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Before sending your child off to college, take a look at our suggestions for a starter vehicle.

Looking for a car for your teenager?

Young driver
Young driver

Does your college-bound teenager already own a car? If not, you may be scrambling to find one before college starts up in a few weeks. Or maybe your child is still in high school and you’re looking for the ideal starter car. Whatever your situation, there are several factors to consider before putting your teenager behind the wheel of a vehicle.

How much will the make, model and year impact the insurance you pay? Are you going to buy used or new? What are the safety ratings and accident history of the car, truck or SUV you are looking at? Having your child inside of that car can magnify those questions, but hopefully the list below will help you make a more informed decision.

Chevrolet Sonic

2020 Chevrolet Sonic sedan - media.chevrolet.com
2020 Chevrolet Sonic sedan - media.chevrolet.com

Though discontinued, the Chevy Sonic remains a good vehicle to look at for the teenage driver in your household.

The nice thing about the 2020 Sonic is that it’s available as a hatchback or as a four-door sedan. The sedan goes for about $17,600 while the hatchback is a little over $20,000. If your kid is going to school in a colder climate, then the remote start, heated seats and steering wheels (available on some of the trims) would make you a parental hero.

2020 Chevrolet Sonic hatchback - media.chevrolet.com
2020 Chevrolet Sonic hatchback - media.chevrolet.com

There are several recalls out on various 2012 – 2016 Sonics, so be sure to check on that before laying any money down. Despite the recalls, the vehicles still have an overall 5-star National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) safety rating.

If you’re looking for a Chevy brand SUV for your teen’s first vehicle, then take a look at the Chevy Equinox.

Honda CR-V

2021 Honda CR-V - hondanews.com
2021 Honda CR-V - hondanews.com

This can work as a family vehicle, but if the student in your family needs cargo space or plans to be giving rides to a lot of friends, consider the Honda CR-V.

There were 7 available trims for the 2021 model alone and the features vary from basic to extensive, so you’ll have to do a little research to determine what your must-haves are. One thing that does come in all of the newer models, regardless of trim, is a set of safety features that include lane departure warnings and a forward collision warning.

2021 Honda CR-V - hondanews.com
2021 Honda CR-V - hondanews.com

If you’re unsure about whether to go used or new on this one, take a look at our comparison that looks at everything from driving characteristics to comfort.

We also reviewed the 2021 Honda CR-V, detailing every trim.

Subaru Crosstrek

2021 Subaru Crosstrek - subaru.com
2021 Subaru Crosstrek - subaru.com

Ranging between $22,245 and $35,345 for a brand new 2021 model, the Crosstrek is one to take a look at. Subaru listened to driver feedback and gave the Crosstrek a much-needed upgrade to its powertrain by adding a 2.5L engine.

Somewhere between a hatchback and a crossover, the Crosstrek comes with Subaru’s standard AWD and generally gets between 23 and 28 mpg in city driving. The ride is comfortable enough and has been named a top safety pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

2021 Subaru Crosstrek - media.subaru.com
2021 Subaru Crosstrek - media.subaru.com

It’s a Subaru, so it has great visibility. The Subaru Forester may catch your eye if you’re considering Subaru and want a model higher than the Crosstrek.

Of course, the Subaru Outback is also an option, but you’re getting into the higher price range between $26,945 and $39,945 MSRP for the various trims. Still, we’ve got a review for the 2021 Subaru Outback in case that’s the route you take.

Mazda3

2021 Mazda3 sedan - mazdausa.com
2021 Mazda3 sedan - mazdausa.com

You’ve got two options here: hatchback or sedan. The Mazda3 Select will have six exterior color options while other trims have significantly less.

On the safety front, the most trims on the 2021 model have i-ACTIV AWD, which uses data from the car’s sensors to calculate how the weight is shifting from tire to tire as you drive. It then sends torque to the tires to generate the most grip in whatever weather condition you’re driving in: wet, dry, snow or dirt.

2021 Mazda3 hatchback - mazdausa.com
2021 Mazda3 hatchback - mazdausa.com

The NHTSA gives five out of five stars in every category: overall rating, frontal crash, side crash and rollover. The IIHS chose the Mazda3 as a 2021 Top Safety Pick with headlights being the only ‘average’ score.

Miles per gallon ranges somewhere between the mid-to-high 20s in city driving and no higher than the mid-30s if you’re on the highway.

Just like we did with the Honda CR-V, we dedicated a special post on whether to purchase a new or a used Mazda3. Take a look at it when considering this vehicle.

Honda Fit

2020 Honda Fit - hondanews.com
2020 Honda Fit - hondanews.com

The Honda Fit has very good NHTSA safety ratings. It doesn’t even matter which year you look at. Whether it’s 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 or 2020, the NHTSA gave the Honda Fit a 5-star overall rating for each model year.

Brand new 2020 versions had a MSRP starting at $16,190. When it comes to combined city/highway fuel economy, you’re looking at anywhere between 31 and 36 mpg. Not a bad benefit of purchasing a Fit.

2020 Honda Fit - hondanews.com
2020 Honda Fit - hondanews.com

Even though it is compact, the Fit does have over 52 cu. ft. of cargo room. The fuel tank is mounted under the front seats, so the Fit offers more space in back. For more in-depth details, look at our review of the 2020 Honda Fit.

Toyota Corolla

2021 Toyota Corolla - pressroom.toyota.com
2021 Toyota Corolla - pressroom.toyota.com

The Corolla isn’t a bad way to go if you’re looking for relatively cheap, reliable cars that get good gas mileage. We told you it would provide, “years of enjoyable miles for a very reasonable price,” in our review of the 2021 Toyota Corolla.

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The car usually has good visibility as well, which is nice for drivers of all ages. Visually, it’s no sports car, but it gets the job done as a home-to-school car that has a little edge. The interior offers a little something, whether you’re looking for comfort or a modern style.

2021 Toyota Corolla - toyota.com
2021 Toyota Corolla - toyota.com

If you’re unsure whether to go used or new on this vehicle, our previous comparison post should be able to help get you an answer.

The larger Toyota Camry, one of Toyota‘s best-selling models, wouldn’t be a bad option either if you want something a little larger. Look at our review of the 2021 Camry if you’re interested in that model.

Toyota Prius

2021 Toyota Prius - toyota.com
2021 Toyota Prius - toyota.com

The Prius is known as a favorite of those looking to be more environmentally conscious, but with a MSRP of $24,525 for a 2021 model and an estimated 54 mpg in the city, it makes for a good little get around vehicle as well.

In terms of safety, the newer models have rain-sensing windshield wipers, a backup camera, and blind spot monitoring. The IIHS gives good-to-average ratings on six crashworthiness criteria while the NHTSA gives five stars to multiple model years. Frontal crash ratings are consistently four out of five stars with the NHTSA.

2021 Toyota Prius - toyota.com
2021 Toyota Prius - toyota.com

Being able to squeeze into small parking spaces and still squeeze in several passengers, the Prius is a versatile vehicle. Not having to drive all over trying to find a big enough parking space is always a benefit if you’re running late for class.

Kia Soul

2021 Kia Soul - kia.com
2021 Kia Soul - kia.com

The Kia Soul may be one of the most economical out of this list, but that comes at a price. Fog lights, forward collision avoidance assist, lane keeping assist and blind spot collision warnings are only available on certain trims, so you may need to upgrade to get the particular features you want.

2021 Kia Soul - kiamedia.com
2021 Kia Soul - kiamedia.com

Regardless of trim, it is a roomy crossover that has an instantly recognizable shape and a variety of exterior color options. It will get you a combined estimated 30 mpg at a starting price of $17,590. The acceleration isn’t rapid, but it will perform well enough in most driving situations.

Hyundai Sonata

2021 Hyundai Sonata - hyundainews.com
2021 Hyundai Sonata - hyundainews.com

The Hyundai Elantra is another option if you want a vehicle that is a little bit smaller and more affordable, but the Sonata generally beats out the Elantra in other areas.

You’ve got different engine options, depending on the trim, with the Sonata that will get you 36 mpg on the highway and 27 mpg in the city. You’ve got more leg space in the Sonata as well.

2021 Hyundai Sonata - hyundainews.com
2021 Hyundai Sonata - hyundainews.com

Driver assist and safety features come in both cars, but the Sonata has a more comfortable interior and a more capable powertrain. It’s not as compact as the Elantra, but the other features make up for that.

Honda Civic

2021 Honda Civic - hondanews.com
2021 Honda Civic - hondanews.com

You could always go with a Honda Accord as well, but the Civic is popular with teens and their parents. The car mixes a sharp style, safety, reliability, size and price to satisfy most people.

Like most vehicles, the newer models come with driver-assist technology that helps keep the driver alert and safe. A multi-angle rearview camera helps when backing out of or into parking spaces.

2021 Honda Civic - hondanews.com
2021 Honda Civic - hondanews.com

For several years the Civic received top safety ratings from each organization doing the testing. You can see for yourself how the Civic has evolved in our through-the-years comparison.

The EPA estimates that the Civic does around 31 mpg and 2022 Civics start at $21,700.

There should be a handful of features that satisfies everyone in the family. Take a look at our ‘New vs. Used’ comparison to help make your decision on the Honda Civic.

Other Factors to Consider

Packing up for college
Packing up for college

Having taken a look at our list of cars that may be the right fit for your teenager, here are a few other things to ask yourself on your car search: how many miles will your son or daughter be putting on this vehicle? Are they traveling long-distance to college? Will they be coming home every weekend?

How about hauling space? How much room do they need to store their laundry and whatever else they may be bringing back-and-forth from home to the dorms?

Lastly, what does your child feel comfortable driving?

Our Suggestion

Preparing for safe driving
Preparing for safe driving

A lot of students may not need all the amenities that go with a higher trim, but what you, as a parent, do want is a safe, reliable car to get your child where they need to go. Take the time to research and choose the vehicle that best suits your family’s needs. Try to enjoy the experience with your kid. Getting your first car as a teenager only happens one time.

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Jesse Batson

Jesse's interest in vehicles started with Matchbox cars, a Big Wheel and the Transformers. He soon got to experience the real thing, riding in his uncle's corvette and on his motorcycles. A journalism major, Jesse spent 10 years in TV news and is excited to now be researching and writing about the latest in the automobile industry. His happiest days are spent on the water with some good tunes.

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