Finding the right wheels to keep a teenager happy and safe

The dilemma:

Hannah is lucky enough to have a work car, but she's now facing that dreaded moment when her teenage child wants to learn to drive.

"My daughter is about to go for her learner's licence but she isn't permitted to learn to drive in my work car," says Hannah.

"I'd like to buy a runabout for her to learn in, and I'm thinking an automatic - mainly to save my sanity."


She's focussing on small hatchbacks due to parking restrictions. On her list is the Holden Barina Spark, Kia Rio or a Mini.

But Hannah wants to know what should be top factors to look for; tyre size; engine power; safety features?

Well, thankfully formany parents, most of our younger generation are not totally obsessed with motor cars. Ownership provides freedom, independence, often an expectation of free petrol and little else.

They are more likely to be embarrassed to bring their outdated iPad out in front of family and friends than they are about the make and model of car they may be driving. The Spark is a perfect example; a good all-round car it may be, but a few years ago it would have been dismissed immediately when parent-offspring negotiations got under way based on looks and performance alone.

So with their heads in a slightly different space these days you may be in with a chance of sneaking in a couple of important items from your wish list without creating too much resistance. Safety and reliability are the two biggies and both should be achieved within your budget.

Keeping engine size and power output restricted is important, so too is keeping what's going on under the bonnet all pretty basic and simple. The traditional in-line 4-cylinder engine and basic automatic transmission helps provide the least risk and potentially lower overall running costs.

If you can get the daughter over the line with a small, practical vehicle it does provide other advantages. You can buy a vehicle still under new-car warranty and, in some cases, ex-demonstrators (see Mirage and Spark). It rules out the Mini unfortunately, but maybe that could come later as a step up when finances improve. The budget: $15,000-$16,000

Mitsubishi Mirage LS
Young drivers are one of Mitsubishi's target markets for the new 3-cylinder 1.2-litre Mirage. They see the car as a better alternative to a high-mileage older vehicle with multiple owners and fewer safety features. It has a number of features including Bluetooth, leather steering wheel complete with phone and audio controls, USB iPod port, six airbags and electronic stability control. You could get an ex-demo in your budget.

Holden Barina Spark

The 1.2-litre Spark auto has a long list of features including heated door mirrors, front fog lamps, body kit, MP3 and iPod compatibility, 14-inch alloy wheels and Bluetooth. Safety is covered with electronic stability control and multiple airbags.

Kia Rio
Because you would be moving up in engine size (1.6 litres) your budget buys you the 2010 Rio with a higher odometer reading. Still good buying if the Holden or Mitsubishi fall short on body size and power. Curtain airbags and electronic stability control come standard as well.

Driven recommends

Hard to go past a vehicle that has plenty of new-car warranty left. Maybe the one concession will be the colour.