Consumer Reports List 10 Best Cars for Teens

As another school year winds down, many young drivers want a car so they can get to and from a summer job and drive around their friends; others might want a car when they head off to college. To ensure your teenager’s safety and your peace of mind, be sure you choose the right vehicle.

Put your inexperienced driver behind the wheel of the safest, most reliable car you can afford. Consumer Reports urges you to choose a vehicle equipped with ABS, electronic stability control (ESC), and curtain air bags. The car should perform well in government and insurance-industry crash tests, as well as in our dynamic tests, which include accident avoidance, braking, and handling. Plus, it shouldn’t be overly powerful.

The models listed below are readily available with the recommended safety equipment and have performed well in safety-related tests. All are Consumer Reports recommended vehicles, meaning that they scored well in our testing and have had average or better reliability. They also have sufficient acceleration to merge onto busy highways, good brakes, and scored well in emergency handling.

Chevrolet Malibu (4-cyl., 2008 or later)
Ford Focus sedan (2009-2011)
Honda Accord (4-cyl., 2008 or later)
Hyundai Sonata (4-cyl., 2006 or later)
Kia Optima (non-turbo, 2010 or later)
Mazda3 i Touring (2009 or later)
Nissan Altima (4-cyl., 2010 or later)
Subaru Impreza (non-turbo, 2009 or later)
Toyota Corolla (2010 or later)
Volkswagen Jetta (2007-2010)

Used Car Best Bets

Every year, creates the Used Car Best Bet Awards.  These awards are based on safety, reliability, and availability.  These 16 vehicles are the winners of their respective categories.  Here are the 2011 winners and vehicle overviews according to

Compact Sedan: 2004-2009 Hyundai Elantra

A complete redesign in 2001 earned the Hyundai Elantra our respect, which was bolstered further by a tough tour of duty in our long-term fleet. In addition to peppy performance and a smooth ride, the Elantra offers solid build quality, reliability and operating economy. The GT version came in a useful hatchback body style that provided added cargo capacity in addition to standard leather seating, a moonroof and a sport-tuned suspension that improved the car’s handling. Impressive crash test scores are another feather in the Elantra’s cap. For 2007 the Elantra was again redesigned. It was initially offered only as a sedan and boasted more interior room and higher fuel efficiency.

Midsize Sedan: 2004-2009 Nissan Altima

With the introduction of the 2002 Nissan Altima, this larger, livelier Altima gave family sedan shoppers a viable choice if a fun-to-drive personality was a requirement. Since then, the Altima has established itself as an accommodating midsize car with strong performance (especially if equipped with the potent V6) and athletic handling. A redesign for 2007 brought handsome Infiniti-like styling, a nicer interior with more soft-touch materials, and a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) that delivered on a promise of ultra-smooth operation and increased fuel efficiency. That year also marked the debut of a hybrid version, though it was only available in eight states.

Large Sedan: 2006-2009 Hyundai Azera

Offering an upscale look inside and out and a number of unexpected luxury features for short money, the Azera also boasts the solid build quality and steadfast reliability that Hyundai is becoming known for. Beneath the skin, it has the bones of a Hyundai Sonata, but it is set apart from the Sonata by a premium mix of comfort and convenience features, plus a more upscale appearance. Strong crash test scores, smooth and refined performance and a quiet ride round out the Azera’s impressive credentials, while its status as an overlooked nameplate guarantees bargain pricing, since few people appreciate the value built into this upscale effort from Hyundai.

Coupe: 2004-2009 BMW 3 Series

The BMW 3 Series embodies everything a coupe should be: sporty, stylish and yet practical. The 3 Series coupe has a proper sports car personality, but it’s more like a sedan than a dedicated sports car. Even if you go with the entry-level 325/328 models (which have the smaller engines), there’s still plenty of performance to be had from the smooth inline-6. Communicative steering coupled to an athletic chassis provides a very satisfying drive and validates why these cars remain highly popular with enthusiasts. The 2007 redesign brought more power (230 hp for the 328i, 300 hp for the 335) and the availability of all-wheel drive, while the convertible got a retractable hardtop in place of the traditional soft top.

Convertible: 2004-2009 Mazda Miata

Anyone who wonders how car enthusiasts can be so passionate about driving need only take a spin in a Miata. With its communicative steering, ultra-responsive handling, an exuberant engine and a manual transmission with short, precise throws, Mazda’s little two-seater wins over even those drivers who don’t know a camshaft from a half shaft. Nothing within the average Joe’s means represents affordable all-around automotive athleticism better than a Miata. Factor in great reliability, frugal fuel usage and plenty of aftermarket accessories and it’s easy to see why so many Miata owners love their car as much as their significant other (and perhaps even more).

Wagon: 2004-2009 Pontiac Vibe

With more than a touch of style, impressive space-efficiency, compact dimensions and a smooth, reliable powertrain courtesy of Toyota, the Vibe makes for a very practical choice. Although it shares its mechanical package with the Toyota Matrix, the Vibe is arguably more attractive. In addition, it will likely be a better value, as chances are you can get this Pontiac for less money than a comparable Matrix due to the somewhat higher resale prices the Toyota name typically commands, not to mention the departure of the Pontiac brand from new-car showrooms. A redesign for 2009 brought new styling, a torquey 2.4-liter inline-4 as an option, plus improved fit and finish within the cabin.

Compact SUV/Crossover: 2004-2009 Honda CR-V

Space-efficient, fuel-efficient and easy to own, the Honda CR-V does almost everything well. With as much passenger and cargo space as some larger SUVs, the CR-V is usually more than enough for most consumers’ needs. Though no V6 engine is available, the CR-V’s inline-4 is sufficient for real-world driving and returns respectable fuel mileage. A comfortable ride, an excellent reliability record and strong crash test scores underscore why the CR-V is a top pick among our staff and consumers alike. A redesign in 2007 brought slightly controversial styling and the option of a navigation system, but no mechanical changes of note.

Midsize SUV/Crossover: 2004-2009 Ford Explorer

With a roomy interior, plenty of family-friendly features, and a nice balance between a comfortable ride and rugged utility, the Ford Explorer has a lot to offer anyone needing a versatile family vehicle. As a truck-based SUV with a burly V8 engine available as an option, the Explorer provides greater towing capability than car-platform-based (“crossover”) SUVs, so it suits the recreational needs of a typical American family. Yet by virtue of some clever engineering that provides a spacious footwell out back, it boasts an adult-friendly third-row seat, so long family trips aren’t as torturous as the ones you remember from your own childhood.

Large SUV/Crossover: 2004-2009 Chevy Tahoe

Strong performance, a comfortable ride and attractive styling are a few of the Tahoe‘s assets. Others include a roomy cabin that can seat up to nine and fairly nimble handling for such a bulky vehicle. A Tahoe equipped with the torque-rich 5.3-liter V8 is a good choice for towing duty. A complete redesign for 2007 brought greatly improved interior, which addressed the biggest gripe we had with this versatile hauler and gave the cabin in the top trim levels a truly luxurious ambiance you wouldn’t expect from a traditional truck-based SUV.

Minivan/Van: 2004-2009 Honda Odyssey

Before 1999, the Odyssey couldn’t compete with the more powerful V6-powered minivans from Dodge and Toyota. A four-cylinder engine, no matter how refined, isn’t going to cut it when the van is loaded up with seven passengers and their belongings. That all changed when Honda brought out the completely revamped Odyssey in 1999, a real minivan in place of the station wagon package that had come before. Boasting the most powerful V6 in the segment, along with a huge interior, hide-away third-row seat, top safety scores and Honda’s solid reputation for quality and reliability, the Odyssey quickly jumped to the head of the class. You’ll probably have to lay out a few more greenbacks for one of these vans, even in the used market, but consider it money well spent.

Compact Truck: 2004-2009 Toyota Tacoma

In addition to the well-known strengths of impressive overall quality and a rock-solid reliability record, the Tacoma offers a pickup for most any need or personality. There’s even the PreRunner edition which offers the suspension, ride height and aggressive tires of a 4WD truck without the added complexity and fuel appetite. Whether you’re looking for a sporty street truck, an aggressive off-roader or a crew-cab family truck, we’re willing to bet that the Tacoma lineup has something with your name on it. The difference here is really the array of different cab configurations and the level of refinement that’s possible depending on trim level.

Large Truck: 2004-2009 Ford F-150

There must be a very good reason that the Ford F-150 has been the top-selling vehicle in America for the last two decades. We can think of many: a huge variety of cab styles and trim levels, a comfortable interior with sound ergonomics, a compliant ride, communicative and precise steering, smooth power plants and best-in-class brakes.The amazing popularity of the F-150 means finding one that suits you perfectly should be fairly easy. Even more so than most pickup trucks, there are an almost bewildering number of different cab styles, powertrain choices and trim levels, so it’s easy to find the truck you need.

Luxury: 2004-2009 Infiniti G35/G37

With rear-wheel drive, a ripping V6 and sporty suspension tuning, the G35 and later G37 is Infiniti’s answer to the BMW 3 Series. As compared to that German benchmark, the G’s much roomier cabin and lower acquisition and maintenance costs make the Infiniti a smart choice for savvy enthusiasts. While the sedan will make the most sense for most folks, the rakish coupe offers Nissan Z-car (the G’s platform mate) intenders more practicality with virtually identical performance. Overall the G delivers BMW 3 Series goodness with a measure of comfort and convenience that Americans prefer along with a significantly lower entry fee.

Hybrid: 2004-2009 Toyota Prius

After testing the hybrid waters with the cramped first-generation Prius sedan, Toyota pulled out all the stops with this, the second-generation version. The Prius’ snub-nosed hatchback design devotes most of the car’s body to passenger and cargo space. The result is a large cabin that provides midsize sedan room within a relatively small body, making the Prius a snap to park in tight spaces. Of course it gets excellent fuel economy, but not at the expense of respectable performance, as there is more than adequate power on tap for dealing with city traffic as well as passing and merging on the freeway.

Sport Compact: 2004-2009 Subaru Impreza WRX

Subaru’s Impreza WRX has long been a favorite of enthusiasts on a budget thanks to its spirited performance and fun-loving personality. Yet the WRX packs a few practical strengths that also make it a good choice as an everyday vehicle. A compliant suspension means it won’t beat you up during the daily grind over broken pavement, while standard all-wheel drive allows it to handle foul-weather driving with sure-footed confidence. Throw a set of dedicated snow tires on it and the WRX can handle most anything a tough winter season could throw at it. A 2009 redesign brought firmer suspension calibrations as well as a substantial 41-horsepower boost in power.