Consumer Reports Rates Cars Safest for Teen Drivers
Timothy Boyer's picture

Best Cars for Teens Recommended by Consumer Reports

Here’s the latest on smart consumer choices when it comes to finding the best cars for teens that focuses on safety features and proven reliability in not just new car models but used models under $20,000 as well, recently recommended by Consumer Reports automotive analysts that are both affordable…and safe.


According to a recent collaboration between automotive analysts from Consumer Reports and experts from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the latest data shows that the fatal crash rate per mile driven for teens is about four times the rate for drivers 20 and older.

And while the numbers are largely attributed to many teens lacking the maturity and experience of driving safely, another factor is that not all vehicles are equally safe due to lacking the latest in safety features to help avoid being in an accident…or limit injuries should an accident happen.

Strategies for Teen Car Shopping

There are a number of strategies parents use when it comes to providing a car for a newly licensed teen driver:

• Pass on the old family car because it anything happens to it, it’s not as big of a deal.
• Buy a cheap clunker for the same reason above.
• Lease a new vehicle for your teen.
• Buy a new car with the latest safety features.
• Buy a used car with at least some desired safety features.

The first three strategies listed are the least desirable for a smart consumer choice. While older vehicles will lose less value following an accident, they often do not come with much more than seat belts and a steering wheel airbag safety feature. Leased vehicles are a problem because lessees are heavily fined for ANY dings or scratches done to a leased vehicle.

The focus therefore is on the strategies of buying either a new or used vehicle for a teen, but with the caveat that not just any new or used vehicle will do. Rather, the focus on which car model possesses safety features and proven reliability to not only keep a teen safe but provide them with a car ownership experience that they will carry with them after they have left the nest and are on their own.

In other words, start them off right with a respect for their ride and how to properly operate and maintain a vehicle to make it last as long as possible. It’s one of those psychology things.

Recommended Car Models with Safety Features and Reliability

To help parents find the right car model with safety features and reliability that qualifies a used car as “a Good” or a new car as “the Best” choices, CR analysts with IIHS safety experts focused on the following criteria:

For a used car to qualify as “a Good Choice” CR analysts state that the vehicles must have:

• Above-average reliability for a majority of the years listed, based on CR’s member surveys.
• Average or better scores from CR’s emergency handling tests.
• Dry braking distances of less than 145 feet from 60 mph in CR’s 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).
• Electronic stability control. ESC has important crash prevention and lifesaving potential. It became standard on all passenger vehicles in 2012 and was standard on many models before then. All vehicles have this important feature as standard equipment for the years listed.

For a new car to qualify as “the BEST Choice” for new cars CR analysts state that the vehicles must have:

• Good ratings in four IIHS crashworthiness tests: Moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints.
• Standard forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking systems.
• Average or better scores from CR’s emergency handling tests.
• A rating of Good or better by CR for controls that are easy to use.
• Four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (if rated).
• Dry braking distances of less than 140 feet from 60 mph in CR’s brake tests.
• A curb weight over 2,750 pounds because small, light vehicles don’t provide enough protection in multiple-vehicle crashes. Despite their mass, many large SUVs don’t make the list as they can be hard to handle and often have long braking distances. Sports cars are also excluded as they can encourage dangerous driving.
• A designation as either a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick Plus by the IIHS based on the model’s performance in key crash, accident avoidance, and headlight tests.
• A Consumer Reports recommendation, meaning that it meets our stringent standards for reliability, safety, and road-test performance, including achieving particular thresholds for braking and handling.


That all said about safety and making informed smart buying decisions, here is a summary of the makes and models recommended by Consumer Reports starting with the Best New Cars followed by the Best Used Cars and then the Good Used Cars categories of recommended cars for teen drivers with current expected pricing and added reliability rating info:


New Small Car
• Mazda 3 / $21,200 / Reliability Rating: 3/5
• Honda Insight / $26,100 / Reliability Rating: 5/5

New Midsized Cars
• Subaru Legacy / $23,800 / Reliability Rating: 4/5
• Kia K5 / $24,700 / Reliability Rating: 3/5
• Lexus IS / $38,900 / Reliability Rating: 3/5

New Small SUVs
• Chevrolet Trailblazer / $21,900 / Reliability Rating: 5/5
• Mazda CX-30 / $23,200 / Reliability Rating: 4/5
• Hyundai Tucson / $25,800 / Reliability Rating: 5/5
• Mazda CX-5 / $26,800 / Reliability Rating: 4/5
• Ford Bronco Sport / $28,200 / Reliability Rating: 5/5
• Buick Encore GX (Essence trim) / $28,800 / Reliability Rating: 4/5
• Toyota RAV4 (XLE, XLE Premium, Adventure, Limited, or TRD trims) / $30,300 / Reliability Rating: 3/5
• Honda CR-V (Hybrid EX, Hybrid EX-L, Touring or Hybrid Touring trims) / $32,300 / Reliability Rating: 4/5
• Lexus UX (with Triple Beam LED Headlamps with Auto-Leveling) / $35,00 / Reliability Rating: 3/5

New Midsized SUVs
• Subaru Outback / $27,500 / Reliability Rating: 3/5
• Hyundai Santa Fe (built after July 2021) / $27,800 / Reliability Rating: 2/5
• Hyundai Palisade / $34,300 / Reliability Rating: 4/5
• Nissan Murano / $35,000 / Reliability Rating: 4/5
• Mazda CX-9 / $35,700 / Reliability Rating: 5/5
• Toyota Highlander / $37,100 / Reliability Rating: 5/5

New Minivan
• Honda Odyssey / $33,300 / Reliability Rating: 3/5


(Please note reliability ratings are more accurate per year-by-year search)

Used Small Cars
• Ford C-Max Hybrid (2014-2015) / $8,400
• Mazda 3 sedan or hatchback (2014 or newer) / $8,700
• Chevrolet Volt (2014) / $10,500
• Subaru Impreza sedan or wagon (2015, 2018-2020) / $11,000
• Toyota Corolla hatchback (2019 or newer) / $18,700
• Honda Insight (2019 or newer) / $19,800
• Subaru Crosstrek (2018 or newer) / $19,900

Used Midsized Cars
• Subaru Legacy (2013 or newer; built after August 2012) / $8,300
• Subaru Outback (2013 or newer; built after August 2012) / $8,800
• Volkswagen Passat (2015, 2017) / $10,400
• Mazda 6 (2014-19) / $10,800
• Toyota Prius V (2015-17) / $12,400
• Lincoln MKZ (2015 or newer) / $13,200
• Volvo S60 (2018) / $19,100
• Audi A6 (2016-19) / $19,400

Used Large Cars
• Toyota Avalon (2015 or newer) / $15,700
• Hyundai Genesis (2016) / $18,100

Used Small SUVs
• Mazda CX-5 (2014 or newer; built after October 2013) / $10,200
• Honda CR-V (2015 or newer) / $14,900
• Chevrolet Equinox (2017) / $15,600
• GMC Terrain (2017) / $16,000
• Hyundai Kona (2018, 2021) / $18,100
• Mazda CX-3 (2019) / $19,200
• Volvo XC60 (2017) / $19,400

Used Midsized SUVs
• Ford Edge (2015, 2020; built after May 2015) / $12,900
• Nissan Murano (2015 or newer) / $14,700
• Lexus NX (2015 or newer) / $16,700
• Hyundai Santa Fe (2017-19, built after March 2016) / $17,800
• Toyota Highlander (2014 or newer) / $17,800

Used Minivans
• Toyota Sienna (2015-18) / $14,700
• Kia Sedona (2017) / $15,200
• Honda Odyssey (2017, 2020 or newer) / $17,100


(Please note reliability ratings on more accurate per year-by-year search)

Used Small Cars
• Mazda 3 sedan or hatchback (2011-13; built after December 2010) / $6000
• Honda Civic sedan (2012-15, 2019 or newer) / $7,100
• Toyota Prius (2011 or newer) / $8,100
• Chevrolet Volt (2013) / $8,800
• Toyota Corolla sedan (2014 or newer) / $10,900
• Lexus CT200h (2012-13) / $11,100

Used Midsized Cars
• Toyota Prius V (2012-14) / $8,500
• Toyota Camry (2012 or newer) / $9,400
• Honda Accord sedan (2012 or newer) or coupe (2013 or newer) / $9,900
• Volkswagen Jetta (2016) $10,900
• Ford Fusion (2015, 2018) / $12,200
• BMW 3 Series sedan (2016) / $14,500
• Nissan Altima (2017, 2020) / $14,700

Used Large Cars
• Ford Taurus (2011) / $6,300
• Hyundai Genesis (2011) / $6,900
• Toyota Avalon (2011-14) / $9,400

Used Small SUVs
• Nissan Rogue (2014-20) / $11,000

And finally…

For a more detailed breakdown of the data, please visit the CR website. Note that while access to some information requires a CR membership, the potential savings make it negligible in comparison when looking for the latest information to aid your car buying research.

For additional articles about buying new or used cars, here are a few selected articles for your consideration:

Beat Dealerships at Their Own Game with This Car Contract Loophole

Consumer Reports Recommends This Important Negotiation Point to Focus on When Buying a New Car

Red Flag Used Car Dealers Do Not Want Buyers to Know About

COMING UP NEXT: 10 Best SUVs and Minivans for Long Road Trip Fuel Economy

Timothy Boyer is a Torque News automotive reporter based in Cincinnati. Experienced with early car restorations, he regularly restores older vehicles with engine modifications for improved performance. Follow Tim on Twitter at @TimBoyerWrites for daily new and used vehicle news.

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