Honda  /  Wieck
The 2005 Honda Civic Coupe ranks as one of's top picks as a safe and affordable car for teenagers.
updated 5/9/2005 4:33:03 PM ET 2005-05-09T20:33:03

It's a cold day in hell: we're about to recommend a Saturn.

It gets worse: we're actually about to recommend two Saturns from General Motors. We assure you our endorsement of these vehicles, which are unencumbered by sex appeal or exciting driving dynamics, only comes in the name of objectivity: it's time for our annual look at the safest and most affordable cars for teenagers, and the raw data leaves us no choice but to include the Saturns. Hopefully, your kid has enough style to pass on these cars.

In the slide show that follows, you will see other automobiles that normally don't belong in these pages — such as Hyundai's Elantra sedan — because our general policy is to place a premium on style and luxury, not affordability.

However, cheap cars are the name of the game when it comes to shopping for your teenager — that and safety. We believe that concern for your kid's safety should be at the forefront of your comparison shopping — so much so that we have made pricing and crash-test results the only criteria for this list. Really, doesn't a typical buying consideration such a gas mileage seem a bit petty next to protecting your teenager's life?

Of course, we realize that few parents are able to — or would want to — spend lots of money on a car for their teenagers. Therefore, in forming this list we only evaluated 2005 model cars, pickups and sport utility vehicles with base prices of under $20,000 (we did not consider including minivans on the list; please, don't make your kid own such a vehicle in his or her teens).

Last year when we published this feature, we received comments from readers on the order of, "Who can afford to buy their kids new cars?" While we understand this concern, the aim of this section's editors is to provide readers information about the newest vehicles on the market. Because we want to run this particular feature each year, we need to focus on new cars only in order to make the piece newsworthy.

However, even if used cars would require their own discussion, we should point out that the same model is ordinarily a better deal as a used car than a new one, and if you have ever wondered how teenagers in your city are driving Infinitis or BMWs, the answer is often that they bought them used — or their parents are very, very generous.

Another key variable that plays a role in the cost of giving your kid wheels is the price of insurance. Different vehicle types generate different levels of insurance rates. Sports cars, for example, cost more to protect than hatchbacks because they tend to be driven more aggressively. Boys cost more to insure than girls. Newer cars, also, are generally more expensive to insure. So, parents, make sure you comparison shop insurance as much as you do cars.

Another financial tip is to consider leasing instead of buying. Many customers find leasing deals on new cars rewarding because they often make for monthly payments that compare to those of buying, but with much better option packages. You might find that leasing deals help a new car like Honda Motor's Civic, for example, or the even-plusher Honda Accord, fortify your kids in safe, relatively luxurious accommodations for reasonable payments.

But in our book, your main concern should be safety. For our data on safety, we consulted crash tests from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the branch of the U.S. Department of Transportation that develops and administers vehicular safety regulations.

While NHTSA has not crash-tested every car on the market, it has tested enough cars to give us a list of ten safe vehicles for teenagers. On NHTSA's five-star scale, a one-star difference means a great deal. In the frontal tests, NHTSA crashes vehicles into a fixed barrier at 35 mph. A five-star rating in this test means that in such a crash, the chance of an injury that requires immediate hospitalization and may be life-threatening is 10 percent or less; a four-star rating means the chance of such an injury is 11 percent to 20 percent. A one-star rating, the lowest, means a 46 percent or greater chance of such an injury.

In NHTSA's side-impact crash tests, a 3,015-lb. barrier crashes at 38.5 mph into a standing vehicle. A five-star rating in this test means that in such a crash, the chance of a serious injury is 5 percent or less; a four-star rating means the chance of such an injury is 6 percent to 10 percent. A one-star rating, the lowest, means a 26 percent or greater chance of such an injury. Usually, a vehicle with side airbags will have better crash-test results than the same model minus the side bags. If two sets of ratings were available — one for, say, a Civic with side bags and one without — we considered the superior set of ratings.

To be included in the slide show that follows, a vehicle must have two frontal crash-test ratings and two side crash-test ratings, and it must have four- and five-star ratings across the board. Excepting minivans, any vehicle meeting our pricing criterion and having five-star ratings across the board made the list. Vehicles with three five-star ratings and one four-star rating were also guaranteed a spot on the list.

In order to narrow the list to ten cars, we had to accept some vehicles with two five-star ratings while cutting others. When determining which vehicles to exclude, we cut the priciest cars.

For the results of our research, please see the slide show.

© 2012


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