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Best Cars for Teens: 10 Top Options for 2021

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When a teenager in your household starts driving for the very first time it can cause plenty of frayed nerves and worries. We’ve taken some of that worry away by taking a look at vehicles with the highest safety scores possible, and we’ve chosen the 10 best cars for teenagers. Aside from putting a teen driver in a plastic bubble, these cars offer some of the best safety on the road, according to government and insurance testing. Plus, some of them look cool, too. Whether you’re buying a car for your child or you’re a teenager buying for the first time, here are the best cars for teens.

What to look for in the best cars for teenagers

Here are things to look for that can make driving easier and safer for teen drivers or, really,  anyone.

Things to look for

  • Excellent crash test scores: 5 stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
  • Active safety features: automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, parking sensors
  • Teen driver controls or parent notification tools: These can allow you to view a vehicle’s location, set a maximum speed limit, see the odometer and more.
  • Smartphone integration: So drivers are less tempted to look down at their phone to make a call, see a text or change the music track.

Things to avoid

  • Too much horsepower: Too much power could prove too tempting for young and inexperienced drivers.
  • Full-size vehicles: Large vehicles with seating for 7+ passengers require more attention and skill to drive, plus more passengers equals greater opportunities for driver distraction.
  • Subcompact vehicles: Smaller vehicles tend to have smaller crumple zones that are designed to prevent driver and passenger injury in a crash. With the exception of the Honda Fit, we generally don’t recommend them for new drivers.

Best cars for teens

2020 Honda Fit

$16,190 MSRP

31/29/36 MPG

5 Star NHTSA Crash Test

The Honda Fit has won tons of awards over the last decade from both Kelly Blue Book and U.S. News.  Its hatchback configuration and trademarked seat design maximize its interior space while its subcompact size keeps its price low. Even the third-highest trim option has an MSRP under $20,000. For $2,870 over base price, the EX-trim Fit comes with an automatic CVT transmission, a power moonroof and Honda Sensing advanced safety features: emergency braking, lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control. But Honda is discontinuing the Fit in 2021, as subcompact sales have tanked over the past couple of years. You could still be able to grab a new 2020 model at a dealership or find a slightly used one.

2021 Honda Civic

$21,350 MSRP

33/30/38 MPG

5 Star NHTSA Crash Test

IIHS Top Safety Pick

The compact Honda Civic has long been a popular buy due to reliability and high resale value. It’s available as a sedan and hatchback and comes standard with automatic climate control, Bluetooth and the Honda Sensing active safety suite, which includes emergency braking, lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control.

2021 Toyota Prius Prime

$28,220 MSRP

133 MPGe/54 MPG

5 Star NHTSA Crash Test

The Toyota Prius Prime is a  plug-in hybrid (also known as a PHEV) and it has the highest fuel efficiency of any non-electric vehicle on the market, according to the EPA. You will pay a premium for this— the traditional Prius hybrid has a lower starting price by about $3,700 — but the Prime offers better fuel efficiency without the potential worry of completely depending on charging stations. It can get a full charge off a standard 120-volt (V) outlet in 5.5 hours or 2 hours and 15 minutes using a 240V outlet. Toyota’s hybrid battery warranty is good for 10 years or 150,000 miles.

2021 Kia Sorento

$29,390 MSRP

26/24/29 MPG

5 Star NHTSA Crash Test

IIHS Top Safety Pick

Kia’s Blind View Monitor gives the driver a clear look at the adjacent lanes by posting the camera feed in the instrument panel when the turn signal is on. This makes the Kia Sorento a great mid-size vehicle for a teen driver. It has standard third-row seating, available second-row captain chairs and the new 2021 styling is more athletic, less bulky. The refreshed design also includes more safety technology, better fuel economy and more interior room. Plus, Kia’s 10 year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty is a strong draw.

2021 Mazda CX-5

$25,370 MSRP

28/25/31 MPG

5 Star NHTSA Crash Test

IIHS Top Safety Pick+

This compact SUV crossover features remote monitoring and control through a smartphone app. You could keep track of where your teen driver parked the car (or where you parked), view a vehicle health report and check fuel levels, odometer readings and more. Out of the seven trim offerings, even the least expensive comes with emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure mitigation and adaptive cruise control, automatic transmission and smartphone integration. The pros category is rounded out with great handling and a premium interior that makes the CX-5 feel like a luxury vehicle. The cons: The ride is firm and rear room is smaller than what some competitors offer.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe

$27,000 MSRP

26/25/28 MPG

5 Star NHTSA Crash Test

IIHS Top Safety Pick

A KBB Best Buy winner, the 2021 Santa Fe features lots of standard safety tech and some snazzy, more advanced features if you go up in price, including an automated parking system. Hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrain options are available as well if you’d like to go more green. The icing on the cake is that stain-resistant cloth upholstery is standard and all 2021 Hyundai models come with 3 years, 36,000-mile complimentary maintenance.

2021 Honda Accord

$24,970 MSRP

33/30/38 MPG

5 Star NHTSA Crash Test

IIHS Top Safety Pick+

The best-selling sedan in the U.S. since 1976, the Honda Accord took the cake in 2021, winning KBB’s Best Buy award of the year. It comes standard with the Honda Sensing active safety aids and is available in five trims for the regular engine and four trims for the hybrid option. The hybrid powertrain is only $1,600 more over the base price. Other standard features include smartphone integration, an 8-inch screen, dual-zone automatic climate control and 17-inch wheels.

2021 Honda Insight

$22,930 MSRP

52/55/49 MPG

5 Star NHTSA Crash Test

IIHS Top Safety Pick+

The hybrid Honda Insight is the middle child, sized between the larger Accord and the smaller Civic. It shares many features with the Civic, gets better MPG but comes in at a slightly higher price. The 2021 Insight offers 551 miles of total range, carries an 8-year, 100,000-mile warranty on its battery and comes in three trims. Honda Sensing® is standard across all three.

2021 Hyundai Sonata

$23,950 MSRP

31/27/37 MPG

5 Star NHTSA Crash Test

IIHS Top Safety Pick

A good size car for the money, the Hyundai Sonata comes with lots of standard technology and a 10 year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Out of five trims, even the lowest has LED headlights and taillights, active driver safety aids and an 8-speed automatic transmission. Upping the price, luxurious add ons like a panoramic sunroof come into play as well as some of the newest tech. Hyundai’s technology package has Smart Parking Assist, which offers a surround-view camera system and allows the driver to remotely guide the car into a parking spot from their phone while standing outside the vehicle.

2021 Subaru Legacy

$22,895 MSRP

30/27/35 MPG

5 Star NHTSA Crash Test

IIHS Top Safety Pick+

The only car on this list that comes with all-wheel drive as a standard feature, the Subaru Legacy includes the normal active safety features on the base model (emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist), but two additional safety systems are available. As an add-on, Subaru’s DriverFocus ® Distraction Mitigation System gives an alert when it senses that a driver is distracted or drowsy. And the Subaru Starlink ® Safety and Security system will notify an operator if there is a collision, plus serve as SOS Emergency Roadside Assistance.

How we chose the best cars for teens

We found 50 midsize, compact and subcompact vehicles with the highest safety scores possible. We then gave them an average score based on expert and consumer reviews from the industry guides Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds. Of the top-scoring models, we chose 10 vehicles to present based on further availability of active safety features.

 

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