Best Cars for Teens: The Must Have Models Parents Want

August 12, 2022

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Best Cars for Teens: The Must Have Models Parents Want

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This content has been reviewed and updated on March 13, 2024. 

When parents shop for cars for their teens, it’s no surprise that safety is one of their biggest priorities. Cars with solid safety features always sell well, but they’re especially popular with parents purchasing their teens’ first cars. After safety, parents often also factor in insurance costs and budgetary concerns when selecting vehicles for their children. Insurance premiums rise as much as 150% when adding a teen driver to the policy, so getting a good deal can be paramount.1

Adding affordable cars with excellent safety features to your inventory will attract business from parents who are shopping for good cars for teens. In this blog, we’ll highlight the top 10 best cars for teens and some of the features these vehicles have in common. Understanding what parents look for will empower you to source the most reliable and safest cars for teens. 

Essential Safety Features for Teen Drivers

The “Big Three” safety features currently required by federal law are anti-lock brakes, traction control, and stability control.2 Any model year 2013 or later must meet this requirement, so it’s a helpful benchmark to keep in mind when selling used cars to families with teens.

In addition to core safety features, many parents may look for these other features and traits when shopping for the best first cars for teens:2

  • Above-average reliability3
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Airbags — especially cars with at least six of them
  • Automatic climate control
  • Automatic high beams
  • Automatic on-off headlights
  • Electronic stability control‍
  • Blind-spot monitoring
  • Forward-collision warning with front automatic emergency braking
  • Hill-start assist
  • Infotainment system with voice recognition
  • LED headlights and taillights
  • Outboard mirrors with turn-signal indicators
  • Power-adjustable driver’s seat
  • Tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel

10 Best Cars for Teen Drivers

Parents looking for safe and affordable vehicles for young drivers have plenty of choices. Given that parents are concerned about safety and reliability, it’s a good idea to stock cars with high IIHS safety ratings.6  The models on our list of top ten best cars for teens all meet these requirements and would make great additions to your inventory. 

1. Toyota Prius V

With an MSRP of around $27,510 for a 2017 base model, The Prius V can be a more expensive proposition. Yet, its superior fuel economy and safety features have allowed it to gain a cult following among parents of new drivers.  The later model years continue to up the ante. The 2015-2017 model years are excellent choices for parents prioritizing safety features for their teens.7

The Prius V is expected to maintain its value quite well compared with other cars in its class, so it may be a wise choice for your inventory for that reason, too.

A used red Toyota Prius V in a parking lot
2017 Toyota Prius V

2. Honda Civic

The Honda Civic is known for its excellent fuel economy, safety features, and reliability. The 2024 base model has an MSRP of $23,950, which is higher than many other compact cars, but the Civic is still an excellent value for all that it offers8. Parents will love the 5-star NHTSA crash test rating as well as features like blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, and automatic emergency braking. 

A used white Honda Civic in a dealer parking lot
2024 Honda Civic

3. Toyota Corolla

The Corolla boasts NHTSA’s 5-star rating. For the best possible safety functionality, parents will be on the lookout for the LE trim level with the convenience package. This model also has enhanced driver-assist features that new drivers crave: adaptive cruise control, hill-start assist, heated mirrors with integrated turn signals, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, traffic-sign recognition, and automatic high beams.9

Used Corollas tend to be relatively fuel-efficient and affordable. The 2018 Toyota Corolla L base model’s MSRP is just over $19,000. You can also get a used Toyota Corolla hatchback — with exceptionally high IIHS safety ratings and a slightly higher price point — starting with the 2019 model year.10

A used black Toyota Corolla in a dealer parking lot
2018 Toyota Corolla

4. Honda CR-V

The CR-V boasts excellent reliability and resale value and snagged the spot for KBB’s highest-rated compact SUV of 2018. Most models are equipped with Honda’s Sensing safety suite and are considered easy to drive. Notably, it’s not as fun to drive as some of its peers - but that could be a perk for parents. The 2018 base model has an MSRP starting around $25,000.20

A used Honda CRV in dealer parking lot
2018 Honda CR-V

5. Mazda 3

One of the safest cars according to the IIHS safety ratings, the Mazda 3 is fuel-efficient and compact and offers all-wheel drive (AWD). It’s also celebrated as a fun car to drive and is highly reliable. The 2014 and later model years provide the best safety features.11

The 2018 Mazda 3 Sport compact sedan has a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of around $19,000, and earlier model years are less expensive. There’s also a hatchback option, which tends to have a slightly higher MSRP.

A used white Mazda 3 in a dealer parking lot
2018 Mazda 3 Sport

6. Mazda CX-5 and CX-3

The Mazda CX-5 is a small SUV with great fuel economy and a host of safety features. It performs beautifully in crash tests and is highly reliable.12

The 2018 Mazda CX-5 in Touring trim has a strong offering of driver-assist and safety features. It also has adaptive cruise control, auto-leveling LED headlights, automatic climate control, automatic high beams, lane-departure warnings, and lane-keeping assistance. It has an MSRP starting around $25,000, while the Touring edition has an MSRP of around $27,000.

For teen drivers who need less space, the CX-3 is a subcompact option at a lower price point than the CX-5. It drives well and has robust safety features. All-wheel drive costs about $1,200 extra to add to a CX-3, so it’s a good option for drivers in harsh winter climates. The base 2018 model starts at around $22,000, and the Touring model starts at $26,000.13

A used Mazda CX-5 in a dealer parking lot
2018 Mazda CX-5

7. Toyota Highlander

The Highlander, a crossover SUV that fits eight passengers, has plenty of safety features and is reported to feel comfortable and secure for passengers and drivers. A base 4-cylinder 2018 FWD Highlander LE starts at around $32,000. There are also AWD options available at higher price points.14

A used silver Toyota Highlander parking in a crowded lot
2018 Toyota Highlander

8. Chevrolet Trailblazer

The Chevrolet Trailblazer is an affordable subcompact SUV that offers lots of standard features parents will love. It’s another vehicle with a 5-star crash test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and it even includes a standard Teen Driver feature. Using this feature, parents can set parameters on details like sound system volume and receive an in-vehicle report card on how far and fast their teens are driving. The Trailblazer is a great option for parents who are worried about their teens driving. Used 2021 Trailblazers are currently selling for around $20,000.15

A used Chevrolet Trailblazer parked in a crowded lot
2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer

9. Subaru Crosstrek

The Crosstrek is a subcompact SUV and is often described as comfortable and reliable. AWD is standard on every Crosstrek. Gas mileage is a decent 33 mpg on the highway. Teen drivers can also benefit from the Crosstrek’s automatic climate control, adaptive cruise control, fog lights, lane-departure warning, windshield wiper de-icer, and lane-keeping assistance. The 2018 model year or newer offers the best safety features.16

The 2018 Subaru Crosstrek’s MSRP is around $22,710 for a base model with a manual transmission. The premium option runs about $800 more and offers the most safety features.17

A used black Subaru Crosstrek parked in a dealer lot
2018 Subaru Crosstrek

10. Toyota RAV4

The Toyota RAV4 is small but mighty. This plucky SUV is synonymous with advanced safety technology and snagged the IIHS accolade of Top Safety Pick in 2017.18 The SE trim offers the most safety features, including fog lights, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams. MSRP for this parental favorite is around $26,000, though advanced trim levels command higher price tags. 

A white 2017 Toyota RAV4 parked in a parking lot
2017 Toyota RAV4

Other Good Cars for Teens

There are many affordable cars with great safety features for teens. Some other models that make great, safe first cars for teens include:5

  • Kia K5 (one of the safest according to IIHS)
  • Honda Accord (one of the safest according to IIHS)
  • Toyota Avalon
  • Kia Soul
  • Toyota Camry
  • Hyundai Kona
  • Hyundai Santa Fe
  • Chevrolet Equinox
  • Subaru Outback
  • Nissan Altima
  • Ford Taurus
  • Mazda 6
  • Ford Fusion
  • Kia Sportage
  • Nissan Rogue
  • Nissan Murano

Crash-Test Ratings Parents Pay Attention To

For more detailed safety information, you can access crash test data from the government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a third-party crash-test organization. Such data is available on their respective websites and Kelley Blue Book. Both the NHTSA and the IIHS crash test ratings may be worth considering when stocking inventory for families with teen drivers.4

Find Great Deals on Cars for Teens at ACV’s Online Auction Today!

Stocking excellent choices for teen drivers is a great way to drive more business to your dealership. The safety features, reliability, and resale value of these vehicles make them versatile and helpful additions. You can offer families cars that will be the safest possible for their new drivers, plus additional features and benefits. 

Ready to source great inventory today? Start by simply registering below. We look forward to working with you at ACV Auctions!


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