At the same time, parents should steer clear of the smallest compacts and subcompacts, since these don't fare as well as larger models when it comes to crash protection. Parents should avoid putting teens in the smallest cars on the list, because the laws of physics always apply, McCartt says. "Smaller, lighter vehicles — even those with good crash test ratings — don't provide as much protection as bigger, heavier ones."
Midsize sedans strike the perfect balance of safety and maneuverability for teen drivers. "A midsize car is big enough to protect the occupant in a crash, but small enough to be easy for a novice driver to handle," says Dave Cavano, manager for the Automobile Club of Southern California's car-buying service. "A midsize car also offers plenty of protection in the event of a crash. It also has room for athletic and school gear."
What about SUVs? In a change from years past, IIHS now recommends SUVs for teen drivers, but not older models without electronic stability control. "SUVs provide the bulk that is protective of teens in crashes," McCartt says. "The new models are much less likely to be involved in rollover crashes because of less top-heavy designs, and especially because of electronic stability control."
AAA takes a more cautious approach, advising parents not to buy SUVs for teen drivers. The association cites handling difficulties and rollover concerns. "However, new SUVs are better than older ones because of electronic stability control, so if the roominess of an SUV is a key needed feature, stick with midsized new models," says AAA Automotive Research Manager Steve Mazor.