Turning 16, getting a driver’s license, and access to a car is a time-honored tradition that has become engrained in American culture. But the choice of which car to buy a young, first-time driver is one that’s fraught with difficult decisions.
US News and World Report‘s automotive department has a few solid recommendations for teen drivers and their parents. On Tuesday, the publication released the latest edition of their Best Cars for Teens rankings.
“We wanted cars that would keep teens safe in an accident, but more importantly, prevent accidents from happening,” U.S. News Best Cars managing editor Jamie Page Deaton told Business Insider in an interview.
As a result, US News used crash safety, accident prevention technology, purchase price, and cost of ownership as the criteria for the list which is broken down by best options for each price bracket.
However, Page Deaton cautioned that as important as safety tech is in the buying decision, it’s even more important to mentally prepare your teen for the responsibilities of driving.
“One thing parents need to think about when it comes to purchasing a car for their teen is whether he or she is mature enough to be behind the wheel,” Page Deaton said. “It’s the parents’ responsibility to make sure their teen is ready. You’d rather have a unhappy teen than an injured teen.”
Have a closer look at the US News Best Cars for Teens winners.
Best car under $20,000: Chevrolet Sonic
Why buy it: With a base price of just $14,345, the Chevrolet Sonic is one of the most affordable cars on sale in the US. It also scores very well on IIHS crash tests while offering 40 mpg of fuel economy on the highway.
“What really sets the Sonic apart is the availability of forward collision warning and lane departure warning – both of the which are difficult safety features to find in a subcompact,” Page Deaton said.
Best car between $20,000 to $25,000: Kia Soul
Why buy it: The Kia Soul is one of US News’ favorite small cars. The Korean crossover also picked up the award for Best Compact Car for Families. According to Page Deaton, what sets the Soul apart from its competitors are the security features built into Kia’s UVO e-services system. Parents who buy the Soul can instantly track the whereabouts of the car through an app on their phone. In addition, the system can also alert the parent if the car is driven above a certain speed, outside a preset geographic area, and after curfew.
“The app keeps the parent in the car without being present,” Page Deaton told us. “It helps the kid develop good habits.”
Best car between $25,000 to $30,000: Mazda3
Why buy it: The Mazda3 is one of the most well regarded compact cars on sale in the US. US News praised the Mazda3 for its advanced suite of available safety features including blindspot monitoring, cross traffic alert, and lane departure warning.
US News also singled out the Mazda3’s ultra-fuel efficient SkyActiv engine for praise. With an estimated 41 mpg of fuel economy on the highway, the engine helps lower the Mazda3’s cost of ownership.
However, Page Deaton did note that, at more than $25,000, the safety feature-laden version of the Mazda3 is pricey for a compact car.
“You pay upfront for safety, but you save money when it prevents a crash,” Page Deaton said.
Best car between $30,000 to $35,000: Hyundai Sonata
Why buy it: The Hyundai Sonata makes the list as a car that’s not only great for teens, but more than good enough for their parents. Like its corporate relative Kia Soul, the Hyundai Sonata is also equipped with an extensive set of monitoring technology that’s perfect for the concerned parent.
Even with the Sonata’s good crash protection and active safety features, it is the connectivity and tracking capability that set it apart from segment leaders such as the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry, Page Deaton said.
Best car between $35,000 to $40,000: Ford Fusion Hybrid
Why buy it: The Ford Fusion Hybrid is another car on this list that’s well suited for teens, but refined enough for their parents as well. US News praised the hybrid for its Ford Mykey feature that is designed to help teens develop good driving habits. The system can be programmed to limit the car’s top speed, mute the radio if the seat belt is not fastened, and offer audible alerts if the car exceeds a certain speed.
Best car over $40,000: Nissan Murano
Why buy it: The Nissan Murano is the most expensive car on the list, but it’s also one of US News’ favorites. The crossover SUV also won the awards for Best Two-Row SUV for the Money as well as Best Two-Row SUV for the Family.
US News praised the Murano for its low ownership costs, good reliability, great crash test results, and wide range of available safety features. According to Page Deaton, this selection is geared more towards the parents than the teen itself. Because of the Murano’s high price tag and elegant interior, Page Deaton believes this is a great choice for parents looking for a car they can drive during the week, but is also safe for their teen on the weekends.