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.
– by Daniel Gray