The best cars for teenagers aren't as expensive as you might think. This is welcome news for parents everywhere, as budgets tighten and family contributions to that first car budget get smaller and smaller each year, according to a recent study. We've mined the recommendations of MSN Auto and Forbes automotive writers to put together a short list of the top six starter cars for teenagers. We covered a range of makes, styles and price points and took into consideration the issues that matter most to moms and dads: price, safety, reliability and insurability.

This list leaves off the shiny new 2014 and 2015 models but includes cars that are recent enough to boast all the best safety features and seasoned enough to knock the price tag down several notches. This also saves you month to month on the biggest expense of having a new driver in the house: insurance. Forbes magazine notes that you can expect your rates to double, maybe even triple, depending on your location and your teen's background. That makes it more important than ever to get a great deal on a first car for your teenager.

1. 2012 Hyundai Elantra

Approximate price: $14,000

Best features:

  • Top of its class in safety ratings from both the NHTSA and the IIHS
  • Weighty and big enough to offer crash protection
  • 100,000 mile warranty
  • Great gas mileage

The Elantra is a perfect starter car for teenage girls or guys. It's easy to drive, looks good on the lot and has a proven reliability record. Most models are light on extra tech-friendly features, but in most parents' minds, this is a plus. Less distraction is good.

2. 2012 Honda Civic

Approximate price: $12,000 Civic

Best features:

  • Top safety honors
  • Inexpensive repairs
  • Low insurance costs
  • Honda reliability

There's a reason you see so many Civics on the road from day to day. These cars offer a perfect balance of affordability and reliability. They also include all the safety features you want for your child, which makes these little sedans nice cars for newbies. These points also apply to the Civic's big brother, the Accord, which can cost a bit more but adds weight and heft to the deal.

3. 2012 Subaru Impreza

Approximate price: $15,000

Best features:

  • Great traction for all weather driving
  • Fuel economy
  • Solid frame and seven airbags

It's tough to find a Subaru that doesn't have all-wheel drive. The Impreza is a typical Subaru in that it is suited for any kind of weather and can keep its feet better than most cars on the road today. These are good cars for teenagers who live in mountainous or snowy areas or for teenage college students who attend university out of state and have to drive the long way home.

4. 2012 Ford Focus

Approximate price: $12,000

Best features:

  • Incredible fuel economy
  • Top-of-the-line safety features
  • Responsive driving
  • Hands-free wireless call integration

The Focus has been making the rounds on top 10 lists for several years now, not just for best teen driver cars but also for best all-around value for any driver. This car features a low price point and a lot of high-tech extras like a MyKey system that allows for remote control of speed limits and other parent-friendly controls. Since a car accident is more likely to cause a teenager's death than any other reason is, the extra bit of security can go a long way toward your peace of mind.

5. 2009 Audi A3

Approximate price: $15,000

Best features:

  • Extremely reliable over the long haul
  • All-wheel drive for great traction in bad weather
  • Holds value well

If you're watching prices in the 2015 model year range, it might seem odd to look to a luxury brand for affordability. But if you're willing to look at cars in the 2008 and 2009 range, you can get great deals on top cars. The Audi A3 often has plenty of reliable years ahead, even after five or six years on the road. It also costs less to insure than many other models because of the solid build and premium safety features. And it offers the bonus of making teenage girls feel like the luckiest kids in the parking lot.

6. 2005 Buick LeSabre

Approximate price: $6,000

Best features:

  • Solid build
  • Longevity
  • Full set of airbags
  • Cheap repairs and insurance

MSN Auto notes that the LeSabre offers some of the best crash test scores of all models for a price tag that can't miss and surprisingly low insurance rates. If well maintained and garaged, these nice cars can last more than 200,000 miles, with cheap repairs and upkeep. They may not be the best in fuel economy, but having your child surrounded with that much solid steel is a comforting thought. That makes older model Buicks good cars for the lower end of the price range.

Shop Around and Shop Around Again

Once you find the best first car for your teenager, make sure to shop around for auto insurance as well. A local, independent ReduceMyInsurance.net  agent can often get you better prices on your coverage than an in-house insurance agent who works for one insurance provider. You'll most likely need all the discounts you can get now that you have new drivers on your bill. Finding the right top cars for teenagers might turn out to be the easy part.

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