by Kristin V. Shaw
Jamie Page Deaton, executive editor of U.S. News Best Cars, is on a mission to find cars that not only keep teens safe but help them develop good and safe driving habits.
“Every year when I was in high school, at least one kid died in a car crash,” Jamie says. “I realized, ‘wow, I was doing a lot of unsafe things as a teen.’ I realized that I got lucky.”
For the U.S. News Best Cars for Teens report, issued today, Jamie and her team looked at well over 125 cars that are eligible for the list based on price. They look at each price point on reliability scores, crash ratings, and critics’ recommendations (based on mainstream automotive journalist reviews). The cars that are deemed the top in each category have the best combination of these features.
Where she’s seeing safety as a price add-on is on luxury cars. A Toyota Camry Hybrid will have more safety features than a stripped-down Audi A3, she says.
“It’s about making these safety features affordable and accessible,” Jamie says. “Brands need to take teen driving seriously.”
Let’s take a look at the list of new cars first:
- Best Car for Teens Under $20K: 2019 Hyundai Accent
- Best Car for Teens $20K to $25K: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta
- Best SUV for Teens $20K to $25K: 2019 Honda HR-V
- Best Car for Teens $25K to $30K: 2019 Kia Forte
- Best SUV for Teens $25K to $30K: 2020 Kia Soul
- Best Car for Teens $30K to $35K: 2019 Toyota Camry
- Best SUV for Teens $30K to $35K: 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe
- Best Car for Teens $35K to $40K: 2019 Toyota Camry Hybrid
- Best SUV for Teens $35K to $40K: 2019 Toyota RAV4
All but one on the list have apps to track teen driving, and Jamie says she doesn’t recommend parents use them to spy on their teens, but to continue the conversation. On the Hyundai Accent, or Kia Forte, for example, parents can set curfews, geo fences (which sends an alert to the parent if the teen has driven outside of specific parameters), and speed alerts. We asked Jamie why there isn’t a Nissan on the list, and she knew her statistics practically by heart.
“The Nissan Rogue, for example, is missing a few safety features that would have put it over the top. It doesn’t have automatic rear braking, 360 camera, or a teen driving control. They are doing a great job with auto brake, lane departure, but they’re missing what’s putting the others above.”
On the other hand, the Nissan Versa compares exactly the same as the Hyundai Accent on the reliability score. However, it may not match on price, recommendations, or other factors. The Nissan Murano or Rogue, which will be next-generation used cars, are great vehicles for a parent to drive and pass down, Jamie says.
Consider this: if your child is around 12, he or she will be driving in three or four years. If you’re purchasing a car today, think about what safety and technology features you’ll want to pass down to your child, because it’s highly likely they’ll be driving that vehicle.
“Parents, think about how much time and energy you spend keeping your kids safe,” Jamie says. “’Stop jumping on this. Stop climbing on that.’ And when they turn 16, you give them a 3000-pound vehicle and say, ‘Have fun!’
Jamie believes there is a sense culturally that driving is a right for teens. It’s not a right, she says. It’s a privilege.
“We, as parents, need to be very careful about that privilege,” says Jamie. “If there is any doubt that your child is ready to get behind the wheel, be the parent to say no and help them learn. It’s not just about your child; it’s also about everyone else on the road.”
Used Cars for Teens
The U.S. News team also created a shorter list of used cars in model years 2014-2016 that are great for teens, evaluated on the combination of dependability and safety ratings, ownership costs, positive reviews from critics when the vehicles were new, and available tech to help prevent crashes or lessen their severity.
The 2019 Best Used Cars for Teens
- Large Cars: 2016 Buick LaCrosse
- Midsize Cars: 2016 Toyota Camry/Camry Hybrid
- Midsize SUVs: 2015 Chevy Traverse
- Small Cars: 2016 Toyota Prius
- Small SUVs: 2016 Hyundai Tucson
Notice at the very top is a 2016 Buick LaCrosse, which is no longer made by the brand in 2019, but is a solid performer as a used car.
“If money didn’t matter, I’d buy my kid a tank,” Jamie says, half-jokingly. “I like the LaCrosse for teens – it’s big and has a fair number of advanced safety features. If a teen is in a crash, they have a big crumple zone in the LaCrosse.”
She also likes that it’s not a “fun car”. Other teens won’t be clamoring to ride in the Buick, which is a good thing, because passengers are bad for teen drivers as much as too much horsepower or sporty handling.
“I don’t know of any teens that have a poster of a LaCrosse in their rooms,” Jamie laughs.
My mom has a Buick LaCrosse, so I can attest from personal experience that it’s big, roomy, and floaty. It’s not cool, but it’s a much better choice for a teen driver than, say, a brand-new BMW or a Ford Mustang. Hand your kid a performance car and it’s like an invitation to wrap their car around a tree, Jamie says.
Your teenager’s frontal cortex is still developing, and he or she lacks the experience adult drivers have to anticipate problems on the road and think about potential outcomes. Not only do they need positive role models in the car, they benefit from modern safety features that act as “training wheels” as they learn. With any of these new or used vehicle choices, they have a fighting chance of staying alive on the road.