The 10 Best Cars for Teen Drivers, According to Science
For less than $25,000, these are the safest and most technologically advanced vehicles for young drivers.
Courtesy of Subaru
Whether you’re looking for your first car or you’re a parent looking for one for your teenage driver, safety is likely a paramount concern. Today’s new cars benefit from modern engineering and safety systems that, frankly, the majority of used cars don’t have. Even so, some new vehicles are better than others at protecting their occupants, providing ownership peace of mind, and supplying the technologies that both parents and young drivers want.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), young and inexperienced drivers between the ages of 16-19 years are three times more likely than drivers over the age of 20 to be involved in a serious accident. In fact, the CDC says the
To identify the 10 best new vehicles for teen drivers, we crunched a serious amount of data. In order to make the final round of consideration, though, each vehicle needed to meet the following criteria:
- Price: The vehicle’s MSRP needs to be under $25,000, including an automatic transmission but not destination charges.
- Safety: The vehicle has to rate as a “Top Safety Pick” or “Top Safety Pick+” by the
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That means it passes rigorous testing for various types of collisions.
- Technology: Forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking has to be standard or at least available as an option without crossing the price cap.
We also factor National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash-test ratings into the final vehicle scores, but do not require this testing for a vehicle to make the list.
Any features helping to eliminate driver distraction, improve visibility, and focus on the task at hand earned bonus points, and we also weighted numerous teen driver equipment preferences, such as a premium sound system.
Finally, because it’s a new car that will need to last for a long time, we considered the length of its warranty program.
The result? Below, you’ll find the 10 Best Cars for Teen Drivers, according to science.
The Top Ten:
1. 2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited
Sticker Price: $22,700 (plus $920 destination charge)
How it rates: 10 out of 10
Why it makes the list: Hyundai’s compact Elantra Limited sedan comes with an array of standard driving-assistance and collision-avoidance systems. It also provides a free 3-year trial subscription to Blue Link services, which include several safety functions and programmable parental controls. Then there is the peace of mind you’ll enjoy thanks to its industry-standard warranty and five-year roadside assistance program. Your teenager will like the Limited trim level’s upscale look and feel, as well as the wireless smartphone charger and premium sound system.
Fact that might surprise you: Thanks to its standard LED headlights, the Elantra Limited gets a “Top Safety Pick+” rating from the IIHS. It is one of two vehicles on our list to earn this distinction.
Find a 2019 Hyundai Elantra Limited near you
2. 2019 Kia Optima S
Kia/Newspress (SX trim level shown)
Sticker Price: $24,990 (plus $925 destination charge)
How it rates: 9.79 out of 10
Why it makes the list: A midsize car with lots of interior and trunk room, an industry-standard warranty and roadside assistance program, free connected services, and attractive design, the Kia Optima S is a well-equipped vehicle that should last a long time. The Optima goes above and beyond the safety basics, too, with driver attention monitoring, programmable parental controls, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking sensors, and more. Young drivers will like the Optima S trim level’s big aluminum wheels and upscale, sporty look.
Fact that might surprise you: Through the Optima’s connected services technology a parent can remotely locate the car from home via a smartphone app.
Find a 2019 Kia Optima S near you
3. 2019 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium
Sticker Price: $24,695 (plus $885 destination charge)
How it rates: 9.42 out of 10
Why it makes the list: Perfect for teen drivers in regions of the country where it snows, the midsize Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium sedan comes with standard all-wheel drive and an All-Weather Package including heated front seats, heated side mirrors, and a wiper de-icer system. Legacy 2.5i Premium buyers get a free year of automatic collision notification and SOS emergency services, too, and this trim level’s upgraded infotainment system adds text-messaging connectivity.
Fact that might surprise you: The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) found that Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assistance and collision-avoidance system
Find a 2019 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium near you
4. 2019 Toyota Camry LE
Sticker Price: $24,600 (plus $930 destination charge)
How it rates: 9.4 out of 10
Why it makes the list: Toyota’s comprehensive standard suite of driver-assistance and collision-avoidance technology, combined with top-notch crash-test ratings, puts the Camry midsize sedan in contention. Upgrading to LE trim adds Apple CarPlay as well as limited trial subscriptions to Safety Connect, Wi-Fi Connect, and Scout GPS Link navigation. Plus, the Camry LE is rated to get 32 mpg in combined driving, which is great for this size of vehicle.
Fact that might surprise you: ToyotaCare, a free maintenance and roadside assistance plan that covers the car for two years or 25,000 miles, whichever comes first, is standard for the Camry and all 2019 Toyota models.
Find a 2019 Toyota Camry LE near you
5. 2019 Mazda Mazda3 Sedan with Preferred Package
Sticker Price: $24,200 (plus $920 destination charge)
How it rates: 9.32 out of 10
Why it makes the list: Redesigned for 2019, the Mazda Mazda3 is a sweetheart of a car. Looking, feeling, and driving like an entry-level luxury sedan, it brings style, safety, and satisfying driving dynamics to the affordable car market. The Preferred Package includes a 12-speaker premium sound system and satellite radio, plus the less expensive Select Package’s rain-sensing wipers, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a long list of driver-assistance and collision-avoidance technologies. Note that the infotainment system includes emergency notification and text messaging support, and that (for the first time) all-wheel drive is an option for the Mazda3.
Fact that might surprise you: Standard G-Vectoring Control Plus predicts and reacts to driving situations in a subtle fashion, creating a calm and composed experience for both drivers and passengers.
Find a 2019 Mazda Mazda 3 Sedan with Preferred Package near you
6 (tie). 2019 Kia Forte EX
Sticker Price: $21,990 (plus $925 destination charge)
How it rates: 9.3 out of 10
Why it makes the list: In addition to safety and value, stylish design and a long list of standard equipment are hallmarks of the redesigned 2019 Kia Forte EX. Every Forte features an industry-leading warranty and roadside assistance program, virtually guaranteeing reliability and help when you need it. Add free connected services including automatic collision notification and programmable parental controls, plus a “Find My Car” function via a smartphone app, and a Forte puts Mom and Dad at ease. Thanks to its good looks, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and text-messaging support, driving the Forte is enjoyable, too.
Fact that might surprise you: The Kia Forte EX comes with simulated leather upholstery that includes both heating and ventilation, and this compact car’s trunk measures larger than the Toyota Camry’s.
Find a 2019 Kia Forte EX near you
6 (tie). 2019 KIA OPTIMA LX
Kia/Newspress (SX trim level shown)
Sticker Price: $22,990 (plus $925 destination charge)
How it rates: 9.3 out of 10
Why it makes the list: In addition to impressive safety, the Kia Optima LX represents sheer value. A midsize sedan with a big interior and trunk, the LX trim might be the least expensive version of the Optima but it doesn’t look or feel that way. Highlights include standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Siri Eyes Free voice recognition, and a driver monitoring system. The standard safety tech roster isn’t basic, either. Blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is standard, and the Optima includes both a reversing camera and rear parking assist sensors. Don’t forget to check out the affordable Premium Package, too.
Fact that might surprise you: Neat freaks will like the Optima LX’s CleanTex cloth seat upholstery, which resists stains and static, and has anti-bacterial properties.
Find a 2019 Kia Optima LX near you
7. 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE
Sticker Price: $24,240 (plus $930 destination charge)
How it rates: 9.18 out of 10
Why it makes the list: Redesigned for 2019, the compact Corolla Hatchback includes next generation Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems – provided you skip the standard manual gearbox in favor of the automatic. The infotainment technology impresses, too, featuring Apple CarPlay as well as trial subscriptions to Safety Connect and Wi-Fi Connect services. Every Corolla Hatchback includes free scheduled maintenance for two years or 25,000 miles (whichever comes first), and XSE trim equips the car with leather upholstery, heated front seats, and 18-inch aluminum wheels.
Fact that might surprise you: When the 2019 Corolla Hatchback debuted, it was the first Toyota ever to offer Apple CarPlay, and the XSE trim’s Remote Connect service supplies access to certain vehicle functions right from your smartwatch.
Find a 2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE near you
8. 2019 Honda Insight EX
Honda (Touring trim level shown)
Sticker Price: $24,160 (plus $920 destination charge)
How it rates: 9.14 out of 10
Why it makes the list: Safe, affordable, and efficient, the Honda Insight EX delivers an EPA-rated 52 miles per gallon in combined driving, which means fewer stops at gas stations and less money spent on fuel. The EX trim adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with an upgraded sound system, satellite radio, HondaLink connected services, and more. Unfortunately, the blind spot monitoring system works only for the right side of the car, but regardless of trim level every Honda Insight gets an IIHS “Top Safety Pick+” rating thanks to standard, high-performing LED headlights.
Fact that might surprise you: The Insight EX includes a feature called Walk Away Auto Lock, which does exactly what the name implies. You walk away, and the car automatically locks itself.
Find a 2019 Honda Insight EX near you
9. 2019 Hyundai Elantra Sport
Hyundai/Newspress (Limited trim level shown)
Sticker Price: $23,495 (plus $920 destination charge)
How it rates: 9.01 out of 10
Why it makes the list: The Hyundai Elantra Sport sits one rung down the trim level ladder from the Elantra Limited that tops this list, but it includes most of the same equipment that makes this compact car a great choice for teen drivers. In Sport trim, however, you’ll trade some of the Limited version’s features for a torquey turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, an upgraded suspension, bigger brakes, larger wheels and tires, and a more thrilling driving character.
Fact that might surprise you: The Sport is the only version of the Elantra equipped with an independent rear suspension, which provides a more sophisticated ride and handling quality.
Find a 2019 Hyundai Elantra Sport near you
10. 2019 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid SEL
Hyundai/Newspress (Limited trim level shown)
Sticker Price: $24,950 (plus $920 destination charge)
How it rates: 9 out of 10
Why it makes the list: Designed to compete with the Toyota Prius, the Ioniq is a hybrid hatchback supplying impressive fuel economy, plenty of utility, and surprisingly responsive driving dynamics. With SEL trim, a complete suite of driving assistance and collision avoidance technologies, it goes above and beyond basic. While it has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the infotainment system lacks many of the features available on other models above (unless you upgrade to the pricier Limited trim level). Industry-leading warranty coverage, a lengthy roadside assistance plan, and mega-MPG all make the Ioniq an affordable and dependable daily driver.
Fact that might surprise you: Rated to get 55 mpg in combined city and highway driving, the Ioniq is the most fuel-efficient vehicle on this list. It also has the cargo area, at 26.5 cubic feet. That’s as much as a similarly priced SUV.
Find a 2019 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid SEL near you
The Science of Finding a Good Car for a Teen Driver
To identify the 10 best new vehicles for teen drivers, we first created a database of all vehicles with a starting sticker price of $25,000 or less. Then we eliminated those vehicles without the required safety ratings, as well as those without standard forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking.
From there, we weighted the features and specifications that parents would want in a car for their children, and that teen drivers would want in a car they’re driving.
In consideration of parents, we gave additional weight to any feature that helps to eliminate driver distraction, improve visibility, and focus on the task at hand. Basically, we emphasized features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for their phone integration features, voice-texting support, programmable driver restrictions, and additional driver aids.
Young driver preferences were factored in, too. For example, premium sound systems, Bluetooth music streaming, and Wi-Fi hotspots received greater emphasis in our scoring.
We also considered federal government crash-test ratings, but did not require this testing for a vehicle to make the list. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not updated its requirements since 2011, and hasn’t tested many of the models that deserve your consideration. Thus, we treated the IIHS as the authority in this area, and simply included NHTSA as a bonus for vehicles that performed exceptionally well.
Connected service plans and roadside assistance offerings played a role, too, since they put the mind at ease knowing that help is just a call away. Warranty coverage helped to establish value, potentially reducing long-term ownership costs.
From the resulting raw scores, we created an indexed score on a 10-point scale, and the vehicles listed above proved to be the 10 best cars for teen drivers (technically 11, with the tie).