IIHS, Consumer Reports name safe, affordable vehicles for teens

May 22, 2024

Parents looking for suitable vehicles for their teen drivers will find more safety for less money in this year’s updated list of recommended vehicles for teens from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and Consumer Reports (CR).

A total of 58 used models ranging from $5,800 to $19,900 are on this year’s list. For the first time, all recommended used vehicles have a good or acceptable rating in the IIHS driver-side small overlap test in addition to good ratings in four other IIHS tests and passing marks for braking, handling and reliability from CR.

The top tier of recommended used vehicles also come with standard automatic emergency braking (AEB), a good backstop for all drivers, but especially for young, inexperienced ones, who are more prone to mistakes.

“Vehicles continue to get safer, and for the first time since the pandemic-era disruptions, prices on the new and used market have stabilized,” said Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at CR’s Auto Test Center. “These trends have enabled us to point families to even better options this year.”

“It’s exciting to see crash avoidance tech like automatic emergency braking filtering through the fleet and into affordable used models, including many priced under $15,000,” said IIHS Research Scientist Rebecca Weast. “With a little knowledge and patience, families can find the right vehicle for their new driver without spending all their savings.”

Those who can and want to splurge for a new vehicle have 22 recommended 2024 models to choose from — all winners of the 2024 IIHS Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ award that offer state-of-the-art crash protection and crash avoidance. These vehicles are also great choices for those with younger children who might be taking the wheel of the family vehicle in several years.

Whatever list you’re shopping from, a teen driver’s first vehicle should follow a modified Goldilocks principle — not too small, not too big and definitely not too fast.

IIHS and CR exclude sports cars and anything with excessive horsepower relative to its weight. Such vehicles make it too easy to speed and can tempt young drivers to take risks.

The list also has no minicars or vehicles under 2,750 pounds because small, light vehicles may not provide enough protection in crashes with other vehicles.

Large SUVs and large pickups also don’t make the cut. Although these vehicles offer greater protection in some crash configurations, they can be hard to handle and take longer to stop. They also pose more risk to others on the road, including pedestrians, bicyclists and people in smaller vehicles.

For performance in specific safety tests, the requirements for used and new vehicles diverge.

Recommended used vehicles are divided into Best Choices, which this year range in price from $9,600 to $19,900, and Good Choices, which start at $5,800 and go up to $14,400. This year there are 32 Best Choices and 26 Good Choices.

Both groups have:

  • above-average reliability, based on CR’s member survey, for the majority of the years listed
  • average or better scores from CR’s emergency handling tests
  • dry braking distances of less than 145 feet from 60 mph in CR’s brake tests
  • good ratings in four IIHS crashworthiness tests — original moderate overlap front, original side, roof strength and head restraints
  • a good or acceptable rating in the IIHS driver-side small overlap front test
  • four or five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (if rated)

In addition, the Best Choices all come with standard AEB that earns an advanced or superior rating in the original IIHS front crash prevention test. AEB cuts police-reported front-to-rear crashes in half, IIHS research has shown, and rear-end crashes make up nearly a quarter of all crashes teens are involved in. The IIHS-affiliated Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) has found that AEB and other crash avoidance features are more effective for teen drivers than older ones.

Standard electronic stability control (ESC) is no longer part of the criteria — not because it isn’t important, but because the oldest vehicle on either the Good Choices or the Best Choices list is a 2014 model, and ESC has been required on all new vehicles since the 2012 model year. Parents handing down a vehicle produced before 2012 should make sure it includes this lifesaving technology.

As 2024 Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ winners, the recommended new vehicles all have good ratings in the driver- and passenger-side small overlap front tests and updated side test and either a good rating in the original moderate overlap front test or a good or acceptable rating in the updated one. They also have good or acceptable headlights standard and good or acceptable pedestrian front crash prevention. Unlike the used vehicles, they are not rated for roof strength and head restraints because IIHS discontinued those tests after nearly all vehicles earned good ratings for several years running.

The new vehicles have average or better predicted reliability from CR and meet the same standard for emergency handling as the used vehicles. Compared with the used vehicles, they are held to a tighter braking distance requirement of 140 feet. They also receive a rating of good or better from CR for ease of use of their controls.

This year’s recommended vehicles include one all-electric model, the Hyundai Ioniq 6. As electric vehicles expand their market share, it’s likely that many novice drivers will be driving one in the future. Although EVs are fundamentally just as safe as gas-powered vehicles, there are concerns about rapid acceleration, even in models with a reasonable horsepower-to-weight ratio. Unlike gas engines, electric motors give drivers immediate access to all of the vehicle’s power, so parents should take extra caution when giving these vehicles to teens.

The IIHS-CR vehicle recommendations focus primarily on safety and reliability. But teens and their parents may also want to consider the cost of ownership, including insurance premiums. One way to get a sense of how much a vehicle will cost to insure is to look at insurance losses by make and model compiled by HLDI. It’s also advisable to get a quote from your insurance company for the specific vehicle you intend to buy before you complete your purchase.

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