Choosing a car for a teen driver requires making tough financial decisions just as college bills loom on the horizon. The temptation, and often the necessity, is to buy an inexpensive older model. But going too cheap has trade-offs that could jeopardize the safety of your child.

Automobile crashes are the leading cause of death for 14- to 18-year-olds. And the fatal crash rate for teen drivers is three times as high, per mile driven, as for the rest of the population. That means you shouldn’t skimp on safety when choosing a used car for your young driver.

We’ve identified a few critical features for your teen’s first car that will help keep him or her safe without depleting the college piggy bank. One must: Be sure your kid’s car comes with electronic stability control—the most effective safety advance in cars since the seat belt—as well as side and curtain airbags.

Other important considerations: Cars should handle well in our emergency maneuver test and have good stopping distances (measured on factory tires). There’s also the tricky middle ground of finding a car quick enough to get out of the way of trouble but not so fast as to get into it. All of the cars here meet those requirements.

Weight and size play a crucial role in safety. But we believe teens should drive sedans and not SUVs because SUVs’ higher center of gravity tends to make them less stable and because they encourage bringing a gaggle of distracting friends along for the ride.

Phoning while driving—even hands-free—is something we strongly discourage among teens. However, emergencies arise. So this list calls out cars that feature Bluetooth connectivity to reduce distraction.

While you’re waiting for your new driver to return with the keys to your own prized ride, check out our top 10 affordable suggestions for his or her first car.

Starting at $8,125

It may scream “rental car,” but the Malibu is solid, comfortable, and quiet. Its straightforward controls are a big help for teens. The pedals and steering wheel adjust for reach, which could make it an especially easy fit for teens who haven’t yet hit their growth spurt. There’s plenty of elbow room, and the seats are well-padded, especially if you find a Malibu with optional leather. Steering feel is light but accurate, and handling is responsive to help your teen swerve away from trouble. The four-cylinder engine is quiet and refined, and the car gets a respectable 25 mpg overall.

Starting at $6,050

The fun-to-drive Focus has an upright seating position that provides a good view down the road. The optional Sync infotainment system makes phone connections hands-free. For a compact car, the cabin has easy access and a larger backseat for two than you would expect from the outside. An optional manual transmission allows a kid to learn to drive a stick—which also will keep his or her hands busy and away from texting. The biggest downsides are a noisy and cheap-­feeling interior, although that won’t matter much to teens happy to have their own wheels.

Starting at $8,075

Bigger than the Focus, the midsized Fusion offers a more sophisticated interior and better handling and ride than its little brother. Sync Bluetooth con­nectivity and voice commands are available, but the distracting MyFord Touch system is an option to avoid. Center-console controls are simple, although some are oddly placed. The Fusion has a spacious interior and better-quality seats than other cars in the segment. The four-cylinder engine is backed by a smooth, quick-­shifting six-speed automatic transmission, though the engine is noisy when accelerating.

Read more: 10 great used cars for teens under $10,000

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