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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 S802007+$5,800Large CarFWD/AWD
Volkswagen Jetta2009+$5,600Midsize CarFWDManual
Volvo C302008+$7,000Midsize CarFWDManual
Volkswagen Passat2009+$7,300Midsize CarFWDManual
Ford Fusion2010+*$7,400Midsize CarFWD/AWDManual
Mercury Milan2010-11$7,400Midsize CarWD/AWDManual
Chrysler 200 sedan2011+$8,000Midsize CarFWD/AWD
Chevrolet Malibu2010+**$8,200Midsize CarFWD
Volkswagen CC2009+$8,300Midsize CarFWD/AWDManual
Audi A32008+$8,400Midsize CarAWDManual
Dodge Avenger2011+$8,900Midsize CarFWD
Subaru Legacy2010+$9,300Midsize CarAWDManual
Hyundai Sonata2011+$9,900Midsize CarFWDManual
Honda Element2007-11$6,700Small SUVFWD/AWDManual
Volkswagen Tiguan2009+$7,900Small SUVFWD/AWDManual
Subaru Forester2009+$9,000Small SUVAWDManual
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport2011+$9,300Small SUVFWD/AWDManual
Volvo XC902005+$4,600Midsize SUVAWD
Subaru Tribeca/B9 Tribeca2006+$6,000Midsize SUVAWD
Dodge Journey2010+$8,700Midsize SUVFWD/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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