June 16, 2024
SUVs & Crossovers

Top Affordable Cars for Teenagers Under $20,000

Buying a car or truck can be a daunting task, especially when it’s for your teenage son or daughter. Fortunately, there are reputable sources like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that provide recommendations on the best cars for teenage drivers. The IIHS focuses on crash-testing vehicles and reporting the results to consumers, making it a valuable resource for safety-conscious buyers.

If you’re on a budget of $20,000 or less, you may need to consider a used vehicle. While there are a few new cars available under $20,000, they may not meet the necessary criteria for safety or reliability. The least expensive new vehicle that qualifies is the 2024 Mazda3, which is priced around $23,000.

The IIHS, in partnership with Consumer Reports, has compiled a list of vehicles that are both reliable and safe for teen drivers. These vehicles have received good ratings in various crash tests and are recommended based on their safety features and performance.

With over 40 vehicles recommended by the IIHS, we’ve narrowed down the field to provide some suggestions for the best cars for teens within a $20,000 budget. Here are our top picks:

Best Cars for Teens:

2021-2022 Mazda3

If you’re looking for a fun-to-drive alternative to the Toyota Corolla, consider the Mazda3. With excellent handling and styling, the Mazda3 offers a more engaging driving experience for young drivers. Aim for a 2017 or newer model for the best safety equipment and styling.

2019-2021 Lexus UX

The Lexus UX is a compact luxury SUV with efficient hybrid options and a distinctive design. While not the most exciting choice, it offers a comfortable driving experience and good efficiency.

2019-2020 Subaru Impreza Sedan or Wagon

For areas with inclement weather, the Subaru Impreza with Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive is a reliable choice. It offers good visibility and all-weather capabilities, though it may not be as efficient as some competitors.

2018-2023 Chevrolet Equinox

The Chevrolet Equinox is a compact SUV with average performance and features. While not standout in any particular area, it offers a blend of expected features and reliability for teen drivers.

2017-2019 Subaru Legacy/Outback

Subaru’s Legacy and Outback models offer a range of engine options and all-wheel-drive capabilities. Consider models from 2017 to 2019 for a reliable and versatile option.

2014-2019 Mazda6

The Mazda6 sedan is known for its fun-to-drive nature and attractive styling. Consider a well-priced Mazda6 for a combination of performance and value.

2020-newer Honda CR-V

The Honda CR-V is a best-selling compact SUV known for its roominess, efficiency, and reliability. If you find a well-priced CR-V in your area, it’s worth considering for your teen driver.

2016 or newer Toyota Tacoma

For those in need of a pickup truck, the Toyota Tacoma offers reliability and durability. Look for models from 2016 or newer for a well-priced option with a reputation for longevity.

Can You Buy a New Car Under $20,000 for Your Teen Driver?

While technically possible, it may not be advisable to purchase a new car under $20,000 for your teen driver. Instead, consider one of the recommended used models for a safer and more reliable option within a similar budget.


Q: Are there any new cars available for less than $20,000?

A: Yes, there are a few options like the Nissan Versa, Kia Rio, and Mitsubishi Mirage. However, a used model may offer better value and safety features.


When shopping for a car for your teenage driver, safety and reliability are paramount. Consider the recommendations from reputable sources like the IIHS and Consumer Reports to make an informed decision. With a budget of $20,000, you have a variety of used models to choose from that offer a balance of performance, safety, and value.

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