People often ask me what the safest car is for their teenager to drive. They want safety, reliability, not too much power and nothing too fancy. As a testosterone-laden, 30-year-old male, I appreciate speed, handling, exhaust note and something that won’t disintegrate around me. Please note: I did not at any time mention safety. This makes my opinion of what a teenager should learn to drive on somewhat skewed. A teenager’s car should be the following:Small: Kids don’t need their grandfather’s Chevy Impala. This will lead to fender benders for which, frankly, you can only blame yourself. A compact car will be like a cheat sheet when learning to parallel park. Small cars will also give a better feel for the road, communicating more of what the car is thinking and doing with your youngster. Think: Mini Cooper.
Slow: My first car had a massive 5-liter V8. Thankfully, it came from the era where American engines had less compression than a soft fuzzy kitten. It was slow, I only thought it was fast. You should do the same for your kid: substitute a V8 for a 4-cylinder. More power equals more speed, tickets and sometimes accidents…get a 4-cylinder! Anyone can go fast in a 400-horsepower Camaro, but it takes talent to get a 3-banger Nissan Micra up to speed. Driving a slow car at fast speeds builds driving talent. Think: Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris or Honda Fit.
Proper layout: Everyone knows the car gods intended all sporting cars to be front-engine and rear-wheel drive. Anyone who tells you different is crazy, or they are a member of a Subaru fan club. Our snowy climate throws a monkey wrench into those blessed laws between November and April. It’s because of this that I feel that all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive are also acceptable, just know it will be harder for junior to do burnouts after he/she aces that math test. In all seriousness, a rear-wheel drive, front engine car provides the best handling in dry weather. Think: Mazda Miata, Subaru BRZ and rear-wheel drive, manual BMW 3 series…they all get high 5’s.
3 pedals are better than 2: Fewer and fewer of us are teaching our children the ancient ritual of “rowing your own gears”. If we don’t educate the next generation about the classic art of manual transmission wizardry, the art will be lost. Driving manual will make your kid cooler at school, better prepared for college/university nights of having to be the designated driver in someone else’s car. Did I mention the undeniable cool factor? In an age of easy distractions, there’s something to be said for a car that DEMANDS your attention or it won’t go. Stop texting and start shifting. Hondas are known for shifting like butter, so are Nissans.
Absence of gadgetry:Remember when you were a kid and had to walk to school, uphill both ways, wearing bricks for shoes because you were so poor? Now little Timmy/Nancy needs to have a heated steering wheel?! WHAT HAPPENED TO THE GOOD OLD DAYS?! Your child needs the following things in a car: air conditioning, ABS brakes, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, auxiliary input (CD’s are sooo last week) and they need Bluetooth. Navigation, backup camera, parking sensors and heated steering wheels are overkill. If you could make it to school with bricks on your feet, your kid can figure out what is behind/around them. Most new cars come with the above noted features and a sprinkling of new ones your kids will think are cool. Remember: the greatest gift you can give your child is the joy of burnouts and power slides.Forcing your child to drive a rear wheel drive, manual transmission, under-powered basic car will prepare them for a successful automotive future!