Putting your high schooler on wheels is always a difficult decision. A car gives independence and teaches responsibility, especially if your kid has to pay for gas and repairs. On the other hand, it also exposes them to danger, as young drivers are the most likely to have an accident. On this list of best cars for high school students, we looked for cars that are safe, easy to drive, and affordable to run. Here are the ten best cars to take to high school.
10 Best Cars for High School Students
Photo Credit: Chevrolet
2018 Chevrolet Spark
When it comes to picking a car for a high school student, the 2018 Chevrolet Spark ticks all the boxes. It's small, which makes it easy to park—and it discourages passengers; the more occupants in a teen driver's car, the more likely they are to crash. It's safe, with ten airbags and OnStar (a subscription-based service that automatically calls for help if the car is involved a crash). It's also inexpensive—in fact, it's one of the least expensive cars on the market, which should be some consolation in case your high schooler gets into a fender-bender. Some parents get a little nervous about the Spark's small size; if that's the case, we can wholeheartedly recommend Chevrolet's other small cars, the Sonic and the Cruze.
Photo Credit: Honda
2017 Honda Fit
The 2017 Honda Fit is a great choice for active high school students because it's so darn useful. Though it's small on the outside, the Fit has more interior room than many larger cars. And thanks to a back seat that flips and folds several different ways, it's perfect for bulky cargo—everything from elaborate art projects to big band instruments. Honda has a stellar reputation for reliability, which means that as long as your young driver takes care of the car, there's a good chance it will last her through high school, college and well into her early working years. We'd also suggest looking at the Civic, which is a bit bigger and more expensive but has a more thorough suite of active safety features.
Photo Credit: Hyundai
2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid
Hyundai's new Ioniq is a great choice for teens who want to go green. One of the newest hybrid cars to hit the marketplace, the Ioniq is small and inexpensive, and gets great fuel economy—the EPA rates it at 55 MPG combined, and we've had no problem achieving that figure in real-world driving. From a parent's perspective, hybrids like the Ioniq encourage efficient driving—and teens who drive for maximum MPG rather that maximum MPH are much less likely to end up in a serious car crash. If your teen's driving is all local, consider the all-electric version of the Ioniq, which is even better for the environment.
Photo Credit: Jeep
2017 Jeep Renegade
For high schoolers who want an SUV, we think the 2017 Jeep Renegade is a great pick. The Renegade is Jeep's least-expensive model, and it's also the most playful, with lots of cheeky styling details and great personality. Available all-wheel-drive makes it sure-footed in rain and snow, but its exterior dimensions are similar to those of a small car, so it's easy to maneuver and park, plus it has respectable crash-test scores. Fuel economy is good by SUV standards, though it's still thirstier than a car. For a teen's first SUV, it's an excellent choice.
Photo Credit: Mazda
2017 Mazda Mazda3
If your high schooler is a budding car enthusiast, we recommend the 2017 Mazda Mazda3, because it's a lot more fun to drive than most subcompact cars. Not because it's fast; we never recommend putting teen drivers behind the wheel of a high-horsepower car. In fact, for the Mazda3, we recommend the 2.0-liter engine, which has a modest power output (but is still very fuel efficient and even more fun when paired with a manual transmission). Where the Mazda3 excels is in the curves—it's a great-handling car, which not only makes it more fun to drive but also makes it safer since it can easily swerve around trouble. The Mazda3 lets you put your high schooler in a sporty-feeling car, without the risks of putting a young driver behind the wheel of a true sports car.
Photo Credit: Nissan
2018 Nissan Frontier
What if your high school student needs her car to be a truck? In that case, we recommend the 2018 Nissan Frontier. Among compact and mid-size trucks, it's one of the oldest designs out there, but it's also one of the safest, with good crash test scores compared to other pickups. It's also very affordable; in fact, the Frontier is the least-expensive pickup truck you can buy. Now, we must caution you that pickup trucks are not as safe as cars, especially rear-wheel-drive trucks driven in rain or snow. But we also understand that trucks are a way of life for some families, and the Nissan Frontier makes a fantastic first truck.
Photo Credit: Nissan
2018 Nissan Versa
Should you put your teen driver in a new or a used car? new cars meet all of the latest safety standards, but they can get very expensive—and that's what gives the 2018 Nissan Versa its appeal. The Nissan Versa is the least-expensive car sold in America, with prices starting just under $12,000 and well-equipped models priced under $16k. And the Versa is a great car—a bit homely-looking, perhaps, but it's fuel-efficient, decent to drive, and surprisingly roomy, with a spacious back seat and a big trunk. A well-cared-for Versa will see your student through all of her high school, college and grad school years, long past the point where a used car might have to be replaced.
Photo Credit: Subaru
2017 Subaru Impreza
The 2018 Subaru Impreza is our number-one choice for high school students who live where it rains or snows. Why? Because, like all Subarus, the Impreza comes standard with all-wheel-drive, which makes it extra-sure-footed when the weather turns bad (and on dry roads as well). If you've been to New England or the Pacific Northwest, you've probably seen tons of Subarus on the road, and with good reason: Those people know all about bad weather. Now, there's one caveat: If you have a speed-obsessed teen, don't let them talk you into the WRX or STI models—these are high-performance versions of the Impreza intended for skilled and experienced drivers. Look for the basic 2.0-liter models, and rest assured that your teen is equipped to do battle with Mother Nature.
Photo Credit: Toyota
2017 Toyota 86
There aren't many sports cars we would recommend for high-school-age drivers, but the 2017 Toyota 86 is one of them. While most sports cars have massively powerful engines, the Toyota 86's powertrain is relatively modest. The 86 is more about handlng—it uses rear-wheel-drive (not a great choice for rain and snow, by the way) and exploits the inherent balance that lightweight, rear-drive cars have. If your teen has an interest in performance driving, the 86 is a natural fit for autocrossing—a type of low-speed racing on courses set up in parking lots, where the emphasis is on car control rather than speed.
Photo Credit: Volkswagen
2017 Volkswagen Golf
German cars have a big fan base, and with good reason; when it comes to making good-handling cars—especially good-handling cars that ride well—the Germans simply have a knack. The 2017 Volkswagen Golf has the fun-to-drive characteristics that make German cars so popular, but it is also very practical; it has as much interior space as many small suvs (a trait that has one it best-seller status in Europe), plus its easy to drive and easy to park. Volkswagen builds simple, no-nonsense interiors that minimize driver distraction, something that is especially important to keep in mind when choosing a car for a high-school-age driver.