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Back-to-school special: Perfect first cars for your high schooler

As August winds to a close, many kids are dreading the coming weeks as they must face the inevitable start of the 2013/2014 school year. While parents are probably stoked to get their kids out of the house and back into the hallways of academia, there are few things more torturous for a teen than having to sit through a two-hour lecture or being forced to study the periodic table of elements. However, as many parents have learned, one way to entice kids into biting the bullet and getting good grades is to provide them with the ultimate back-to-school gift – a new car.

If you are in the market for a car for your high school student, there are a good number of considerations to mull over before handing over a set of keys. While safety and reliability are a major concern, you also want to help guard your child's image. And while nothing will establish street cred quite like pulling into the school parking lot in a Stingray or restored Boss 302, you don't want to give your inexperienced young driver more power than they can handle.

Here is a look at a few cars – new and used – that are perfect for young drivers because they are safe, reliable and not totally boring.

Chevrolet Sonic

At first glance, you may think you're looking at a heavily modified Chevy Aveo – the former subcompact that helped bring down Chevy's credibility among almost every demographic in the mid 2000s. Glance harder, because aside from the hatchback body style and gold-bowtie badge, this is a completely different beast. While the design may appear somewhat squat, it has the mean mug of a pitbull with twice the personality.

Like the recently introduced Chevy Cruze – another great car for first-time drivers – this thing was born and bred overseas before being introduced stateside. While it ground its teeth on the streets of Europe, the Sonic developed a pedigree that rivals the best foreign subcompacts currently on the market stateside. Its lightweight body and the powerful 1.4 litre engine make the turbo version of the Sonic quite the little hot rod. But, thanks to class-leading crash test results and a whopping ten airbags within the cabin, you can rest assured knowing this is a street rocket your kid will be safe cruising in.

Pontiac Vibe

Also known as the Toyota Matrix, the Vibe is a little edgier than the Japanese model is is based off of as it has a more aggressive front fascia and cladding that looked silly on models like the Grand Am and Grand Prix but worked wonders on this wagon – just don't call it one. It's roomy enough for all of your kids friends and equipment, so you won't need to worry about them borrowing the minivan or taxiing an entire soccer team out to the field. Also, this thing was seemingly designed with the edgy-teen demographic squarely in mind, as it has now somewhat commonplace features like jacks for musical devices and trendy color schemes for the dash that you won't find on many used cars that cost the same. While this isn't one of the best modern-day Pontiacs, it's perfect for a teen driver who doesn't want to be held back by the shackles of mom and dads old Dodge Caravan.

1984-1996 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera/Buick Century

These boxes of tin may not be beautiful, but you simply cannot kill them. Compact and relatively good on gas given the period they were made in – the advent of the SUV – you still find old Cutlasses and Centurys on the roadway to this day because they are so basic that they are extremely reliable and by 80s/90s GM standards not bad to look at. It's true that your high schooler's whip will blend in with almost every other one in the parking lot, but you can rest assured knowing that after you drop a couple thousand on one of these cars your kid will be driving it when they head off to college too.

Did your parents buy you a car when you were a kid or did you scrape up the pennies in your piggy bank and buy a ride yourself as a kid? What was your first car? Leave your thoughts below:

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