2015 Kia Soul, Good cars for young drivers
2015 Kia Soul

With a 15-year-old daughter having just completed driver’s education, I find myself in the unenviable position of shopping for a second car. That car, by the way, will spend most of its time in the service of the aforementioned daughter.

My daughter doesn’t care much about cars, which is fine, but I do expect her to care about driving. And, like every parent, I worry about putting a novice driver behind the wheel of any vehicle and letting her loose in traffic.

While I can’t do much about the driving conditions the kid will face, I can prepare her for what she’ll face on the road alone. I can also decide (with my wife’s approval) what my daughter will be driving.

My priorities are these (in order):

  • Safety
  • Low cost of ownership
  • Room for gear (Riding stuff. The kid volunteers at a horse shelter.)
  • Kid appeal

I add kid appeal mostly because whatever we eventually purchase, it will likely be in the family fleet for a long, long time. In more generic terms, I have broken down those priorities into a list most parents in my situation might appreciate:

  • Good visibility/high seating position
  • Neutral, predictable handling (snow prowess would be a plus)
  • Latest safety features
  • Ample cargo space
  • Low base price
  • Good fuel economy
  • Expected connectivity

Presented here are the three new vehicles highest on my “might-buy” list. I am including prices and fuel-economy numbers for automatic-transmission-equipped examples, though I am keen to have my kid master the manual transmission, and will go that route if I can.

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Good Cars for Young Drivers

Scion iA

2016 Scion iA
2016 Scion iA

Base price with automatic transmission: $17,595 (2016)

EPA estimated fuel economy (mpg, city/highway/combined): 33/42/37

IIHS rating: Top Safety Pick

Key safety features: Rearview camera, forward-collision warning and mitigation (standard), brake-assist system (standard)

Connectivity: Bluetooth cell-phone link standard

Pros: Excellent outward visibility, impressive suite of standard safety equipment, outstanding dollar value

Cons: Sedan-only lineup means limited cargo space, rear-seat space limited for adults

New for 2016, the iA is built for Scion by Mazda. In terms of ride and handling, that’s a good thing, as the iA is surprisingly fun to drive. Though a sedan, the iA boasts chair-height seating that affords drivers enhanced outward visibility and a greater sense of control than they might have in more conventionally laid-out vehicles.

The iA stands out in this crowd for its exceptional value. The price above is for a completely loaded vehicle. Scion employs a “one-price” strategy in marketing the iA and offers no stand-alone options for the car. If you can live without the automatic transmission, your iA would go for about $1000 less.

First Spin: Scion iA

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Kia Soul

2015 Kia Soul
2015 Kia Soul

Base price with automatic transmission: $18,015 (2015)

EPA estimated fuel economy (mpg, city/highway/combined): 24/30/26

IIHS rating: Top Safety Pick

Key safety features: Rearview camera (available)

Connectivity: Bluetooth cell-phone link standard

Pros: Excellent outward visibility and commanding seating position, outstanding use of space

Cons: Base engine less than peppy, options can quickly drive the price up

Arguably stylish and incredibly space efficient, the Soul makes a lot of sense for new drivers with an interest in looking cool while hauling teammates, sports gear, and, later, stuff to college.

The base 1.6-liter engine isn’t especially perky in the Soul; A 2.0-liter upgrade is available for those who care. Note that an AWD version of the Soul is rumored to be in the works when the car is redesigned in a couple of years.

Test Drive: Kia Soul+


Jeep Renegade

2015 Jeep Renegade
2015 Jeep Renegade

Base price with automatic transmission and AWD: $23,685

EPA estimated fuel economy (mpg, city/highway/combined): 21/29/24

IIHS rating: Not yet tested

Connectivity: Bluetooth cell-phone link available

Pros: Commanding seating position, excellent space utilization, available AWD

Cons: Prices climb quickly with AWD, automatic transmission can be slow to respond to inputs

Jeep has a hit on its hands with the new-for-2015 Renegade, and its appeal for young drivers is easy to see. The commanding driving position will help newbies feel in control of the vehicle. Unlike the iA and Soul, the Renegade can be equipped with AWD, a boon for beginning drivers in the Snow Belt.

Unfortunately, a Renegade with AWD and an automatic transmission costs substantially more than the iA or Soul, and equipping one with Bluetooth and a rearview camera costs even more. Still, Renegade is hard to top for its combination of space efficiency and AWD traction.

Test Drive: Jeep Renegade Latitude

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