The Best Cars For New Drivers | 2015 – 2021 Models

November 12, 2021

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Best Car For Teen Driver

This article is one of our multi-part series Behind The Wheel – The Complete Guide To Teen Driving. Other articles include (those not linked are in production and coming soon):

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If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by the options, decisions and costs involved in shopping for a car for your teenager, you’ve come to the right place. Being armed with the knowledge of the safest and best cars for new drivers is an important place to start.

We’ve done the in-depth research on vehicle safety for you. We’ll show you how to pick your favorites and then check their reliability ratings. And once you have your shortlist of safe and reliable cars, we’ll help you shop for and negotiate the best deal.

Even if you are looking for a car for yourself, I would imagine safety and reliability would be your leading priorities especially if you are transporting your family on a regular basis, so this article is really for anyone shopping for a car.

There aren’t many parents out there who feel ready to let their kids loose on the roads, but if you can wrap them in safe vehicle with lots of features to protect and assist them while driving, you’ll not only sleep better, but your insurance bill may just thank you too.

If you want to jump right to the list of the safest rated cars every year since 2015, I understand, but make sure to read the rest of this article before you start shopping for cars. Don’t miss the tip about never giving a car salesperson or online car search form your actual email address or phone number. Learn what you should do instead.

table of contents | the best cars for new drivers

  1. Determine your budget range
  2. Review the list of the safest cars below and make a note of your favorites
  3. Determine the car reliability ratings for your favorite safe cars
  4. Familiarize yourself with the trim options and pricing for the models that you like
  5. Setup a new email address and Google Voice number just for car shopping (trust me!)
  6. Create your car comparison spreadsheet (template below)
  7. Research car pricing online before shopping in person
  8. Check insurance rates for the leading contenders
  9. Start negotiating – follow our suggested approach
  10. How can parents add to car safety and protect their new driver?

Step 1: Determine the VEHICLE Budget and method of PURCHASE

What is the budget for the car? Who will be buying the car? Your teen? You? A combination? Of course, saving for a car can be an invaluable life lesson, but at a minimum, your teen should be responsible for some of the ongoing expenses such as gas, contributing to insurance, maintenance, repairs, etc. Be sure to discuss in advance who will be responsible for which ongoing expenses.

Also note, teens under 18 cannot take out a loan, register a vehicle, or purchase car insurance, so you will have to be involved unless your new driver is of legal adult age.

For the initial purchase, you have the following options:

  • Cash
  • Finance via car dealership
  • Finance via 3rd party such as your bank or credit union
  • Utilize a Home Equity Line of Credit
  • Take a ‘loan’ from a family member or friend

I’m not listing leasing as an option because it is a terrible financial decision in almost every situation. Being constantly upside down in amount owed to value, high upfront and termination fees, worrying about staying under mileage limits and not building any equity in an asset just don’t make sense. If you’re looking at leasing because the payment is lower, please consider a less expensive car that you can one day own outright and then potentially be payment-free for years. Especially for a teenager.

Teaching your teen to invest in a vehicle, maintain and take care of that vehicle and work to get the maximum use out of it is a terrific life lesson.

Decided on your budget? You are ready to move on.

STEP 2: Review The highest safety rated cars

In my opinion, the best car for a new driver is the safest car you can afford. The safest cars are the heaviest cars with the most safety features, especially active safety features like automatic braking and driver-assist features. The safest cars are also highly rated in front, side and rear crash tests as well as rollover likelihood. Why is this so important?

According to the CDC, teen drivers 16 to 19 are three times more likely to be in a fatal crash than drivers 20 and older.

Your teen may have their heart set on a particular car, SUV or truck, but please be sure to make safety the top priority.

Reliability is also important as you want to select a safe car that will cost less to maintain and is less likely to break down and leave your teen stranded. The next section, Step 3, covers how to determine a car’s reliability ratings.

Safety features such as blind spot monitoring and lane departure warnings are important features in a car for a new driver.

In my research, I used 3 sources to narrow down a list of the safest, most reliable cars for our kids.

Source Content Description URL
The Insurance Institute For Highway Safety The most comprehensive source and focused on safety. All data is publicly available. www.iihs.org
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration The NHTSA has only high-level ratings, but it is the only source that rates rollover risks. This is particularly important if you are considering a higher profile vehicle such as an SUV or a pickup truck. Data is publicly available. www.nhtsa.gov
Consumer Reports Primarily focused on reliability, performance and owner satisfaction. Some high-level data, mostly around performance and comfort, is publicly available, but the specific ratings and more details require a membership which is currently $10 for one month or $39/year. www.consumerreports.org

To save you the time I spent researching and help get you started, the tables below show the IIHS Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ for each year from 2015-2021. The IIHS website has Top Safety Picks for every year back to 2006 if you want to explore model years prior to 2015.

How To Read The Tables Below

The tables are organized by category (Small Cars, Midsize Cars, Midsize Luxury Cars, Large Cars, Small SUVs, Midsize SUVs, Luxury Midsize SUVs, Large SUVs, Minivans and Pickup Trucks).

As you look through each category, please note that the model years 2015-2021 are across the top. Just because a car/model appears on the list, you should only consider those years that have a or a to indicate that the model year tested as a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ (the highest rating).

Additionally, you should read more about the vehicles of interest on the IIHS website as their ratings may only be valid for specific options (such as adaptive headlights) or specific trims (such as only the XLE, not the XSE or SE).

Let’s get started looking at the safest and best cars for new drivers in the past 6 years.

IIHS SAFEST RATED Vehicles
2015-2021

IIHS Top Safety Pick
IIHS Top Safety Pick +

The link for each model will take you to that model’s Consumer Reports page which shows an average retail price by model year as well as their opinions on handling, comfort and gas mileage estimates. This is provided to help you get an idea of which cars are in your budget range.

The Safest Small Cars

Make Model Body Style 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015
Acura ILX 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ +
Chevrolet Bolt 4-door hatchback
Chevrolet Sonic 4-door sedan
Chevrolet Volt 4-door hatchback ✓ + ✓ +
Chevrolet Volt 4-door sedan
Dodge Dart 4-door sedan
Ford C-Max Hybrid 4-door wagon
Ford Focus 4-door sedan
Honda Civic 2-door coupe ✓ +
Honda Civic 4-door hatchback
Honda Civic 4-door sedan ✓ +
Honda Insight 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Hyundai Elantra 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Hyundai Elantra GT 4-door hatchback ✓ +
Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid 4-door hatchback ✓ +
Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid 4-door hatchback
Hyundai Veloster 2-door hatchback
Kia Forte 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Kia Niro Hybrid 4-door wagon ✓ + ✓ +
Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid 4-door wagon ✓ +
Kia Soul 4-door wagon ✓ + ✓ +
Lexus CT 200h 4-door hatchback ✓ + ✓ +
Mazda 3 4-door hatchback ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Mazda 3 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Mini Cooper Countryman 4-door hatchback
Mitsubishi Lancer 4-door sedan
Nissan Kicks 4-door hatchback
Nissan Sentra 4-door sedan ✓ +
Scion FR-S 2-door hatchback
Scion tC 2-door hatchback
Subaru BRZ 2-door hatchback
Subaru Crosstrek 4-door wagon ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid 4-door wagon ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Subaru Impreza 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Subaru Impreza 4-door wagon ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Subaru WRX 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Toyota Corolla 4-door hatchback
Toyota Corolla 4-door sedan ✓ +
Toyota Prius 4-door hatchback ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Toyota Prius Prime 4-door hatchback ✓ +
VW Golf 4-door hatchback ✓ +
VW Golf Alltrack 4-door wagon
VW Golf Sportwagen 4-door wagon ✓ +
VW GTI 4-door hatchback ✓ +

The Safest Midsize Cars

Make Model Body Style 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015
Chevrolet Malibu 4-door sedan ✓ +
Chevrolet Malibu 4-door sedan
Chrysler 200 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ +
Ford Fusion 4-door sedan ✓ +
Honda Accord 2-door coupe ✓ +
Honda Accord 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Hyundai Sonata 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Kia K5 4-door sedan ✓ +
Kia Optima 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Mazda 6 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Nissan Altima 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Nissan Maxima 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Subaru Legacy 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Subaru Outback 4-door wagon ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Toyota Camry 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Toyota Prius 4-door wagon ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
VW Jetta 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ +
VW Passat 4-door sedan ✓ +

The Safest Luxury Midsize Cars

Make Model Body Style 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015
Acura TLX 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ +
Alfa Romeo Giulia 4-door sedan ✓ +
Audi A3 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Audi A4 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ +
Audi A4 Allroad 4-door wagon
Audi A5 Coupe 2-door coupe
Audi A5 Sportback 4-door hatchback
BMW 2 Series 2-door coupe ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe 4-door sedan
BMW 3 Series 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ +
Infiniti Q50 4-door sedan ✓ +
Lexus ES-350 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Lexus IS 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ +
Lincoln MKZ 4-door sedan ✓ +
Mercedes C-Class 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Tesla Model 3 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Volvo S60 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Volvo S60 Recharge 4-door sedan ✓ +
Volvo V60 4-door wagon ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Volvo V60 Cross Country 4-door wagon ✓ +
Volvo V60 Recharge 4-door wagon ✓ +

The Safest Large Cars

Make Model Body Style 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015
Acura RLX 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ +
Audi A6 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Audi A6 Allroad 4-door wagon ✓ + ✓ +
Audi A7 4-door hatchback ✓ +
BMW 5 Series 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Buick LaCrosse 4-door sedan
Genesis G70 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Genesis G80 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Genesis G90 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Hyundai Genesis 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ +
Infiniti Q70 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ +
Kia Cadenza 4-door sedan ✓ +
Kia Stinger 4-door hatchback ✓ +
Lexus RC 2-door coupe ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Lincoln Continental 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Mercedes E-Class 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Toyota Avalon 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Volvo S80 4-door sedan ✓ + ✓ +
Volvo S90 4-door sedan ✓ +
Volvo S90 Recharge 4-door sedan ✓ +
Volvo V90 4-door wagon ✓ +
Volvo V90 Cross Country 4-door wagon ✓ +
VW Arteon 4-door hatchback

The Safest Small SUVs

Make Model Body Style 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015
Audi Q3 4-door SUV ✓ +
BMW X1 4-door SUV ✓ +
BMW X2 4-door SUV
Buick Encore 4-door SUV
Chevrolet Equinox 4-door SUV
Chevrolet Trax 4-door SUV
Fiat 500x 4-door SUV ✓ +
Ford Bronco Sport 4-door SUV ✓ +
Ford Escape 4-door SUV ✓ +
Honda CR-V 4-door SUV ✓ + ✓ +
Honda HR-V 4-door SUV
Hyundai Kona 4-door SUV ✓ + ✓ +
Hyundai Tucson 4-door SUV ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Hyundai Venue 4-door SUV
Jeep Compass 4-door SUV
Jeep Renegade 4-door SUV
Kia Seltos 4-door SUV
Kia Sportage 4-door SUV
Lexus UX 4-door SUV ✓ +
Lincoln Corsair 4-door SUV
Mazda CX-3 4-door SUV ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Mazda CX-30 4-door SUV ✓ +
Mazda CX-5 4-door SUV ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross 4-door SUV
Mitsubishi Outlander 4-door SUV ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport 4-door SUV
Nissan Rogue 4-door SUV ✓ + ✓ +
Subaru Forester 4-door SUV ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Toyota C-HR 4-door SUV
Toyota RAV4 4-door SUV ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Toyota RAV4 Prime 4-door SUV
Toyota Venza 4-door SUV
Volvo XC40 4-door SUV ✓ + ✓ +
Volvo XC40 Recharge 4-door SUV ✓ +

The Safest Midsize SUVs

Make Model Body Style 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015
Chevrolet Equinox 4-door SUV
Chevrolet Traverse 4-door SUV
Ford Edge 4-door SUV
Ford Explorer 4-door SUV ✓ + ✓ +
Ford Flex 4-door SUV
Ford Mustang Mach-E 4-door SUV
GMC Acadia 4-door SUV ✓ +
GMC Terrain 4-door SUV
Honda Passport 4-door SUV
Honda Pilot 4-door SUV ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Hyundai Palisade 4-door SUV ✓ +
Hyundai Santa Fe 4-door SUV ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 4-door SUV ✓ + ✓ +
Hyundai Santa Fe XL 4-door SUV
Jeep Cherokee 4-door SUV
Kia Sorento 4-door SUV ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Kia Telluride 4-door SUV
Mazda CX-9 4-door SUV ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Nissan Murano 4-door SUV ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
Nissan Pathfinder 4-door SUV
Subaru Ascent 4-door SUV ✓ + ✓ +
Toyota Highlander 4-door SUV ✓ + ✓ + ✓ + ✓ +
VW Atlas 4-door SUV
VW Tiguan 4-door SUV ✓ +

The Safest Luxury Midsize SUVs

Make Model Body Style 2021 2020 2019 2018