One of the sad realities of the GM Cobalt ignition/airbag defect saga is that most of the victims were relatively young. That makes sense in that younger people, or their parents, are more likely to buy smaller, more affordable cars. GM developed the Cobalt, priced around $14,000 for the 2005 model, specifically to counter its weakness in small cars. The first victim was reportedly 16-year old Amber Rose of Maryland, who perished in 2005 when the airbags in her Cobalt failed to inflate on impact.
Although all cars are getting safer every year with the widespread availability of collision avoidance and active safety systems, inexperienced drivers are still vulnerable to accidents. Ideally, you’d want to put them in a tank with a lawnmower engine. That’s not possible, so which cars are best for them? And which are the most affordable?
Here are a couple of lists compiled by Cars.com that might help. In looking at the Top Picks for First Time Drivers, Cars.com editor in chief Patrick Olsen said he put a heavy premium on safety, “because young people are don’t drive very well.” His top picks include a small GM car, the 2014 Chevrolet Sonic (MSRP $14,995), which Cars.com says “drives like a bigger car,” but has “plenty of teen-friendly tech, including hands-free voice texting.” The Sonic is the only American car on the list. Cars.com gives top grades to Hyundai’s best- selling Elantra ($17,760) for “top crash-test scores and intuitive electronics.” The list also includes models from Toyota, Honda, VW and Subaru.
But if you can’t afford new metal for junior, but still want to feel at least a little bit secure, Cars.com also crafted a list of used cars with an eye on safety. The caveat is that you have to look around for the specific used car models that contain safety options such as antilock brakes. The includes a lot of basic sedans such as the 2009 Ford Focus or the 2007 Nissan Altima that are not going to turn any heads on the highway. But teenagers just want wheels.