Drive Time


Best Car for Your Teen

Jessica L. Anderson

We pick our favorite new car for young drivers.



One question we are often asked at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance is, Which car should I buy for my teen? In our December-issue Best List, we pick our favorite new car for young drivers: the Kia Soul.

VIDEO: See the Kia Soul on the Road

Your teen may try to persuade you to buy a sporty, speedy model (the Porsche Boxster comes to mind). But the best car for a teen, some car experts say, is on the other end of the spectrum -- an older, larger, uncool sedan (think the Ford Crown Victoria or an aging Volvo station wagon).

We think an even better idea is to buy a small sedan -- after all, many state laws limit the number of passengers teens can carry -- that’s also maneuverable, safe and doesn’t go zero to 60 in 5 seconds. In fact, we have a checklist of attributes to evaluate when choosing a suitable car for young, less-experienced drivers, and the Soul scores highly on all of them:

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Top safety pick. The Kia Soul is a Top Safety Pick of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. That means it gets the highest score on the Institute’s front, side and rear crash tests. The Soul also has a long list of standard safety features: stability control -- to prevent skids -- four-wheel anti-lock brakes, front side airbags and head curtain airbags. Kia also provides 24-hour roadside assistance for five years or 60,000 miles.

Low ownership costs. The sticker price for the 2010 manual-transmission Soul + is an easy-to-take $15,890. This is our favorite model because it provides a good mix of standard equipment and value. With fuel economy of 30 miles per gallon on the highway and 24 mpg in the city, it’s relatively cheap to gas up, too.

Low insurance and repair costs. These are important for any family with a teen driver. The cost for a typical family to insure the Soul is $920 a year -- on the low end of the scale for all vehicles. Repair costs are held to a minimum because of Kia’s warranty, also five-years or 60,000-miles.

High resale value. We put a lot of stock in how well a car holds its value. And with a resale value of 56% of sticker price after three years, the Soul is solidly above average.

Moderate speed. When it comes to power, the Soul’s horsepower is an adequate -- but not excessive -- 142. This is not a street racer.

Coolness. Even though the Soul isn’t going to win Le Mans, it has cachet. The hatchback design is funky-cool, and its fold-down second seats provide more than 53 cubic feet of cargo room, making it easy to haul stuff -- bikes, camping gear, dorm-room supplies. Rear legroom is a roomy 39 inches.

Inside it has a USB connection for an MP3 player, a three-month free subscription to Sirius satellite radio and a Bluetooth hands-free phone connection.

Put it all together and, if you’re shopping for a young driver, the Kia Soul should be at the top of your list of cars to consider. If you want to expand your search to other cars, use our checklist to make sure you get a good, safe car.

We used the checklist to find a great used car for teens as well: the 2008 Scion xB. It’s a better value now than when it was new -- and we named it a Best New Car back then. It was a Top Safety Pick of the IIHS and comes standard with six airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability control and traction control. Priced at about $12,413 (with 24,000 miles), it rings up nearly $4,000 under the original sticker price. Insurance and repairs costs are low, and horsepower, at 158, isn’t outrageous. The xB is another boxy ride with plenty of style and space, and it is sure to appeal to teen sensibilities.



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