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Best Cars for Teen Drivers

When it comes to cars, teens are drawn to those that are cool, stylish and fast. Unfortunately for most teen drivers, what they should be looking for is just the opposite.

[In Pictures: Best Cars for Teens]

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), car crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States. Drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely to crash than older drivers. A dangerous combination of inexperience and irresponsible driving behavior are largely to blame.

Beyond the increased crash risk, CDC reports that teens are also more likely to be injured in crashes because they don’t wear their seatbelts as often as older drivers do. In fact, while young people (ages 15 to 24) make up only 14 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 30 percent of total cost of car crash injuries in the country for males, and 28 percent of the cost for females.

Knowing the extra risks that teen drivers face, it’s clear that finding the right car for your teen is essential. Anne McCartt, Senior Vice President of Research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, says that when shopping for a car for teens, IIHS recommends "something big, boring and slow." Big so there's extra space (and extra protection) in the event of a crash.  Boring so that teens aren't tempted to take risks or overrun with requests for rides -- since passengers increase driver distractions and, subsequently, the likelihood of a crash. And slow because teen drivers, on the whole, are just too inexperienced to handle speed.

While dropping a teen into an old Volvo may fill IIHS' prescription, it’s also likely to set off a tsunami of whining. To help split the difference between what teen drivers need and what teen drivers want, we've identified five cars that are stylish, affordable, have excellent crash-test scores and key safety equipment.

Of course, when it comes to teen driving, the best safety feature is an involved parent who monitors the teen's behavior and provides appropriate new-driver training. Not all teens are mature enough to handle driving. But, for those who are, these five cars should keep them happy and safe as they head down the road.

Kia Forte

MSRP: $13,695

The Kia Forte impresses car reviewers with its long list of standard features. Parents appreciate its safety systems, like electronic stability control; while teens can’t get enough of its modern gadgets, like its USB port and Bluetooth connectivity. Still, what’s most impressive about the Forte is its crash test scores. It's a 2010 IIHS Top Safety Pick, which means it offered good protection to all occupants during front, side and rear crash tests, as well as roof-strength tests.

Nissan Cube

MSRP: $13,990

The Nissan Cube proves that when it comes to safe and affordable small cars, it's hip to be square. A 2010 IIHS Top Safety Pick, the Cube has eye-catching looks that include a wrap around rear window. Its rhomboid design means it has enough interior space for even an active teen's gear. Though the base Cube is sparsely equipped, if you opt for some of the higher trims, you get features like a USB port with iPod interface and Bluetooth. While the Cube can feel a bit sluggish while accelerating, we're in favor of anything that encourages younger drivers to take their time.

Ford Fiesta

MSRP: $13,320

Though the 2011 Ford Fiesta has yet to be crash tested in the U.S., it earned top marks for adult occupant protection in the European New Car Assessment Programme's (NCAP) crash tests. For an affordable small car, the Fiesta comes with a long list of standard safety features, including stability control and seven airbags. Teens will like that even the base model comes with an auxiliary input jack. If you upgrade to the higher trims, teens can get features like Ford's SYNC infotainment system. Newer versions of the SYNC system should help minimize driver distraction (a major risk factor for teen crashes) by blocking incoming phone calls and text messages. The Focus' 29/38 mpg city highway fuel economy rating should also appeal to teens and families looking to save cash.

Honda Civic

MSRP: $15,455

The Honda Civic has been a small car mainstay since 1973. Today's Civic is bigger and safer than ever before. Standard safety equipment includes anti-lock brakes with brakeforce distribution, stability control and plenty of airbags. A 2010 IIHS Top Safety Pick, the Civic offers teens 25/36 mpg city/highway, and a reasonably comfortable interior.  Though the base DX model is a little sparse on features, spend $750 more to get the DX-VP model, which adds a 160-watt stereo AM/FM/CD stereo with MP3 playback capability, plus an auxiliary input jack.

Scion xB

MSPR: $15,850

The Scion xB has massive youth appeal, thanks to its standard 160-watt Pioneer sound system with AM/FM/CD/USB head unit and custom options, including a customizable electroluminescent screen that displays stereo info. While the xB is popular among tuners, it should also appeal to parents: it's a 2010 IIHS Top Safety Pick and has a low starting price for a car with its interior space and safety features, which include electronic stability control, traction control and antilock brakes -- not to mention eight airbags.