The 23 best used cars for young drivers

The 23 best used cars for young drivers ••
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For most young people and their parents, buying a first car is a major step. One great option is to look at used cars.

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf.

The 2015 Volkswagen Golf.  (Volkswagen)

For most young people and their parents, buying a first car is a major step.

One great option is to look at used cars, which can often be had for a fraction of the cost of brand-new models.

We came up with 23 used cars we think are the best for the young car buyer on a budget.

To make our list, we focused on cars that are available on the market right now for under $15,000. We looked for ones that are reliable, fun to drive, comfortable, attractive, economical, practical, and most of all, safe.

For safety, we checked out the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) moderate front overlap crash test ratings for the cars we selected. Prices are based on current values available from Autotrader.com and reflect the lowest price we think a decent example with fewer than 75,000 miles on the odometer may cost.

2009-Present Honda Fit

2009-Present Honda Fit

2009-Present Honda Fit  (Honda)

Starting price: $8,000 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: The Honda Fit has been an unqualified success across the globe for the automaker. The Fit offers fun, versatility, and reliability in a compact package.

Honda’s second generation Fit, sold from 2009 to 2012, is powered by the company’s trusty 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine producing 117. Since 2013, the third-gen Fit has been offered with a 130-horsepower, 4-cylinder unit.

2012-Present Ford Focus

2012-Present Ford Focus

2012-Present Ford Focus  (Ford)

Starting price: $8,000 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: Since its inception in 1998, the Focus has been a star performer for Ford. But for years, Ford’s US and European division sold different cars under the “Focus” name — with the European version much better received. For 2012, the third-generation Ford unified the model and finally gave the US Focus customers the European car they’d been waiting for.

Power for Focus comes from a 2.0-liter, 160-horsepower, inline-4 cylinder engine. People looking for higher performance can opt for the critically acclaimed 252 hp Focus ST — though even used examples of the model may be pricey.

2005-Present Honda Civic

2005-Present Honda Civic

2005-Present Honda Civic  (Honda)

Starting price: $8,500 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: The Honda Civic is bulletproof. If properly maintained, the car can go for well over 250,000 miles without any issues. However, at this price point, it shouldn’t be hard to come across examples will far fewer than 100,000 miles on the odometer. As one of the most popular cars in the world, spares are easy to come by and repairs are relatively affordable.

Being popular means that there is large aftermarket support for the car, so kids can customize a Civic to their liking for not much money. Also, the sporty and practical Si hatchback from the early 2000s is now available for under $10,000. And since it was only available with a manual gearbox, it teaches a good lesson.

2010-Present Mazda3

2010-Present Mazda3

2010-Present Mazda3  (Mazda)

Starting price: $8,500 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: The Mazda 3 is one of the most popular and well-liked compact cars on sale today. Models equipped with the company’s SkyActiv engines are some of the most fuel-efficient, non-hybrid cars around. For those looking for more zoom-zoom, Mazda also offers the high-performance Mazdaspeed3.

2011-Present Hyundai Sonata

2011-Present Hyundai Sonata

2011-Present Hyundai Sonata  (Hyundai)

Starting price: $9,000 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: Sold in the US between 2011 and 2014, the sixth-generation Hyundai Sonata was a game-changer for the Korean brand. It was the first time Hyundai’s mid-size sedan offer could compete head-to-head with the best Japan and the US could offer.

In addition, eco-conscious buyers can opt for the Sonata Hybrid. The sixth generation Sonata was offered with a standard 2.4-liter, 200-horsepower inline-4-cylinder engine along with an optional 274-horsepower, 2.0-liter, turbocharged 4. In 2014, Hyundai followed up with an improved seventh-generation Sonata that remains in production today.

As with all Hyundai products, the Sonata comes with the company’s 10-year, 100,000 mile warranty.

2014-Present Kia Soul

2014-Present Kia Soul

2014-Present Kia Soul  (Kia)

Starting price: $9,500 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: Although the Kia Soul isn’t the most conventional looking car around, it’s fun and quirky personality along with a high level of utility has won it countless fans over the years. The second-generation Soul crossover debuted in 2014 and is powered by either a 130-horsepower or 164-horsepower 4-cylinder engine. As with all Kia products, the Soul comes with an industry-leading 10-year, 100,000 mile limited powertrain warranty.

2007-Present Toyota Camry

2007-Present Toyota Camry

2007-Present Toyota Camry  (Toyota)

Starting price: $9,500 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: The Toyota Camry has long been one of the best selling cars in America. Along with the Honda Accord, the Camry has been one of the most respected and dependable sedans money can buy.

The Camry makes it onto our list for its ability to deliver safe, reliable, and affordable motoring in a mid-size package. The Camry is available with both inline-four-cylinder and V6 engine option. While the V6 option’s beefy horsepower may be alluring, the cheaper and more efficient four-cylinder is the more reasonable option. If fuel economy is the top priority, Toyota also offers a great hybrid version of the vehicle.

2008-Present Honda Accord

2008-Present Honda Accord

2008-Present Honda Accord  (Honda)

Starting price: $9,500 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: The Honda Accord has been a staple of the American automotive landscape for four decades. The Ohio-build midsize sedan and coupe for 10 generations now, but for a used car, the best deals to be had are the eighth and ninth generation models sold between 2008 and 2017.

Both generations are available in coupe and sedan form with four cylinder, six cylinder, and hybrid powertrains available. Both generations were sold with various five- and six-speed transmission while a CVT was added to the lineup for ninth gen cars.

2007-Present Honda CR-V

2007-Present Honda CR-V

2007-Present Honda CR-V  (Honda)

Starting price: $11,000 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: Since its launch in 1997, the Honda CR-V has been one of the hottest-selling mini-SUV’s in the world. The CR-V offers an incredible blend of economy, utility and Honda’s unbeatable track record for reliability.

Although some have found the earlier-generation CR-Vs to be a bit underpowered, the third-generation (2007-2011) and fourth-generation (2012- 2016) versions have no such issues with 166-to-185 horsepower on tap. The CR-V has retained its value remarkably well, so finding a well-preserved example may require a price premium.

2010-Present Toyota Prius

2010-Present Toyota Prius

2010-Present Toyota Prius  (Toyota)

Starting price: $11,000 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: Since its debut in 1997, Toyota has sold more than 3 million Priuses globally. The third generation Prius was on sale in the US from 2010 to 2015. The highly efficient hybrid offers a surprising level of utility in addition to the 51 mpg fuel economy in the city. The Prius is powered by a 134-horsepower version of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy drive system.

2011- 2016 Scion TC

2011- 2016 Scion TC

2011- 2016 Scion TC  (Scion)

Starting price: $11,000 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: The Scion tC sub-compact sports car is quick, fun to drive, reliable, and offers a solid level of utility for an affordable price. The tC is powered by a powerful 179-horsepower, inline-4-cylinder engine sourced from parent company Toyota.

As a sports car, beware of copies that have been abused by boy racers or have had low-quality after market modifications, as they may diminish the long-term durability of the car. Even though the Scion brand will soon be put out to pasture, parts, and service should be uninterrupted as Toyota dealers will continue to handle such duties.

2007-Present Volkswagen Golf GTI

2007-Present Volkswagen Golf GTI

2007-Present Volkswagen Golf GTI  (VW)

Starting price: $11,500 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: Based on the economy-mind Volkswagen Golf, the GTI has long been the standard bearer for the hot hatchback segment. After a few years in the doldrums, the GTI returned to prominence with the MK5 in 2007 and has been at the top of its game ever since.

Under the hood, GTI’s are powered by a potent turbocharged four-cylinder paired with an available DSG twin-clutch gearbox.

2005-Present Ford Mustang

2005-Present Ford Mustang

2005-Present Ford Mustang  (Ford)

Starting price: $11,500 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: When Ford introduced the fifth-generation Mustang in 2005, it reinvigorated a muscle car market that was effectively on life support. In 2015, Ford built upon that success with the sixth-generation Stang.

The Mustang makes our list because it gives drivers cheap access to horsepower in an elegant package with styling that withstands the test of time. Fifth-gen cars from 2005 to 2014 can be had with either a V6 or a V8 while the sixth-gen car starting in 2015 can be optioned with a turbo-four-cylinder, a V6 or a V8. Although the iconic 5.0-liter V8 may be the evocative choice, the more sensible 4- and 6-cylinder options are recommended here for the first-time buyer. Both engines offer more than enough power while returning better fuel economy.

As always with sports cars, be wary of examples with after market modifications or have been driven hard by their previous owners. Such behavior could significantly curtail the service life of the car.

2006-Present Toyota RAV4

2006-Present Toyota RAV4

2006-Present Toyota RAV4  (Toyota)

Starting price: $12,000 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: Since its US debut in 1997, the Toyota RAV4 has helped popularize the compact crossover SUV. For new drivers, the third generation RAV4 which debuted in 2006 and the fourth generation offering from 2013 to present make for the best options. These models offer the best combination of safety, infotainment, and more powerful engines options. Both generations come with a broad option of 4- and 6-cylinder engines. Ec0-minded buyer can opt for a hybrid variant as well.

2010-2016 Chevrolet Equinox

2010-2016 Chevrolet Equinox

2010-2016 Chevrolet Equinox  (Chevrolet)

Starting price: $12,000 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: The second-generation Chevy Equinox not only continued the model’s sales success, it gave General Motors a top notch compact crossover SUV to compete against the segment leaders. The Equinox offers drivers a comfortable and capable crossover in a stylish and appealing package.

The base powerplant for the Equinox is a 2.4-liter, 182hp 4-cylinder engine, while more expensive models come equipped a selection of powerful V6 engine options.

2011-2015 Chevrolet Volt

2011-2015 Chevrolet Volt

2011-2015 Chevrolet Volt  (Chevrolet)

Starting price: $13,500 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: The Chevorlet Volt hybrid is one of most innovative cars to hit the market in recent memory. In operation, the Volt is powered by an electric motor with its onboard gasoline engine used only as a power generator. According to General Motors, the first generation Volt — which was sold from 2011 to 2015 — has an electric-only range of 25 to 50 miles with a total range of more than 350.

2007-2012 Lexus ES

2007-2012 Lexus ES

2007-2012 Lexus ES  (Lexus)

Starting price: $13,500 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: The Lexus ES350 is one of the most refined and reliable mid-size luxury sedans in recent memory. Sold from 2007 to 2012, the fifth generation Lexus ES was powered by a buttery smooth, 272-horsepower,3.5-liter V6 engine. Although the motor provides plenty of power, the ES350 driving experience is one that’s more relaxed than dynamic.

2009-Present Subaru Forrester

2009-Present Subaru Forrester

2009-Present Subaru Forrester  (Subaru)

Starting price: $13,500 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: The Forester is Subaru’s contender in the lucrative compact crossover market. Known for its capable all-wheel-drive system, solid reliability, and great utility that all wrapped up in a comfortable, roomy package. From 2009 to 2013, Subaru offered the third generation Forester for sale in the US with a 170-horsepower and a 224-horsepower version of its trusty 2.5-liter flat-4-cylinder engine. The fourth generation Forester arrived in 2014 with a new 2.0-liter, 250-horsepower turbocharged flat 4 in addition to the standard 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter unit.

2006-2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata

2006-2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata

2006-2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata  (Mazda)

Starting price: $13,500 and up

IIHS crash test rating: N/A

Why buy it: When the original 1990 Mazda Miata showed up on the scene, the sporty little roadster all but saved the segment from extinction. With the third generation (now known as the MX-5), the 2006 Miata still gave its owners a fun and thrilling drive, but with all of the creature comforts expected in a modern sports car.

Sold from 2005 to 2015, the third generation MX-5 is powered by a peppy 2.0-liter 170-horsepower inline-4-cylinder engine driving the rear wheels in traditional roadster fashion.

2009-2014 Acura TSX

2009-2014 Acura TSX

2009-2014 Acura TSX  (Acura)

Starting price: $14,000 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: From 2009 until 2014, the Acura TSX offered buyers a safe and reliable alternative to more mainstream entry-level luxury sedans from German and other Japanese manufacturers. The TSX can be had with either a 201-horsepower 4-cylinder engine or a 280-horsepower V6. Both engines offer good fuel economy and solid Honda reliability.

In fact, the TSX is actually a rebadged version of the Japanese and European-spec Honda Accord. Those looking for more utility can opt for a rare wagon version of the car.

2005-2015 Nissan Xterra

2005-2015 Nissan Xterra

2005-2015 Nissan Xterra  (Nissan)

Starting price: $14,500 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: Nissan’s second generation Xterra SUV hit the market in 2005 and continued the first-generation model’s theme of ruggedness and simplicity with a focus on an active outdoor lifestyle.

The Xterra has seen few major changes in the decade it has been in production and all cars are powered by a 4.0-liter version of Nissan’s award-winning VQ-series V6 engine that produces 265 horsepower.

2007 to 2015 Infiniti G35/G37/Q40/Q60

2007 to 2015 Infiniti G35/G37/Q40/Q60

2007 to 2015 Infiniti G35/G37/Q40/Q60  (High Gear Media/ Infiniti)

Starting price: $15,000 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: The second generation Infiniti G-Series debuted in 2007. Over the past decade, the Gs have built a solid reputation for offering great performance and handling in a stylish and reasonably priced package. The earlier second-gen Gs are powered by a 3.5-liter, 306-horsepower VQ-series V6 engines. Later versions of the car are equipped with a 3.7-liter, 328-horsepower version of the same engine.

The mid-size Infiniti can be had in sedan, coupe, and convertible guise. In 2014, the G37 sedan was renamed the Q40 while the coupe and convertible were rebranded as the Q60.

2005-2015 Toyota Tacoma

2005-2015 Toyota Tacoma

2005-2015 Toyota Tacoma  (Toyota)

Starting price: $15,000 and up

IIHS crash test rating: Good

Why buy it: Toyota’s Tacoma pickup makes our list as the only representative of the pickup segment. The Tacoma offers rugged off-road capability in addition to Toyota’s strong build quality.

The truck’s available 4 -and 6-cylinder engines offer good performance, but some may find them to be a bit thirsty when it comes to fuel. The Tacoma is famous for its high resale value. As a result, even at this price point, examples of the truck are likely to have more than 100,000 miles on the odometer. Don’t worry, if the truck hasn’t been severely abused, Tacomas are capable of running well past 200,000.

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