Best Cars for Teens (and College Students) in 2018

Congratulations -- your teen or college student is officially a licensed driver! You have spent months or even years helping them learn how to drive, and now, they have passed the test and are ready for their first set of wheels. Of course, knowing which vehicle to purchase for them (or allow them to purchase) is difficult, but it’s not an impossible feat.

The most important factor when choosing a car for a young driver is safety. It is well known that young drivers, and teens especially, are involved in many accidents; choosing a car with excellent safety features, especially those that assist the driver, is a great bet. Such essentials include forward-collision warning systems and automatic emergency braking, which help avoid crashes. Blindspot monitoring and backup cameras are excellent, too.

The second most important feature for most parents or students paying for their vehicles is the price. It’s silly to spend a ton of money on a car for a young driver, mainly because there’s a good chance they might get it into an accident. Insurance premiums for young drivers can also be high, and choosing a more affordable vehicle can help mitigate these costs. But don’t buy something super cheap -- you will probably end up sacrificing some safety factors. If you’re that worried about the costs, consider asking your teen or student to help save up for their vehicle themselves.

Good gas mileage and high reliability are also important factors to consider. Sportscars are probably a bad idea, as they are challenging to drive, cause insurance premiums to rise, and are involved in more accidents -- especially when teens or students are taken with the idea of racing them on the open road. In general, trucks and SUVs perform better in crashes but are harder to handle, so proceed with caution when considering these types of vehicles. 

2018 Chevrolet Sonic

Average Price: $18,180

MPG: 28

This subcompact car is an affordable, quiet, and smooth ride. Whether your teen is a frequent library-goer, camper, or budding musician, there’ll be plenty of room for all of their gear in the roomy trunk. There are also cool added features like heated seats and keyless entry, as well as added safety features like forward collision warning and lane-departure warning, but all of those will cost you extra. If your teen or college student is an audiophile, they’ll love the large touchscreen that integrates seamlessly with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. 28 MPG isn’t great, but it might keep your teen from going on too many late night adventures, especially if they have to pay for their own gas.

2018 Honda Fit

Average Price: $18,855

MPG: 33

This zippy car looks like a bean and drives like a dream. Although it’s a car through and through, it comfortably seats five -- and has the fuel economy of a car to boot. The 2018 model has a whole host of new advanced safety features, so you’ll be able to breathe a little bit more easily while your teen is behind the wheel. If your teen doesn’t mind a bit of noise, they’ll survive the revving engine and noisy drive, but if not, this might not be the car for them -- or at least not for long trips. 

2018 Mazda 3

Mazda 3

 Getty Images/

Victor Decolongon

Average Price: $21,520

MPG: 33

It’s certainly no sports car, but the Mazda 3 is great fun to drive -- and gets much better gas mileage than a sports car would. The compact audiophile drives quietly through the city (though noisily on the highway) and handles smoothly, and has a crazy-luxe suite of multimedia integrations and forward collision safety features like blind-spot monitoring, standard forward-collision warning and low-speed automatic emergency braking. 

2014 Scion xD

Scion xD

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Scott Olson

Average Price: $9,875

MPG: 29

This is one of the most impressive and affordable vehicles on this list -- though sadly, they stopped making new versions in 2014. It is a compact SUV that boasts a super-roomy interior, and for an SUV, it has great gas mileage. If your teen or college student is on the taller side, this might not be the car from them, as some taller drivers find the seat cushion too short for a larger frame. But if they are on the more petite side and love bringing a lot of friends along for the ride, they will love this vehicle that drives smoothly, if a bit noisily, through the city.