Is U.S. News & World Report‘s List of ‘Best Cars for Teens’ for Real?

All are good cars, but how realistic is this list in the real world?

byJustin Hughes| PUBLISHED Aug 22, 2017 2:10 PM
Is U.S. News & World Report‘s List of ‘Best Cars for Teens’ for Real?

U.S. News & World Report has just released their list of 2017 Best Cars for Teens. Every car on this list is a good solid choice—practical, reliable, and safe. But here in the real world, how many people would actually buy any of these brand new cars for their brand new drivers?

Here is U.S. News & World Report's list:

  • Best Car for Teens $20K and Under: 2017 Toyota Corolla
  • Best Car for Teens $20K to $25K: 2017 Chevy Cruze
  • Best Car for Teens $25K to $30K: 2017 Hyundai Elantra
  • Best SUV for Teens $25K to $30K: 2017 Honda CR-V
  • Best Car for Teens $30K to $35K: 2018 Chevrolet Malibu
  • Best SUV for Teens $30K to $35K: 2017 Subaru Outback
  • Best Car for Teens $35K to $40K: 2017 Toyota Avalon
  • Best SUV for Teens $35K to $40K: 2017 Kia Sorento

Many of these selections are notable for their safety features, particularly with regard to teen drivers. Hyundai's Blue Link system will text you if the car is out too late, goes too fast, or goes outside the geographic boundaries you set. Chevy's Teen Driver system goes even further, allowing you to set speed restrictions, track the car's location at any time, and even disable the radio until all passengers have their seat belts on. It all seems a little bit too "Big Brother" to me, but I can understand the desire for such features in this day and age.

But here's my $25,000 question: What teenage driver actually buys a new car, or has one bought for them? Certainly, some parents are willing to do it, but the vast majority of young drivers I know received used cars, not new. While a few may be able to cruise in style in a new Avalon, it's far more likely to be an old Camry for one-tenth the price. 

Bull-Doser / WikiMedia Commons

My first car was a 1982 Pontiac 6000LE like this one. Powered by GM's infamous "Iron Duke" engine, its 90 horsepower ensured that I couldn't possibly speed. It was built like a tank—as I learned in my first accident when I drove home after totaling the Celica in front of me. 

Seriously, though, you don't have to go totally old-school to get a good cheap car (thank goodness–that Pontiac was awful). A friend of mine just bought a 2009 Honda CR-V for his teenage son. My local Craigslist shows several for sale in the $6,000 to $8,000 range—a fraction of the price of a new CR-V. It's new enough to have a bunch of safety equipment, but not break the bank to own or operate. 

Sure, it's lacking some of the modern driver aids like automatic braking, lane keeping assistance, and blind spot monitors. But those can erode your driving skills. Not having them forces a new driver to pay more attention and practice the skills that will keep them safe rather than rely on the car to do it for them.