Safety does not need to come at a steep price, according to the latest recommendations from Consumer Reports and the IIHS. The safest cars for teens, inexperienced drivers, or car shoppers keen on crash protection can still be affordable, despite sky-high used car prices, the organizations announced on Thursday.
“This list is intended to point buyers toward vehicles that excel in performance and reliability ratings from CR’s tests and survey data and earn high marks for crash protection and crash avoidance from IIHS while staying within a defined budget,” Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at Consumer Reports Auto Test Center, said in a statement.
That budget ranges from as low as $6,400 to below $20,000 for used cars that aren't that used. The challenge for car shoppers is that pandemic-induced supply constraints have conspired with pandemic-induced pent-up demand, so used cars are a hot commodity. People have a little extra stimulus cash, and a little more aversion to public transportation, and the surging demand has shoved used car prices 18% higher than they were a year ago, according to Kelley Blue Book.
Toyota Sienna in IIHS crash testing
Safety agencies such as the IIHS caution parents from passing along their old family vehicle without any advanced driver assist systems or with airbags that might have been compromised as part of the Takata airbag debacle, the largest recall in automotive history that continues to roil the industry.
"With used car prices so high this year, it may be tempting to have a newly licensed teen make do with a clunker or to buy them the smallest, cheapest new car available,” IIHS President David Harkey said in a statement. "Very old cars often lack adequate airbags and structure to protect their occupants.”
Other car traits the IIHS and Consumer Reports advise parents and other safety shoppers to avoid are high-horsepower cars that can tempt even the best humans to do dumb things. The list of 61 cars also excludes small cars that weigh less than 2,750 pounds, which offer less crash protection. On the other end of the spectrum, bloated full-size SUVs are omitted for how long it takes them to stop and for handling that's harder to control.
The cars on both the Best Choices and Good Choices list must come with electronic stability control that automatically corrects a car's course when it starts to skid; above average reliability based on vast survey results from Consumer Reports; average or better emergency handling and braking scores; "Good" ratings in at least four of the six IIHS crash tests; and at least a four-star rating from the NHTSA.
The "Best Choices" must have at least an "Acceptable" rating on the tricky driver-side small-overlap test conducted by the IIHS that replicates what happens if the driver hits a stationary object like a tree on the driver's front side. Note that minivans make a strong showing on this list.
The IIHS and CR also recommended the safest new cars for teens based on 2021 models. Cars such as the Mazda 3, Subaru Legacy, Honda Accord and crossovers including the Subaru Forester, Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5, and Chevy Equinox make both the best used car list and best new car list.
For a look at 2021 Top Safety Pick winners, arguably the most rigorous safety testing, check out our coverage here.
Here's a look at the used models and the prices based on Kelley Blue Book valuations. Keep in mind, it's a great time to sell your car, too.
Mazda 3 sedan or hatchback (2014 or newer; built after October 2013) $8,100
Toyota Prius (2014 or newer; built after November 2013) $8,600
Hyundai Elantra GT (2018 or newer) $15,200
Subaru Crosstrek (2017 or newer) $17,900
Honda Insight (2019 or newer) $18,200
Toyota Prius Prime (2017 or newer) $18,200
Toyota Corolla hatchback (2019 or newer) $18,300
Kia Niro (2019) $18,600
Subaru Impreza sedan or wagon (2019) $19,400
Subaru Outback (2013 or newer; built after August 2012) $8,700
Subaru Legacy (2013 or newer; built after August 2012) $8,800
Mazda 6 (2014 or newer) $10,100
Lincoln MKZ (2013, 2016, 2018 or newer) $10,300
Honda Accord sedan or coupe (2013 or newer) $10,900
Volkswagen Passat (2016-17) $11,400
Toyota Prius v (2015-18) $11,600
Volkswagen Jetta (2017) $12,900
Volvo S60 (2016, 18) $14,100
BMW 3-Series (2017 or newer; built after November 2016; 4-cylinder only) $17,900
Ford Taurus (2014) $9,600
Hyundai Genesis (2016) $18,700
SMALL CROSSOVER SUVS
Mazda CX-5 (2014 or newer; built after October 2013) $9,300
Nissan Rogue (2014, 2016-18, 2020) $10,100
Subaru Forester (2016 or newer) $13,500
Honda CR-V (2015 or newer) $14,800
Kia Sportage (2017, 2018, 2020) $14,800
Toyota RAV4 (2015 or newer; built after November 2014) $14,900
Honda HR-V (2017 or newer; built after March 2016) $15,400
Hyundai Kona (2018 or newer) $15,800
Buick Encore (2018-19) $16,300
Hyundai Tucson (2018 or newer) $16,800
Mazda CX-3 (2019 or newer) $17,800
Volvo XC60 (2017) $19,200
MID-SIZE CROSSOVER SUVS
Chevrolet Equinox (2017, 2019) $13,700
Nissan Murano (2015 or newer) $14,800
GMC Terrain (2017, 2019) $15,100
Lexus NX (2015-16, 2018 or newer) $16,000
Kia Sorento (2017-18) $16,500
Hyundai Santa Fe (2017-19; built after March 2016) $18,700
Ford Edge (2018 or newer) $19,600
Mazda CX-9 (2017 or newer; built after November 2016) $19,600
Audi Q5 (2016-19) $19,800
Toyota Sienna (2015-16) $13,900
Honda Odyssey (2016) $15,400
Kia Sedona (2017) $15,600
Mazda 3 sedan or hatchback (2012-13) $6,400
Toyota Prius (2011-13) $6,700
Honda Civic sedan (2012-15) $6,900
Toyota Corolla sedan (2014 or newer) $10,300
Toyota Prius v (2012-14) $8,300
Toyota Camry (2012 or newer) $9,000
Honda Accord sedan (2012) $9,300
Ford Taurus (2011) $6,700
SMALL CROSSOVER SUVS
Hyundai Tucson (2012) $7,100
Toyota RAV4 (2013-14) $12,164
MID-SIZE CROSSOVER SUVS
Toyota Venza (2009-15) $8,000
Toyota Highlander (2008 or newer) $8,200
Acura RDX (2013-16) $13,661
Ford Edge (2014-15) $11,104
Lexus RX (2010 and newer) $11,092
Toyota Sienna (2011-14) $8,300