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Young Driver

The 65 Best Used Cars for Teenagers According to Consumer Reports & IIHS

Teenagers are among the most inexperienced drivers, but their first vehicle is traditionally an older car without modern safety features. Consumer Reports (CR) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) worked together to determine the best used cars for teenagers. These organizations narrowed it down to 65 vehicles that have modern safety features but also hit the mark of reliability and affordability.

“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,” says IIHS President David Harkey. “This partnership with Consumer Reports will help new drivers and their parents zero in on the best used vehicles overall.”

How The List Was Determined

CR and IIHS divided their recommendations into two categories: Good Choices and Best Choices. Both choices had to meet predetermined safety, performance, and reliability standards set by the two organizations. One of the first requirements was that every vehicle has electronic stability or traction control, which will help a teenage driver during slippery and snowy conditions. Furthermore, every vehicle on the list has above-average reliability ratings and a curb weight no lower than 2,750 lbs.

Young driver getting into a car. Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have developed a list of the best used cars for teenagers. The list of 65 vehicles takes into consideration things like safety, reliability, and affordability.
Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have developed a list of the best used cars for teenagers. The list of 65 vehicles takes into consideration things like safety, reliability, and affordability.

Braking & Handling Performance

CR leveraged vehicle satisfaction surveys from prior years and data from over 50 individual performance tests. Among those 50 performance tests are ones that focus on emergency handling and dry braking distances. Vehicles had to score better than 3 out of 5 on the emergency handling test and register a dry braking distance from 60 mph to zero of 145 feet or less.

If it helps to have a visual reference, 145 feet is about half of a football field. If your teenager has to brake suddenly, the vehicles on this list from CR and IIHS will give you more peace of mind.

Crash Testing & Safety

The crashworthiness of each vehicle was determined in four separate IIHS tests: side, roof strength, head restraints, and moderate overlap front. Frontal tests are especially vital since it’s the scenario most likely to end in a severe injury or fatality. The danger comes after the initial impact in these types of frontal collisions. A vehicle is often propelled into oncoming traffic, which can cause a secondary collision worse than the initial impact.

During the moderate overlap frontal test, the driver’s side of the vehicle crashes into a barrier at 40 mph to test the vehicle’s airbags, seat belts, and strength of the occupant compartment. Vehicles must receive a Good rating from the IIHS to have a place on the list, be it a Good or Best choice. For extra reassurance, all the vehicles on both lists earn four or the full five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Difference Between Good & Best Choices

Along with all the safety and reliability aspects outlined above, owners of the vehicles considered Best Choices have not filed for higher than average claims in medical or personal injury protection. This research comes from the Highway Loss Data Institute, an IIHS affiliate, who publishes data relating to hundreds of different passenger vehicles under six specific insurance coverages. “Injury claims provide another window onto safety in the real world and may capture things that crash tests don’t,” Harkey added.

Best Choices also have a Good or Acceptable rating in the IIHS driver-side small overlap front test. This is designed to evaluate a vehicle’s response when the front left corner (driver’s side) hits another car or something like a tree or utility pole. In their research, the IIHS finds occupants move simultaneously forward and toward the vehicle’s side during these types of accidents. The resulting movements make it difficult for some safety systems, like airbags and seat belts, to respond appropriately.

The outer edges of the vehicle are more susceptible in situations like this since they are not always fully protected by the crush-zone structures. In crashes of this type, the force of the accident can bypass the first line of defense (front crumple zones or crush zones) and go directly into the car’s interior parts: the front wheel, suspension system, and firewall, for example. This causes the vehicle’s cabin to bear the brunt of the impact, which can result in serious leg and foot injuries. The vehicles on the Best Choices list do well in these types of accidents based on IIHS research, receiving a Good or Acceptable rating.

Best Choices

Here are the Best Choices as determined by Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The list is organized by vehicle type and size. Prices, provided by Kelley Blue Book and rounded to the nearest $100, are average U.S. values from July 1st, 2020, for the lowest trim level and earliest applicable model year. The estimates, based on private party selling, assume the vehicle is in good condition, with average mileage for the model year.

Small Cars

  • Mazda 3 (2014 or newer; built after October 2013) – $7,000
  • Subaru Impreza (2014 or newer) – $8,700
  • Hyundai Elantra GT (2018 or newer) – $14,000
  • Kia Forte (2019 or newer)- $14,600
  • Kia Niro (2018) – $15,400
  • Toyota Corolla hatchback (2019 or newer) – $15,800
  • Honda Insight (2019 or newer) – $17,900
  • Subaru Crosstrek (2018 or newer) – $18,700
  • Toyota Prius Prime (2017 or newer) – $18,700

Midsize Cars

  • Subaru Legacy (2013 or newer; built after August 2012) – $7,600
  • Subaru Outback (2013 or newer; built after August 2012) – $8,500
  • Honda Accord sedan and coupe (2013 or newer) – $9,200
  • Volkswagen Jetta (2016-2018) – $9,800
  • Mazda 6 (2015 or newer) – $10,500
  • Volkswagen Passat (2016-2018) – $11,000
  • Toyota Prius v (2015-17) – $12,600
  • Lincoln MKZ (2016 or newer) – $13,300
  • Volvo S60 (2017-2018) – $15,300
  • Nissan Altima (2019 or newer) – $17,000
  • Audi A3 (2017, 2020) – $18,300
  • BMW 3-series sedan (2017 or newer; built after November 2016) – $18,600

Large Cars

  • Hyundai Genesis (2016) – $18,000

Small SUVs

  • Mazda CX-5 (2014 or newer; built after October 2013) – $8,200
  • Buick Encore (2016 or newer) – $10,700
  • Chevrolet Equinox (2016 or newer) – $12,100
  • Honda CR-V (2015-2016, 2019 or newer) – $12,200
  • Mazda CX-3 (2017 or newer) – $12,300
  • Subaru Forester (2016 or newer) – $12,500
  • Nissan Rogue (2017 or newer) – $13,400
  • Toyota RAV4 (2015 or newer; built after November 2014) – $13,800
  • Honda HR-V (2017-2018; built after March 2017) – $14,000
  • Hyundai Kona (2018 or newer) – $14,500
  • Audi Q3 (2016 or newer) – $17,300

Midsize SUVs

  • GMC Terrain (2014, 2016 or newer) – $9,400
  • Kia Sorento (2016 or newer) – $13,400
  • Nissan Murano (2015 or newer) – $13,800
  • Hyundai Santa Fe Sport (2017-2018) – $15,800
  • Hyundai Santa Fe (2017 or newer; built after March 2016) – $17,800
  • Mazda CX-9 (2017 or newer; built after November 2016) – $18,400
  • Lincoln MKX (2017-2018) – $19,600

Minivans

  • Toyota Sienna (2015 or newer) – $11,900
  • Honda Odyssey (2015-2016) – $12,400
  • Kia Sedona (2016-17) – $12,600

Good Choices

Here are the Good Choices as determined by Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The list is organized by vehicle type and size. Prices, provided by Kelley Blue Book and rounded to the nearest $100, are average U.S. values from July 1st, 2020, for the lowest trim level and earliest applicable model year. The estimates, based on private party selling, assume the vehicle is in good condition, with average mileage for the model year.

Small Cars

  • Mazda 3 (2011-13) – $5,300
  • Honda Civic sedan (2012-2015) – $5,600
  • Toyota Corolla sedan (2012 or newer) – $6,800
  • Toyota Prius (2011 or newer) – $6,800

Midsize Cars

  • Subaru Legacy (2011-12) – $5,700
  • Lincoln MKZ (2011-12) – $6,000
  • Subaru Outback (2011-12) – $6,600
  • Toyota Camry (2012 or newer) – $7,500
  • Toyota Prius v (2012-14) – $7,800
  • Honda Accord sedan (2012) – $7,900
  • Hyundai Sonata (2015-16) – $10,100

Large Cars

  • Ford Taurus (2011-15) – $5,400
  • Hyundai Azera (2012-14) – $7,200
  • Buick Regal (2015-16) – $8,900

Small SUVs

  • Hyundai Tucson (2011-2015) – $5,400
  • Ford Escape (2015, 2018-2019) – $9,300
  • Kia Sportage (2015, 2018) – $10,200
  • Toyota RAV4 (2013-14) – $10,900

Midsize SUVs

  • Toyota Venza (2009-15) – $7,000
  • Toyota Highlander (2008-2019) – $7,800
  • Ford Edge (2014-15) – $10,000

Minivans

  • Toyota Sienna (2011-2014) – $7,100

More Information & Helpful Resources

Have a question about car buying? No problem! We can help! Reach out to us on Twitter or contact us directly. You are also welcome to browse through our guides on buying a vehicle during COVID-19 and whether or not you get a better deal over the holidays (spoiler alert: you can get lucky a lot of the time).

You can also shop for used cars from the comfort of your own home with our car buying resources and tools. 

Emily Pruitt is fascinated by the current changes in the automotive industry, from electric cars and infrastructure to fully autonomous vehicles. Outside of the automotive world, she can be found writing poetry or unraveling the latest mystery novel.

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