So your teen has started to beg you for a new set of wheels — welcome to the club! But the hunt in search for the best cars for teens is often easier said than done.

Between pleasing your not-so-little-anymore child and pleasing your bank account, it could be quite a while until you find the perfect car.

Thankfully, you’re not alone. There are hundreds of resources available at your fingertips, so searching is less of a burden. If you want to make a wise, financially-savvy decision, give yourself plenty of time to properly go through all the steps.

Your Budget

A person is holding a sum of 100 dollars

Before making a hard and fast decision, let’s get down to one of the most essential parts of the puzzle: budget. Establishing how much you can afford for the best cars for teens may narrow down your options, which if you have many, could be a good thing.

If your budget is on the heftier side, you may consider buying a brand new car. While it may initially hurt your wallet after shelling out a substantial amount of cash, remember that more modern cars (hopefully) last longer than used cars.

Brand new vehicles also come with the manufacturer’s full warranty and a host of new technology older models will not have. This includes safety features like blind-spot monitoring, forward collision alert, or a back-up camera, which may not be an option with older, used models.

Should your budget be smaller, your best bet is finding a newer used car. Do your research and find out which model, make, and year fits your target budget range. Most importantly, talk to your teen about their preferences. The best cars for teens takes both your budget, as well as their wants and needs, into consideration.

Their Wants

Woman wearing a yellow blouse and a shades is holding a phone while seating at the back door of a car

Trying to figure out the best cars for teens without consulting your teen may prove disastrous. While you may think you know what they need, it may not be exactly what they want.

Finding a compromise between their dream car, what you can afford, and what best suits their needs may be easier said than done. But not having that conversation at all may result in hurt feelings, resentment, and regret.

Sit down with your teen and ask their realistic expectations for their first car. Are they itching to feel the road beneath their wheels, top down with the wind in their hair? Or do they want to have as little carbon footprint as possible by going electric? While you may not agree with their opinions, you should definitely be aware of what they want.

Their Needs

Smiling beautiful teenage girl holding a string lights while posing in front of a car at night

Now that you know what they want, let’s add another circle into our Venn diagram: what they need. Let’s say your teen is a speed demon who wants to roam backroads with a fancy new sports car.

But what they need is a reliable vehicle that can withstand whatever nature throws their way when they’re traveling to and from university in another state. Although they want a sports car, it’s definitely not what they need.

When figuring out what they need, put yourself in their shoes for the next five years (at a minimum). Are they traveling long distances, mostly on the highway? Or will they drive all around the city, mostly in bumper-to-bumper traffic? Do they plan on going off to another state or college, or using the car mainly for weekends only? If these are questions you’re asking yourself, fuel economy might matter a great deal.

Safety Features You Should Consider

Generally speaking, new drivers are not as good as those who have years of experience under their belt. Today, the best cars for teens are also not built like they used to be: they have a whole host of safety features built to protect you and everyone around you.

But there are some safety features that are must-haves while others are merely nice to have. Electronic stability control (ESC), for example, is an absolute much-have. This technology helps the driver regain control of the vehicle during a slide or skid (on slippery or icy roads, for instance).

Rear cameras are now also mandatory for every car built after 2018. This may be a little bit of a gray area for some because while they are not necessary for older vehicles, they certainly make backing up much easier and safer.

There are plenty of other safety features you may be interested in such as lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, and much, much more.

Be aware, however, that the majority of these nifty features are in newer models and costs significantly more. But if you want some safety features for an older car, there are ways to do it on a budget (such as installing a backup camera).

Quick Tips Before You Buy

Introducing a new car to the family is a tough journey. It has its exhilarating moments, but it also has its tough times, where all you want to do is get it over with.

Once you’ve spoken to your teen, the hunt is on. Shopping around is one of the most vital steps. Compare car age, body condition, cleanliness, the interior’s shape, price. Remember not to commit on the first car you see, even if you’re in love with it. Secondly, before you test drive it, check the car’s history for insurance claims and accidents.

Lastly, hop in and test drive it! You’ll never know what the best cars for teens are unless you drive it yourself. The outside may look peachy, but once you take it for a spin, you may discover a funny noise you just can’t put your finger on.

Whatever it is, make sure to drive it before making a decision, and if you’re serious about it, have it inspected by a mechanic.

How We Reviewed

We combed the vast world of the internet and found the best cars for teens money can buy. They are a mix of both brand new vehicles, as well as used models to cater to everyone’s budget.

Our Selection of the Best Cars for Teens

Below you’ll find a collection of some of the best new cars for teens, both new and used.

I’ll be the first to admit that, having purchased a 2015 Mazda3, I’m a little biased when it comes to these peppy cars. But its arguably one of the most beloved and reliable vehicles on the road today. If you don’t have the budget for a new 2019 Mazda3, your best bet would be to procure a used one.

If we had to choose a particular set of years, we would purchase a 2012-2013 Mazda3 hatchback, available at a fairly reasonable price. While it was Mazda’s older body style, these were the first available with Mazda’s fuel-efficient SkyActiv powertrain. However, the SkyActiv engine is only available on the Mazda3 Touring models.

The powertrain’s 2.0-liter engine brings 155 horsepower (hp) to the table. The non-SkyActiv Mazda3 has a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 148 hp. Meanwhile, the Grand Touring gets a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine with 167 hp.

The Mazda3 is available with a six-speed automatic transmission or six-speed manual. In terms of mileage, the SkyActiv engine gets an average of 28 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.

The Mazda 3 includes a few safety features including electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, and active head restraints, as well as front side airbags and side-curtain airbags. Blind-spot monitoring was available on specific models.

From the outside, it’s a great looking little car. It’s small enough to easily fit into parking spots but roomy enough for 5 people, plus 17 cubic feet of room in the trunk (42.8 with the rear seats folded). It may be one of the best cars for teens driving within city borders with the occasional stateside trip.

If your teen turns their noses at the thought of a Mazda3 and demands an SUV, fret not! There are plenty of options available that won’t break the bank. Instead of forking out thousands over budget for an SUV, consider a crossover instead.

Subaru Outbacks have been a Top Safety Pick since 2010, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Based on budget and safety, we’d choose the 4th generation of Outbacks produced between 2010 and 2014.

We’ve narrowed it down to the 2014 Subaru Outback. It has received plenty of awards and recognition, including the best family wagon of 2014.

In terms of safety, the 2013-2014 Outback comes well- equipped. They include brake assist, traction control stability control, and all the mandatory airbags. It’s also the first year Subaru offered its EyeSight suite of active safety features. This added such as adaptive cruise control blind-spot monitoring.

EyeSight also includes forward-collision alert with automatic braking, among other technologies.

The Outback is available in 4 trim levels: 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, 2.5i Limited, and the 3.6R Limited. The first three are available with either a six-speed manual or continuously variable transmission (CVT). Both work with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine outputting approximately 173 hp.

Powering the 3.6R Limited is a 3.6-liter 6-cylinder engine with a 5-speed automatic transmission, pumping out 256 hp.

Sometimes you need a little bit of a higher ride, which the Outback delivers: 8.7 inches of ground clearance. It also has 34.3 cubic feet of cargo space (71.3 cubic feet with the rear seats folded).

The added cargo space is especially useful for the teen who enjoys the occasional camping trip or needs to tackle harsh weather conditions. After all, the Outback — along with most Subaru vehicles — offers standard all-wheel drive.

Consider purchasing a small pickup if your teen plans on moving large amounts of cargo on a daily (or weekly) basis. We’ve decided on the faithful Toyota Tacoma: 2009 models, specifically. It’s rated G for good on IIHS’ website, which is its highest safety rating.

The 2009 Tacoma is much more affordable than newer models. The Tacoma trims include the regular cab, access cab, and double cab, all with the option of the longer bed. They are available with a 157-horsepower 4-cylinder engine paired to a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic.

Also available is a V6 engine paired to a standard 5-speed automatic, pumping out 236 hp. Mileage depends on which engine and transmission but expect around 20 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. It hauls a maximum of 3500 pounds.

The 2009 model is the first year all Tacoma models included Toyota’s standard STAR safety system. This system includes an anti-lock braking system (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution, vehicle stability control, traction control, and brake assist. While you don’t get any fancy safety technology like a forward-collision warning or lane-keep assist, it has the basics to keep your teen safe.

The exterior is nothing to write home about. But while it’s an older model, it’s one that you can still see regularly on the street over a decade later. Tacomas make for great pickups for teens who need lots of room for moving supplies or daily hauls for work.

They’re smaller (and less thirsty) than most other trucks, such as Ford F-150s, which means they’re significantly easier to park on busy city streets.

Finally: a car for the teen who loves speed. Well, sort of. Sometimes your teen doesn’t need a big hauler or a rugged crossover to brave nature’s unpredictable weather.

The best cars for teens may be the one they (and you) secretly want. When they need a fun car and not much else, the solution is simple: the answer, as enthusiasts say, is always Miata.

The Mazda MX-5 Miata is a two-seat roadster perfect for the driver who wants to feel connected to the road. We selected the third generation NC model, in particular, built between 2006 and 2015. For comparison’s sake, we’ll hone in on the 2010, which comes at a mid-range price, depending on miles, exterior condition, and color.

This generation year saw the introduction of the retractable hardtop, making the Miata an option for those living in colder climates. This is also the generation where Mazda included roll protection in the form of hoops around the headrests.

Other safety features include standard anti-lock brakes, seat belt pre-tensioners, and ignition disable device. But it’s most important safety features is probably its speed…which isn’t as much as you’d think it would be.

Buyers choose from three trim levels: Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. Inside them all is a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine with the option of a 6-speed automatic or 5-speed manual. The Touring and Grand Touring get a sixth gear.

For such a sporty looking car, however, the automatic pumps out 158 ponies while the manual only has 167hp. Compare that to a 2010 Ford Mustang, for instance, which uses a V6 to pump 210 hp, and you’ll understand why choosing a Miata might be the best choice to appease your teen.

If you ask other parents what some of the best cars for teens are, you may never hear the word “electric.” But, in truth, hybrids and all-electric cars are gaining in popularity. They’re better for the environment and costs less in the long run.

We settled on the 2019 Chevrolet Volt. We pitted it against the Nissan Leaf and, in the end, the Volt has better range (238 miles versus 226). The Volt is pretty expensive and has an output of 200 hp thanks to its 60 kWh lithium-ion battery.

In terms of safety, there’s a ton of features. Standard in all 2019 Chevrolet Volts is Chevrolet’s Connected Services, OnStar, rear cameras, child door locks, and tire pressure monitoring system. Also standard is Chevy’s Teen Driver technology.

This system helps parents by allowing them to program custom settings. These settings include speed alerts and keeping the car off unless everyone’s seatbelt is on. It also has other features such as side blind zone alert, forward collision alert, and forward automatic braking.

From the outside, the Volt looks a little dorky. Its nose is short and stubby, reminding us of a pug. But there’s a whopping 56.6 cubic feet of cargo room, enough room for 5, and plenty of range. Plus, because it’s new, you have the ability to choose between a variety of colors, including red, blue, and an electric lime hue.

the Verdict

Teenage girl wearing a pink cap is seating at the car seat

Choosing a handful of best cars for teens is hard enough — selecting just one that’s right for your family is nearly impossible. But if we had to choose one that works with most budgets and situations, we would select the Mazda3. It has excellent fuel economy, plenty of storage space with the rear seats folded, and can take whatever mother nature throws at it.

Do you disagree? What’s your top pick for the best car for your growing teen? Let us know in the comments below!

Last update on 2021-11-27 at 05:53 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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