Consumer Reports and the IIHS name safe, reliable new cars and SUVs that are smart choices for teens

By Jeff S. Bartlett

Parents want to empower their child to be safe and responsible behind the wheel, starting with a good driver’s education program, car insurance, and an appropriate car.

Picking the right car can be the hardest part because there are so many factors to consider. That is why Consumer Reports and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have teamed up to recommend new and used cars that testing and analysis have shown to be best suited to inexperienced drivers.

“As parents, we can’t control what happens on the road once our teen driver pulls out of the driveway,” says Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at CR’s Auto Test Center. “But we do have some say in the type of vehicle they drive, and that can make a huge difference. This list can help parents to easily find vehicles that check all the boxes.”

We understand that even when buying new, most families are budget-conscious in their car selection, especially when factoring in the likelihood of dings and dents. But we come at the teen driver challenge by looking for vehicles that can help avoid collisions and limit injuries should a crash happen, then direct families to choose what works best for their budget and needs. (See the best used cars for teens under $20,000.)

The reality is that driving risk is highest at ages 16 and 17 years, according to the IIHS. Its data shows that the fatal crash rate per mile driven for those teens is about three times the rate for drivers 20 and older.

This underscores the importance of keeping teens safe during those first driving years as they gain maturity and experience.

Buying a used car or giving a child a hand-me-down is a natural choice, especially if education costs and independent living may be on the horizon. For that, we have recommendations for the best used cars under $20,000, with many available for less than $15,000.

But there’s another path. Rather than give your teen an older model, buy or lease them a new car, even if that means driving an older model yourself. This strategy isn’t for everyone, but it has its merits, especially since prices remain elevated for many cars.

The Benefits of Buying a New Car

New cars come with a comprehensive bumper-to-bumper warranty. And they have the promise of being dependable through high school and well beyond, a time when young adults have other things to focus on, rather than worrying about roadside emergencies and potentially expensive repairs. Plus, many have the very latest active safety features and integrated services like e911, which can automatically call for help in an emergency and give the precise location of the vehicle, even if drivers are unable to do so themselves.

“While buying a new car for a young driver is less common than buying used, new cars provide the opportunity to give a young driver an advantage in terms of providing the latest in both crash avoidance and crash protection technologies,” says CR’s Stockburger. “If you’re putting out the additional money to buy new, why not choose the safest models and configurations available?”

To help families considering the new-car strategy, CR and the IIHS developed this list of cars that balance accident avoidance, crash protection, performance, and reliability. These selections are ideal for teens, but they can serve any shopper looking for a vehicle that excels in those areas.

These best new cars for teens cost from $23,400 to $39,600, slightly less than the price of the average new car ($47,218), according to Kelley Blue Book. There is one electric car on the list: the Hyundai Ioniq 6. Reliability and price have limited the number of EVs featured this year, and the organizations have ongoing concerns about the rapid acceleration that EVs commonly provide, but we expect to find more EVs in future lists as prices drop in future years.

All the vehicles listed below are 2024 models.

Selected trims or option packages include those where the headlights were rated Good or Acceptable in the IIHS’ headlight tests, qualifying them for the Top Safety Pick designations.

Prices are rounded to the nearest $100 and reflect Kelley Blue Book New Car Fair Purchase Prices, as of April 19, 2024, for the least expensive trim level that qualifies for the recommendation. If a particular options package is needed, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for that package has been added to the price.

Click on the model names for complete road tests, reliability and owner satisfaction ratings, pricing, and much more.

The models are ranked by price within each car type group. 

2024 Toyota Camry

Photo: Toyota

Best New Cars for Teens

Make & Model Price
Subaru Impreza $23,400
Mazda3 sedan and hatchback $24,300
Toyota Prius $28,300
Toyota Prius Prime $33,600
Toyota Camry $26,900
Toyota Camry Hybrid $29,300
Honda Accord $28,200
Honda Accord Hybrid $33,100
Hyundai Ioniq 6 (except dual-motor) $37,700
Mazda CX-30 $25,700
Kia Sportage $27,300
Hyundai Tucson $27,800
Kia Sportage Hybrid $28,800
Honda CR-V $29,700
Mazda CX-50 (built after August 2023) $31,200
Hyundai Tucson Hybrid $32,500
Honda CR-V Hybrid $34,300
Lexus UX $35,300
Subaru Ascent $35,000
Kia Telluride $36,300
Hyundai Palisade $37,000
Honda Pilot $37,200
Mazda CX-90 $38,800
Lexus NX $39,600
Honda Odyssey $38,200
Hyundai Santa Cruz $27,500

How We Selected the Best Cars for Teens

To make the cut to be considered among the best new cars for teens, vehicles must have:

• A Consumer Reports recommendation, meaning that it meets our stringent standards for reliability, safety, and road-test performance.

• Good ratings in IIHS crashworthiness tests: Driver- and passenger-side small overlap front tests, updated side test, and either a Good rating in the original moderate overlap front test or a Good or Acceptable rating in the updated test. (Unlike the used cars, new cars are not rated for roof strength and head restraints because the IIHS discontinued those tests after nearly all vehicles earned good ratings for several years running.)

• Standard automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems.

• Good or Acceptable ratings for pedestrian front crash prevention by the IIHS. 

• Good or Acceptable ratings for headlights by the IIHS. 

• Average or better scores from CR’s emergency handling tests.

• Dry braking distances of less than 140 feet from 60 mph in CR’s brake tests.

• A curb weight over 2,750 pounds because small, light vehicles don’t provide enough protection in multiple-vehicle crashes. Despite their greater mass, large SUVs and pickups don’t make the list because the added mass also means they can be hard to handle and often have long braking distances. Sports cars are also excluded because they can encourage dangerous driving.

• A designation as either a 2024 Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick Plus by the IIHS based on the model’s performance in key crash, accident avoidance, and headlight tests.

• A good or better rating by CR for the ease of use for their controls.

• Four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (if rated).

Teen Driving

On the “Consumer 101” TV show, Consumer Reports expert Jen Stockburger explains how to choose the right car for your teen.

Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2024, Consumer Reports, Inc.

2023-05-23T04:24:35Z dg43tfdfdgfd