The internet is full of lists, some good and some bad. Those looking for information on the best cars to buy for their teenage drivers have a number of reputable sources that offer solid recommendations. Rather than go over those well-thought-out lists, we decided to rely on the advice of the Road Safety Insurance Institutean organization that specializes in crash testing vehicles and reporting the results to US consumers.
The IIHS collaborated with Consumer Reports to publish a list of vehicles expected to be both reliable and safe, achieve good ratings in its own tests with moderate overlap on the front, side, roof strength and headrest, and a good or acceptable rating in the test with small overlap at the front of the driver . They also compared their choices with crash test data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to ensure recommended vehicles received four- or five-star results from the federal safety agency.
Armed with that data, we break down some of our own suggestions based on what’s important to parents and/or their children. After all, with 45 vehicles of every size and shape on the IIHS’s list, we think some parents might want to narrow the field a bit. Without further ado, here are our suggestions for the best teen cars available on a reasonable $20,000 budget.
Many lists of the best cars for teens will focus on the Toyota Corolla, and for good reason. It’s been one of the most reliable vehicles ever sold in America for decades, it’s quite affordable, and there will no doubt be dozens on used car lots within a few miles of anyone’s home. But let’s say you’re a car enthusiast who believes the apple doesn’t land far from the tree. If you love driving and think your child will follow in your footsteps, consider a Mazda3. It’s much more fun to drive than a Corolla or even most Honda Civics, with communicative steering and a sporty balance between handling and handling.
To get the most safety equipment and the best styling, we recommend aiming for a 2017 or 2018 model if you can find one in your price range.
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Toyota Prius Prime 2017-2019
We’ll go with you. The Prius is ugly. And unless your version of fun driving is to minimize fuel consumption, it’s not much fun either. We prefer to drive a Chevy Volt. But the Toyota Prius is indeed economical. So if your teen’s version of joy does indeed mean driving to minimize fuel consumption – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – consider the Prius as fun as can be.
You will notice that there are no pure electric vehicles on this list. But the 2017-2019 Toyota Prius Prime does have a plug, meaning it has a battery pack sufficient to power the vehicle for at least some pure electric driving; expect somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 miles per full charge before the gasoline engine is forced to ignite.
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Subaru Crosstrek 2018-2019
If you live in the snow belt or other area that regularly experiences inclement weather or muddy conditions, the Subaru Crosstrek could be a good choice for your teenage driver. It comes standard with Subaru’s renowned Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive technology, it has excellent ground clearance and offers good visibility. It’s not as efficient as some of its competitors, though, meaning its dirty-duty capabilities don’t come without some sacrifice.
The Crosstrek has been redesigned for the 2018 model year with an all-new chassis, more safety technology and a nicer interior. We’d aim for that year or newer, but the 2013-2017 models are also solid choices.
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2014-2019 Subaru Outback
If everything we’ve said about the Subaru Crosstrek applies to your teenage driver, but they need or want something bigger, consider the Outback. Subaru’s long-running and beloved elevated all-wheel-drive wagon got a major update and an all-new stiffer chassis for the 2014 model year, which is where we would begin our quest.
Unlike the smaller cars on this list, the Subaru Outback is offered with a range of engine options. The basic 2.5-litre four-cylinder is probably powerful enough for new drivers, although the continuously variable automatic transmission does drone on steady acceleration. A 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine is also available.
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Volkswagen Passat 2017-2019
The Volkswagen Passat offers one of the most spacious interiors of any sedan in America. In fact, the Passat straddles the line between mid-size and full-size, with a rear seat that compares favorably with many cars with much larger exterior dimensions.
If you decide the Passat is the right choice for your teenage driver, we recommend that you look for a 2018 or 2019 model with the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission. Older versions of the engine, shared by VW and Audi, had issues that were addressed in the third generation of the engine in these Passat models.
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2016-2017 Honda Accord
It seems that no recommended car list is complete without a Honda Accord. It’s easy to understand why. It’s one of America’s best-selling sedans for a reason; reliability, resale value, safety, technology and driving dynamics are all points in favor of the Accord.
It’s almost hard to go wrong with an Accord, but we specifically recommend the 2016 and 2017 model years. The ninth generation of Honda’s midsize sedan received a light restyling for 2016 before its replacement in 2018, receiving Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for its in-car infotainment system. It is also available in both coupe and sedan body styles, making it the only two-door model on the list.
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2018-2020 Hyundai Kona
Sedans and hatchbacks are great cars for teens because of their easy maneuverability, efficient powertrains, and affordable prices. But in America, the crossover is king, and if that’s what you’re looking for, your teenage driver will love the Hyundai Kona.
The Kona is offered with two engine options, the best of which is turbocharged and much more powerful. Four-wheel drive is an option and may be desirable for some owners who live in areas with inclement weather. Unlike many other vehicles sold in America, the Kona offers a lot of unique style and fun colors, both things that can appeal to a teenager.
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2017-2018 Kia Sorento
The Kia Sorento offers more practicality than some smaller popular crossovers thanks to the available third row seats and generous load capacity. But it’s not so big that it’s as unwieldy as a truck-based SUV, especially in tight city parking spaces. As an intermediary, the Kia Sorento can make a lot of sense for teenage drivers.
The Kia Sorento we recommend is from the 2016-2020 model years. The IIHS points to the 2017 and 2018 editions, which are quite nice. A refresh in 2019 will make it even more attractive if you can find a good one in your price range.
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Ford Edge 2018
We’ve made quite a few recommendations so far, but you may have noticed that they all come from foreign automakers. That probably won’t be a problem for most buyers — by the way, many of the featured vehicles with foreign nameplates are in fact built in America — but if you’re tied to American automakers, consider the Ford Edge. It is stylishly sporty, reasonably spacious and fully present on the second-hand market.
The Edge started its second generation for the 2015 model year before being refreshed for 2019. You’re not likely to find one that new in the under $20,000 budget, but the 2018 edition is worth checking out. Both the turbocharged four-cylinder and naturally aspirated V6 options are powerful enough, and four-wheel drive is optional.
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Looking for buying advice on other reasonably priced vehicles? Best New Cars Under $20,000