Best cars for teens 2021, as picked by US News

U.S. News & World Report released its 2021 list of best cars for teens Tuesday, which includes a strong showing for hybrid models, high marks for Hyundai in new car categories and wins for Toyota in used car categories.

The 2021 Best Cars for Teens

Best Car for Teens $20K to $25K 2021 — Hyundai Elantra Hybrid
Best SUV for Teens $20K to $25K 2021 — Hyundai Kona
Best Car for Teens $25K to $30K 2021 — Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid
Best SUV for Teens $25K to $30K 2021 — GMC Terrain
Best Car for Teens $30K to $35K 2021 — Nissan Altima
Best SUV for Teens $30K to $35K 2021 — Kia Sorento Hybrid
Best Car for Teens $35K to $40K 2021 — Toyota Camry Hybrid
Best SUV for Teens $35K to $40K 2021 — Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid

The 2021 Best Used Cars for Teens

Large Car — 2017 Toyota Avalon
Mid-size Car — 2018 Honda Accord
Mid-size SUV — 2017 Toyota Highlander
Small Car — 2018 Toyota Corolla
Small SUV — 2017 Toyota RAV4

“Every single new car winner that we have has some sort of teen controls,” Jamie Page Deaton, executive editor of U.S. News Best Cars, told WTOP. She cited features such as a smart key and a smartphone app that notifies parents of the car’s speed.

“If you are a parent who maybe has a 12-year-old, but you’re looking for a new car for yourself, these are great cars to either pass down to your kids or share with your kids,” Deaton said. “Or if you’re in a great financial position, and you’ve got super-lucky kids, buy one of these cars for your own teen.”

Deaton said the eight categories of new cars are based on price, and the winners were determined by the “best combination of high reliability scores, high crash test ratings, strong recommendations from professional car reviewers and available active safety features that can help teens either develop good habits to avoid a crash or help mitigate the severity of a crash should one occur.”

Deaton said the price point went up to $40,000, and she also noted that five of the eight new car categories are hybrids, which she said have more safety features and additional weight, giving them higher crash test scores.

She also added that teens tend to be more concerned about the environment and thus are generally drawn to hybrids.

Deaton said safety features have gone mainstream in the last five years, so used cars have many of the same features the new cars do. She added that it’s necessary for parents to talk to teens about safety features, urging them to “be the ultimate safety feature” by practicing their driving skills so they don’t need the car’s safety features to act as “guardian angels.”

“All of these features are really helpful and very important — for not just the teens but all drivers — but really, you should teach your teen to drive as if they don’t exist.”

Deaton ranks the Avalon as one of her favorite cars because it fits the preferred vehicle for teens — “big, boring and slow” — besides, it’s a comfortable ride for road trips, it can last into adulthood and provides the benefits of an SUV without some of the drawbacks.

“Because it’s a car, you don’t have as many of the same rollover concerns as you would with an SUV,” Deaton said. “It’s still got a relatively small stopping distance — but it gives a lot of crumple zones. There’s a lot of space on the Avalon to disperse that crash energy if your teen is in a crash, and that helps keep the occupants safe.”

Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on

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