who want the sportiest version of the vehicle will be able to find it used. Civics come with a suite of safety features that include forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, and automatic high-beam headlights.

2. Honda Civic (Sedan)

iSeeCars Quality Score: 9.0

Reliability Score: 8.1

Retained Value Score: 8.8

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $21,250-$28,300

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $18,563

Ranked second is the Honda Civic sedan, which boasts stellar fuel economy at a combined 35 mpg. Along with being fun to drive, It has a modern design with ample passenger room and an upscale cabin that belies its price point. It also has the same safety features as its coupe variant.

3. Honda Fit

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.9

Reliability Score: 8.0

Retained Value Score: 8.8

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $16,190-$20,620

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $16,342

Despite its subcompact distinction, the Honda Fit has enough head and legroom to suit tall drivers, and the car’s “magic seat” allows for more cargo space by folding up the rear seat cushions and folding down the front passenger seat. The only safety feature that comes standard is a rearview camera, but driver aids like forward collision warning, lane keep assist, and lane departure warning are available. 

4. Toyota Corolla

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.9

Reliability Score: 8.0

Retained Value Score: 8.7

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $20,025-$28,310

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $16,667

Ranked fourth on the list is the Toyota Corolla. The Corolla is the most popular compact car in the U.S. thanks to its practicality and dependability. It has an easy-to-use touchscreen infotainment system and the Corolla comes standard with a suite of driver assistance features like pedestrian detection, traffic sign recognition, automatic emergency braking, and lane keeping assist. The 2021 Corolla is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), Top Safety Pick, based on its performance in crash tests. However, the IIHS Top Safety Pick designation only applies to XLE and XSE trims that are equipped with adaptive headlights.

5. Mazda MAZDA3

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.9

Reliability Score: 8.0

Retained Value Score: 8.6

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $18,095-$32,600

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $17,168

The Mazda MAZDA3 compact car is known for its engaging driving dynamics and sporty styling. It also has a suite of active safety features, such as automatic high-beam headlights, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and pedestrian detection to name a few. Beginning with the 2019 model year, the Mazda3 is available with all-wheel drive .  

Best Luxury Small Car for Teens

1. Lexus IS 350

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.9

Reliability Score: 8.0

Retained Value Score: 8.7

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $42,900-$44,900

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $35,500

The Lexus IS 350, which is the performance variant of the Lexus IS 300 small luxury sedan, is the lone small luxury car that met our criteria. With refreshed styling for 2021, the Lexus IS 350 features a suite of active safety features such as automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, active lane control, and automatic high beam headlights. All-wheel drive is also available.  

Best Midsize Cars for Teens

1. Honda Accord (Sedan)

iSeeCars Quality Score: 9.0

Reliability Score: 8.5

Retained Value Score: 8.6

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $24,970-$35,545

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $23,203

Ranked first is the Honda Accord midsize sedan. The Accord is praised for its sporty handling while offering more passenger room than most of its competitors. The Accord’s base engine gets an EPA-estimated 30 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway, excellent ratings for its class. It comes with active safety features including forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, and automatic high-beam headlights.

2. Toyota Camry

iSeeCars Quality Score: 9.0

Reliability Score: 8.4

Retained Value Score: 8.6

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $24,970-$35,545

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $21,693

The Toyota Camry midsize sedan ranks second. The Camry is a mainstay on best midsize cars lists, and provides a comfortable ride and comes with plenty of legroom and headroom for passengers. The Camry provides a suite of safety features, including lane keep assist, forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, and automatic emergency braking. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard across all trims, and all-wheel drive is available on any trim with a four-cylinder engine.

3. Mazda MAZDA6

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.5

Reliability Score: 8.1

Retained Value Score: 7.3

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $24,475-$35,900

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $21,724

The midsize Mazda MAZDA6 ranks third. The Mazda6 is praised for its responsive driving dynamics, and it has an upscale interior that rivals a luxury vehicle. The MAZDA6 includes plenty of standard safety features like automatic high-beam headlights, lane keep assist, pedestrian detection, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

Best Luxury Midsize Car for Teens

1. Lexus ES 350

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.9

Reliability Score: 8.0

Retained Value Score: 8.7

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $40,000-$49,000

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $29,598

The Lexus ES 350 has a spacious and luxurious interior as well as a long list of standard safety features, including forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, road sign detection, and automatic high-beam headlights. All-wheel drive is available when paired with its four-cylinder engine option.

Best Large Cars for Teens

1. Toyota Avalon

SeeCars Quality Score: 8.6

Reliability Score: 8.8

Retained Value Score: 7.1

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $35,975-$42,975

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $24,942

The Toyota Avalon is the best large car for teens. The Avalon has ample passenger and cargo space, and an interior full of high-end materials, including synthetic leather upholstery. It comes with a suite of standard safety features such as blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, LED automatic high-beam headlights, lane keeping assist, and automatic emergency braking.

Best Luxury Large Car for Teens

1. Buick LaCrosse

SeeCars Quality Score: 8.6

Reliability Score: 8.03

Retained Value Score: 7.7

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $29,570-$47,070

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $23,805

The only large luxury car to make the list is the Buick LaCrosse full-size sedan. The LaCrosse has a perfect crash test safety rating, spacious seating and above-average fuel economy for its class. A rearview camera and rear parking sensors come standard, but more advanced safety features are available on higher trim levels. Because it was discontinued after the 2019 model year, only used versions are available.

Best Small SUVs for Teens

1. Subaru Outback

SeeCars Quality Score: 8.7

Reliability Score: 8.0

Retained Value Score: 8.0

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $26,795-$39,945

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $25,468

The Subaru Outback’s ambiguity as a wagon-like SUV offers the smooth driving dynamics of a car and the utility of an SUV. The Outback comes standard with a suite of safety features, including rear-seat reminder, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and steering-responsive automatic headlights. 

2. Honda CR-V

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.7

Reliability Score: 8.1

Retained Value Score: 8.3

Safety Score: 9.6

MSRP: $25,350-$35,150

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $24,474

The Honda CR-V is one of the most spacious vehicles in its class, offering a cargo capacity that’s on par with larger midsize SUVs. One of the best small SUVs available, the CR-V also provides excellent fuel economy, earning an estimated 28 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway for its front-wheel drive models. A suite of standard safety features are available, which include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and lane keep assist.

Best Midsize SUVs for Teens

1. Honda Pilot

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.8

Reliability Score: 8.6

Retained Value Score: 8.1

Safety Score: 9.7

MSRP: $32,550-$50,220

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $29,813

Earring the spot as the best midsize SUV for teens is the Honda Pilot. The Honda Pilot offers a smooth ride and above-average gas mileage for its class. The Pilot comes standard with a suite of safety features including forward collision warning, collision mitigation braking, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high-beam headlights.

2. Toyota Highlander

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.8

Reliability Score: 8.3

Retained Value Score: 8.3

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $34,910-$49,015

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $31,801

Ranked second is the Toyota Highlander. The Toyota Highlander is a capable crossover with a high-quality cabin and three spacious rows of seats. The Highlander comes standard with a suite of safety features including cross traffic alert, traffic sign recognition, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and pedestrian detection. 

Best Luxury Midsize SUVs for Teens

1. Acura MDX

iSeeCars Quality Score: 9.0

Reliability Score: 8.8

Retained Value Score: 8.1

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $46,900-$60,650

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $33,198

The Acura MDX comes with standard features including wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. It also has new standard driver assistance features like blindspot monitoring, drowsiness monitoring, and rear cross traffic alert. 

2. Lexus RX 350

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.5

Reliability Score: 8.8

Retained Value Score: 8.1

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $45,170-$52,450

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $38,620

The Lexus RX 350 comes with a long list of standard equipment like synthetic leather, dual-zone climate control, auto-dimming mirrors, and a power liftgate, to name a few. The RX 350 also has a suite of standard safety features like forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, and lane keep assist. All-wheel drive is also available.

Best Minivan for Teens

Honda Odyssey

iSeeCars Quality Score: 9.2

Reliability Score: 9.2

Retained Value Score: 8.2

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $45,170-$52,450

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $30,229

While minivans may not be a popular vehicle choice for teens, one vehicle in the segment meets our Best Cars for Teens criteria. The Honda Odyssey comes standard with advanced safety features, including forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, traffic sign recognition, lane departure warning, and lane keep assist.

Best Wagon for Teens

1. Subaru Impreza

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.9

Reliability Score: 8.1

Retained Value Score: 8.6

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $19,295-$26,395

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $19,257

The Subaru Impreza offers standard all-wheel drive, which is rare for its class. As one of the best AWD cars on the market because of its quality and value, it’s also fuel efficient, with a combined mpg of 31. The reliable and safe Impreza comes with standard driver assistance features like adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, forward collision warning, and automatic emergency braking.  

Best Luxury Wagon for Teens

1. BMW 3 Series

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.5

Reliability Score: 8.0

Retained Value Score: 7.3

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $45,000

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $34,694

One luxury wagon meets our Best Cars for Teens criteria, the BMW 3 Series. However, the 3 Series wagon was discontinued after the 2019 model year, so only used versions of this vehicle are available. The 3 Series wagon only offers the rearview camera standard, but available advanced safety features include parking sensors, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and forward collision warning.

Best Hybrid Cars for Teens

1. Toyota Camry Hybrid

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.8

Reliability Score: 8.8

Retained Value Score: 7.7

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $27,270-$32,720

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $23,296

The Toyota Camry Hybrid is the hybrid version of the best-selling Camry sedan and offers the same infotainment and advanced safety features. One of the best hybrid cars available, the Toyota Camry Hybrid also returns 52 mpg combined, compared to the 32 mpg combined of its non-hybrid counterpart, making it a more efficient option.

2. Toyota Prius 

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.8

Reliability Score: 8.8

Retained Value Score: 8.0

Safety Score: 9.6

MSRP: $24,525-$32,650

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $20,744

The Toyota Prius hatchback offers plenty of passenger and cargo room, plus a suite of standard safety features including a rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, road sign recognition, pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane departure warning, and a pre-collision system. 

Best Luxury Hybrid Car

1. Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.5

Reliability Score: 8.6

Retained Value Score: 7.0

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $36,750-$42,500

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $25,756

The Lincoln MKZ Hybrid was discontinued after the 2020 model year, so only used versions are available. The MKZ Hybrid comes standard with a suite of active safety features including forward collision warning, forward automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, automatic high-beam headlights, adaptive cruise control, and lane keep assist.

Best Hybrid SUV

1. Toyota Highlander Hybrid

iSeeCars Quality Score: 9.2

Reliability Score: 8.9

Retained Value Score: 8.6

Safety Score: 10

MSRP: $38,510-$50,415

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $35,960

The Toyota Highlander Hybrid stands out as the only hybrid SUV to make the list. It has the same safety features of its non-hybrid variant, but is more efficient with an average combined mpg of 36. 

Best Luxury Hybrid SUV

1. Lexus RX 450h

iSeeCars Quality Score: 8.9

Reliability Score: 9.0

Retained Value Score: 8.0

Safety Score: 9.75

MSRP: $47,820-$53,620

Average 3-Year-Old Used Car Price: $42,552

The only luxury hybrid SUV to make the list is the Lexus RX 450h. The Lexus RX 450h has the same safety features as the Lexus RX 350, but has an improved combined MPG of 30 mpg. Unlike its non-hybrid counterpart, all-wheel drive comes standard. 

Best Used Cars for Teens By Price

Because used cars tend to align better with the budget for a teen driver’s first car, we have broken out the best Used Cars for Teens by price. These vehicles are used versions of the new cars included above, but thanks to their vehicle quality, used versions are still a smart buy. 

Best Used Cars for Teens Under $10,000

For a budget of $10,000, there are 10 used vehicles, in the 9- to 10-year-old range, to choose from:

Best Used Cars for Teens Under $10,000 – iSeeCars
RankVehicleAverage Used Car PriceiSeeCars Score
12011 Toyota Camry$9,6779.0
22011 Honda Civic (Coupe)$9,2289.0
32011 Honda Civic (Sedan)$8,9289.0
42012 Honda Fit$9,5698.9
52011 Toyota Corolla$9,2958.9
62012 Mazda MAZDA3$8,9068.9
72011 Toyota Prius$9,2738.8
82011 Toyota Camry Hybrid$9,3058.8
92011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid$9,4708.5
102012 Mazda MAZDA6$8,5218.5

Best Used Cars for Teens Under $15,000

With a slightly higher budget of $15,000, there are 24 5- to 10-year-old vehicles to choose from:

Best Used Cars for Teens Under $15,000 – iSeeCars
RankUsed VehicleAverage Used Car PriceiSeeCars Score
12012 Honda Odyssey$13,1989.2
22014 Honda Accord$14,9339.1
32014 Toyota Camry$13,2919.0
42014 Honda Civic$13,5249.0
52014 Honda Civic$12,7309.0
62011 Acura MDX$13,5989.0
72012 Lexus IS 250$14,7379.0
82014 Honda Accord$14,6199.0
92012 Lexus ES 350$14,7678.9
102016 Honda Fit$13,8918.9
112016 Toyota Corolla$13,8688.9
122016 Mazda MAZDA3$13,9868.9
132014 Subaru Impreza$14,7538.9
142011 Honda Pilot$14,2518.8
152011 Toyota Highlander$14,9358.8
162014 Toyota Prius$12,5298.8
172014 Toyota Camry Hybrid$13,7838.8
182014 Subaru Outback$14,9408.7
192012 Honda CR-V$13,4848.7
202012 Toyota Avalon$13,7488.6
212012 Buick LaCrosse$11,4498.6
222012 BMW 3 Series$14,9818.5
232014 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid$14,7938.5
242014 Mazda MAZDA6$12,7698.5

Best Used Cars for Teens Under $20,000

For a budget of $20,000, there are 28 3- to 9-year-old used cars for sale to choose from:

Best Used Cars for Teens Under $20,000 – iSeeCars
RankVehicleAverage Used Car PriceiSeeCars Score
12014 Honda Odyssey$17,1619.2
22012 Toyota Highlander Hybrid$18,5119.2
32016 Honda Accord (Coupe)$18,7019.1
42016 Toyota Camry$21,6939.0
52016 Honda Civic (Coupe)$20,0859.0
62016 Honda Civic (Sedan)$18,5639.0
72012 Acura MDX$15,9239.0
82012 Lexus IS 250$14,7379.0
92016 Honda Accord (Sedan)$17,8299.0
102012 Lexus RX 450h$17,9958.9
112012 Lexus IS 350$16,8348.9
122014 Lexus ES 350$29,5988.9
132018 Honda Fit$16,3428.9
142018 Toyota Corolla$16,6678.9
152018 Mazda MAZDA3$17,1688.9
162018 Subaru Impreza$19,2578.9
172016 Honda Pilot$18,0608.8
182012 Toyota Highlander$15,9698.8
192016 Toyota Prius$17,1598.8
202016 Toyota Camry Hybrid$17,2288.8
212016 Subaru Outback$19,7048.7
222016 Honda CR-V$19,5608.7
232014 Toyota Avalon$16,7278.6
242016 Buick LaCrosse$18,4058.6
252012 Lexus RX 350$17,1228.5
262014 BMW 3 Series$19,7958.5
272016 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid$17,5018.5
282014 Mazda MAZDA6$17,1618.5

Teens and Car Insurance

As if the upfront cost of buying a new vehicle and the emotional toll weren’t enough, there’s also the cost of car insurance. You may get sticker shock when you hear about the cost to insure teen drivers, but there are discounts available to lessen the economic burden. Certain providers offer discounts for students who meet a certain grade point average, while others offer discounts to new drivers who complete a driving safety course. Providers also provide discounts if a car has certain advanced safety features, like automatic high beam headlights. Just like shopping for a car, be sure to shop around among multiple providers and inquire about the discounts they have available. 

Important Safety Features to Protect Teen Drivers

When choosing a car for your teen driver, it’s important to consider a vehicle’s driver assistance features. Newer vehicles are more likely to have these advanced driver assistance features, but there are other safety features that are commonly found on older model vehicles. Here are the most important safety features to consider:

  • Electronic stability control (ESC): Electronic stability control automatically applies the brakes when a vehicle skids or slides on slippery surfaces or curvy roads. This safety technology is so important that it has been required in most vehicles since 2012.
  • Rear vision cameras: Rear vision cameras have been mandatory in new vehicles as of May 2018. However, this technology is also available in older vehicles.
  • Forward-collision warning with automatic braking: This technology uses sensors to detect what’s in front of your car, along with your car’s speed. If a crash is imminent, it will give a warning. If you don’t stop on your own, the system will automatically apply the brakes.
  • Blind spot threat detection. Blind spot detection uses sensors to alert drivers to vehicles that are not yet visible but are in adjacent lanes.

Bottom Line:

Having a teen driver can be scary, but the car buying experience doesn’t have to be. Regardless of your budget or preference in vehicle type, there is a high-quality vehicle to suit your needs. Making a good choice for a teen’s first vehicle purchase can provide much-needed peace-of-mind. 

For more car buying tips, check out our Best Cars rankings.

More from iSeeCars.com:

If you’re ready to start the car buying process for your teen, you can search over 4 million new and used cars with the iSeeCars.com car search engine that helps shoppers find the best car deals by providing key insights and valuable resources, like the iSeeCars free VIN check.

This article, Best Cars for Teens, originally appeared on iSeeCars.com. 

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Popular

Latest News

More News