So it’s time to buy the teenager their first ride, or maybe you’re buying your own first car. There’s a pile of stress, eh? You want something safe and reliable, but cheap insurance and decent gas mileage would be nice too. Is there a Venn diagram of such vehicles? No, but we do have the next best thing! Check out these safe and reliable vehicles that are great for a first-time driver.
The Subaru Outback single-handedly explains why crossovers are so popular right now. It can do everything. There’s seating for five, hauling 35.5 cu-ft in the spacious rear cargo area, up to 32 MPG highway, and towing 2,700 lbs. This wagon-y, crossover-ish vehicle also has a reputation for safety going back to the ’80s. The feds at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) give it five stars, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows their highest Good score in every category. The IIHS even specifically recommends the Outback for teen or new drivers, all the way back to the 2013 model year. That’s the year it picked up active crash prevention systems. (Click here to read more about what the safety ratings cover.) Due to Subaru packing it full of safety, the Outback is ranked the number one cheapest car to insure, according to a study by NerdWallet.
The Passat is the quietly great car. It’s efficient when equipped with a turbo 1.8-liter gas, or 2.0-liter diesel four cylinder, getting mid-40 MPG highway in the latter, and without the outward visual design drawbacks of most hybrids. The exterior even looks rather grown up, and near-luxury if you squint. The inside is similar, with a clean and efficient layout that feels upscale. It’s surprisingly spacious and quiet, with a solid bank vault feel to the cabin. Interior finishes are high quality, and the Passat even has a hint of European driving flavor. There’s a manual transmission available too, a rarity for the class that adds some fun, and prevents teens from texting while driving. The 2013+ Passat can be found for a super affordable asking price, especially when you consider it’s also an IIHS Top Safety Pick+. If the Feds are more your thing, the NHTSA likes the Passat too, with a full five stars.
Cars just not your style? That’s alright, as a growing number of buyers turn to the SUV for their perceived safety. The Ford Escape proves that it’s not just “perceived” though, it’s real. We’ll start with the size. At 178 inches long, it’s about the same foot print as a Chevy Sonic, making parking an easy task like a compact car, but with dramatically improved outward visibility and seating position. The interior looks sporty, with cockpit style gauges inspired by the Mustang. The Escape gained a full suite of active safety features in 2017, and it’s earned the highest scores from IIHS and NHTSA since. Earlier models scored solid overall, but were dinged on the notoriously hard small overlap crash test. No matter the year, expect low 30s for highway gas mileage, and optional all-wheel drive for peace of mind. All of this adds up to make the Escape the single most affordable SUV to insure.
It seems like Nissan is trying to be the Toyota of the ’90s, with something to offer for everyone. Like Toyota of the ’90s, it’s working. The Murano is the midsize crossover, sandwiched between the compact Rogue and larger Pathfinder. It splits the difference by bringing efficiency and real utility. Nissan’s 3.5-liter V6 makes a solid 260 horsepower, but will still return 28 MPG even with AWD. The IIHS shows the Good crash scores, and the Murano is up-to-date with Superior crash prevention systems. On the other side, the Feds have some interesting data on this SUV, showing the second generation (2009 – 2014) vehicle had zero recalls. The 2015+ model gained a beautiful flowing design, comfier seats and more headroom. The Murano is a great example why the average family car is now a family SUV.
Maybe you’re wrapping up your final semester of IT and you’ve already been hired by Microsoft. Or perhaps your kids get only the best cars for their private school. Either way, for you or your kid, check into an A6 for safety and luxury. The IIHS reports the Audi A6 had zero driver fatalities between 2011 and 2015 (the last time they updated info), while the average vehicle fatality rate was 28 drivers for the same period. Your spoiled teen will think the 18-inch wheels look sweet, while not noticing the AWD extreme weather capability. The luxury Prestige trim adds bragging rights, but also incredible xenon headlights that turn with the steering input to illuminate corners. The A6 delivers safety, and luxury, first.