It’s safe to say the only time you truly look forward to visiting the DMV is on your 16th birthday. For parents, though, a kid getting her driver's license can definitely be daunting — likely because it involves watching your "baby" embark on the activity that is the leading cause of death for U.S teens according to the CDC. (Not to freak you out or anything.) But don't fret: Although there are several factors — price, mileage, even style — to take into consideration when purchasing a car for a new driver, the most important by far is safety.
For one thing, electronic stability control and curtain airbags are a must. Larger cars protect better in a crash, so no Vespas, OK? And steer clear of taller vehicles like SUVs, which have a higher center of gravity and are more likely to roll over. Sport and turbo editions with higher horsepower are also not recommended, as this increases the possibility of reckless driving.
So, with all that said, what on Earth is left to buy? Here are our nine picks for cars that check all the new-driver boxes — and even look cool too.
The Honda Accord is on most lists of safest cars for teens, from Consumer Reports to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The 2017 comes with a rearview camera, Honda LaneWatch Bluetooth and streaming audio and is available with a “suite of safety and driver-assistive technologies designed to alert you to things you might miss while driving.” The Accord holds a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration five-star safety rating and is on the Car and Driver 10Best list for 2017.
2017 starting MSRP $22,455
23/32 mpg city/highway
Another favorite is Ford’s midsize sedan, which comes standard with a rearview camera, electronic stability control, first- and second-row side-curtain airbags, a personal safety system, and available pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection.
2018 starting MSRP $22,120
21/32 mpg city/highway
Though smaller than the Accord, the more affordable price and better mileage put the Civic on the list of best cars for new drivers according to Kelley Blue Book and Consumer Reports. The Civic also comes with a rearview camera and is available with Honda Sensing on its automatic models. It boasts an NHTSA five-star safety rating and is the overall winner of the KBB Best Buy Award.
2017 starting MSRP $18,740
28/40 mpg city/highway
The new Sonata is loaded with safety features including blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist, a rearview camera, vehicle stability management system, and electronic stability control. It also comes standard with hands-free Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, has an NHTSA five-star safety rating and was voted 2017 IIHS Top Safety Pick when equipped with optional automatic emergency braking and dynamic bending lights. It also boasts the best warranty available — 10 year/100,000.
2018 starting MSRP $22,050
25/36 mpg city/highway
One of the most affordable new cars on this list, the Mazda3 four-door is pretty damn stylish. Equipped with Mazda's anti-lock brake system with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, dynamic stability control, traction-control system and a rearview camera, it’s one of the safer cars on the road. Voted a 2017 IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus “when equipped with available Smart City Brake Support and Adaptive Front-lighting System” and also named a Car and Driver 10Best for the past four years. The EPA ranks Mazda as the most “fuel-efficient auto manufacturer in the US.”
2017 starting MSRP $17,845
28/37 mpg city/highway
In addition to the best mpg on the list, the Prius also boasts one of the most all-encompassing standard safety packages. Toyota Safety Sense is the brand's advanced integrated system of technologies, which include lane-departure alert, full-speed range dynamic radar cruise control, pre-collision system with pedestrian detection and automatic high beams. This is in addition to an integrated backup camera, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and their Star Safety System -— what the brand calls “a suite of six advanced safety features.” When compared with competitors, the higher price point brings the Prius into the same range as many others’ add-on safety packages.
2017 starting MSRP $23,475
50/54 mpg city/highway
Although the Impreza doesn’t come standard with as many safety features as competitors, it’s touted as the longest-lasting vehicle in its class — and every Subaru is equipped with symmetrical all-wheel drive, which improves traction for active accident avoidance. EyeSight Driver Assist technology, blind-spot detection, and rear cross-traffic alert are available on some of the more premium models, but they all come with a rear-vision camera and reverse automatic braking. The Impreza offers an impressive number of add-on components, and when equipped with EyeSight and steering-responsive headlights, it makes the IIHS list of top safety picks.
2017 starting MSRP $18,395
28/38 mpg city/highway
The Toyota Corolla shows up on several lists of the top-recommended cars for teens, including Kelley Blue Book, Consumer Reports, and U.S. News & World Report. Like the Prius, the Corolla also comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense, a package that includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, dynamic radar cruise control and automatic high beams and the brand's Star Safety System. This model also comes with eight airbags, a backup camera and the Audio Plus system to keep your hands free and eyes on the road. 2017 IIHS Top Safety Pick.
2018 starting MSRP $18,500
28/36 mpg city/highway
Voted as the best midsize car for families, the 2017 Chevy Malibu is also on the IIHS top safety pick list when equipped with available driver-confidence package. The Malibu offers 11 available safety features to prevent accidents before they occur, including front and rear parking assist, front pedestrian braking and adaptive cruise control. It comes standard with 10 airbags, and the LS version and above include a special teen driver package to encourage safe driving habits.
2017 starting MSRP $21,680
27/36 mpg city/highway
If your budget doesn’t allow for a new car, older models of all of these cars are still exceptional options. Make sure to check out websites like the NHTSA and the IIHS, and remember: A safe car is far more important than a fancy one. Choose the most reliable car with the best safety features in your price range — even if it's orange (sorry, kid).
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