9 Great Cars for High School Drivers

Best Cars for Teens
Best Cars for Teens. Photo: Getty Images

A car can expand a high school or college student's educational horizons, allowing her to take advantage of opportunities like off-site classes and internships. Car ownership is also a great lesson in responsibility: Kids who pay their car's running costs have good incentive to drive more carefully. Here are ten cars that are reliable, easy to drive, affordable and well suited to young, inexperienced drivers.

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Chevrolet Spark

2015 Chevrolet Spark
2015 Chevrolet Spark. Photo © Aaron Gold

Safety should always be the first consideration when buying a car for a teen, and the Chevrolet Spark is one of the best-protected small cars on the market, with a whopping ten airbags — more than many high-end luxury cars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Spark a Top Safety Pick award, the only minicar to earn one. The Spark missed out on the Top Safety Pick Plus rating; like most small cars, it had problems with the tough new small overlap crash test. And tiny is good: The Spark is affordable for starters, even with power windows and air conditioning, easy to drive, fuel-efficient and brimming with style and character.

Read more about the Spark in this Chevrolet Spark review, or the IIHS crash tests and NHTSA crash tests.

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Ford Fiesta

Ford Fiesta front view
Ford Fiesta. Photo © Aaron Gold

The Fiesta is likable because it's cute, cheeky and fun to drive. Parents will like it because it comes with a long list of standard safety equipment, including a driver's knee airbag. Despite its diminutive size, the Fiesta earned a Top Safety Pick Award for its strong performance in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, although it scored only four out of five stars in the Government barrier tests. Whoever is paying the bills will like the Fiesta's low price and good fuel economy, especially when equipped with an automatic transmission. Other parent-friendly features include SYNC, which allows voice control of cell phones and iPods and helps keep young drivers' attention focused on the road, not their portable gadgets. It's recommended to stay away from the Fiesta ST model, a high performance turbocharged terror that is big fun to drive, but is bound to get young, testosterone-charged drivers into trouble.

Read the safety results in the IIHS crash tests and NHTSA crash tests.

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Hyundai Veloster

Hyundai Veloster
Hyundai Veloster. Photo © Aaron Gold

The Hyundai Veloster combines cool, sports-car looks with a fairly pedestrian powertrain; a 1.6-liter engine that's tuned for fuel economy rather than speed. The Veloster's interior is just as cool as the exterior, and it includes an iPod-compatible stereo and a Bluetooth speakerphone as standard, so teen drivers can keep their eyes on the road rather than on their devices. The three-door layout which features one door on the left side and two on the right makes it friend-friendly, and with a competitive starting price, the Veloster isn't too much more expensive than the average compact sedan. Hyundai makes a turbocharged version called the Veloster Turbo. It's not unreasonably speedy and is arguably a better choice if your teen will be doing a lot of freeway driving. 

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Kia Soul

Kia Soul front view
Kia Soul. Photo © Aaron Gold

The Soul has been on this list for a couple of years now, mostly because of its unique, boxy shape and low price. Alright, and maybe in some small part because of those cool hamster commercials! Kia released a new Soul for 2017, but they maintained its iconic styling, easy-to-park size, and good crash test scores of a Top Safety Pick from IIHS and five out of five stars from the Fed, while improving the ride, handling and refinement. The Soul is also budget-friendly ​and has been redesigned as a roomy crossover for teens that like to drive with their friends frequently. 

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Mitsubishi Mirage

Mitsubisi Mirage front view
Mitsubisi Mirage. Photo © Aaron Gold

If the plan is for your teen driver to take some or all financial responsibility for her own car, the Mirage is a sensible choice. Not only is it inexpensive to buy, but it's also inexpensive to operate, with a 5 year/60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty to cover any unexpected problems. Its tiny 3-cylinder engine produces modest power but remarkable fuel economy of 44 MPG on the highway, and it has seven airbags and surprisingly good crash-test results given its small size. Mitsubishi has even designed the front end for inexpensive repairs, in the hopes of lowering collision insurance premiums. Though the styling is a bit pedestrian (designed for cheating the wind rather than turning heads), the Mirage is available in a palette of bright colors. It's a great way for your teen to start taking on the costs of owning a car.

Learn about the full specs in this Mitsubishi Mirage review, and read the IIHS crash tests and NHTSA crash tests for safety test information.

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Nissan Versa

Nissan Versa
Nissan Versa. Photo © Aaron Gold

Reasonably priced, the Versa is one of the least-expensive cars sold in America, but the low price isn't the only aspect of the Versa that makes it appealing for teen drivers. The Versa is easy to see out of, simple to drive, and reasonably fuel-efficient, not to mention it's available with an inexpensive navigation system, helpful for any new driver. Teens may object to the goofy styling, but they'll like the roomy cabin, which provides plenty of room to haul friends. Nissan offers a more attractive hatchback version, called the Versa Note, though it's priced quite a bit higher. With Nissan's excellent build quality, it will see a teen driver right through high school and college and well into those first earning years. In other words, until they can afford something nicer.

Read the safety results in the IIHS crash tests and NHTSA crash tests specifics. 

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Toyota Yaris iA

Toyota Yaris
Toyota Yaris. Goolge Images

Although it might not be best for young drivers to have all-out performance cars until they have a few years of experience under their belt, there's no reason for them not to enjoy driving. The 2017 Toyota Yaris iA is a great example of a fun starter car. This car comes at a modest price and comes in either six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. With Bluetooth connectivity and a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, the car keeps everything you might need easily at your fingertips to reduce driver distractions. It's got a fairly simple control layout, a good stereo, and enough trunk space for the journey to college, and while it's not the least-expensive small car, it is very affordable.

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Subaru Impreza

Subaru Impreza 2.0i
Subaru Impreza 2.0i. Photo © Subaru

The Impreza has been on this list for years because its standard all-wheel-drive system makes it one of the most sure-footed cars on the market and an exceptionally safe bet when the weather turns foul. Which is not to say that the Impreza is only a good choice for kids in the rust belt — all-wheel-drive improves dry-weather traction as well, reducing the chances that your inexperienced driver will lose control of the car in a sudden panic maneuver. A winner of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick award, the latest iteration of the Impreza has an affordable price tag and an EPA highway rating of 36 MPG, which means it's just as affordable to buy and run as most front-wheel-drive cars. If your teen wants something with a little more swagger, Subaru sells another version called the Crosstrek XV. 

The Impreza here, which is the 2.0i model, should not be confused with the Impreza WRX or STI. These are high-performance models that are designed for experienced drivers, and are not recommended for teens.

Read the safety results in the IIHS crash tests and NHTSA crash tests.

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Toyota Prius c

Toyota Prius c
Toyota Prius c. Photo © Toyota

Perhaps you've got a budding young environmentalist in your home. Why not encourage him? The Toyota Prius c is the smallest and least-expensive hybrid on the market, but there's nothing cut-rate about its 50 MPG EPA combined rating. It's reasonably priced, though its crash tests are a mixed bag: IIHS gave it top marks in all but the tough new small-overlap tests, where it scored the lowest rating, and the Government gives it only four out of five stars. That said, the Prius c encourages "hypermiling" rather than street racing, and encouraging your teen to strive for economy rather than speed is bound to keep him safer.

Read the IIHS crash tests and NHTSA crash tests to get the full safety report.