Top 9 Cars for Young Drivers

By , 8/13/2019

The time has finally come for your teen to get their own car. What is the best car for young drivers, and why?

You’ve thought about this day since the first time they rode in the car from the hospital, the day the Earth stood still. Putting your own flesh and blood behind the wheel of a 3,500 lbs street missile is a scary proposition. Putting the trust into them to be safe, “always tell me where you’re at”, and avoid the toll roads can make any parent tremor. But overall, we eventually have to let them fly and be their own person. When that terrifying day does come, make sure you put them into the best car for them.

So what is the best car for a teenage driver? What car is going to set them up right to be as safe as possible, but also give them a reliable, fun, and appropriate car? 

What should you look for when shopping for a young driver's car? Personally, the first thing I look for is safety. There are tons of features and options on cars that are great for a teen, but most important over anything else is safety. After safety, there are several options I look for. For one, it has to be stylish! You have to like the car you’re driving, there’s nothing worse than pulling up to a job interview, party, or first date with a whoopty. Reliability is also wildly important. You can’t have your baby breaking down on the side of northbound I-75 with semi’s flying by, nor can you have the car breaking down causing missed school or work. Not to mention, most teens own their cars up through college, so longevity is also important. 

I started by gathering data from several sources including the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), Consumer Reports, and Edmunds. For many, the Top Safety Vehicles are not always in the budget for their teens. According to the IIHS, 83% of parents buy used cars for their teens. However, you don't have to break the bank to get a safe car for your teen or young driver. The next nine vehicles are the safest vehicles at a value, and are my top nine cars for young drivers.

#9. Chevrolet Malibu

Base MSRP Range: $22,090-$31,820
2019 Chevrolet Malibu

The Chevrolet Malibu’s great price and feature-rich interior will make it a favorite of young drivers. On top of this, Teen Driver is a great technology imputed into all Chevrolet vehicles. Teen Driver mutes all audio until front occupants are buckled and secure. It also creates and in-car report, showing information such as distance driven, maximum speed, overspeed warnings, wide-open throttle, and forward-collision alerts. This not only allows the parent insight into their teens driving habits but allows the teen to see their correctable driving habits. Being an American brand means many of you are qualified for employee pricing, which means you can get an excellent price on a lease or financing. But the best price does not mean the best vehicle. The lower crash test ratings mean the Malibu is left out of the IIHS Top Picks.

#8. Mazda 3

Base MSRP Range: $21,000-$28,900
2018 Mazda Mazda3

The Mazda 3 is a fun and sporty little car. It is a 2019 Top Safety Pick by the IIHS and starts at a very reasonable $21,000. The Mazda 3 is available as a sedan or a hatchback, both equally attractive. Noted as one of the most striking cars of 2019, the Mazda 3 is a perfect example that you can have a safe affordable car that also looks great. Not to mention, the interior is one of the best in class. With top-end materials and an intuitive layout, the Mazda 3 is a fantastic little car that will give your young driver a car to be proud of.

#7. Hyundai Sonata

Base MSRP Range: $22,650-$32,350
2019 Hyundai Sonata

Another car on the IIHS Top Safety Pick list, the Hyundai Sonata is an excellent mid-size sedan. According to the IIHS, bigger, heavier vehicles are safer. That being said, larger vehicles are also typically more expensive. This means we often have to make exceptions to get into the price point we can afford. However, starting at $22,650, the Sonata is a healthy mix of affordable and safe. The Sonata has one of the best interiors in its class with comfortable seats, a large touchscreen and a good mix of upscale materials. Hyundai has also been rising higher and higher on Consumer Reports reliability ratings, making it a long lasting, dependable option for your young driver. Hyundai’s 10 year/100,000 miles warranty also means that you won’t have to worry about expensive repair costs if anything does go wrong. 

#6. Kia Soul

Base MSRP Range: $17,490-$27,490
2019 Kia Soul

The Kia Soul is Kia's spunky little crossover with an attitude. The 2019 redesign is better looking than ever (in my opinion) and is something that will surely stand out in parking lots. Even better though, is the IIHS Top Pick, high crash test ratings, and pre-collision automatic braking. Interior features are gimmicky but cool too. The accent lighting is fun to play with and mixes well with the trim, it can also bounce to the beat of the music, which may get a bit distracting. Wireless charging, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and a full 10.25-inch touch screen are all available, so the Soul is well equipped as well. Really, the biggest downfall of the Kia Soul is all of the “Soul” puns you’ll have to deal with.

#5. Toyota Corolla Hatchback

Base MSRP Range: $20,140-$24,240
2019 Toyota Corolla Hatchback

A modern hatchback is a perfect car for a young driver, and the Toyota Corolla Hatchback is no exception. Front passenger space is larger than ever (the Corolla has more legroom than most SUV's), and the utility of a large cargo space with a hatch make them great "do-anything" type cars. Who knows what a young driver is going to do with their car! Helping a friend move into their dorm, buying an armoire, drive-in movies, wait, I think I’m doing this wrong. Regardless, the Toyota Corolla is an IIHS Top Safety Pick, starts at just over $20,000, and doesn’t pass $25,000, even in its highest trim. It comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, which includes pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, and more. The 2019 Toyota Corolla is truly a safe value. Plus, you can get it in a manual, also known as a millennial anti-theft device.

#4. Subaru Crosstrek

Base MSRP Range: $21,895-$27,195
2019 Subaru Crosstrek

The Subaru Crosstrek is Subaru’s smallest crossover offering. It is rated as one of the most reliable vehicles available today by Consumer Reports and is also on the IIHS Top Safety Picks. The plucky little crossover has tons of space, standard Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and most importantly, standard all-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is one of those features that you don’t always need, but is sure nice to have when you do. Further, Subaru’s reliability ratings make it so you always know that the Crosstrek is going to get your young drivers where they need to go and back home again. 

#3. Honda HR-V

Base MSRP Range: $20,620-$28,640
2019 Honda HR-V

The Honda HR-V is an excellent vehicle for both reliability and safety reasons. IIHS Top Safety Pick, Consumer Reports top reliability pick, and fuel economy and safety figures to back those claims up. The only place that it really lacks is personality. There really isn't much to separate it from the rest of the bunch, and to describe the driving experience as underwhelming would be an understatement. Overall, this isn't a bad thing. I mean, we're not looking for a car to take to the Nürburgring here. But Honda has always given us fun, sporty little cars with the reliability to back it up. A Honda without that, is just another Toyota. 

#2. Hyundai Kona

Base MSRP Range: $20,100-$27,750
2019 Hyundai Kona

The Hyundai Kona is Hyundai’s new crossover with a ton of features, an amazing price, and a spot on the IIHS Top Pick list. The Kona comes available with a heads-up display to keep your eyes on the road, charging pad, and a long list of awards. The best part of the Kona though, is the price. At only $20,100, it's one of the best all-around value vehicles on the list and my first pick for most teenage drivers on a budget.

#1. Toyota RAV4

Base MSRP Range: $25,650-$33,650
2019 Toyota RAV4

The Toyota Rav4, however, is my first pick overall. The RAV4 is the best value vehicle available today. The amount of comfort and safety features available even at the base level are amazing. Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 with pre-collision braking and adaptive cruise is standard from base level up. The on-road and off-road usability of the RAV4 are unmatched by any vehicle on this list, and it is, of course, an IIHS Top Safety Pick. Undoubtedly the RAV4 is one of the best SUV’s you can buy for your teen, much less buy in general.


A young driver is a scary thing. The lack of experience and increased distractions in the palm of their hand mix to create a potentially dangerous situation. In that regard, we want to keep them as safe as humanly possible, while also giving them a reliable and affordable vehicle. This list combined several factors to find the best vehicle for young drivers. 

Did you notice an alarming amount of a certain continent’s cars missing? American vehicles, (Ford, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Buick, Jeep, etc) do not fair as well as some of the Japanese vehicles in safety tests. While they are all still very safe models, they are not IIHSS Top Pick vehicles. Most modern cars today are still safer than anything you could have bought even ten years ago, so buying new, or at least recent pre-owned vehicles, is good practice for your young drivers. That being said, some of the other factors, such as reliability, interior features and more lend to some great choices available today for young drivers.

If you have any further questions or need any help finding the best vehicle for your new driver, feel free to give us a call at 1800CarShow, and our Specialists will be more than happy to assist you! 

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