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Monday, 12 April 2010

Comments

Its a good call. Three of the five accidents I've had were in the first year I was driving. All very minor thank god but even so. I'm now 52, I've survived, and should be driving some supercharged testosterone fuelled beast. But I'm not. The desire fades as experience and environmental sense grow. You can get your kicks in some other way!

Mike, you might want to read about the VW on Inside Lines' blog. They have the car you want and are long-term testing it: http://blogs.insideline.com/roadtests/Vehicles/2010-volkswagen-gti/

Your post made me question once again what the American lawmakes where thinking (drinking?) when they put driving at 16, and drinking at 21. You're way too young - I think - to do something as potentially lethal to man and machine as driving a car at 16. Moreso, young Americans don't get to experiment with drinking before they can drive a car. Which also spells trouble.

In my tiny European country, we get to drink at 16, and drive at 18. It makes so much more sense (if not the ages precisely, then at least the fact that you can drink before you can drive).

America makes a European wonder sometimes.

Mike, in terms of getting a car for Zander, my only recommendation is think used. I am driving a 98 Avalon, it has a 3 liter V6, has traveled 100k miles, is a joy around town and on the highway, still quite exuberant, all that despite being struck by lightning while we were in it. Its blue book value is about 4.5k, basically a downpayment on a new car. And I don't do anything to it other than change fluids. They have been making some really good cars (or at least some have)for quite a while now. I also have a 93 Accord in the driveway that drives like a total champ that I just can't bring myself to get rid of. I think its BB value is about a thousand dollars. Thing drives great, doesn't burn oil, gets 36mpg on the highway, if it hadn't hit a deer, and had one door bent backwards, and the trunk didn't leak, I'd be in it everyday. Anyway, that's my recommendation, a used Avalon.

Mike

further to Steve Rosenblum's comment, accidents are not necessarily the teenager's fault, but they lack the experience to realise how and when others cause accidents. On the other hand, teenagers do have really good reflexes, far better than people like us, born a half century ago or more.

Now you're talking.

A friend worked for the organization that tests the cars for crash safety. He drove a Volvo for a long time.

He switched to VW Passat stationwagon a few years ago !!!

Maybe you'll get your VeeDub after all ;-)

Have to support your friend's caution on kids. All of my 5 kids were in wrecks as teenaged drivers or passengers. All my kids survived these mishaps. One boy, the driver, did not. Car Talk (NPR) once suggested cars apporpriate for young drivers. You might check their website for recent updates. Finally, restrictons on how many kids can travel in the car with your son can be life-saving: more kids, more trouble

Okay, so the GTI is fast and is sold as a performance car that doesn't look like one. However, it also has airbags all over, excellent brakes (well, duh), excellent frame and everything you could put possible put in a car in terms of safety. Remember, this is driven by Germans on their Autobahn (yes, the ones without speed limit) and it is designed to be.

Don't let the lack of a sedan style back (and the buffer zone) fool you into believing that this car might be unsafe. Check the NCAP crash test records and think whether your teenage kid is more likely to bump into something or something into him/her.

With this new logic, since we are assuming your son will wreck whatever car you buy, I would get a safe and USED car.

I drove an old Volvo 240 for years. Wasn't much younger than me, and the total lack of HP prevented me from doing anything stupid. For the record, neither my brother nor I ever got in a serious accident while driving...

Mine will almost certainly be a minority opinion here, but I actually find most "driver aids" -- such as traction control and ABS -- seriously detract from my driving performance, not help it.

Admittedly, I do take my driving more seriously than most and have some training in and experience with driving cars fast -- which you should also try to provide to Zander if you can (drop me a note for some recommendations) -- but a car that has a mind of its own can actually cause an accident when driven by a skillful driver who has the knowledge to make his own decisions about what he wants the car to do when. Anyone who has ever encountered an ABS system's "ice mode" and had the brakes seem to go away when they're trying to brake and corner hard at the same time will attest to this!

Anything you can do to make Zander a better driver is worth at least as much as putting him into a safer car, if not even more so. Accidents will happen, of course, but a surprising number of them can be avoided or the damage minimized by a skilled driver and that doesn't necessarily mean just having years of experience.

"Your post made me question once again what the American lawmakers where thinking (drinking?) when they put driving at 16, and drinking at 21."

Kevin,
The driving part is because America was largely agrarian in the early 20th century. Many farm kids had to drive vehicles at early ages--I've read many accounts of farm kids learning to drive at age 9, 10, 11, 12--and some farming states allowed licensing at age 14 (may still, I don't know). Very few Americans grow up on farms any more, but that's the history. I've been a longtime advocate of drinking, driving, voting and drafting (military service, but yes, drafting) at age 21. Definitely a minority opinion.

There are studies that indicate that BOTH age 14 AND age 18 are better ages to learn how to drive than age 16! In fact I suspect that's why my son hasn't gotten his license yet, because he's been listening to me say for years that it's smarter and safer to be licensed at 18 than at 16.

The drinking part is because America started out Puritan, and there were lots of "morality"-based laws in the country historically, including a strong temperance movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Ever heard of Johnny Appleseed? He was a real dude, but he was far from an apple lover. All edible-fruit-bearing apple trees are grown from cuttings or graftings. The reason is that when you plant seeds, you never know what kind of weird fruit you're going to get or whether it will be edible. What you CAN get from seeds is fruit that can be used to make Applejack, or hard cider--the preferred hooch of the frontier. Johnny Appleseed was a booze merchant. America always was, and still is, a hard-drinking country. The high legal drinking age is a consequence of the high rate of alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

Mike

Our son was also reluctant to drive, but in his senior year, we talked him into getting his license (partially so we wouldn't have to chauffeur)and gave him our 1989 Volvo 240 sedan. 8 months later he left the highway (going too fast) and hit a bridge. He lived to tell about it...barely. So, I am in agreement with Steve (Hyper-reliable, relatively large, multi-air bag and ABS equipped cars). Even though the 240 did not have air bags, I think it still contributed to his survival . And...if possible, keep Zander off the highway until he has a LOT of experience.

"On the other hand, teenagers do have really good reflexes"

Roger,
...Better eyesight, too.

Mike

He's absolutely right. I'm embarrassed that I didn't think of it.

17 year old ? Three words
USED DIESEL MERCEDES.
about $4,000 , it will last for ever or until it gets in an accident in which case it will be the biggest bargain you have ever purchased.

If you really want to talk safety for your son (and other people) then the longer you wait to let him drive the better. Each year that he waits his risk of a serious accident is much less likely, and you will save large amounts of money in the insurance costs. Buy the car for you. Let him mature and work out the other later. I know that is blasphemy to the average suburbanite but he does not have to drive right away, and you read what happened to the good doctor. Locally we just had 3 teenage boys in a wreck, two are dead and the driver gets to live with that the rest of his life. Yes the people that know the boys have said that they were good kids who just made some bad decisions. It is a very sad day.

Or, you might want to consider a completely different kind of Volkswagen:

http://www.thesamba.com/vw/forum/viewtopic.php?p=4518009&sid=fa82eb89f69634bbb74d81a7326cf2d7#4518009

That's me last night, somewhere in Baja.

I was completely on the opposite side of the argument regarding your son Zander and your car choice. Actually I feel pretty reckless and insensitive now. I just remember when I was about to get my license and my father happened to be buying a new car at the time. We went to dealerships looking at all kinds of cars, and I vividly remember him test-driving a Javelin AMX, with the 390ci 4-barrel, and I loved that car thinking about all the chicks I could date driving the old man's car. I begged him to buy it. He ended up getting a goddamn gray Oldsmobile.

Anyway, I guess I tried to put myself in Zander's shoes, but there's always the possibility that I'm still alive today because my father bought that Delta 88.

Although it would have the glaring inadequacy of a complete lack of a manual transmission, you might want to consider a 2000-2002 Mercedes E-class.

(Why the narrow year range? Specifically, it is the end of production of the W210 chassis, and only had the M112 and M113 engines. Which means, technobabbble aside, they really knew how to build them. Always buy late in a series with Benzes, the teething pains are gone...)

Anyway, they are reliable, built like a tank, have a 'manumatic' transmission, great impact survivability, a million airbags, eerily quiet, plenty of power with the V6, the V8 has more than you need, drives like a dream, and basically gives you the entire M-B experience for much less than a Hyundai. (Speaking of the whole Benz 'thing', once experienced, IS as good as it is made out to be.)

The best thing about these cars? You can find really excellent examples between $8-12K, they will be sitting towards the bottom of their depreciation curve.

Remember, with a used Benz, buy on condition, not miles. They last forever.

I have had Audis for 13 years, a Lexus for 3. A couple of Golfs have been thrown in for good measure as well. They have all been good cars, with the Audis lightyears better than the VW's, the Lexus every bit as good as the Audis. (Albiet with a completely different personality...) That said, my E-class is quite simply in another league compared to the rest.

Just my $.02

Knowing that makes me insist in my advice... buy a Volvo... a used one is worth every penny. There's no safer car and you can even find it "pretty" (I don't, thouth I still like it) It's comfortable, it's reliable and it has good mpg.

(My first comment here and it's about cars, not photography! For shame!)

This is quite a timely post for me - I'm just about to buy a car, and like Mike, my heartstrings have been pulled towards hot hatchbacks whereas my wallet is not so sure. The Golf GTI would be my first choice, but I've pretty much ruled it out because it'd involve getting myself into more debt than I'm really comfortable with. (Here in Australia they cost $40,000 - $50,000 depending on how many optional extras you want - I understand they're a lot cheaper elsewhere in the world. Count yourself lucky!) My current favourite is actually the Ford Focus ST (a.k.a. Ford XR5 in Australia) - similar power and handling as the Golf, not quite as refined, and a bit of a "chav" image; but for $7000 less it's a much more palatable choice. I'm only 24, and here in Australia the Golf GTI is a bit of an old blokes' car (becoming popular with people who might otherwise have bought low-end BMWs and Mercs), whereas hot Fords are more popular with the youth.

The Hyundai seemed a weird alternative. Hyundai build surprisingly nice cars these days but I've still never found one that I actually enjoy driving. There must be other affordable, sensible options out there that are a lot more fun to drive. Even the ordinary VW Golf has a decent amount of power and handles far better than you would expect from its tuned-for-comfort suspension.

As for cars for learners: the car I learned to drive on had a 3.8L V6 in it; rear wheel drive; and no airbags or ABS brakes. Very easy to get yourself into trouble with compared to any modern small car. Teaching your son how to drive competently and defensively, and showing what can go wrong if you try pushing the limits of a car, is surely going to make more of a difference than what car he happens to be in. I guess it depends on how much you expect your son to be cautious and sensible driver, and how much you expect him to succumb to the desire to show off - that's a call that nobody else can make. And I'm a bit young to be giving anyone advice on how to bring up their kids, so I'll stop now...

For whatever it's worth Mike, on a very snowy and icy interstate highway, my wife hit a guard rail hard in our '96 Subaru Outback. Witnesses thought she would be dead, but she walked away unharmed except for a few bumps and bruises. A few months later, after several thousand dollars in repairs, our teenage son rolled that same car at interstate speeds (and very close to the same spot where my wife had her accident). The car apparently rolled three times, but our son walked away. The car had 190,000 miles on it when he rolled it. You want a very reliable, very safe car? Our experience suggests that the Subaru Outback should be on your list.

Mike,
As long as you get something with the aforementioned traction control & ABS, and practice with your son so he sees where the usual limit of the car's grip is, he'll be as fine in the GTI as anything else. He will have to learn some restraint like we all did, cause in terms of safety, one can get anything going fast enough to cause a problem. However, if you do buy that GTI, you'll need to factor in a set of winter wheels/tires as the "summer tires" it comes with are not going to like long Wisconsin winters as much. Also, you could get a Subaru Impreza WRX: fast like the GTI, adds all-wheel-drive for a bit more traction (not gonna save you on ice, but Imprezas are mountain goats in snow even with all-season tires). The Hyundai would be a smart buy, just not as fun - they really have done a stellar job in recent years.

I partially disagree. Certainly you want your son driving something as modern as possible, yes. But a light, nimble car makes it easier for the driver to avoid the accident in the first place. A (well designed) large, heavy car is more survivable in a crash, yes -- but you're more likely to get into one in the first place.

Like everything else, it's a tradeoff. I'll vote for a nimble car coupled with proper, advanced driver training every time. (Check with the local SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) region for car control classes that go way beyond driver's ed, for very low cost ($50-$100 for a 1-2 day class). They're usually run as part of the autocross program. http://www.scca.com/

Um, Mike. There's been a zillion people who learned to drive without traction control, ABS or airbags.

I can understand your concern, though. So how about buying a car for yourself, selling your old car and for that money buying something old and sturdy for Zander? America has had a ton of cars with three-mile crumple zone and an inch-thick metal. Or an old Saab, maybe?

Zander will come around. Let him just lose his chauffeur for a while. :)))

It's a great call. And since you don't seem to mind recommendations: after hitting a truck with my kid in the car, I predictably went out and bought the most possible airbags. Our Volvo V40 is lots of things you seem to be looking for: the airbags are numerous, for better or worse it's not all that light for a smaller car, the turbo is peppy, the wagon hauls the dog, and the FWD does great in MN winters.

Hello Mike,

Hello Mike,

About car safety, you might want to read about it here:

http://www.crashtest.com/

Also the "Top Safety Picks 2010" from the Insurance Instute of Highway Safety.

http://www.iihs.org/ratings/default.aspx

Have a safe journey.

You and Steve spell out one of the things I had in mind when I wrote that my hypothetical Wisconsin + new driver + dog car would likely be a Subaru. (I was also imagining much more sightseeing than you would do.)

I'll be more specific and say I'd look first at the Outback, which has all-wheel-drive and stellar safety, stability and resale ratings.

Again, I'm a non-car-owner going by varied but short-term driving experiences and others' experiences and recommendations. Most notably, a friend who is a news cameraman drove an Outback packed with TV gear around a large city and its suburbs for years, racing to crime scenes and fires at all hours, in all weather. He didn't love his job, but he loved the Outback--always raved about the car's performance, reliability and comfort.

http://www.subaru.com/ratings-reviews/outback.html

Keep the ZX2 around for a while to teach manual shifting, though.

Get what you want for you and give him a 1990 Mercury Grand Marquis or similar. It's large, heavy, sturdy, rides like a floating carpet and is likely to not only allow him to walk away from an accident - it's damn likely to be driven away by him in his healthy fullness.

Mine has 216000 miles on it and shows no signs of giving up the ghost anytime soon. It's not sporty, not pretty and decidedly not fuel efficient but it IS up to taking a beating and sadly, few vehicles made in the last decade are made of plastics or composites that approach the strength of the ol' Merc.

Finally, I live in SW Michigan and we have lots of lake-effect snow that it handles just fine, thank you.

I absolutely agree with your friend. Both my sons had accidents as teens, so get a safe used car that you don't have a great passion for. That way, when the accident occurs, your son will hopefully survive just fine, and you won't be grieving over your crumpled dream the car.

I would do the same thing - buy a car that offers protection to my son. That may mean a bigger vehicle, but - my son's big car may be what kills someone else's son. Then we all need to get bigger and bigger cars. I would concentrate on side air bags and safety ratings. That seems to be a good balance between offering protection for your son, and for everyone else.

Ed

I think the minimum age for a driving license should be, at the very least, 25 years so that the raging hormones have settled at least a little bit. Girls are not much better, by the way.

Mike,

In 1966 when I was 16 I slid on black ice doing about 25mph into the oncoming lane and hit a women head on. The family Pontiac Bonneville absorbed the impact and with my lap belt secured, I walked away totally uninjured (women I hit only banged up but fully recovered. Eight years ago my son coming home on a frigid Vermont evening hit black ice and lost control of our Buick Regal and flipped the car roof first into a telephone pole bending the car around the pole leaving only a small pocket over his head not crushed to the seats. He walked away with a cut pinky finger as he climbed out of the car. Neither of us were speeding, but neither of us understood the conditions that lead to our accidents. It takes years of experience to become an aware and safe driver. Great deals can be had on Ford Taurus and the likes. You may be able to get a great deal on a 10 year old car for Zander and still get the car of your dreams.

Mike, I completely agree with your friend Steve's opinion. Safety is the most important thing to consider when buying a car your son will drive, by far. Car accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers.

I have teenage sons who will be learning to drive soon and I'm thinking of buying a used Honda Pilot for them. It has electronic stability control, airbags everywhere, top crash test results, and it's big and heavy - it weighs 4500 lbs. I despise gas guzzling SUVs, but I've invested an enormous amount of time and money in these kids and I want them to live!

Mike,

Consumer Reports provides almost all the information you need to make a car buying decision.

I would recommend a 3-4 year old used car. The VW Rabbit is highly recommended by Consumer Reports.

It's a very good idea not to rush into buying a newer car. You could have a lot of time to regret a mistake.

On the other hand, you don't want to wait too long. Old cars (over 10 years) become horrendously expensive to maintain since repairs are inevitable, and somewhat logarithmic with age.

Wish you well in your car-buying adventure.

Wayne

Mike,

I think Steve's advice is perfect (although admittedly not much fun). Even if Zander is entirely responsible and an excellent driver, he is likely to wind up driving around others his age who are not, and he is also likely to wind up driving at night and on weekends, when there are not only inexperienced teenagers out driving, but plenty of inebriated adults as well.

To Steve's comment, I would add that when considering safety, size and the availability of airbags are not the only concern. As a basic matter of physics, a vehicle's weight is crucial as well. See here: http://www.safecarguide.com/gui/nee/safety.htm

As the author states, "Drivers under 20 experience a much higher percentage of traffic fatalities when compared to other drivers, so consider the safety of a large or mid-sized sedan for inexperienced drivers."

Unfortunately, the importance of size and weight in determining the outcome of a crash effectively leads you into an arms race in the United States, where the only way to be safe is to drive a suburban with a big motor and terrible mileage. I honestly wouldn't feel safe driving a compact on a highway in the U.S., whereas the generally smaller size and lighter weight of European cars makes me much less fearful.

Plus, if you like small, light cars that go fast, then the above news is sure to go over well...

Good luck!
Adam

I've just gone through the car buying thing. I seem to be very much like you in my approach to this, though we were looking for a different kind of car--we need more cargo space and have a long, cross-country trip coming up (and want to take to the road more often now that we have a reliable car). We were looking at cars like the Hyndai Elantra Touring and the Honda Fit. Much to our surprise, we bought a Chevy HHR: it has a more comfortable ride for the long trips, is almost as economical, and has more metal!

Metal is good. The car is heavier, so it doesn't feel like you're flicking a thin shell around the road when driving, as the Honda and Hyandai did (the HHR still handles reasonably well and also seems torqueyer). But the real reason for the metal is that it's safer. In a head-on, the type of crash that produces, by far, the most serious injuries (and most of the fatalities), mass still wins (I can't remember now where I got this, MotorTrend, USNews, or the gov site where they actually crash rest the vehicles--and give you video so you can watch). People in bigger vehicles survive head-ons better.

This was our reasoning with our daughter as she became of driving age: her first vehicle was her grandparents' Jeep truck, followed by a Jeep Cherokee. Both with all the safety features of their day, and metal. Lots of metal. (BTW, our cross-country trip is, nominally, to go see our daughter graduate from college).

Of course, I will say, that last car I actually bought was a VW Scirocco. My favorite car ever (had it fourteen years).

Dear Mike,

I'm bored. When are we going to talk about cameras, again!

[g,d,&r]

For what very little it's worth, when I wrote "I Hate Shopping" (http://tinyurl.com/ybgcmd7) a good 80% of the comments focused specifically on what car I should be buying (or they had bought).

The commenter a bit back who complained about there only having been one (I think?) column in recent days about photography amused me, too. And I, too, was severely tempted to replace that week's planned column of mine with an OT one.**

I think it shows how truly virtuous we both are that we did not succumb to our base impulses. Gotta go polish my halo, now.

pax / cherubic Ctein

**(they were wrong about that-- the majority of previous recent columns had been about photography, just not parts that interested him)

PS to my last post: something like OnStar is actually kind of nice, in a way. It gives you something alway right there that you can use to call for help if you need it, and they will get emergency vehicles to your location even if you don't call for help (they can detect that a crash has occurred). I bristle at the Big Brotherness of it all, but it does seem safer. If I could've, I would've had that in my daughter's car.

Another voice of experience here. Get the vehicle that costs the least to insure. Until Zander turns 25, he will cost you an arm, a leg, and a few Leica's in insurance premiums. And that's assuming he keeps a clean driving record.

Grant

I kind of assume that any new car will have ABS and side airbags. Beyond this, go to The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: http://www.iihs.org/ratings/default.aspx and look at the offset frontal crash test results.

To understand the importance of this test, look at the 1995-2004 Chevy Blazer. Even though it is a larger vehicle and GM advertised it as a safe vehicle, it folded up like origami. (Why I hate GM, Chapter 22)

Let me add: I love my Toyota Corolla. I know, no stick shift...

Oh yes, everybody please buy even bigger and heavier cars for we need even more energy on our road, ready to be deployed on the ones with smaller cars.
And then those big cars are driven proudly by 16 year old teenager guys after their ridiculous 8h of actual driving behind a wheel, without any real driving education.


That idea of having a big car to survive accidents is very, very ugly. You should certainly_not_give somebody inexperienced something even stronger, that logic doesn't work for me.

Don't have an accident in the first place, then nobody needs big fortresses on wheels.

If memory serves me well the MiniCooper has 6 airbags and is built like a steel cage. In many cases probably safer overall then an SUV. Just my 2¢.

Three other possibilities sprint to mind - the TDI Jetta has made my fighter-pilot, RX-7 loving uncle a convert(but diesels and lots of cold may not make any sense), or possibly a Ford Fusion (Sport), the Fusions have 2 V6 options - the Sport has 263 hp, and the Fusion is a really, really amazing car to have a blue oval on it. Safe, fun to drive, and roomy.
Lastly, what about the Subaru Impreza? Not a WRX, which is just asking for lots of teenage issues:) And Subies are safe critters, with AWD to boot.

My 18 year old has been driving what I consider the ideal hand-me-down for a newbie; a 6 year old Subaru Legacy Outback wth well over 100,000 miles on it. Very crash-worthy, not especially quick or sporty, and wonderful in the snow up here in the Great White North. And nowhere near as absurdly inefficient or top-heavy as some goliath SUV or pick-up.

Almost as relevant as the vehicle would be the rules you insist upon. We strictly prohibited our son from giving a ride to anyone during his first 6 months behind the wheel, and he was limited to a single passenger for the next 6 months. The statistics on the subject are pretty horrifying; each successive passenger in a teenager's car, including the first one, more than doubles the risk of a crash. Put four teens in a car, and you might as well play Russian roulette.

I still say the Subaru Legacy or Outback is your best bet, but this time consider a used one since the children come in the equation.

I bought one Legacy for my wife 5 years ago and was so impressed by the performance of this car that I sold my MPV two month later and bought myself an Outback. Today, I am considering renewing the legacy and cannot think of a better alternative.

These cars have symmetrical all wheel drive, ABS, ESP..., 6 airbags and have the highest ratings in crash tests. They are extremely durable and comfortable to use and handle safe in Snow and Wet conditions.

Just don't buy him an SUV because it's big and were mis-marketed as safer. They're no safer for the passengers than most cars and probably cause more ancillary damage (killing other people).

The VW had skid control standard. I regard skid control as essential. not sure the 599 has it.

Hi Mike.

I had my first (and only) serious accident as a teenager. In not-so-powerful but light, small, cheap car. With no ABS, no traction control, and no airbags.

Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt in this one. The car was almost totalled, though.

On the other hand, this car taught me a lot about driving. This, in turn, saved me and my family a few times to date.

So I guess they were right when they said "what does not kill you, will make you stronger". Whether I will have cohones to let my son take a similar lesson, is altogether a different thing.

Back when I was a stupid, reckless teenager, I went out of control and crossed the center line and ran head on into a UPS truck at about 35 miles per hour.

I was in my dad's beloved 1970 Lincoln. The transmission pushed up partially through the floorboard and ended up between the two front seats. Even with no airbags, I walked away with a small cut above my eyebrow from the rear view mirror.

Get as much metal around your kid as you can. If it is well-engineered metal with crumple zones, all the better.

A two-sided sword, like mostly everything in life. While a big car might actually save your kid, it might as well make him feel "safe" in a way that leads to driving too fast for his abilities and/or foresight.

Never forget to play Sting's "Fragile" to him ;-) To learn to take care of others who are mostly weaker is a great and valuable goal as well, right?

You'll make the right decision, I'm pretty sure. Mustn't be that Ferrari for the beginning, but also no big SUV or such.

I think and I are roughly the same age. 3 years ago I had a 20th Anniversary Edition, Black Magic Pearl. Let me say it was fantastic. Two years into ownership I decided I needed a bit more luxury in my life and went with an VW Eos. Putting the top down transforms the mundane-to-okay day into a day at the spa. Plus the 2.0T engine is fairly quick.

Treat yourself well. Especially if you can afford it.

25 years in the car business. If you are concerned about satisfying the dual needs of safety and sportiness (and want a stick shift), get a Subaru.

So, Mike....

What color Crown Vic are you planning on buying?

:-)

Jim

I know this is waaay off your radar, but nothing does better in a collision, than GM. I speak from first hand experience, and all of my accidents were in my first two years.

I think Volvo does well too, but they are priced like a house.

Listen to that doctor.

Your friend is so right. I was never a risk taker and yet.....well I would never have believed a person could fall asleep while driving! I mean, your driving! Right!

Wrong. At 18, after a hard day at work, I got into my brand new 1968 VW bug and headed home. A warm balmy day...cruising down the road....I woke up the next day in the hospital after having come to an abrupt stop head on but off center against a 64 Bel-air SW. The person who had saved my life was the car salesman. Three months earlier, as I was about to drive away in my new rig, he leaned in the window and asked "Would you do me a favor?"-"Sure Bob, anything"-"Would you ALWAYS wear you seat belt?" Happy to please my elders, I put it on right then, I always did, and still do.

Motor-vehicles are similar to digital cameras;
readily disposable.
Ideally a two to four year old Detroit
land barge. Say a Ford Crown Victoria or Mercury Marquis, with all the airbags intact.
Perhaps an ex-police vehicle with high mileage but well maintained.

Mike,

May I suggest enrolling your son in a high performance driving class (not a road racing class, but they usually are done at the road racing tracks). When I was 15 my best friends dad enrolled his son and myself in 2 HPD classes (I think back then they were $90 or so per person). We drove a car on a skidpad dry and wet, the instructor intentionally jerked the wheel so we could learn how to react, and they showed us how far behind a car you had to trail another car in order to not rear end it. I am now 33 and my best friend 35. Neither of us have had one accident. In 34+ combined years of driving.

BTW, go for the VW. I am on my 3rd one. My first 85 Jetta TDI I retired it at 584k, my 93 Camry I sold with 304k on it and I'm now on a 00 Jetta TDI that's just broke-in at 150k. The VW's are more fun, but cost a little more to maintain then the Japanese Imports. I've been working on cars since I was 12.

Don't let people convince you that size is the only factor that matters for safety. While you might be safer in a Camry then a Yaris if your hit by a Suburban, the smaller lighter cars are much easier to make sudden direction changes, much easier to stop, and generally easier to handle should evasive maneuvers be required.

Mike:

The recommendation from your trout-fishing friend is good - except in one point: larger cars are not magically safer than smaller ones. In fact, a large car can mislead the driver into a feeling of security which is not based on fact or physics. Speed doesn't feel as fast; an eye level high above the road surface - as in an SUV - makes the scenery move past the windows seemingly much slower. Large cars can give a false feeling of invulnerability simply due to their size and mass. There is more...


If the old car is too unsafe, how about a "new" used one?

Volvo C30 meets all of your needs.
have one, love it. (my first fun car too)

Especially given your new criteria, I suggest these rules:

Buy used (2 to 5 years old) and let someone else lose all the depreciation and very little of the use value.

Buy American (cheap and ubiquitous parts available anywhere).

Buy with the Lemon Aid guide in-hand. It details both safety results, major failures and minor annoyances in every model. I have found this book unfailingly accurate.

Best of luck on the hunt.

Steve's response shows real wisdom. A good call on your part.

I bet you're somewhat relieved now.

Mike,

Getting a car that you like to drive and one that is safe for your son as a beginning driver need not be mutually exclusive. Witness the IIHS Top Safety Picks:

http://www.iihs.org/ratings/default.aspx

Both the Golf and the Sonata are amongst their top picks.

Another good reference regarding crashworthiness is the NHTSA safercar.gov website.

Using the IIHS Top Safety Picks and the NHTSA 5-star ratings as a starting point, I'm sure you'd be able to find a safe car you both like.

Mike - an interesting discussion but the advice you are getting from your friends, so far as a car for Zander is concerned, maybe approaches the problem from the wrong angle.

As an advanced driving instructor and ex-police traffic officer here in the UK, (and photographer of course :)) with a special interest in young, inexperienced drivers, having sadly dealt with fatal accidents involving them, my strong advice would be to send him on a one day course with someone similar in the US. A search for "advanced driving instructors" and your state should produce results.

Done properly it will short-circuit the inevitable very steep learning curve and teach him him techniques that will keep him out of trouble. Many he will never learn alone, even after 40+ years, as I find here all the time. That will equip him to drive any car safely and you to buy the car you really want!

Whatever the cost it is certain to be cheaper than buying him an expensive car with all the safety gizmos (which won't make him better driver) and will be more likely to keep him safe.

Mike,

Have you considered just buying a really cheap older large car for your son to drive, something you can get for a couple thousand bucks so if (when) he wrecks it, you won't cry for your new car? My father gave me a nice car that my dad bought new and drove for several years until he replaced it with something newer for himself. It was 6 yrs old but still in VERY nice condition and of course I totaled it when I was 16. When my sister got her license, he bought her a big old junker to wreck, and after she drove it a year or so he got rid of it (she didn't wreck it, lol) and got her a nicer car.

Get your son a junker for himself and buy yourself a nice car that you want.

If the young driver is an issue, safe cars are the only intelligent option in purchasing a car. Old cars are inherently less safe than new ones. Here in CA, the number of kids killed in older SUVs is appalling - SUVs are not safe for kids as they handle poorly an turn over easily.
But the other issue is to make sure the kids get real driving lessons - not the kind that get you through the tests for licensing, but safe driving/accident avoidance courses run by car clubs or professional driving schools. It's the best investment you'll ever make. My kids got track time with professional instructors and even some ice school time. I consider it a valuable investment in their safety.

It's not restricted to teenagers but new drivers in general. Just happens that most new drivers are younger. Within 6 weeks (3 of which I was on vacation) of buying my first car, I wrote it off largely due to poor judgement. I was 23 when I got my license.

As for learning to drive, the low-tech ZX2 may be better: no technology to rely on when acquiring basic skills.

That's why I mentioned the MiniCooper. My son rolled his after falling asleep at the wheel. On the Interstate. At 75+ mph. NOT ONE SCRATCH. One messed up Cooper (ie totaled). We bought another one, and it's gotten him all the way through college and beyond, and very good reliability.

"Oh yes, everybody please buy even bigger and heavier cars..."

I was actually thinking along the lines of the Mercury Milan/Ford Fusion for Zander and me, which is not terribly fast, doesn't encourage excessive driving, and has very good crash safety ratings. But it's certainly not an excessively large car, at least not for America.

Although, now that I've done a little research, it looks like the VW Golf and 2011 Hyundai Sonata both rank pretty highly for safety as well.

Mike

Buying your son a Nikon D3x and setting it to P-mode won't make him a photographer. Likewise, buying your son a car with 15 airbags and ABS won't make him a safe driver.

By all means consider crash ratings and other passive safety options when choosing a car for your son. But also send him to defensive driving school, not to drink and drive, not to text and drive, and to keep focused on the task at hand.

And my vote is for the GTI - I had a Mark II and it was thrilling if a little unreliable...

Mike: I disagree with those folks who advise you to get a used car. A study of the IIHS website will convince you that newer cars are safer, with side impact protection, side airbags, ABS, and especially with electronic stability control.

See: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/regrev/evaluate/809790.html.

Bill

Of course, the larger car you buy for him, the better the odds are of him killing whomever he hits in this apparently inevitable accident.

@ erlik: "There's been a zillion people who learned to drive without traction control, ABS or airbags."

There's been a zillion people who grew up without computers, antibiotics, vaccination, clean drinking water, automobiles ...

Get him on a defensive driving course, then an advanced driver training course.

Then put a big spike in the centre of the steering wheel, that'll make him drive defensively ;)

Your friend is right. My late father taught driver's education in a large Chicago high school for a several decades. His rule for my siblings and me was we could not drive without an adult in the car for one year after we received a drivers license.

A year ago I bought a used BMW 330i, and it's been a delight - a proper manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive, perfectly weighted telepathic steering, and a delightful inline 6 that sings on command. Most of the depreciation had been wrung out of it, so for the money I think it was one of the best cars I could buy.

They're not for everyone, but it leads me to the point of my comment: for a new driver, a car with great steering and brakes is a must. If you go the used route for Zander, make absolutely sure you get new tires and brake pads. Updating the suspension and steering bits is also recommended.

A wallowy car with vague steering and questionable brakes is the last thing I'd want a new driver to have to contend with. Having the confidence to stop and turn outweighs considerations of how many airbags and how heavy the car is.

My ideal car for a new driver would probably be something like a Porsche Boxster (the 911 has weird oversteer issues) with a little 1.6 liter 4-banger. Come to think of it, that would be a Miata...

Hi Mike,
I'm back and would like to take a totally different approach. Combine photography AND cars. Yes, if you want someone to fully understand the meaning of photography, give them a basic, fully manual film camera. Teach them how to see the world first. Get them to read David Hurn & Bill Jay "On being a Photographer". [ and of course anything by Bill Jay and Mike Johnston ] Let them understand the dynamics of how exposure works with film, and why. Only when they are aware of the world, how it operates, what is actually happening around them THEN let them 'graduate' to a digital. That's the analogy.
Cars : get a very basic car, no fancy 'safety' features that 'save' you from yourself. Actually learn the dynamics of how a car is driven, controlled, in the real world. Then when he [ Zander ] moves up to the VW Sirocco/BMW 3 series with all the no-brainer 'safety' features he will know what they are, how to really use them and hopefully why the 'intelligent' law makers forced them on us. Some people call this the 'nanny state' syndrome, we the people are not smart enough to know how to save ourselves from ourselves.[?]
Lastly send him to Driving School, a real driving school where he gets some serious track time. Yes, on a race track! Where he can learn the real dynamics of a car, trust me this is the place that you spend big serious money, education. You Learn how to really control a car. How to use ABS in the real world. How to drive around a corner. Yes really. Just like learning how to use a real camera [ like my LX and now the K10D ] All that learning from the masters [ and the LX fits this criteria ] pays big dividends. Sorry for the rant, but that is what I finally made my son do, learn from the masters. Now he is a very good race driver [ racing happens on the track not the road and you learn what to do when it all goes wrong, safely] and now also builds race cars, that work, for other drivers. Experience PLUS education. Head & Heart.

Mike [ just another photo educator ]

There's been a zillion people who grew up without computers, antibiotics, vaccination, clean drinking water, automobiles ...

Bill, exactly my point. I don't say we all have to repeat that, but you can do it.

BTW, driving an underpowered car won't really make you safer, it will only prevent you from intentionally making mistakes that kids in hot cars can make.

A kid with his own car is safer than one without, because the kid without his own car is driving around in his friends' cars, at the mercy of *their* attitudes and values.

A moral viewpoint: the only thing your son could do worse than get killed driving is to kill someone else driving. For this reason I do not advocate putting kids in big cars "for their own protection". In fact there should be a law against kids under 21 driving cars over 2000cc or 150hp or 1200kg.

An engineer's viewpoint: traction control and ABS *do* work, they *do* prevent accidents.

Mike, good luck.
Arg

I'm trying to get past the strange idea of considering Golf as a passion purchase rather than a purely rational decision. Never heard of any VW badged family car raising heartbeats :) It's a perfectly decent car (safety or otherwise) and nothing more than that. Boring.

But to get to the point... I would strongly suggest you start driving your dog in the back rather than back seats. They're much more comfortable back there, can't bother you while driving and can't fly around if you do crash.

Secondly, get your son into a decent safe driving course immediately after getting his license.

My reaction to your first post was also that the new driver element was foremost. As a new driver, I caused terminal wear and tear to our family's Ford station wagon, then totaled a lovely used Ford that I bought with my own savings (fell asleep driving home from The Prom...), went through two more inexpensive cars and finally bought a Volvo when leaving college that lasted me for 16 suburban and traveling years. Nobody got hurt in all of this, but living in the NY suburbs I saw some scary crashes, and on occasion ferried the unhurt back-seat passengers home (hearing cries of "Don't tell my mother!"). I just accept that this exposure is a part of growing up, and will plan for it when my kids hit that point in another few years.

scott

Have you share your thoughts with Zander?
Just asking.

Thing is, buy the car you feel confortable with.

I remember my dad bought his car because the lights it had. Better said, how good the lighting was, both to see and be seen. But that was a bit of a weird purchase, and it is a process not really applicable to your case.

My dad could buy whichever car he wanted BUT had to be a saloon and be 4.60m tops. Parking space is very thight on Europe.

In the end, the quality of the light system avaliable made him decide for the Focus mk.2 Sedan, with Xenon lighting. Over the equivalent VW, over the BMW, over Skodas and SEATs [yep, that is a brand], over Renaults and Peugeots. My dad suffers from vertigo, and the good and expansive lighting of the Ford system won him over, because of the smooth transitioning from the dark areas to the well lit areas, making night driving a safer experience to him.

Check other stuff that might pass overseen or under the radar. You might find yourself surprised about the heavy differences cars have.

[And by the way, if you were deciding on the Golf, check the power window mechanism, and get a good signed warranty agreement with the dealer for at least 6 years. They tend to fall, and it is a common fault on any VAG model -Audi, VW, Seat, Skoda, Lamborghini, Bentley- as they share the plastic piece responsible of holding the glass]

But in the end, a car is a safe, so to speak, as the experience the driver is having on it. Have a car that bongs for every notification you have, and the driver will get stressed out, and miss the necessary attention.

Have a car "too sporty", and the driver will get tired over long journeys [that was the difference between the Titanium and the Ghia trim on the Focus], making him loose reflexes and get irritated.

All this driving experience results in the driver paying more attention to the road, and therefore being safer actively AND passively [ie. not being hit by others].

It is interesting how it is all relative.
The VW Golf here in EU costs about 28.000 EUR or about 38.000 USD. With 211 HP is by my standards very powerfull (I drive a 50HP Fiat).
How about getting a car that/s friendly to the environment?
Buying a car that does 250 km/h for a teenager?
Even if it has all the latest gimmicks in passenger protection, those become almost useless at speeds over 100 mph.
The Americans have allways been strange to us Europeans regarding cars - maybe for the low cost of gasoline? The vast spaces? The economic power?

I'd get an oldish (1998-2002) Jaguar XJ8 solid metal, a beautiful shape, good brakes and at the time the safest car on the road. Almost impossible to make out in tho' :-( and uses quite a lot of petrol. I got one and cant imagine driving anything else. As a photographer you owe it to yourself to own things of beauty.

"What's best for Zander to learn to drive in? The old ZX2 has no traction control, no ABS brakes, is relatively light and flimsy, and has only front air bags. And it's actually pretty fast—only 150 HP (probably down a few since it was new), but it's light."

Sounds pretty good to me - make him drive you everywhere for six months, then decide on a car purchase.

The ZX2 is a fine first car. Contrary to popular belief, older all metal cars perform far worse in a crash than modernish small cars from the past 10 years.

150 hp isn't much now, when base Mustangs have 300 hp and entry level KIAs clock in at 140.

Also to insure a young person on a brand new car is very expensive, I would hand down the Escort and buy yourself a hot hatch. You deserve it.

"(I drive a 50HP Fiat). How about getting a car that/s friendly to the environment? Buying a car that does 250 km/h for a teenager? Even if it has all the latest gimmicks in passenger protection, those become almost useless at speeds over 100 mph. The Americans have allways been strange to us Europeans regarding cars - maybe for the low cost of gasoline? The vast spaces?"

David,
A 50 HP car would be a hazard here, I think. You can't live here without doing freeway driving and slow cars are just as bad as speeders. Of course, you don't need 200 HP either.

America is much more spread-out than Europe. My state, for example, is not one of the larger ones, and we are half the size of Germany with 1/10th as many people. We don't have the old, small cities not built for cars and the distances are much greater--I drive 170KM to visit my brother, for instance. A trip to Florida for a vacation is longer than driving from Berlin to Istanbul. And that's not even bringing the West into play. New York to Las Vegas, for instance, is 3,592 KM.

We have set up our communities, even our culture, to rely on the automobile, which I personally think will come back to haunt us. But I do relatively little driving. A couple of years ago during the period of high gas prices, I tried cutting out all my non-essential driving, and I was able to go two whole months on one tank of gas. That's pretty unusual for America. I work at home and most of my usual trips are to places that are pretty close--the shopping strip and the grocery store are only a mile away. So I am a low polluter in any case, relatively speaking of course.

Don't forget, too, that new cars are usually much friendlier to the environment than old ones. It's not as extreme as it used to be, but I'm guessing that a new VW would have better emissions than my older Ford. (I wasn't able to easily find the figures on that.)

This was an overlooked aspect of the recent "Cash for Clunkers" program--from an environmental standpoint it makes a great deal of sense to get as many older cars off the roads as possible.

Mike

Mike,
FWIW, I'd recommend a used Subaru. When I learned to drive, one thing I could not master was handling a rear-wheel drive or even a front-wheel drive car in a spin. In a spin, I could never tell which direction the spin was in in order to turn into it!

Driving in snowy upstate New York and the Northeast, I find the Subaru is a life-saver. It has high safety ratings, is fun to drive, and handles very well.

I also think enrolling Zander in a driving class is a good idea. My step-brother, a truck driver, taught me to drive. His advice that has served me well over the years was to keep looking 6 cars ahead and keep track of what's behind you at all times. On highways, he recommended thinking about which way you would swerve or go off the road if you have to. I still do that today. My friends think I'm a good driver. I think I'm a safe driver, I hope. I also enjoy driving very much.

Maureen

Mike, I think your friend made an excellent point, and I'm glad you took it to heart.

One other possibility to consider: You could, for not a lot of money, replace the ZX2 with something older and safer for your son, as well as get a new car for yourself. $2000 will get you, for instance, a perfectly good early-'90s Volvo, or a late-'80s BMW 3-series, or probably a number of other safe, solid cars with ABS and an airbag. The two added advantages are 1) if Z has himself a crash, then he's not wrecking your nice new expensive car; and 2) you can get him something slow and sensible (reducing the RISK of a crash), and have something fun and zippy for yourself.

Whatever choice you make, I'd also add that every extra minute of time spent teaching kids how to drive WELL (safely and smoothly and courteously) is one of the most valuable time investments that a parent can make.

Best of luck.

I third, fourth, fifth the idea of driver training; the ability to control the vehicle at speed is far more important than what the vehicle is, assuming a reasonably competent vehicle.

Well, I don't know your son, but I know a HUGE number of people who didn't get in an accident their first year driving. And I don't know the overall statistics, I suppose the drivers I know could be that unusual.

I've owned three VWs, culminating in a 1986 GTI, which I liked really a lot. Long gone now, I'm on its replacement's replacement.

I really expected to settle on the Hyundai Sonata this last time around, but I got a Camry LE instead (late last summer). 4-Cyl, 6-speed auto. I've never owned an automatic transmission before, but I'm doing a lot more driving through stop-and-go traffic these days, and the auto is very probably good for my blood pressure.

From Edmunds, an entire series of articles about cars for teens starting with, "How To Crashproof Your Teen Driver" and including as Part IV "Choosing the Safest Car for Your Teen Driver".

http://www.edmunds.com/ownership/safety/articles/121346/article.html

State Farm offers "Keeping Teen Drivers Safe" at http://learningcenter.statefarm.com/auto/teen-drivers/keeping-teen-drivers-safe/, and at http://learningcenter.statefarm.com/auto/teen-drivers/choosing-a-car-for-your-teen/ "Choosing A Car For Your Teen".

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety offers safety ratings of vehicles at http://www.iihs.org/ratings/default.aspx. The four door Golf shows up in their list of safe small cars. The list of safe midsize cars includes the 2011 Sonata. (The 2010 Sonata doesn't do as well in the side impact and roof strength tests.) Not much help with your decision there!

Safer Car (http://www.safercar.gov/) seems to be run by NHTSA and provides access to the U.S. Government's crash test results. The Sonata does quite well, as does the four door GTI. The GTI rates a bit worse in the rollover test, but not by much.

I've owned three diesel Mercedes, and fully support others' recommendations to consider one. My most recent, a 1995 300D wagon, I purchased in 1996 with 9,950 miles on it, and I sold it 13 years later at 204,000 miles. During that 13 years my most expensive repair was replacing the air conditioning compressor. I never needed to repair the 3.0 liter 5 cylinder motor. The turbocharged engine produced enough power, especially compared to the earlier non-turbo diesels I owned.

FWIW, check Consumer Reports for frequency of repair ratings based on a large number of owners' experience. I consider CR's numbers much more reliable than any individual's experience.

Because of a mixup by the state, my daughter's license was delayed by nearly a year. (Texas issues drivers licenses at 16 only after the teen finishes a drivers ed course. The minimum age is otherwise 18.) A few months after she got her license she commented that she felt that she wasn't really ready at 16. We started her out in 2005 in a V6 1996 Camry. The car had decent power and handling, and a sedan image. Last December, for college graduation, she chose a 2010 Camry to replace the '96, a decision I supported.

Even if you don't enjoy the car buying process, you can at least enjoy the many comments from supportive readers!

Bob

By far the most intelligent advice given so far has been the point about giving your son the education and experience of driving a car beyond the limits of traction and control. More than anything else, knowing what happens on the other side of the envelope and how to get back on the right side, is going to give your kid a chance to keep breathing and walking if he finds himself there. There are schools all across the country, they are the cheapest thing imaginable when compared to what they prevent. You your own self would find benefit beyond your imagination and it would be a cool father/son thing to do. Way over 90% of ALL drivers on the road have absolutely no idea what's going on or what to do when things start happening fast and slippery.
"An ounce of prevention....."

Best Wishes and Clear Thinking.....

Mike.
A 50 hp or around car does more than all right on freeway speeds. It will actually get well over the limit, do not worry.

A current 50hp car can do and will cruise at 95 mph, which I guess is well over the 75 limit, right?

You won´t get the speed of light, but neither have I ever, and up now I´m getting all right, so far.

And if the USA are so broad, why do you rely on privat transportation so heavily?

Does not really make that much sense, does it? For such long trips, wouldn´t it be much safer to put yourself on the hands of a professional driver, who has his job regulated and has to rest every now and then, instead of stretching yourself and your reflexes?

Still think that it doesn´t make too much sense.

Plus, you can actually work on the public transportation while travelling, or catch up with friends [letters, physical letters, do still exist and are usually terrific surprises for the ones receiving them]

Take him to a progressive teen-oriented driver safety class such as:

http://www.streetsurvival.org

"The goals of the Tire Rack Street Survival® program are to teach students some of the basics of car control, to enhance their enjoyment of driving and to improve their competence as drivers. We want the students to understand how their actions govern a car's responses, and as a result to become safer, more effective drivers on the road.

The students will become more observant of the traffic situation they find themselves in. They will learn to look far enough ahead to anticipate unwise actions of other drivers. As the students master the application of physics to drive their cars, they will make fewer unwise driving actions themselves. They will understand why they should always wear their own seatbelts, and why they should insist that their passengers wear seatbelts, too.

Students will learn how to properly use their own cars based on the physics of car control. They will learn how their cars feel and sound just before and as they exceed the limits of tire adhesion in a controlled situation, helping them to avoid accidents in actual everyday driving situations where they might experience problems."

Tom

Mike.
I see Your point and I agree with You to get old cars of the streets.
However low power does not allways transmit in bad driving experience.
I understand that the speed limit on a USA freeway is what - 70 - 75 mph? And locally what 55? You won't even be using all the gears on the Golf!
A 50 HP car does 100mph and cruises smoothly at 80 - as Inaki pointed out.
You can't drive quicker and not break the law right?
Let me put it this way if You have occasional trips to Florida isn't more viable to fly there?
Spending let's say 10.000 USD less on a new car (the lower specs new must be more environmental friendly than a higher specs new one). How many plane tickets does this buy You?.
But I gues it's all a men's toy argument ...
Oh my car does a trip a year which is abot 800 miles long.
And it is Italian :D.
iat Punto Mark 2: http://www.carprices.co.uk/images/fiatpunto.jpg
Now let me check the Ferrari ...

Good you nixed the GTI, Mike. It’s an almost perfect machine, marred by excessive power. I was offered one for an unescorted test drive that lasted 30 minutes. It took about 10 minutes for the rush of turbo acceleration to wear off. But I was a about 50- a teenager might enjoy that rush a lot more, likely too much. The TDI engine solves that problem. It’s powerful, capable of hauling a carload up the steepest mountain grades of I-70 in Colorado at 85 mph. It’s just not responsive or explosive, like the GTI.

When driving time comes, my daughter will either get my diesel Beetle or our Subaru Forester. That’s an amazingly versatile vehicle, sort of a Swiss Army Car that’s ready for almost any duty or task. Among the few things it cannot do are alarming cops, and insurance agents, or impressing BMW drivers, but that’s not all bad.

Get your kid a used car from this century that’s well-equipped for safety. Front and side air bags are essential, in my book. But make it a small car. As others have pointed out, kids do make mistakes, and if your kid makes a mistake you don’t want him wiping out some unfortunate family wedged into a smaller car. SUVs and pickups with body-on-frame construction are more “aggressive” in collisions. IMO, we ought to keep young drivers out of them. (Read “High and Mighty” by Keith Brashears (sp?) for a thorough investigation of auto crash safety.)

Smaller vehicles teach their drivers humility and defensive driving. Way back in Tennessee, you could drive at 15 1/2 on a motorcycle of less than 60cc. I had an Italian two-stroke imported as a “Harley-Davidson,” one you won’t see in the coffee table brag books. It was basically a mo-ped without the pedals, which would have been helpful assists sometimes. Underpowered and barely braked, it taught me a lot about anticipation and watchfulness. I do not expect you to copy this learning method…

Can only speak from my own experience but the best learner car for me was my little Fiat 127 1300 GT, very very light, around 750Kgs but 75BHP to push it along. Thing was, it had really skinny tires (135 section) and the brakes were shockingly bad over 75MPH. I learned after the first 4 or 5 corners that cars could be dangerous and needed respect. I may sound like an old man (i'm 36 years young) but too much faith and reliance in passive and active safety features have and are eroding basic driving skills that are fundemental to everyone's safety on the road. To be allowed to drive a car is not a right, it is a skill that needs to be learned, nurtured, practised and above all treated with respect.

I decided on our 2008 Honda Civic EX Coupe stick shift, purchased new, for the following reasons:

1) hyper-reliability (so much better than my old 2004 Mazda 6 V-6 and 2000 VW New Beetle (both sticks))

2) still a lot of fun (this car has way more HP than my first car, '84 Honda Accord)

3) opted out of the Civic Si version since my oldest son may drive this car one day ... he doesn't need 200+ HP in his first car ... completely agree with your buddy Steve

4) has all of the modern safety features - ABS and airbags

5) great gas mileage

BTW, I like to talk cars and cams.

I drive a VW wagon now after a number of years of not owning a car. I got the VW in part because my first car, when I was 16 and living near Minneapolis, was also a VW wagon. That wagon -- underpowered and with a terrible heater -- was, as I remember, so much fun to drive. And 25 years later its replacement is also lots of fun to drive, albeit with a much better heater.

I get the points about statistics and teens and accidents, and I remember for my part lots of boneheadedness back in the day, with accidents as a part of it. And I remember the various cars marques and their relative safety not being the issue -- the issue, of course, was the drivers! I agree with the many people who have pointed out that your safest bet is teaching Zander not just to be a conscientious driver but a _skilled_ one as well. And, to my mind, part of getting up your skills is driving (and enjoying) a car that imparts feedback from the road and responds well in both daily and emergency situations.

So the GTI isn't such a bad idea, though my guess is a plain Golf is also just fine in the fun department. But the idea that some suggest of starting Zander out with some kind of floaty land barge that dips and slides around seems short-sighted to me.

--Timo, who still feels sixteen if his wife/kids don't remind him of the obvious evidence to the contrary

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