62 Best new and used vehicles for teen drivers

Consumer Reports and IIHS just issued their joint annual list of the safest and most reliable car models

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  • The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Consumer Reports each year suggest the best cars for teens
  • For 2023, they’ve narrowed it down to 16 new vehicles; and 46 used ones
  • Below, we run down the groups’ list, which is based on safety, practicality, and affordability

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Looking for the best ride for younger members of your family? Consumer Reports (CR) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have jointly released their annual Teen Vehicle List for 2023. It contains the two organizations’ top recommendations based on criteria like safety, practicality, and affordability.

This year, the list contains 16 new vehicles and 46 used ones rated the best for young drivers. The vehicles used were divided into Good Choices – 20 of them were rated that way – and Best Choices, with 26 earning that due to a “somewhat higher level of safety,” the companies said in a release. Used vehicles on both lists range in price from $6,600 to $20,000, but that’s in US dollars — and between that and the fact that automobiles are generally pricier in Canada, we’ve omitted the prices here. Even so, vehicle prices remain high in both countries, and “finding an appropriate, affordable vehicle can be challenging,” the companies said.

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“With road safety statistics headed the wrong way, it’s more important than ever that inexperienced young drivers have vehicles with a high degree of occupant protection, as well as good emergency handling, braking, and reliability,” said David Zuby, chief research officer at IIHS. After decades of decline, traffic deaths in the US have been rising in recent years. Almost 43,000 people died in road incidents in 2021, a 10-per-cent increase over 2020; and 3,058 of them were teenagers, an 11-per-cent increase from 2020.

Safety means not too small, not too big

In answer to “what makes a good teen vehicle?” the IIHS and CR excluded sports cars and high-horsepower vehicles, which “make it too easy to speed and can tempt young drivers to show off.” Vehicles shouldn’t be too small, and the list has no minicars or vehicles under 2,750 lbs (1,247 kg), “because small, light vehicles don’t provide enough protection in multiple-vehicle crashes.”

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They also shouldn’t be too big; IIHS and CR said that while it “might be tempting to keep your child concerned in a large SUV or pickup because it offers greater crash protection,” these vehicles “can be hard to handle and often have increased braking distances” and can pose more risk to pedestrians, bicyclists, or people in smaller vehicles. They concluded that “moderately-sized vehicles provide a better balance of crash avoidance and crash protection.”

In 2022, the Subaru Outback was the only sedan-wagon to achieve the Good rating in the IIHS' updated side crash test
In 2022, the Subaru Outback was the only sedan-wagon to achieve the Good rating in the IIHS’ updated side crash test Photo by IIHS

For the list, used vehicles were judged by crash-tests performed by IIHS when the vehicles were new. However, all vehicles on the list have standard electronic stability control (which became mandatory on all new vehicles as of the 2012 model year); the top “Good” ratings in IIHS crash tests; four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); and in CR testing and surveys, must have above-average reliability, average or better scores in emergency handling tests, and braking distances of less than 145 feet (44 meters) from 60 mph (96 km/h) to zero on a dry surface .

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The Best Choice list for used vehicles also excluded those with substantially higher-than-average insurance claim rates for injury payments to occupants or other road users. Some vehicles used include a “built after” date, indicating that the automaker made changes mid-year to improve the vehicle’s safety. You can find a vehicle’s build date, by month and year, on the certification label on or near the driver’s door.

Best Choices: Used Vehicles

Small Cars

Midsize Cars

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Large Cars

Small SUVs

Midsize SUVs

Minivans

Pickups

Good Choices: Used Vehicles

Small Cars

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Midsize Cars

Large Cars

Small SUVs

Midsize SUVs

Recommended New Vehicles for Teens

Small Car

Midsize Cars

Small SUVs

Midsize SUVs

Minivans

Jil McIntosh picture

Jill McIntosh

Jil McIntosh specializes in new-car reviews, auto technology and antique cars, including the two 1940s vehicles in his garage.

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