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Top Twenty Safest, Most Affordable Used Cars for Teenagers

Choosing a first car is a right of passage. While the top two criteria for most parents are safety and affordability, teenagers on the other hand, are more focused on what’s cool. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) recently published a list of safe and affordable used vehicles for teenagers and we’ve taken it up a notch.

A first car should be safe above all, but it needn’t be boring. Grandma’s cast-off Buick LaCrosse may be safe and priced right, but it lacks a certain cache. That’s why we’ve poured through the list to find the ten most affordable and most appealing of the IIHS’ picks. Our criteria focused on affordability, with all models starting under $10,000, in addition to a preference for manual transmissions and all-wheel-drive. If you’re driving a manual, you’re not holding a cell-phone.

Our top eleven list (yes, our list goes to eleven!) includes imports, domestics, sedans, wagons and SUVs, but no small cars. The IIHS does not recommend any small cars for teenagers. Big is better when it comes to safety. We’ve included links to MPG reviews and fuel economy ratings in the list.

Top Eleven Coolest Safe and Affordable Cars

  • Volkswagen CC – perhaps the most beautiful Volkswagen to ever reach our shores. Gorgeous interior, although the back seat is tight. Shave the emblems and folks won’t know you’re driving a VW.
  • Honda Element – Honda’s funkiest, most versatile SUV is great for carrying big dogs and hauling lots of gear. While you might be tempted to hose out the interior, that wouldn’t be a good idea.
  • Subaru Legacy – While it doesn’t have the magic halo of the WRX, the Legacy is the most BMW-like Subaru.
  • Subaru Forester – Don’t tell Mom why you want an XT (pssst: it has a WRX drivetrain).
  • Volkswagen Jetta – Least expensive on the list. The TDI version is remarkably fuel efficient, never mind the pending lawsuits.
  • Audi A3 – This gorgeous little wagon is a SUV alternative, available with a manual transmission or all-wheel-drive (but not both).
  • Volvo C30 – Ah the air of exclusivity. One of the sweetest hatches ever built (certainly the most Swedish).
  • Dodge Avenger – The Charger’s little brother has sleeper potential when equipped with the Pentastar V6.
  • Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan – The siblings are available in AWD or Hybrid. A Manual transmission is offered as well. Pick one feature, you can’t get two.
  • Hyundai Sonata – Roomy, reliable and stylish, the 2011+ Sonata is easy on the eye and the wallet.

Top Twenty Safest, Most Affordable Cars for Teenagers (under $10,000)

Volvo S80 2007+ $5,800 Large Car FWD/AWD
Volkswagen Jetta 2009+ $5,600 Midsize Car FWD Manual
Volvo C30 2008+ $7,000 Midsize Car FWD Manual
Volkswagen Passat 2009+ $7,300 Midsize Car FWD Manual
Ford Fusion 2010+* $7,400 Midsize Car FWD/AWD Manual
Mercury Milan 2010-11 $7,400 Midsize Car WD/AWD Manual
Chrysler 200 sedan 2011+ $8,000 Midsize Car FWD/AWD
Chevrolet Malibu 2010+** $8,200 Midsize Car FWD
Volkswagen CC 2009+ $8,300 Midsize Car FWD/AWD Manual
Audi A3 2008+ $8,400 Midsize Car AWD Manual
Dodge Avenger 2011+ $8,900 Midsize Car FWD
Subaru Legacy 2010+ $9,300 Midsize Car AWD Manual
Hyundai Sonata 2011+ $9,900 Midsize Car FWD Manual
Honda Element 2007-11 $6,700 Small SUV FWD/AWD Manual
Volkswagen Tiguan 2009+ $7,900 Small SUV FWD/AWD Manual
Subaru Forester 2009+ $9,000 Small SUV AWD Manual
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 2011+ $9,300 Small SUV FWD/AWD Manual
Volvo XC90 2005+ $4,600 Midsize SUV AWD
Subaru Tribeca/B9 Tribeca 2006+ $6,000 Midsize SUV AWD
Dodge Journey 2010+ $8,700 Midsize SUV FWD/AWD

built after April 2010
** built after November 2009

While the cheapest used car is never the safest, the remarkably low price of used Volvo XC90 and S80 models is food for thought. Volvos are not inexpensive to maintain, but their safety record is among the best.

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2 comments ↓

#1 suraj pawar on 06.14.16 at 9:31 am

Models starting under $10,000, in addition to a preference for manual transmissions and all-wheel-drive. If you’re driving a manual, you’re not holding a cell-phone, great feature.

#2 LW on 08.03.17 at 8:12 am

Hard to take this blog seriously when you are recommending the 2011 Sonata to anyone. I love Sonatas (and own one) but the 2011 is the singular worst year you could have picked. Go look at the rating on carcomplaints or truedelta….the 2011 is dismal and should be avoided. Massive engine failure issues.

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