36 Safest First Cars for New & Teen Drivers (Cars + SUVs)

Only the safest affordably-priced vehicles in their respective segments make this list.

Besides their top-notch safety, they are easy-to-drive first cars.

safe first cars

Safest First Cars for Teen Drivers (US & CAN)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency within the US Department of Transportation, is an excellent source for automotive safety information.

It conducts crash testing of road-going vehicles and scores them using a five-star rating system.

Meanwhile, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is an independent organization that runs a series of tests that covers two aspects:

  • Crashworthiness – how well a vehicle protects its occupants in a crash.
  • Crash avoidance and mitigation – technology that can prevent a collision or lessen its severity.

IIHS’s ratings use a scale of Poor, Marginal, Acceptable, and Good.

In addition, it grants vehicles that perform admirably in crash testing with the Top Safety Pick (TSP) and Top Safety Pick + (TSP+) awards, beginning in 2006 and 2013, respectively.

The automotive industry believes that the IIHS evaluation criteria are more stringent and exceed the federal standards.

Only good first cars suitable for inexperienced and young drivers that received the TSP and TSP+ awards feature in this post.

SIZE: Small Cars

Small economy sedans and hatchbacks are ideal for new drivers; these are among the safest first cars, and they perform consistently so.

#1 Honda Civic (4dr Sedan & Hatchback)

The Honda Civic is a perennial first car that needs no elaborate introduction.

It is affordable, economical to run, and easy to drive.

Available as a sedan, hatchback, or coupe (up to 2020), driver visibility is better than average, thanks to thin roof pillars and decent glass area all-around, which aids a safer drive.

NHTSA gave the latest Honda Civic 5/5 stars overall; the Front-Passenger-Side test its only blip, yielding 4/5 stars.

Civics are one of the few small cars with a long list of IIHS awards since the award’s inception:

 IIHS Award (4dr Sedan)IIHS Award (4dr Hatchback)IIHS Award (2dr Coupe)
2022 Honda CivicTop Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2021 Honda CivicTop Safety PickTop Safety Pick
2020 Honda CivicTop Safety PickTop Safety PickTop Safety Pick
2019 Honda Civic
2018 Honda Civic
2017 Honda CivicTop Safety PickTop Safety PickTop Safety Pick
2016 Honda CivicTop Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2015 Honda CivicTop Safety PickTop Safety Pick
2014 Honda CivicTop Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick
2013 Honda CivicTop Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2012 Honda CivicTop Safety Pick
2011 Honda CivicTop Safety Pick
2010 Honda CivicTop Safety Pick
2009 Honda CivicTop Safety Pick
2008 Honda Civic
2007 Honda Civic
2006 Honda CivicTop Safety Pick
Honda Civic IIHS safety awards.

#2 Subaru Impreza (4dr Sedan)

The impresa is the Subaru’s long-running small car, serving as the Japanese automaker’s most affordable model.

With arguably as strong an IIHS crash safety record as the Honda Civic, the Impreza’s first-car credential is undeniable.

The full 5 stars rating on all NHTSA tests supports Impreza’s credibility as the safest first car that money can buy.

It has good visibility, is reasonably fuel-efficient, and comes with a traction-enhancing all-wheel-drive (AWD) system that you seldom find in this price range.

AWD has an all-weather capability for a safer drive in unexpected adverse conditions, which places the Impreza as a solid car for teen drivers.

The lengthy list of IIHS awards the Impreza received:

 IIHS Award (4dr Sedan)IIHS Award (4dr Hatchback)
2022 ImprezaTop Safety Pick
2021 ImprezaTop Safety PickTop Safety Pick
2020 ImprezaTop Safety PickTop Safety Pick
2019 ImprezaTop Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2018 ImprezaTop Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2017 ImprezaTop Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2016 ImprezaTop Safety Pick +
2015 ImprezaTop Safety Pick +
2014 ImprezaTop Safety Pick
2013 ImprezaTop Safety Pick
2012 ImprezaTop Safety Pick
2011 ImprezaTop Safety Pick
2010 ImprezaTop Safety Pick
2009 ImprezaTop Safety Pick
2008 ImprezaTop Safety Pick
2007 Impreza
2006 ImprezaTop Safety Pick
Subaru Impreza IIHS safety awards.

#3 Toyota Corolla (4dr Sedan & Hatchback)

With a long history of picking up IIHS Top Safety Pick awards since the vehicle safety organization started granting them, the Corolla tussles with the Civic as the best-selling economy car and is one of the better choices for new drivers.

Decades and generations since the 1960s, the Corolla of today still embodies the core values of high fuel economy and impeccable reliability.

Enthusiasts may view it as bland, but its affordability, efficiency, and reliability work remarkably well for first-time drivers.

See the extended list of IIHS awards the Corolla earned:

 IIHS Award (4dr Sedan)IIHS Award (4dr Hatchback)
2022 Toyota CorollaTop Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2021 Toyota CorollaTop Safety PickTop Safety Pick
2020 Toyota CorollaTop Safety PickTop Safety Pick
2019 Toyota CorollaTop Safety Pick
2018 Toyota CorollaTop Safety Pick 
2017 Toyota CorollaTop Safety Pick + 
2016 Toyota Corolla 
2015 Toyota Corolla 
2014 Toyota CorollaTop Safety Pick 
2013 Toyota CorollaTop Safety Pick 
2012 Toyota CorollaTop Safety Pick 
2011 Toyota CorollaTop Safety Pick 
2010 Toyota CorollaTop Safety Pick 
2009 Toyota CorollaTop Safety Pick 
Toyota Corolla IIHS safety awards.

The Corolla’s 5-star overall rating the NHTSA gave underlines its rock-solid first car credentials.

#4 Mazda 3 (4dr Sedan & Hatchback)

Although the sticker price starts slightly higher than most segment rivals, the Mazda 3 offers an all-wheel-drive system and premium interior in a stylish exterior.

It excels at providing a fun drive with its sprightly engine and sporty handling.

The sloped styling hurts the outward views somewhat, but overall, the Mazda 3 makes an excellent first car and a safe vehicle for less-experienced drivers.

NHTSA gave the Mazda 3 a 5-star overall rating.

IIHS awards the Mazda 3 gained include:

 IIHS Award (4dr Sedan)IIHS Award (4dr Hatchback)
2022 Mazda 3Top Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2021 Mazda 3Top Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2020 Mazda 3Top Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2019 Mazda 3Top Safety PickTop Safety Pick
2018 Mazda 3Top Safety PickTop Safety Pick
2017 Mazda 3Top Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2016 Mazda 3Top Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2015 Mazda 3Top Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2014 Mazda 3Top Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2013 Mazda 3Top Safety PickTop Safety Pick
2012 Mazda 3Top Safety Pick
2011 Mazda 3Top Safety PickTop Safety Pick
2010 Mazda 3Top Safety Pick
Mazda 3 IIHS safety awards.

#5 Hyundai Elantra (4dr Sedan)

A Hyundai may not be the first to spring to mind for first-time drivers shopping for their daily ride, but the Elantra is one of the better picks among small sedans.

It offers a generous list of standard features and driving aids suitable for inexperienced drivers.

Plus, it has best-in-class fuel economy.

Hyundai makes value-for-money first cars that are feature-rich with longer-than-average warranty.

List of IIHS TSP and TSP+ awards the Elantra obtained:

 IIHS Award
2022 Hyundai ElantraTop Safety Pick
2021 Hyundai ElantraTop Safety Pick
2020 Hyundai ElantraTop Safety Pick
2019 Hyundai ElantraTop Safety Pick +
2018 Hyundai ElantraTop Safety Pick +
2017 Hyundai ElantraTop Safety Pick +
2016 Hyundai Elantra
2015 Hyundai ElantraTop Safety Pick
2014 Hyundai ElantraTop Safety Pick
2013 Hyundai ElantraTop Safety Pick +
2012 Hyundai ElantraTop Safety Pick
Hyundai Elantra IIHS safety awards.

#6 Nissan Sentra (4dr Sedan)

It may not be a leading model among heavy-hitters in the small car segment, but Sentra is consistently one of the safe first cars; IIHS has awarded it the Top Safety Pick since the 2015 model year.

It comes with many tech and safety features, and it’s one of the most affordable small sedans.

See the list of IIHS awards the Sentra received:

 IIHS Award
2022 Nissan SentraTop Safety Pick
2021 Nissan SentraTop Safety Pick
2020 Nissan SentraTop Safety Pick
2019 Nissan SentraTop Safety Pick
2018 Nissan SentraTop Safety Pick
2017 Nissan SentraTop Safety Pick
2016 Nissan SentraTop Safety Pick +
2015 Nissan SentraTop Safety Pick
Nissan Sentra IIHS safety awards.

#7 Honda Insight (4dr Sedan Hybrid)

Since Insight’s third generation debuted in 2019, it has won IIHS’s Top Safety Pick + award – a testament to its safety credentials and a solid pick for first-time car owners looking to get a hybrid.

Although it has a refined and roomy interior, its outstanding crash safety record and phenomenal fuel economy (54 mpg overall; better than the Toyota Prius) are Insight’s biggest first-car draws.

Plus, the Insight is easy to drive with good outward visibility for the driver.

A short but impressive list of TSP+ awards the Insight received:

 IIHS Award
2022 Honda InsightTop Safety Pick +
2021 Honda InsightTop Safety Pick +
2020 Honda InsightTop Safety Pick +
2019 Honda InsightTop Safety Pick +
Honda Insight IIHS safety awards.

#8 Subaru BRZ (2dr Sports Coupe)

Sports cars and coupes typically aren’t suitable first cars.

But if you must single out one, the affordably-priced Subaru BRZ is an excellent first car, especially for car guys.

It has precise handling, respectable fuel economy, and strong crash safety.

These are the safety awards the BRZ received:

 IIHS Award
2022 Subaru BRZTop Safety Pick +
2021 Subaru BRZ
2020 Subaru BRZ
2019 Subaru BRZ
2018 Subaru BRZ
2017 Subaru BRZ
2016 Subaru BRZ
2015 Subaru BRZTop Safety Pick
2014 Subaru BRZTop Safety Pick
2013 Subaru BRZTop Safety Pick
Subaru BRZ IIHS safety awards.

#9 Toyota GR86 (2dr Sports Coupe)

The Toyota 86, Scion FRS, and GR86 are models with different names at various iterations of the same car – the GR86 is the latest.

Further, these Toyota models share the same design DNA as the Subaru BRZ, so the all-new GR86 picking up the IIHS’s Top Safety Pick + award (like the BRZ) isn’t surprising.

IIHS safety award the GR86 obtained:

 IIHS Award
2022 Toyota GR86 (2dr Coupe)Top Safety Pick +
Toyota GR86 IIHS safety awards.

#10 Subaru WRX (4dr Sporty Sedan)

Despite the safety awards and solid ratings, the WRX isn’t the best choice for a first car.

It isn’t as quick as rivals (which isn’t a massive drawback for first cars), and its engine is thirstier than sporty first cars like the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Honda Civic Si.

IIHS awards the WRX received:

 IIHS Award
2022 Subaru WRX
2021 Subaru WRXTop Safety Pick
2020 Subaru WRXTop Safety Pick
2019 Subaru WRXTop Safety Pick +
2018 Subaru WRXTop Safety Pick +
2017 Subaru WRXTop Safety Pick
2016 Subaru WRXTop Safety Pick +
2015 Subaru WRXTop Safety Pick
Subaru WRX IIHS safety awards.

#11 Hyundai Veloster (2dr Sporty Hatchback)

It’s another sporty car, but the Veloster is a sporty hatchback and a better proposition than the Subaru WRX for a first car with higher performance.

The Veloster is enjoyable to drive with its turbocharged engine and gets mid-20s-mpg combined, on par with its closest rival, the Honda Civic Type R.

See the list of IIHS awards the Veloster received:

 IIHS Award
2022 Hyundai Veloster
2021 Hyundai VelosterTop Safety Pick
2020 Hyundai VelosterTop Safety Pick
2019 Hyundai VelosterTop Safety Pick
Hyundai Veloster IIHS safety awards.

SIZE: Midsize Cars

Small cars may not fit all first-time drivers comfortably, so going one size up is logical while staying with mainstream models for affordability.

#12 Subaru Legacy (4dr Sedan)

A Subaru appearing at the top of the midsize car list may surprise, but the Legacy sedan has arguably the most impressive crash safety record.

It has an unbroken string of Top Safety Pick accolades since the IIHS began granting the award in 2006, and from the 2013 model year onwards, have won the Top Safety Pick + honor.

This AWD’s 5-star safety rating the NHTSA gave is equally outstanding.

Outward visibility and a roomy cabin are among the Legacy’s pluses.

See the massive list of IIHS awards the Subaru Legacy attained:

 IIHS Award
2022 Subaru LegacyTop Safety Pick +
2021 Subaru LegacyTop Safety Pick +
2020 Subaru LegacyTop Safety Pick +
2019 Subaru LegacyTop Safety Pick +
2018 Subaru LegacyTop Safety Pick +
2017 Subaru LegacyTop Safety Pick +
2016 Subaru LegacyTop Safety Pick +
2015 Subaru LegacyTop Safety Pick +
2014 Subaru LegacyTop Safety Pick +
2013 Subaru LegacyTop Safety Pick +
2012 Subaru LegacyTop Safety Pick
2011 Subaru LegacyTop Safety Pick
2010 Subaru LegacyTop Safety Pick
2009 Subaru LegacyTop Safety Pick
2008 Subaru LegacyTop Safety Pick
2007 Subaru LegacyTop Safety Pick
2006 Subaru LegacyTop Safety Pick (Gold)
Subaru Legacy IIHS safety awards.

#13 Honda Accord (4dr Sedan)

This all-rounded, compelling class leader needs no introduction.

Its engine is powerful yet efficient, and the design provides all-around good visibility in a well-appointed and roomy cabin.

In fact, most Honda vehicles make excellent first cars due to their affordability, reliability, and sportier-than-average handling.

All Accords achieved the full 5 stars overall rating by NHTSA since the 2001 model year.

Meanwhile, the long list of IIHS awards the Accord received includes:

 IIHS Award
2022 Honda AccordTop Safety Pick +
2021 Honda AccordTop Safety Pick +
2020 Honda AccordTop Safety Pick
2019 Honda AccordTop Safety Pick
2018 Honda AccordTop Safety Pick
2017 Honda AccordTop Safety Pick +
2016 Honda AccordTop Safety Pick +
2015 Honda AccordTop Safety Pick
2014 Honda AccordTop Safety Pick +
2013 Honda AccordTop Safety Pick +
2012 Honda Accord
2011 Honda Accord
2010 Honda Accord
2009 Honda AccordTop Safety Pick
2008 Honda AccordTop Safety Pick
Honda Accord IIHS safety awards.

#14 Toyota Camry (4dr Sedan)

Opt for a Toyota for your first car if you prioritize fuel efficiency and reliability.

Alongside the Honda Accord, the Toyota Camry is the quintessential first car in the midsize segment, with impressive fuel economy, good visibility, and low ownership costs – strong points that benefit new drivers.

Its engine isn’t the strongest, but few on a modest budget but need a midsize car would mind.

See the long list of IIHS awards the Camry has received since 2012:

 IIHS Award
2022 Toyota CamryTop Safety Pick +
2021 Toyota CamryTop Safety Pick +
2020 Toyota CamryTop Safety Pick +
2019 Toyota CamryTop Safety Pick +
2018 Toyota CamryTop Safety Pick +
2017 Toyota CamryTop Safety Pick +
2016 Toyota CamryTop Safety Pick +
2015 Toyota CamryTop Safety Pick +
2014 Toyota CamryTop Safety Pick
2013 Toyota CamryTop Safety Pick
2012 Toyota CamryTop Safety Pick
Toyota Camry IIHS safety awards.

#15 Hyundai Sonata (4dr Sedan)

For first car buyers looking to get the most bang for the money, the Hyundai Sonata is an excellent choice with a robust crash safety design.

This Korean midsize underdog offers plenty of helpful technology and safety features as standard and has a big trunk for added practicality.

Hyundai vehicles represent value for money buys and are good first cars that should make your shortlist.

IIHS awards the Sonata gained:

 IIHS Award
2022 Hyundai SonataTop Safety Pick
2021 Hyundai SonataTop Safety Pick
2020 Hyundai SonataTop Safety Pick
2019 Hyundai SonataTop Safety Pick +
2018 Hyundai SonataTop Safety Pick +
2017 Hyundai SonataTop Safety Pick
2016 Hyundai SonataTop Safety Pick +
2015 Hyundai SonataTop Safety Pick
2014 Hyundai Sonata
2013 Hyundai SonataTop Safety Pick
2012 Hyundai SonataTop Safety Pick
2011 Hyundai SonataTop Safety Pick
Hyundai Sonata IIHS safety awards.

#16 Nissan Altima (4dr Sedan)

Nissan cars lag behind their Japanese peers in reliability and brand appeal, but the midsize Altima is a safe vehicle for young drivers with good fuel economy figures.

It won’t win you over in any individual aspect, but it does everything sufficiently well to deserve a look.

AWD is optional but available for added traction if you live in snowy climes.

See the long list of IIHS awards the Altima received:

 IIHS Award
2022 Nissan AltimaTop Safety Pick +
2021 Nissan AltimaTop Safety Pick +
2020 Nissan AltimaTop Safety Pick
2019 Nissan AltimaTop Safety Pick
2018 Nissan AltimaTop Safety Pick
2017 Nissan AltimaTop Safety Pick +
2016 Nissan AltimaTop Safety Pick +
2015 Nissan AltimaTop Safety Pick
2014 Nissan AltimaTop Safety Pick
2013 Nissan AltimaTop Safety Pick +
Nissan Altima IIHS safety awards.

#17 Kia K5 (4dr Sedan)

A debutant in 2021, the K5 replaced the Optima and is an excellent choice for your first car with exceptional value for money.

It has many tech and safety features, and it is easy and comfortable to drive around town and is a near-silent highway cruiser.

Forward visibility is decent, storage capacity is above-average, and fuel economy is respectable for its size at low-30s-mpg overall.

The K5 is relatively new, but it had an excellent start in the crash safety stake:

 IIHS Award
2022 Kia K5Top Safety Pick +
2021 Kia K5Top Safety Pick +
Kia K5 IIHS safety awards.

SIZE: Small SUVs

SUVs provide the elevated ride height advantage that benefits new drivers, and small entrants in the segment work well because they are the least expensive.

Their compact dimensions lend easy maneuverability in tight spaces and heavy traffic.

#18 Honda CR-V (4dr SUV)

Fast yet frugal engine, athletic handling, and a roomy interior with segment-leading cargo capacity, the Honda CR-V is a smart choice for any teenage driver wanting a compact SUV for their first car.

Besides strong safety ratings from IIHS and NHTSA, it has good visibility and gets an above-average 30-mpg in mixed driving.

An all-wheel-drive CR-V is available if you need it for extra traction.

See the long list of IIHS awards the CR-V received:

 IIHS Award
2022 Honda CR-VTop Safety Pick
2021 Honda CR-VTop Safety Pick
2020 Honda CR-VTop Safety Pick
2019 Honda CR-VTop Safety Pick
2018 Honda CR-VTop Safety Pick
2017 Honda CR-VTop Safety Pick +
2016 Honda CR-VTop Safety Pick +
2015 Honda CR-VTop Safety Pick +
2014 Honda CR-V
2013 Honda CR-VTop Safety Pick
2012 Honda CR-VTop Safety Pick
2011 Honda CR-V
2010 Honda CR-V
2009 Honda CR-VTop Safety Pick
2008 Honda CR-VTop Safety Pick
2007 Honda CR-VTop Safety Pick
Honda CR-V IIHS safety awards.

#19 Subaru Forester (4dr SUV)

It may not have the quickest acceleration or the strongest towing ability in its class, but the Subaru Forester is safe and comfortable to drive, with generous cargo capacity to boot.

Its higher-than-average ground clearance is a plus for drivers who fancy some off-roading on the weekends.

AWD is standard in all Forester trim levels – in fact, in all Subaru vehicles, making them excellent first cars for those living in northern regions.

NHTSA rated the Subaru Forester 5 out of 5 stars overall since its 2014 model year.

The extensive list of IIHS awards the Forester collected includes:

 IIHS Award
2022 Subaru ForesterTop Safety Pick +
2021 Subaru ForesterTop Safety Pick +
2020 Subaru ForesterTop Safety Pick +
2019 Subaru ForesterTop Safety Pick +
2018 Subaru ForesterTop Safety Pick
2017 Subaru ForesterTop Safety Pick +
2016 Subaru ForesterTop Safety Pick +
2015 Subaru ForesterTop Safety Pick +
2014 Subaru ForesterTop Safety Pick +
2013 Subaru ForesterTop Safety Pick
2012 Subaru ForesterTop Safety Pick
2011 Subaru ForesterTop Safety Pick
2010 Subaru ForesterTop Safety Pick
2009 Subaru ForesterTop Safety Pick
2008 Subaru ForesterTop Safety Pick
2007 Subaru ForesterTop Safety Pick
Subaru Forester IIHS safety awards.

#20 Mitsubishi Outlander (4dr SUV)

Save for some legendary cars like the Evo, Mitsubishi vehicles are unexciting and typically aren’t compelling choices for first cars.

However, the small three-row Outlander, especially the new-for-2022 model, stands out among them.

The ride quality is a massive improvement over its direct predecessor, and the vehicle is nimble and easy to pilot in tight urban settings.

Further, the generous storage room and longer-than-average warranty are huge pluses.

IIHS awards the Outlander earned:

 IIHS Award
2022 Mitsubishi OutlanderTop Safety Pick +
2021 Mitsubishi Outlander
2020 Mitsubishi OutlanderTop Safety Pick
2019 Mitsubishi OutlanderTop Safety Pick
2018 Mitsubishi OutlanderTop Safety Pick
2017 Mitsubishi OutlanderTop Safety Pick +
2016 Mitsubishi OutlanderTop Safety Pick +
2015 Mitsubishi OutlanderTop Safety Pick +
2014 Mitsubishi OutlanderTop Safety Pick +
2013 Mitsubishi Outlander
2012 Mitsubishi Outlander
2011 Mitsubishi Outlander
2010 Mitsubishi Outlander
2009 Mitsubishi OutlanderTop Safety Pick
2008 Mitsubishi OutlanderTop Safety Pick
Mitsubishi Outlander IIHS safety awards.

#21 Nissan Rogue (4dr SUV)

A Nissan Rogue isn’t quite good enough to match Honda’s equivalent, the CR-V.

However, the third-gen Rogue, which debuted in 2021, is massively improved over the preceding generation and is one of the best small SUVs on the market.

It is a solid vehicle with strong crash safety and rides comfortably for five.

IIHS awards the Rogue received:

 IIHS Award
2022 Nissan RogueTop Safety Pick +
2021 Nissan RogueTop Safety Pick +
2020 Nissan RogueTop Safety Pick
2019 Nissan RogueTop Safety Pick
2018 Nissan RogueTop Safety Pick
2017 Nissan RogueTop Safety Pick +
2016 Nissan RogueTop Safety Pick
2015 Nissan RogueTop Safety Pick
2014 Nissan RogueTop Safety Pick +
2013 Nissan Rogue
2012 Nissan Rogue
2011 Nissan Rogue
2010 Nissan Rogue
2009 Nissan RogueTop Safety Pick
2008 Nissan RogueTop Safety Pick
Nissan Rogue IIHS safety awards.

#22 Toyota RAV4 (4dr SUV)

The RAV4 pioneered the compact crossover segment in the 1990s and set a high standard for the class until recently.

It’s no longer the best small SUV, but it’s still a thoroughly competent car, especially for teenage drivers who need a safe vehicle, first and foremost.

NHTSA rated this SUV 5 out of 5 stars overall.

Elsewhere, IIHS awards the RAV4 received include:

 IIHS Award
2022 Toyota RAV4Top Safety Pick
2021 Toyota RAV4Top Safety Pick
2020 Toyota RAV4Top Safety Pick
2019 Toyota RAV4Top Safety Pick +
2018 Toyota RAV4Top Safety Pick
2017 Toyota RAV4Top Safety Pick +
2016 Toyota RAV4Top Safety Pick +
2015 Toyota RAV4Top Safety Pick
2014 Toyota RAV4
2013 Toyota RAV4Top Safety Pick
2012 Toyota RAV4
2011 Toyota RAV4
2010 Toyota RAV4
2009 Toyota RAV4Top Safety Pick
Toyota RAV4 IIHS safety awards.

#23 Hyundai Tucson (4dr SUV)

Many compact SUVs fall in the sub-$30k price range, and the Tucson is another excellent choice with plenty of safety tech features for the money.

Expectedly, it received a full 5 stars rating in NHTSA crash tests.

Likewise, the IIHS awards the Tucson earned cover these model years:

 IIHS Award
2022 Hyundai TucsonTop Safety Pick +
2021 Hyundai TucsonTop Safety Pick
2020 Hyundai TucsonTop Safety Pick
2019 Hyundai TucsonTop Safety Pick +
2018 Hyundai TucsonTop Safety Pick
2017 Hyundai TucsonTop Safety Pick +
2016 Hyundai TucsonTop Safety Pick +
2015 Hyundai Tucson
2014 Hyundai Tucson
2013 Hyundai TucsonTop Safety Pick
2012 Hyundai TucsonTop Safety Pick
2011 Hyundai TucsonTop Safety Pick
2010 Hyundai TucsonTop Safety Pick
Hyundai Tucson IIHS safety awards.

#24 Kia Sportage (4dr SUV)

The Kia Sportage won’t get your heart racing, but it’s a pleasing city runabout; city speed limits are its comfort zone.

See the list of IIHS awards the Sportage received:

 IIHS Award
2022 Kia SportageTop Safety Pick
2021 Kia SportageTop Safety Pick
2020 Kia SportageTop Safety Pick
2019 Kia Sportage
2018 Kia SportageTop Safety Pick
2017 Kia SportageTop Safety Pick
2016 Kia Sportage
2015 Kia Sportage
2014 Kia Sportage
2013 Kia SportageTop Safety Pick
2012 Kia SportageTop Safety Pick
2011 Kia SportageTop Safety Pick
Kia Sportage IIHS safety awards.

#25 Mazda CX-5 (4dr SUV)

Competing in a saturated segment, the Mazda CX-5 still emerges as one of the best small SUVs.

It may not be the largest or roomiest, but it has an upscale cabin and sharp handling.

Crucially, the CX-5’s safety ratings are top-notch – NHTSA and IIHS gave it full marks overall.

See the impressive list of IIHS awards the CX-5 received:

 IIHS Award
2022 Mazda CX-5Top Safety Pick +
2021 Mazda CX-5Top Safety Pick +
2020 Mazda CX-5Top Safety Pick +
2019 Mazda CX-5Top Safety Pick +
2018 Mazda CX-5Top Safety Pick +
2017 Mazda CX-5Top Safety Pick +
2016 Mazda CX-5Top Safety Pick +
2015 Mazda CX-5Top Safety Pick +
2014 Mazda CX-5Top Safety Pick +
2013 Mazda CX-5Top Safety Pick
Mazda CX-5 IIHS safety awards.

#26 Mazda CX-30 (4dr SUV)

If the small CX-5 doesn’t suit you, the newer and extra-small CX-30 is an equally compelling option for your first car.

Solid build quality complements the premium interior, and the NHTSA and IIHS ratings can attest to its impeccable crash safety.

The CX-30 is relatively new in Mazda’s SUV lineup, but it’s off to an excellent start:

 IIHS Award
2022 Mazda CX-30Top Safety Pick +
2021 Mazda CX-30Top Safety Pick +
2020 Mazda CX-30Top Safety Pick
Mazda CX-30 IIHS safety awards.

#27 Kia Soul (4dr Wagon/XS SUV)

The Kia Soul defies easy categorization; it has a car-like ride height, but its boxy form resembles an SUV – an extra-small SUV.

The boxy shape translates into a roomy cabin and cargo area.

Besides the strong safety ratings, the Kia Soul feels nimble around town, corners like its sportier rival, the MINI Cooper, and is feature-rich for the price.

See the long list of IIHS TSP awards the Kia Soul received:

 IIHS Award
2022 Kia SoulTop Safety Pick
2021 Kia SoulTop Safety Pick
2020 Kia SoulTop Safety Pick
2019 Kia SoulTop Safety Pick
2018 Kia SoulTop Safety Pick +
2017 Kia Soul
2016 Kia SoulTop Safety Pick
2015 Kia SoulTop Safety Pick
2014 Kia SoulTop Safety Pick
2013 Kia SoulTop Safety Pick
2012 Kia SoulTop Safety Pick
2011 Kia SoulTop Safety Pick
2010 Kia SoulTop Safety Pick
Kia Soul IIHS safety awards.

#28 Subaru Crosstrek (4dr Crossover Gas & Hybrid)

Crossovers combine the driving dynamics of a car and the ride height of an SUV and are a popular choice among first car buyers.

The Subaru Crosstrek is an extra-small crossover SUV, but with enough room for everyday commuting and stuff-hauling and a ride height that allows light off-roading.

It rides smoothly and quietly and is comfortable for short and long journeys.

Fuel economy is average in the gas-engine base trim (mid-20s-mpg), but the plug-in-hybrid version can return mid-30s-mpg and is a better option with high fuel prices.

Most importantly, it’s one of the safest first cars for crossover shoppers.

See the long list of IIHS awards the Crosstrek gas and hybrid versions received:

 IIHS Award (4dr Crossover)IIHS Award (4dr Crossover Hybrid)
2022 Subaru CrosstrekTop Safety PickTop Safety Pick +
2021 Subaru CrosstrekTop Safety PickTop Safety Pick +
2020 Subaru CrosstrekTop Safety PickTop Safety Pick +
2019 Subaru CrosstrekTop Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2018 Subaru CrosstrekTop Safety Pick +
2017 Subaru CrosstrekTop Safety Pick
2016 Subaru CrosstrekTop Safety Pick +
2015 Subaru CrosstrekTop Safety Pick +
2014 Subaru CrosstrekTop Safety Pick
2013 Subaru CrosstrekTop Safety Pick
Subaru Crosstrek IIHS safety awards.

#29 Volvo XC40 (4dr SUV Gas & Electric)

It’s a luxury SUV but competes in the subcompact segment.

This Swedish automaker builds robust vehicles, and Volvos are suitable for new drivers with a matching budget.

All-new in 2019, the XC40 maintains a strong crash safety record:

 IIHS Award (Gas – XC40)IIHS Award (Electric – XC40 Recharge)
2022 Volvo XC40Top Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2021 Volvo XC40Top Safety Pick +Top Safety Pick +
2020 Volvo XC40Top Safety Pick
2019 Volvo XC40Top Safety Pick +
Volvo XC40 & XC40 Recharge IIHS safety awards.

Identical to the XC40 in form but propelled by an electric powertrain, the Recharge version is an equally safe car.

#30 Ford Bronco Sport (4dr SUV)

If you need your first car for some off-roading adventure, the all-new-in-2021 Bronco Sport is a smart choice as it has more all-terrain capabilities than the average SUV in its class.

Its rugged styling is appealing, but crucially, the brawny look extends to its crash safety credentials – both IIHS and NHTSA gave it maximum score in their overall rating.

It may be new in the segment, but its crash safety design is indisputably strong:

 IIHS Award
2022 Ford Bronco SportTop Safety Pick +
2021 Ford Bronco SportTop Safety Pick +
Ford Bronco Sport IIHS safety awards.

#31 Chevrolet Trailblazer (4dr SUV)

The Trailblazer is an extra-small SUV but is big on the latest tech and safety features.

The second-generation Trailblazer debuted in 2021 (after a 12-year hiatus) and is the safer model, judging by the excellent ratings IIHS and NHTSA granted it.

IIHS awards the 2nd-gen Trailblazer received:

 IIHS Award
2022 Chevy TrailblazerTop Safety Pick +
2021 Chevy TrailblazerTop Safety Pick +
Chevrolet Trailblazer IIHS safety awards.

SIZE: Midsize SUVs

Several midsize SUVs have third-row seating, and their size may not suit inexperienced drivers when steering their vehicles in tight urban spaces.

Still, concerned parents wanting a larger car for their teenage kids may find midsize SUVs a better fit.

#32 Toyota Highlander (4dr SUV)

The Highlander may be a three-row midsize SUV, but it is easy to see out for the driver, making it a good and safe choice for a first car.

Besides the impressive crash safety record, it is supremely comfortable and relatively fuel-efficient.

See the long list of IIHS awards the Highlander received:

 IIHS Award
2022 Toyota HighlanderTop Safety Pick +
2021 Toyota HighlanderTop Safety Pick +
2020 Toyota HighlanderTop Safety Pick
2019 Toyota HighlanderTop Safety Pick
2018 Toyota HighlanderTop Safety Pick
2017 Toyota HighlanderTop Safety Pick +
2016 Toyota HighlanderTop Safety Pick +
2015 Toyota HighlanderTop Safety Pick +
2014 Toyota HighlanderTop Safety Pick +
2013 Toyota HighlanderTop Safety Pick
2012 Toyota HighlanderTop Safety Pick
2011 Toyota HighlanderTop Safety Pick
2010 Toyota HighlanderTop Safety Pick
2009 Toyota HighlanderTop Safety Pick
2008 Toyota HighlanderTop Safety Pick
Toyota Highlander IIHS safety awards.

#33 Hyundai Santa Fe (4dr SUV)

The Santa Fe is a two-row midsize SUV and a 5-star NHTSA-rated vehicle.

It has lots of standard safety features and an extended warranty, as all Hyundai vehicles do, but more importantly, it is a safe vehicle.

The IIHS awards the Santa Fe received cover these model years:

 IIHS Award
2022 Hyundai Santa FeTop Safety Pick +
2021 Hyundai Santa FeTop Safety Pick
2020 Hyundai Santa FeTop Safety Pick
2019 Hyundai Santa FeTop Safety Pick +
2018 Hyundai Santa FeTop Safety Pick +
2017 Hyundai Santa FeTop Safety Pick +
2016 Hyundai Santa Fe
2015 Hyundai Santa Fe
2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
2013 Hyundai Santa FeTop Safety Pick
2012 Hyundai Santa FeTop Safety Pick
2011 Hyundai Santa FeTop Safety Pick
2010 Hyundai Santa Fe
2009 Hyundai Santa FeTop Safety Pick
2008 Hyundai Santa FeTop Safety Pick
2007 Hyundai Santa FeTop Safety Pick
Hyundai Santa Fe IIHS safety awards.

Gas and plug-in-hybrid options are available.

#34 Kia Sorento (4dr SUV)

Despite being a small three-row SUV, it has plenty of second and third-row legroom for the class.

With its mix of practicality, quality, and sharp looks, on top of strong safety ratings, it is a solid choice for new drivers looking to impress.

IIHS awards the Sorento received:

 IIHS Award
2022 Kia SorentoTop Safety Pick
2021 Kia SorentoTop Safety Pick
2020 Kia SorentoTop Safety Pick
2019 Kia SorentoTop Safety Pick +
2018 Kia SorentoTop Safety Pick
2017 Kia SorentoTop Safety Pick
2016 Kia SorentoTop Safety Pick
2015 Kia Sorento
2014 Kia SorentoTop Safety Pick
2013 Kia SorentoTop Safety Pick
2012 Kia SorentoTop Safety Pick
2011 Kia SorentoTop Safety Pick
Kia Sorento IIHS safety awards.

Opt for the fourth-gen Sorento (introduced in 2021) as it betters its predecessors in almost every aspect.

#35 Ford Mustang Mach-E (4dr Electric SUV)

The high price tag may be a deterrent, but if it doesn’t, the Mach-E is a solid choice for an enthusiast’s first car.

It’s a Mustang, and it’s all-electric; so it’s an agile SUV that can cover close to 300 miles on a full charge.

IIHS awards the Mustang Mach-E received include:

 IIHS Award
2022 Ford Mustang Mach-ETop Safety Pick
2021 Ford Mustang Mach-ETop Safety Pick
Ford Mustang Mach-E IIHS safety awards.

#36 Volkswagen ID.4 (4dr Electric SUV)

The ID.4 electric SUV is a safe first car that can double as a family-friendly vehicle.

An approximately 250-mile range, lots of standard safety features, and a spacious interior count among the ID.4’s positives.

All-new in 2021, NHTSA and IIHS awarded the ID.4 five stars overall and Top Safety Pick +, respectively.

IIHS awards the ID.4 earned so far:

 IIHS Award
2022 Volkswagen ID.4Top Safety Pick +
2021 Volkswagen ID.4Top Safety Pick +
Volkswagen ID.4 IIHS safety awards.