Safety features should be your first consideration when it comes to the best cars for young drivers – since they don’t have that many years of experience behind the wheel. Newer used cars have more standard safety features, but choose vehicles that have electronic stability control, side curtain air bags and good crash test ratings at the very minimum.

With so many used cars on the market, it can be confusing to choose. It’s best, however, to steer clear of big SUVs (too unwieldy and difficult for younger drivers to maneuver) and sports or sporty cars (too tempting to drive fast, along with higher insurance rates). Consumer Reports’ recommended picks for young drivers serves as a starting point for this list of The Best Cars for Young Drivers. These three are also on the 2009 Consumer Reports Most Reliable Used Cars and Best of the Best lists.

  • Subaru Impreza (2006-2009) – A Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for 2007_Subaru_Impreza_Profile 2006, 2008-2009, Impreza features standard side air bags and electronic stability control (ESC). Edmunds comments that “Impreza’s most notable edge is its distinctive powertrain, as this model has always been available with all-wheel drive.” With numerous trim levels and good fuel economy (except AWD models), Impreza also has a “well-sorted chassis” and “entertaining handling.”
  • Mazda 3 (2006-2009) – Forbes lauds Mazda 3’s “exceptionally safe body structure” and “sophisticated standard equipment,” along with its “sporty, confident steering and maneuverability.” A perennial Edmunds Most Wanted sedan and wagon, the editors say of Mazda 3 that “no other car in the segment provides as much performance and driving fun for the money.”
  • Pontiac Vibe (2006-2009) – Great looking, fun to drive and loaded with standard safety features such as ESC, ABS and 6 air bags, and available all-wheel drive, the Pontiac Vibe is a real deal. GM is axing the Pontiac division, so get one of these while you can. Edmunds hails Vibe’s “peppy powertrain,” “clean styling, roomy interior and exceptional utility” and says the compact wagon “offers a lot of functionality for not a lot of money.” First-generation picks include 2006-2008 and the second-generation 2009.

Other good choices: Ford Focus sedan (2003 and later) and Fusion, Honda Accord (4-cylinder) and CR-V EX (2006 and later), Kia Optima, Mercury Milan, Scion tC, Subaru Forester, Toyota Camry (4-cylinder), Corolla and Matrix (2006 and later), Prius and RAV4 (2004 or later, models without 3rd-row).

By Suzanne Kane

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