Best Cars For a Teenager
Say you’re going to splurge on getting your kid a new car instead of used. You want safe, reliable, value. Your teenager just wants cool. VroomGirls compiled a list of the best cars for a teenager that’s sure to please everyone in the house.
By Aaron Gold
The Toyota Yaris reminds us of the hatchbacks we drove when we were kids — small, simple cars that were cheap to run and utterly reliable. That’s the Toyota Yaris in a nutshell. Simple stereo and air conditioning controls help your teen keep her eyes off the dashboard and on the road, and the Toyota badge on the rump is as close as you’ll get to a guarantee of longevity and reliability. Toyota Yaris pricing starts at just over $14k, including standard air conditioning, and a Yaris LE with power windows, Bluetooth, and a decent stereo goes for under $16,500. Other Toyota Yaris highlights include good gas mileage (especially with a manual transmission), a usefully large cargo bay, and a whopping nine airbags, including a driver’s knee airbag, which protects against nasty knee and leg injuries. And once your teen is ready to move on to something bigger and better, Toyota’s blue-chip resale values should provide one last bonus in the form of a high trade-in value.
If your teen is a budding car enthusiast, the Volkswagen Golf is a great set of wheels. In terms of pure driver appeal, the VW Golf is a cut above the others on this list thanks to responsive steering, sharp handling, and well-designed manual transmissions that are perfect for inexperienced stick-shifters. The Volkswagen Golf’s simple, driver-centered interior is designed for distraction-free driving, and the Golf’s modest engines mean that your teen is less likely to get herself in trouble than she would be in a proper sports car. If you and your teen are concerned about the environment, consider the VW Golf TDI, which has a fuel-efficient, low-emission diesel engine that can run on up to 5% vegetable-based biodiesel. Note: Be wary of the two high-performance versions, the GTI and the Golf R. Though great cars, they are very powerful and very fast, and can spell trouble for inexperienced drivers.
Ever notice that the bigger your kids get, the bigger their stuff seems to get? Not just shoes and clothes, but the stuff they carry — preschool lunch boxes and macaroni artwork give way to drum sets and football gear. If you’ve got a teen who loves to take camping trips or who plays a musical instrument the size of a bookcase, the Scion xB is a great choice, thanks to a 22 cubic foot cargo bay that expands to an SUV-like 70 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down. But the Scion xB doesn’t drive like an SUV — it’s reasonably sized and responds like a car in an emergency swerve. The Scion xB’s unusual dashboard, with its center-mounted gauge cluster, is youthful in its styling but simple and straightforward in its layout. And since Scion is a division of Toyota, you can count on the xB to provide your teen driver with years and years of reliable service.
Kia has a reputation for building cheap, mediocre cars, but like a student who gets a sudden dose of reality, they’ve gone from Fs and Ds to straight As. Witness Kia’s latest design, the subcompact Rio, which scores high grades for its contemporary styling, easy-to-use dashboard, and excellent gas mileage — with EPA estimates of 30 MPG city and 40 MPG highway for both manual and automatic transmissions, the Rio is the most fuel-efficient car on this list. With prices starting at $14,150, which includes air conditioning and a USB-compatible stereo with steering-wheel controls (allowing teens to enjoy their music while keeping their eyes on the road), the Rio is an excellent value, and it can even be ordered with a built-in navigation system. And while Kia doesn’t share Honda or Toyota’s reputation for reliability (not yet, anyway), the Rio is covered by an epic warranty of 5 years or 60,000 miles on the whole car and 10 years or 100,000 miles on the engine, transmission, and driveline.
The Honda Fit is one of our favorite small cars for drivers of any age. Despite its diminutive, easy-to-park size, the Fit’s back seat seems impossibly big, and the 20.6 cubic foot cargo bay and fancy folding rear seat means the Honda Fit can accommodate all the gear your active teen can throw into it. The Fit’s simple control layout and big windows make for easy, distraction free driving, and while the Honda Fit isn’t the cheapest small car, it’s built to last — Hondas are notoriously trouble-free, which means the Fit can serve your teen driver through high school, college, grad school, and well into that first job, and will even accommodate car seats and baby strollers. In fact, it’s entirely possible that your teen-age Honda Fit driver may end up as an adult with a teen-age Honda Fit.
Safety is the first concern of most parents who want to put their teen on wheels, and the Chevrolet Sonic is, so far, the smallest and least-expensive car to earn both a perfect five stars in the Government’s tough new crash tests and the coveted Top Safety Pick Award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). A strong body shell and a whopping ten airbags (most cars have only six) are key to the Chevy Sonic’s defenses. But we also like the Sonic’s simple, easy-to-use control layout, which promotes distraction-free driving and helps your teen driver avoid an accident in the first place. Teens will like the American-built Cheverolet Sonic’s modern, attractive styling, and whoever is paying the bills will appreciate the low price, with the air-conditioned Sonic LS base model starting well under $15,000.