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Best Cars For Teens & Grads

Grad Car

The school year is rapidly drawing to a close, and graduation day is just around the corner. Just as mortarboards will be soon be cluttering the afternoon sky, the internet is cluttered with articles about the best cars for teens and grads. A quick search turns up more than you can shake a tassel at.

All of these articles identify safety and reliability as key factors in selecting a car for your kid, but some include other considerations such as insurance costs. Considerate of your bank account, half of these lists look at used cars, but for you big spenders, there are a few lists that feature reasonably priced new cars. Let’s take a quick look at some of these articles, understand their criteria, and see if we can identify some consensus.


Used Cars

Consumer Reports of course, is well-regarded as the go-to source for safety and reliability info. Their recommendations are for later model cars, due to the more recent advances in safety features such as electronic stability control and curtain airbags. One interesting point they make is that while larger cars generally fare somewhat better in crash tests, their handling can be more clumsy, and their capacity for extra passengers can result in extra distraction for a young driver. Hence, their selections land on the upper spectrum of the compact range.


Hyundai Sonata (2006 or newer)

VW Rabbit

Hyundai Elantra SE

Acura TSX

VW Jetta (2007 or newer)

Ford Focus (2009 or newer)

Scion xB (2008 or newer)

Mazda 3 (2007 or newer)


Can you guess how CarInsurance.com ranks their cars? Obviously insurance cost is tops, but they’ve pre-filtered the list for safety, then they’ve added data for price, reliability, and gas mileage to help you choose. They go against the grain a bit by recommending three crossovers.


Audi A3 (2008)

Honda Accord Sedan (2008)

Mercury Sable/Ford Taurus (2008)

Subaru Forester (2008)

Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan (2009)

Scion xB (2008)

Nissan Rogue (2008)

Honda Civic (2009)

Hyundai Santa Fe (2008)

Saturn Vue (2008)


Aol Autos (along with Consumer Reports) makes the point that SUVs and pickups have no place on their list due to their higher center of gravity which can affect stability in emergency maneuvers. Their choices include a range of price points. For some of the pricier options you may want to consider instead the new car choices below.


Ford 500/Mercury Montego (2007)

Ford Fusion (2007 or newer)

Mazda 3 (2010 or newer)

Subaru Outback (2005 or newer)

Honda Accord (2008-2009)

VW Jetta (2009 or newer)

Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix (2009-2010)

Hyundai Sonata (2011 or newer)

Volvo S80 (2009 or newer)

Toyota Camry (2006 or newer)


New Cars

About.com Cars suggests that car ownership gives teens great lessons about responsibility, particularly if they are responsible for its operating costs. They also stress that the performance models of certain cars should be avoided; kids need just enough power to merge safely but not so much that they can get themselves in trouble.


Chevrolet Sonic

Ford Fiesta

Honda Insight

Hyundai Veloster

Kia Soul

Mazda 2

Nissan Versa

Smart Fortwo

Subaru Impreza

VW Jetta


Bankrate.com follows the line of thinking that a new car is the best choice for newer drivers due to the always-advancing safety enhancements they offer. Unlike most lists, they do suggest (albeit reluctantly) one SUV/crossover for those that insist on having one.


Kia Forte

Honda Accord

Ford Focus

Ford Fiesta

Hyundai Sonata

VW Golf

Ford Fusion

VW Jetta

Toyota Camry

Toyota RAV4


USA Today presents a list compiled by USAA. Being an insurer, USAA has included insurance cost in the formula, to go along with safety and reliability. Unfortunately the info is scant beyond that, and curiously, there is not a single American brand on the list.


Scion tC

Nissan Cube

Honda Fit

Scion xD

Scion xB

Toyota Yaris

Honda Civic

Hyundai Elantra

Honda CR-Z

Kia Forte



Going over these lists, you’ll see a lot of the usual suspects. Indeed, 14 models are named on more than one list. Four models appear on three different lists. But the champ, the darling of the pundits, with spots on four lists is the Volkswagen Jetta.

Bear in mind that these are the opinions of just six sources. By no means should these lists be taken as gospel. There are plenty of other fine and capable cars out there that are perfectly suitable for your young drivers. For instance, surprising to us was the total absence on any list of the Toyota Corolla. The most ubiquitous nameplate in automotive history has always been a favorite choice for a first car.

Do your own research using AutoBuying101.com’s Research Autos section to get the full scoop on new and used vehicles.