Press releases from the American Automobile Association are not known for inducing sudden manifestations of multiple personality disorder. I'll go ahead and say it's probably pretty rare. Still, that's what happened to me. When I read AAA's recent list of "Top Cars for Teen Drivers," I instantly developed multiple personality syndrome. I was my teenaged-self, struggling with my feelings about my dad's VW bus, my boyfriend's Chevy Malibu, and the Spider Fiat shared by the blond twins from Sweet Valley High. At the same time, I was my future parent-of-a-teenager self, who, if all goes normally, will come into being in about five years. Oh, and I was also my present self, because someone had to write this piece, and neither of those two was going to do it. They were too busy having it out:Future Mom Self
: I think a pickup truck. Or maybe a tank. Listen, why don't I just drive you, and we'll have a nice chat?Teen Self
: If you do that, I'm going to hitchhike to the tattoo parlor with the drug dealer down the street. On his motorcycle.FMS
: Oh yeah? Go ahead then. Tell him Mrs. Robinson says hello.TS
: I will. Just let me find my tank top that says "Jail Bait"…wait, Mrs. Who?
They're clearly not getting anywhere. We may as well check out AAA's list:The Volkswagen Golf/Rabbit TDI
. This does look like a pretty good kid car. First of all, it's compact and handles well, which is really important for a driving population that overcorrects, underreacts, and regularly comes really close to scraping all the paint off the side of the neighbor's custom-painted Mercedes. We do have the issue of the name, however, which conjures up a retired guy in pastel pants. Volkswagen apparently knew that Americans couldn't handle this, which is why it's been periodically dubbed the Rabbit in the U.S.; but is that any better? Certainly not for a teenager; you might as well call it Mr. Snuggies.
There might be a chance for some highly specialized niche appeal, though. "Golf" doesn't actually refer to the game golf; it's from VW's wind spirits phase, and is from the German word for "gulfstream," which they spell as golfstrom
. So if you have a kid who uses phrases like "That's an amusingly common misconception" and would love
the chance to constantly correct people about the name, by all means get him or her this car. Get that habit beaten out of them early in life and the world will be a better place, albeit full of common misconceptions.The Honda Civic
. I wholeheartedly agree with this pick. My first-car-ever was a Honda Civic, and I loved that little car, until the day we were smashed into by a crazy lady in a minivan who ran a red light going about fifty miles an hour. The car spun around two and a half times and even though it was hit on the front left side, it crumpled everywhere
- sounds like a lemon joke, but it was designed to do that; it distributed the shock all around, until it looked like a ball of tin foil. I was completely unhurt! It gave its life for me! I still miss it, sometimes. The Ford Focus.
This looks fine too, with its midsize charm and good gas mileage, but I have some reservations about the whole "MyKey" thing, which allows you to restrict your kid's speed and music volume and keep them from turning off safety features. First of all, I'm not sure why they would disable the safety features. Is turning off the air bags some kind of new adolescent thrill ride? I suspect that "turning off the air bags" actually means something much, much worse, and was overheard by some gullible, overly literal parent.
But more to the point, teenagers' drive to take stupid risks is like a many-headed Hydra. If you cut off their ability to speed and play loud music, they'll just play chicken on the railroad tracks. I'm not saying they should speed - but if the only thing keeping them from doing it is your MyKey programming, then they'll never learn how to really regulate their speed. They need to learn the old-fashioned way: by having the crap scared out of them by a sheriff's deputy at two a.m. on a Sunday morning. The Hyundai Sonata.
The good thing about this car is its complete lack of personality prompts that can get a kid into trouble. It's not dorky enough to challenge them to prove how cool they are; it's not zippy enough to tempt them to show off. There's no way for a kid to graft his personality, aspirations or fears onto it at all. It's like the automotive equivalent of George Smiley. It's just a mode of transport - it's a non-issue. It would have been a good pick for my teen self, who managed to turn everything
into an issue.Teen Self:
I do not! I wish you were dead!Future Mom Self:
Who'd pay your insurance then, ya little freeloader?The Kia Sportage:
I had the benefit on this one of advice from the Teen Car Coach
, who drove the Kia Sportage to Buffalo on a road trip with her friends. They liked the car's voice control features and its impressive dashboard display, but I am not sure a car loaded up with shiny things and flashing lights is a great pick for a teenager. They felt the back seat was a bit cramped, which I'm not entirely sure is a bad thing. They also didn't like that it had no "miles till empty" feature, because "we didn't know when we should stop for gas." Seriously, kids? Is this what happens when you grow up with technology that guides you through every freaking task you encounter - you come to actually believe that without it, you are unable to navigate the daily demands of life? How about this: stop for gas when you're getting low on gas. Future Mom Self:
I know, right?Present Self:
Shut up, I wasn't talking to you.
I don't know that we've resolved anything here. You should get a car that's compact and handles well, but not so small that those freaking SUVs will drive over it like a speed bump. It should have all the necessary technological innovations, but not too many distracting buzzers and whistles. It shouldn't have a lot of room in the back seat, for obvious reasons - but it should have enough room for your kid's friends. Not too many - too many people are distracting - but on the other hand, if the car can't hold enough people your kid might just ride with one of his dirtbag friends, and you don't want them driving him, do you?
I've got to come down on the side of the car that saved my life: the Honda Civic. The 1986 Honda Civic, that is. Blue, if you can get it. Sure, it might be hard to find, but isn't your kid worth it?