AAA’s top cars for teens – 2012

AAA's auto buying experts have announced this year's top cars for teens, models that are driven by safety, reliability and price.

Volkswagen Golf/Rabbit TDI: Despite having compact exterior dimensions, these hatchbacks are roomy and flexible. Handling is predictable and stability control has been an option since 2003. The TDI (Turbo Diesel) is the diesel option, with lower horsepower and much better fuel economy ratings than the gasoline powered versions. AAA recommends that teens avoid the speedier GTI (Grand Tourer Injection) edition; it can be too powerful for less-experienced drivers.

TrueCar, AAA's new vehicle price supplier, reports their national market average price for the 2012 Volkswagen Golf four-door hatchback is $20,096, which is 2.3 percent less than the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP).

Ford Focus: In addition to being pleasant to drive and a solid performer with good handling, the latest Focus models also give parents the MyKey feature, which will limit speed, radio volume and prevent teens from turning off safety systems.

The Focus provides good fuel economy (advertising up-to-40 highway mpg) on the SE with SFE package TrueCar's national market average price for the 2012 Ford Focus five-door hatchback SE is $17,395, which is 8.9 percent less than the MSRP.

Honda Civic: A perennial and parental favorite, the Civic offers solid handling, a stout structure, easy maneuvering and good fuel economy. When shopping around, be sure to note model types, as the Si model may be too powerful for younger drivers.

The TrueCar national market average for the 2012 Honda Civic four-door LX is $18,695, 4.6 percent less than the MSRP.

Hyundai Sonata (2011+): This newest Sonata is offered only with a four-cylinder engine. Handling is secure and the ride is comfortable. Beware of the turbocharged version; it is unnecessarily powerful for teenage drivers.

The TrueCar national market average for the 2012 Hyundai Sonata four-door sedan 2.4L SE is $23,253, 3.0 percent less than the MSRP.

Ford Fusion: The Fusion features secure handling and a comfortable ride. Upper-end trim levels in recent years are equipped with an optional cross traffic alert feature, which makes backing out of a parking space with limited visibility safer. Choosing the four-cylinder motor or gasoline-electric hybrid are better choices for teen drivers.

The TrueCar national market average for the 2012 Ford Fusion SE is $21,292, 10.4 percent less than the MSRP.

Kia Sportage: The Sportage, one of Kia's midsize crossover utility vehicles, handles well and received four stars and a "no tip" evaluation in the NHTSA New Car Assessment Program. The Sportage is economical, dependable and comes with a wide range of safety features. TrueCar's national market price average for the 2012 Kia Sportage two-wheel drive SX is $26,563, 4.1 percent less than the MSRP.

AAA's top picks were selected by AAA auto buying experts, who test drive and evaluate hundreds of vehicles each year. AAA provides free vehicle reviews and localized pricing information online at AAA.com/AutoMaker. Additional information is available at AAA.com/AutoBuying.

AAA offers a wide variety of resources to guide parents through the process of helping their teens learn how to drive through its teen driver Web site, TeenDriving.AAA.com. This interactive site provides parents and teens with specific information based on where they live and where they are in the learning process.

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