On Feb. 5, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) announced that Ford Motor has made changes to its $18,000 Fusion sedan, and better safety ratings — for front and side protection especially — have resulted.
Ford is, of course, delighted about this, and the company's media Web site is now trumpeting "advanced safety" as one of the Fusion's biggest selling points. The IIHS sees improvement in the model, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Fusion four- and five-star safety ratings across the board. (NHTSA works with a scale of one to five stars.)
But safety isn't the only reason the Fusion has made our list of 15 smart cars for teenagers. It is also inexpensive and has good gas mileage (23/31 city/highway, under optimal configurations). It has "very good" accident-avoidance capabilities (Consumer Reports says the most important factors in determining accident-avoidance capability are braking and emergency handling) and "much better than average" predicted reliability, according to the magazine.
What's more, it has overall manufacturing quality that is between "about average" and "better than most," according to J.D. Power and Associates.
A great choice for teenagers, no doubt. But the Fusion is just one of 15 on this year's list. All offer the market's best combination of value, fuel economy, safety, reliability and quality.
Once again, Honda Motor's Civic stands out as a great choice for teenagers, thanks to value (base price $15,000), excellent accident-avoidance capabilities and better than average reliability.
Japanese automakers such as Honda and Toyota fear the rise of South Korea's Hyundai, because Hyundai's cars are getting better each year. This year, Hyundai's $17,000 Sonata sedan is on our list, thanks to four different five-star ratings from NHTSA, excellent accident-avoidance capabilities and overall manufacturing quality that is between "better than most" and "among the best," according to J.D. Power.
In forming our list:
- We looked at all new-model cars at the market, and eliminated from consideration any vehicle with a base price of $20,000 or higher.
- We eliminated any model that lacked, for whatever reason, an accident-avoidance rating or predicted-reliability rating from Consumer Reports, a J.D. Power rating for overall manufacturing quality or a full set of NHTSA safety ratings (meaning we eliminated any car that does not have two frontal-star ratings, two side-star ratings and a rollover-resistance rating). Not every car on the market is tested by these organizations, and not every car has all of these ratings, but we wouldn't put our kids into cars without the availability of such critical information.
- From the cars that remained, we eliminated any vehicle with below-average J.D. Power manufacturing-quality ratings, Consumer Reports predicted-reliability ratings or Consumer Reports accident-avoidance ratings.
- We made sure all the cars that remained had respectable fuel economy.
- We gave cars the benefit of the doubt and looked at their ratings under optimal conditions. For example, different engines generate different gas-mileage figures, so a car's fuel economy, as it appears in this piece, is the mileage it gets with the most-efficient engine/transmission combination.
The first time we published this annual feature, we received such comments from readers as, "Who can afford to buy their kids new cars?" While we understand this concern, and are aware that the same model is ordinarily a better deal as a used car than a new one, the aim of this section's editors is to provide readers information about the newest vehicles on the market. Because this is an annual look, we need to focus only on new cars in order to make the piece newsworthy.
Insurance also plays a role in the cost of giving your kid wheels. 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 thing to consider is 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 such as Ford's Escapefor example, or the more upscale Honda Accord, fortify your kids in safe, relatively luxurious accommodations for reasonable payments.
And while we're talking about how to proceed at the dealership, we must say it again: get side airbags and traction/stability control. Our research shows time and again that these are not only the most-effective safety modifications you can add to your car (if they're not standard), but also considered vital. Toyota Motor's entry-level Corolla sedan, minus side bags, is one of the least-safe cars on the market, in terms of crash-test performance; with side bags, it is one of the safest.
We would also be remiss if we did not explain the lack of SUVs in the slide show, given that some parents favor those vehicles for their commanding views of roads. In fact, when we set out to write this piece we intended to include SUVs. But we found that in addition to a dearth of cheap SUVs on the market, only two SUVs came close to comparing favorably with the passenger cars on our list. Concerns with fuel efficiency and safety tended to keep SUVs off the list.
While we understand some parents' bias toward the tall trucks, SUVs do not measure up quantitatively under the criteria we feel are most important in selecting cars for teenagers.
After all, while beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, there is safety in numbers.