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2015 Honda Civic

Thursday Throwdown: Best Cars for Teens

In today’s Thursday Throwdown, we are looking at 2014 model year cars for teenagers. Our emphasis here is on teen driving safety, price and overall affordability (costs of ownership). These cars offer great safety ratings, a low cost of entry (under $20,000 base when new) and are less likely to get your teen into trouble than, say, a sports car or racy convertible.

Our top picks are chosen primarily for their cost-effectiveness and safety. These 2014 models are beginning to appear as used car and dealer demonstration vehicles now, so be sure to check our Used Car Listings to find one for yourself. If you’re looking purely for used cars, however, you may consider these recommendations from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

2014 Top Teen Car Picks

Lowest Entry Price: Nissan Versa, Chevrolet Spark
Best Value: Subaru Impreza, Chevrolet Spark
Best Fuel Economy: Toyota Prius c
Most Refined Overall: Honda Civic
Most Refined Interior: Kia Soul
Most Fun To Drive: Hyundai Veloster, Ford Fiesta

2014 Chevrolet Spark

The Chevrolet Spark is one of the best entry-level cars on the market. It delivers a mix of excellent fuel economy, high safety ratings and strong appeal for a younger driver. It is spacious for its size and more versatile than some might expect. Although its brother, the slightly larger Sonic, has a better road feel, the Spark has better fuel economy and fun appeal. Safety is a top concern with the Spark and Chevrolet did everything possible to make it as safe as it could be, which shows in its ratings.

[Watch: Top Five Things Your Teen’s Car Should Have]

2014 Chevrolet Spark
Base price new: $12,170
EPA mpg (city/highway): 31/39
Crash test ratings: IIHS – TSP, NHTSA – 4/4/5/4

2014 Chevrolet Sonic

A good choice as a sedan or hatchback, the entry-level Chevrolet Sonic offers a good mix of payoffs for the buyer. The base four-cylinder engine is sluggish on the highway, but an optional turbocharged engine makes the Sonic fun and engaging. The manual transmission is one of the easiest to shift, even for rookies, and steering and road feel are very good in this car. Interior features are good, though not top shelf compared to some, but the Sonic won our choice thanks to its overall packaging.

[Read: Compact Car Buying Guide]

2014 Chevrolet Sonic
Base price new: $14,170
EPA mpg (city/highway): 26/35
Crash test ratings: IIHS – G/M/G/G/G, NHTSA – 5-Stars

2014 Ford Fiesta

About middle of the road for our overall list, the Ford Fiesta offers plenty of bang for the buck, but it isn’t as safe as some rivals. The hatchback version offers a lot of versatility while the sedan feels punchy and quick around town. Driver visibility and athletic handling help the Fiesta rank above most other choices, though, making it a favorite for young drivers.

[Thursday Throwdown: 2014 Subcompact Cars]

2014 Ford Fiesta
Base price new: $14,100
EPA mpg (city/highway): 28/36
Crash test ratings: IIHS – G/M/G/G/G, NHTSA – 4/4/2/4

2014 Honda Civic

The Honda Civic is a popular choice for several reasons, one of which is the legendary reliability of the Honda brand and the excellent safety ratings that the Civic offers. Although others have a lower cost of entry, the Civic can be a bit more upscale than those rivals. It also brings peppy, but not overwhelming or dangerous, acceleration through its four-cylinder engine. Easy shifting for the standard transmission is another high point. The automatic transmission, however, does give better fuel economy.

[Read: What’s the Best-Selling Car in America?]

2014 Honda Civic
Base price new: $18,190
EPA mpg (city/highway): 30/39
Crash test ratings: IIHS – TSP+, NHTSA – 5-Stars

2014 Hyundai Veloster

Despite its sporty appearance and fast-paced appeal, the Hyundai Veloster is actually a tame little car that emphasizes fuel economy rather than performance. Its four-cylinder engine outputs just enough to feel fast, but no more, and the optional automatic transmission delivers great fuel economy. As a small hatchback, the Veloster is also more versatile than a two-door would normally be, and teens will likely enjoy the rough ride of the sport suspension on this car. Interior features are robust for the price point too.

[Read: 2015 Hyundai Elantra Review]

2014 Hyundai Veloster
Base price new: $17,800
EPA mpg (city/highway): 28/36
Crash test ratings: IIHS – G/M/A/G/G, NHTSA – 5-Stars

2014 Kia Forte

Parents who are more interested in cost-effectiveness and usability over safety and looks will like the Kia Forte for its value proposition. As a four-door sedan, the Forte offers good interior space and versatility, as well as good fuel economy at a low price point. Interior fit and finish is great for the class and the Forte is comfortable enough for even adults to enjoy. Compared to the edgier Soul (below), the Forte is a more conservative choice.

[Read: 2014 Kia Optima Review]

2014 Kia Forte
Base price new: $15,900
EPA mpg (city/highway): 25/36
Crash test ratings: IIHS – G/P/G/G/G, NHTSA – 4/3/5/4

2014 Kia Soul

Teens less interested in the hum-drum coupe and sedan body styles that dominate our list of picks will likely enjoy the more stylish appeal of the boxy little Kia Soul. A popular entry-level car, the Soul offers versatility and roominess to go with its excellent powertrain warranty and good safety ratings. Features are another high point, with a lot of value going into the low cost of entry. The base four-cylinder engine is enough for most, while a larger and more powerful four-cylinder can be had as well. The greatest drawback to the Soul is its relatively poor fuel economy compared with others on this list.

[Read: Best Dog-Friendly Vehicles]

2014 Kia Soul
Base price new: $14,900
EPA mpg (city/highway): 24/30
Crash test ratings: IIHS – G/N/G/G/G, NHTSA – 5-Stars

2014 Nissan Versa

The Nissan Versa sedan and the hatchback Versa Note are excellent choices for the entry-level buyer. The Versa sedan is the cheapest car on our list and also a best-seller in its class. The Versa and Versa Note are great choices for those budget-minded buyers who need a cost-effective choice that delivers a great overall value. Still, cars with more standard features and higher safety ratings can be had for a slightly higher starting price.

[Read: 2014 Nissan Versa Review]

2014 Nissan Versa
Base price new: $11,990
EPA mpg (city/highway): 27/36
Crash test ratings: IIHS – G/P/G/G/G, NHTSA – 4/3/4/4

2014 Subaru Impreza

The Subaru Impreza is available as both a sedan and five-door hatchback, with the latter offering maximum versatility in a small package. Standard all-wheel drive, legendary Subaru reliability, and a good entry price mean that the Impreza is a top pick on our list. Teens will never be overwhelmed by the power offered in the Impreza, but the all-wheel drive system should provide some assurance if they get stuck in inclement weather. The Impreza is one of the safest choices on our list. The IIHS named the Impreza a Top Safety Pick, and it received a top five-star rating for its overall performance in NHTSA crash tests.

[Driver Safety: Distracted Driving Awareness]

2014 Subaru Impreza
Base price new: $17,895
EPA mpg (city/highway): 25/34
Crash test ratings: IIHS – TSP, NHTSA – 5-Stars

2014 Toyota Prius c

The highest-priced vehicle on our list, the Toyota Prius c, is also the only hybrid and its skyscraper fuel economy numbers reflect that. Roomy and versatile, the Prius c is the smallest of the Prius line of hybrids from Toyota. It offers a good mix of fuel economy, a relatively sporty driving experience and safety. Few cars on our list offer the cost-effectiveness that the Prius c has.

[Thursday Throwdown: Hybrid and Electric Vehicles]

2014 Toyota Prius c
Base price new: $19,080
EPA mpg (city/highway): 53/46
Crash test ratings: IIHS – G/P/G/G/G, NHTSA – 4/4/4/4

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