Time to shop for your teenager's first car? And do you need some advice? I'm a 16 year old (DON'T HIT THAT BACK BUTTON BECAUSE OF IT) and I happen to know a lot about which cars are good and which are bad. In my opinion, these are the cars that best exhibit teenagers and parents needs: safety, sporty looks, reasonable power, reliability, and handling. Handling should be every parents #1 priority when choosing a car for their children. Why? Because the better handling a car is, the less chance of the teen getting into an accident. Lets face it, teens love to drive fast to impress their friends. There is just no stopping it. It doesn't matter what the car is. I've seen other teenagers driving 95 mph on the highway in Prius's before! You might notice a lot of Mazdas on my list. That is because Mazda's philosophy from day 1 has been to provide a great handling, everyday driver car, at a reasonable price. If, however, you are not a big fan of Mazdas, there are plenty of other choices on the list. Also, before you start reading, let me talk about a car that very often disputed about. The Honda Civic. Some people think they're perfect for teenagers. Some people think they're terrible. I'm part of the latter. The problem I have with the Honda Civic is that they are notorious for street racing. Just go on Youtube and type in "street racing Honda Civic." You're going to get thousands of results. No parent wants their child to street race. So that is why the Civic or it's Acura cousin the Integra will never show up on my list.
I have also thrown in the occasional truck or SUV that might not be the best handling cars, but are perfect in all the other categories and are great for those who desire a truck or SUV. Like my brother, he didn't want a small car like a Mazda3. He wanted a truck. So he got a Toyota Tacoma.
Note: A good way to decide what car out of my choices is best for your teen is the "experience: horsepower ratio." As you might be aware, horsepower is the measure of how much power an engine puts out. When choosing a car for your teen, you must find out how experienced/how good of a driver they are. The more experienced/better driver they are, the more horsepower you could consider your teens car can have.
Note: Before making your final decision on buying your teen their first car, be sure to have them test drive it first. Make sure they like the way it drives. Ask them if they are comfortable steering the car? Are they comfortable sitting in the car? Do they like the feel of the pedals? It may sound stupid to your teenagers, but these questions could actually save their lives. If, for example, a teenager hates the way the cars steers, but you buy it anyway, there is a big chance they could get in an accident.My Car: Now, what do I drive? Something I would never recommend to a teenager who is inexperienced. My car is a Mustang GT. The only reasons I got it are that I've been driving go karts and off road dirt karts since I was about seven years old and I'm a HUGE mustang fanatic. If your teenager wants a Mustang GT or something with a V8 that is similar, make sure they are experienced. DON'T BUY IT FOR THEM IF THEY ARE NOT. They might be straight A students who have never done anything bad in their lives. It really doesn't matter. They will crash the car within a month if they are inexperienced drivers.
This car perfectly exhibits all of a teenagers needs. It's reliable, it's safe, it has good power, it has great handling, it's got lots of room for storage, and it gets good gas mileage. The perfect car in my opinion for any teenager. The only flaw is the looks. Some people like the smiley face front end and some people don't. If your teenager doesn't like it, look for a pre-2010 model with the old body styling.
Edit December 2013: Thank you Mazda. The 3s only flaw has been fixed. The new Mazda 3 looks 1000x better. However, there is a new flaw: the price. I was able to fully load a new 3 on Mazdas website and got it to nearly $30000. That's absurd for this class of car. However, again, the base price is only slightly more than last generation's.
see more on Mazda3
Basically, the same same car as it's less performance oriented counterpart the Mazda3, but that's the problem. Some parents won't look at any car with the word "performance" in the description, which is why this car ranks below it.
Edit December 2013: I can't wait to see the new Mazdaspeed3 in person! see more on Mazdaspeed3
WAIT!!! Before you hit that back button and leave my list, allow me to explain! Believe it or not, Mustangs can be fantastic first cars for teenagers. Look for 2005-present models with the side airbags option. Those cars are top of their class in crash tests. Not to mention good reliability. Mustangs also (as your probably well aware) have great power, performance, and handling (at least compared to the other car on this list). HOWEVER, I would only recommend the V6 engine for a teenager. At the time of writing this, the V6 mustang makes 305 horsepower which is plenty for a teenager. I could only recommend the V8 Mustang to the 0.001% of teenagers that are experienced enough to drive V8 cars. Also, with the V6, the Mustang gets pretty decent, actually fantastic in my opinion, fuel economy for sports car. At the time of writing, it is achieving 19 city mpg and 31 highway mpg. Compare that to the Mazdaspeed3 above with only a four cylinder that achieves only 18 city mpg and 25 highway mpg. Be aware though that these fuel economy numbers are only for 2011-present V6 mustangs. The only downside I have with my Mustang is the practicality. Remember, it's a 2 door coupe, not a sedan or hatchback.
Edit December 2013: The new 2015 Mustang has lost some of the muscle, but definitely not any of the sportiness. The new turbo 4 cylinder Mustang might be perfect for your teenager. see more on Ford Mustang
The Impreza, in ways, is the best alternative to the Mazda3. You get better looks than the Mazda, but there is a trade off; the Impreza does not handle as well as the Mazda3. Also, I recommend the hatch version of the Impreza for extra practicality.
December 2013: Subaru seems to have taken a step backward in styling with the latest Impreza. It has that Legacy inspired from look that I'm not the biggest fan of, but luckily the rest of the car is fantastic and largely underrated. see more on Subaru Impreza