Kiplinger's takes a look at the best cars for teens heading to college Best Cars for Young Drivers
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Best Cars for Young Drivers

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Whether your kid is graduating from high school, entering college, or simply needs wheels for a summer job or starting out in a career, the best vehicles offer a winning combination of reasonable price, fuel-efficiency, reliability and, most of all, safety. Good looks and a modicum of cool don’t hurt, either.

Here are our 8 recommendations of new and recent-vintage used vehicles, in each of four categories: compact sedan, midsize sedan, small crossover and sports car. Each was rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or received high marks in crash tests from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In addition, each model has stability control, traction control, and head and side airbags.

All have price tags under $23,000, and most can be had for under $20,000 if you shop smart. Be sure to read our tips for buying a new car and getting a deal on a used vehicle before you head to the lot. New cars are listed with sticker price, invoice price and True Market Value from Edmunds.com to give you an idea of negotiating room. Used cars are listed with dealer, private-party and certified used prices based on actual transactions reported by Edmunds for previously owned vehicles considered to be in "clean" condition and driven an average of 12,000 miles a year. (Certified used vehicles are inspected and sold with an additional warranty.) We also list five-year service costs, including maintenance and repairs, from Vincentric.
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Best Cars for Young Drivers | Slide 2 of 9

2011 Kia Soul

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Sticker price: $16,190 (+, manual)

Invoice price: $15,545

True Market Value: $15,647

Service costs (5-year): $3,568

MPG (city/hwy): 26/31

With its boxy looks, fuel economy, and low price, the Soul makes a “thinking outside of the box” statement. Inside, Bluetooth and a USB connection for an MP3 player are standard. The four-cylinder engine produces 142 horsepower, and cargo space is a roomy 19 cubic feet. Roadside assistance is included for the duration of the five-year/60,000-mile warranty.

(See our video: Best Car for Teens 2010: Kia Soul.)
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Best Cars for Young Drivers | Slide 3 of 9

2009 Honda Civic

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Dealer price: $17,863 (EX-L sedan, manual)

Private-party price: $16,630

Certified used price: $18,567

Service costs (5-year): $5,777

MPG (city/hwy): 26/34

The Civic has been a great value since it debuted in 1972. The EX-L has standard stability and traction control (not available on lower trims), heated leather seats, and USB connectivity. Plus, the dealer price on this two-year-old car is $3,700 off the original sticker price.
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Best Cars for Young Drivers | Slide 4 of 9

2011 Hyundai Sonata

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Sticker price: $21,145 (GLS, automatic)

Invoice price: $20,288

True Market Value: $20,950

Service costs (5-year): $4,152

MPG (city/hwy): 22/35

Kiplinger’s winner for Best New Car in its class this year, Hyundai’s redesigned Sonata has the sleek good looks of a luxury car for a fraction of the cost. The Sonata lineup features a trio of four-cylinder engines: the base 2.4-liter for the model listed here, a turbocharged 2.0-liter and a hybrid.
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Best Cars for Young Drivers | Slide 5 of 9

2008 Chevrolet Malibu

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Dealer price: $13,754 (LT, automatic)

Private-party price: $12,490

Certified used price: $14,723

Service costs (5-year): $8,700

MPG (city/hwy): 22/30

Its redesign in 2008 won the Malibu Best New Car and Best in Class nods from Kiplinger’s. In addition to its standard safety features and 169 horses, the Malibu features hands-free calling and OnStar (free for three months when you buy a pre-owned GM). Add a wallet-friendly price and the 2008 model is still a winner.
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Best Cars for Young Drivers | Slide 6 of 9

2011 Subaru Forester

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Sticker price: $22,420 (2.5X, automatic)

Invoice price: $21,213

True Market Value: $21,435

Service costs (5-year): $4,850

MPG (city/hwy): 21/27

Whether you’re a mountain climber or you stick to the urban jungle, the Forester can take you where you need to go. Maintenance costs after the three-year warranty expires are a bit above average, but in exchange, you get one of the safest crossovers on the road. It has been an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick for the past five years straight, and it comes with standard all-wheel drive.
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Best Cars for Young Drivers | Slide 7 of 9

2009 Toyota RAV4

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Dealer price: $18,666 (base, automatic)

Private-party price: $17,225

Certified used price: $20,168

Service costs (5-year): $6,715

MPG (city/hwy): 22/28

Toyota’s small crossover seats up to seven (with the optional third row) and holds 73 cubic feet of cargo with the second row folded. Plus, it’s fuel-thrifty in any of its iterations -- even the V6 with all-wheel drive gets 27 mpg on the highway.
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Best Cars for Young Drivers | Slide 8 of 9

2011 Ford Mustang

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Sticker price: $22,995 (base coupe, manual)

Invoice price: $21,928

True Market Value: $22,612

Service costs (5-year): $3,739

MPG (city/hwy): 19/29

The Mustang GT was named Kiplinger’s Best New sports car in this year’s annual rankings, but most young drivers don’t need 412 horsepower. The base model gets better mileage with its 305-hp V6 and costs $7,500 less. Note: Only front passengers have side and head airbag protection.
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Best Cars for Young Drivers | Slide 9 of 9

2008 Nissan 350Z

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Dealer price: $20,161 (Touring coupe, manual)

Private-party price: $18,246

Certified used price: $21,416

Service costs (5-year): $8,763

MPG (city/hwy): 18/25

Agile handling and plenty of speed are baked into the two-seater Nissan Z. Our pick for value is the Touring model because it comes with stability control, which isn’t available on lower trims. Side and head airbag options are included in the price above as well. One drawback with all sports cars: They can cost a bit more to insure than more basic vehicles.
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