You've probably anticipated this day with excitement and dread: That teenage human in your house is now a licensed driver. Now the questions begin. Will she remember to use the turn signals? Will he observe the speed limits? Will she remember to remain several car lengths behind the car in front of her? How did my baby grow up so fast?
Just remember that you, too, were once a newly minted driver. These days, however, your teen can drive a car that is innumerable times safer than the vehicle you first had, thanks to more stringent government and industry crash-safety standards. This is especially true if you're buying one of the new models available. But which car should you buy if you want the latest safety features and technology?
Some experts say that the greater the mass of the vehicle, the better the protection. Groups like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recommend bigger, heavier vehicles, like midsize sedans or SUVs. The American Automobile Association, on the other hand, advises against SUVs. But it does recommend midsize sedans. Small cars are the ones to avoid, both groups agree.
"Midsize sedans are the best choice for teens," says Tamra Johnson, manager of public relations for the Automobile Association of America. "Small cars don't offer as much protection in crashes, sporty cars may encourage speeding or recklessness, and SUVs and pickup trucks are more difficult to maneuver and more likely to roll over."
What parents should seek is a late-model, midsize sedan equipped with modern safety features, she says. Some important features are standard on all models, such as electronic stability control and antilock brakes. Other safety technology that AAA suggests includes:
- A forward collision warning system, which warns drivers that they're about to hit a the vehicle or other object ahead of them. Some also have automatic emergency braking.
- A crash notification system, which notifies authorities in the event of an accident serious enough to activate the airbag.
- A backup camera with rear cross-traffic alert, which gives drivers more visibility to children, animals and other vehicles behind them.
Edmunds couldn't agree more. We selected 10 midsize sedans from the 2016 model year that first and foremost meet stringent safety standards and have listed them alphabetically by make and model below. All have earned five-star safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Some also have earned the IIHS's Top Safety Pick+ rating. In addition to those distinctions, we looked at cars that offer additional safety measures, such as features that can reduce distractions posed by the car's entertainment features. Some cars also let parents place speed and infotainment restrictions on teens as they drive. They might not like that, but such measures can bring you some peace of mind.
The Malibu got a makeover for 2016, shedding its formerly frumpy, boxy look for a sleeker, more chiseled figure. Alongside the Ford Fusion, the Malibu cuts one of the more striking figures in the midsize class. That should make your teen driver happy, but there's plenty here for parents to like, too. The Malibu has a classy interior, impressive fuel efficiency and a choice of two engines: Stick to the calmer 160-horsepower version for your new driver. And it has plenty of standard and optional safety features. With a starting suggested retail price of $26,870, it's a prime candidate for teen and family driving.
You'll like Chevy's new Teen Driver system, though your child might not. Once engaged, the system prevents the driver from turning off the stability control, automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitor systems. It also silences the audio system if the driver or passenger seatbelts are unbuckled. Finally, parents can set audio volume limits and a top-speed limit, ranging from 40-75 mph.
While the Teen Driver system won't prevent young drivers from exceeding the top speed, it can warn them each time they exceed the limit. It can also assemble what Chevy calls a report card, listing distance driven, over-speed warnings and any stability control or hard-braking events. Only parents can access the report card, and they have to do it from within the car, not via a mobile app or computer.
Standard safety features include: Front knee airbags, front side airbags, rear side airbags, side curtain airbags, OnStar telematics system.
Optional: Rearview camera, automatic high beam headlights, front and rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitor , rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking.
The Chrysler 200 won't wow teen drivers with its style or cachet, but it has almost all they'll need: a cabin finished in high-quality materials and an intuitive smartphone/media interface with a large display and big icons to reduce distraction. Under the hood, there's a modestly powerful four-cylinder engine that returns 28 mpg combined. The Chrysler 200 has a starting price of $22,990.
Advanced safety features such as a blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert are available for all but the Chrysler 200's base model. The optional forward collision warning and automatic braking system helped the 200 earn an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating. There's one big shortcoming with the 200, if you want a car to fit the whole family, backseat legroom and headroom are tight.
Standard: Front side airbags, side curtain airbags, driver and front-passenger knee airbags, and rearview camera (except in the base model).
Optional: Blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking.
With its sculpted sides and hood and a front end that borrows generously from an upscale Aston Martin design, the Fusion is one of the sharpest lookers among midsize sedans. It offers Sync 3, the latest generation of Ford's voice command system. It can handle most navigation, music and phone functions through voice command, keeping your teen focused on the road, not on a touchscreen.
The Fusion also offers MyKey, a suite of features designed to keep your teen driver attentive. MyKey is similar to the Chevrolet Malibu's Teen Driver system. It mutes the audio until seat belts are buckled and allows you to set an audio limit (up to nearly half the normal level). It also lets you set variable speed-alert chimes and impose a top-speed limit, up to 80 mph. You also can set a Do Not Disturb feature that will hold text messages and send incoming phone calls to voicemail on phones that have been paired with Sync. Drivers can still make voice-activated outgoing phone calls, however. MyKey will also issue low-fuel warnings starting at 75 miles of range remaining.
The base Fusion is powered by a 175-hp four-cylinder engine. It returns an EPA-rated 26 mpg combined, and starts at $23,135. Two more powerful four-cylinder engines also are available.
Standard: Front side airbags, side curtain airbags, front knee airbags.
Optional: Blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, drowsy driver detection, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, inflatable rear seatbelts and emergency notification via Ford Sync, front collision warning and collision mitigation (which primes the brake system for maximum braking).
Along with the Toyota Camry, which you'll find later on this list, the Honda Accord is justly considered the gold standard for midsize family sedans. The Accord earns top marks for its roomy, high-quality interior and excellent ride quality and handling. Especially of note for your parental consideration is its generous set of teen-friendly standard features. There's a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, and touchscreen control of Pandora Internet Radio. The Accord also is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+.
The new Honda Sensing package, which is available on all Accord trim levels, brings lots of safety tech, such as adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and lane and road departure intervention. That system helps prevent the car from drifting off the road entirely. The innovative LaneWatch blind-spot system sends a low and wide view of the passenger side blind spot to the central display when the driver uses the right turn signal. LaneWatch is only available on the top two trim levels, the EX and the EX-L.
The latest Accord also offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Your teen just connects an iPhone or Android phone to the entertainment system and the touchscreen shows an interface similar to that of the phone. The Accord brings a lot of technology, refinement and safety for a price starting at $23,040.
Standard: Front side airbags, side curtain airbags, active front head restraints and rearview camera.
Optional: Blind-spot monitor, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, road departure mitigation and front collision warning with automatic emergency braking.
The Sonata and its near-mechanical twin, the Kia Optima, represent two of the best values among midsize sedans. They're not the flashiest brands, nor the most established, but if you're looking to get the most features and safety technology for the money, the Sonata and Optima should top your list. The 2016 Sonata has a starting price of $22,585 while the 2016 Kia Optima starts at $22,990.
Both models earn IIHS Top Safety Pick+ status. Both offer a choice of three different four-cylinder engines paired with automatic transmissions. Both have interior design and materials that befit a more expensive car. Both have smartphone integration via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
The Sonata and Optima also offer emergency telematics services: It's Blue Link for Hyundai and UVO for Kia. In addition to the usual services, these systems can keep tabs on your teen driver's habits, sending alerts to your smartphone whenever your kid exceeds a set speed, stays out past curfew or leaves an area you've designated — that's a feature called geofencing. These features might scream "helicopter parent" to your new driver, but you might sleep better if you use them.
Standard: Front side airbags, side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag and rearview camera.
Optional: A 360-degree-view camera, rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking.
If your teen driver actually loves driving and believes that time behind the wheel is more than just going point A to B, you'd be a hero if you chose a Mazda 6. It's one of the quicker four-cylinder midsize sedans Edmunds has tested. It can be had with the (increasingly rare) manual transmission and achieves excellent fuel economy. But its tendency to spirited driving doesn't compromise its safety performance. The Mazda 6 earns IIHS Top Safety Pick+ status, with active front head restraints and automatic emergency notification standard on all trim levels (except for the Sport, which has the manual transmission). It's also one of the sharpest looking cars in the class. The starting price for the 2016 Mazda 6 with an automatic transmission is $23,830. It's $500 less for one with a manual transmission.
Standard: Front side airbags, side curtain airbags, and active front head restraints, rearview camera (except on the Sport).
Optional: Rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning and forward collision warning with automatic braking.
The Impreza has a standard all-wheel-drive system, which makes it a top candidate for any parent whose teen will be driving in slippery, snowy conditions. It's especially useful for teen drivers still learning the nuances of car control. The 148-hp four-cylinder engine offers enough power to maneuver out of trouble without creating any temptation to misuse it. Starting price for a model with a continuously variable automatic transmission is $20,090.
The Impreza straddles the line between a compact and midsize sedan, but the interior, particularly the rear seat, ranks as one of the roomiest in the segment. The Impreza also is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+, thanks to its optional front collision warning and automatic braking system. The Impreza is also available as a hatchback.
Standard: Front side airbags, side curtain airbags, driver knee airbag, active front head restraints, rearview camera.
Optional: Front collision warning with automatic braking, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control.
The Accord had its turn earlier, and now comes the other benchmark family sedan. The Camry is a can't-miss choice for teen drivers. Yes, it may look bland and drive bland, but it offers one of the most comfortable and spacious cabins in the class. It has a choice of four-cylinder or six-cylinder engine or a hybrid model. All have plenty of standard and optional safety tech. One example is Safety Connect, a system that bundles an emergency assist button, automatic collision notification (to emergency services) and a stolen vehicle locator. The Camry also earns the IIHS's Top Safety Pick+ award. Starting price is $23,905.
Standard: Antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags, front knee airbags, and a rearview camera.
Optional: Blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, and front collision warning with automatic emergency braking.
Driving a Jetta has been a treasured teenage rite of passage for years, and today's model is still one of the better choices for a young new driver. Its four-cylinder engines are efficient, the passenger room and cargo space are generous, and its personality is fun and European. Starting price for a 2016 Volkswagen Jetta with a six-speed automatic transmission is $19,600; for one with a five-speed manual transmission the starting price is $18,500.
The Jetta also has an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ designation, although the organization rates its front collision warning and automatic braking systems as being less advanced than Hyundai's or Kia's. Volkswagen's Car-Net telematics system includes automatic crash notification, roadside assistance, remote vehicle access (allowing you or your teen to start the car or unlock doors via smartphone app, for example). Like the Kia Optima and Hyundai Sonata, it has geofencing, and if you set it, it will let you know whenever your teen driver strays from a designated boundary or exceeds a set speed limit.
Standard: Front side airbags, side curtain airbags, active front head restraints, rearview camera (except on the base model).
Optional: Blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, front collision warning with automatic emergency braking.