triple_aaa.jpgTAMPA — For many teen drivers buying a car is likely influenced by speed, style, color, and brand — while for parents, it’s a focus on safety and reliability while not breaking the bank.

Like settling on a curfew, finding a happy medium is not so easy. In an effort to simplify the process, AAA, the auto club, has released a list of top vehicles for teens.

AAA’s top picks are selected by its AAA Car Buying experts who test drive and evaluate hundreds of vehicles each year. Safety, style and reliability make this list of cars top picks by AAA Car Buying experts.

Teens have the highest crash rate of any group in the United States, notes John Pecchio, AAA Traffic Safety manager. “When purchasing a new or used vehicle, safety features should be top of mind,” he added. “Examining the safety features along with finding a reliable vehicle that fits into your budget will make the first car buying experience much more pleasant and memorable.”

From AAA Car Buying experts

• Volkswagen Golf/

Rabbit TDI: Despite having compact exterior dimensions, these hatchbacks are roomy and flexible. Handling is predictable and stability control has been an option since 2003. The TDI (Turbo Diesel) is the diesel option, with lower horsepower and much better fuel economy ratings than the gasoline powered versions. Teens should avoid the speedier GTI (Grand Tourer Injection) edition; it can be too powerful for less experienced drivers.  The TrueCar national market average of the 2012 Volkswagen Golf 4 door hatchback is $20,096, 2.3 percent less than the MSRP.

• Ford Focus: In addition to being pleasant to drive and a solid performer with good handling, the latest Focus models also give parents the MyKey feature, which will limit speed, radio volume and prevent teens from turning off safety systems. The Ford Focus provides good fuel economy advertising up to 40 highway mpg on the SE with SFE package. The TrueCar national market average of the 2012 Ford Focus 5 door hatchback SE is $17,395, 8.9 percent less than the MSRP.

• Honda Civic: A perennial and parental favorite, the Honda Civic offers solid handling, a stout structure, easy maneuvering and good fuel economy. When shopping around, do note model types, as the Si model may be too powerful for younger drivers. The TrueCar national market average of the 2012 Honda Civic 4 door LX is $18,695, 4.6 percent less than the MSRP.

•  Hyundai Sonata (2011+): This newest Sonata is offered only with a four-cylinder engine. Handling is secure and the ride is comfortable. Beware of the turbocharged version; it is unnecessarily powerful for teenage drivers. The TrueCar national market average of the 2012 Hyundai Sonata 4 door sedan 2.4L SE is $23,253, 3.0 percent less than the MSRP.

• Ford Fusion: The Ford Fusion features secure handling and a comfortable ride. Increasing safety, upper trim levels in recent years can be equipped with an optional cross traffic alert feature, which makes backing out of a parking space with limited visibility safer.  Choosing the four-cylinder motor or gasoline-electric hybrid are better choices for teen drivers. The TrueCar national market average of the 2012 Ford Fusion SE is $21,292, 10.4 percent less than the MSRP.

• Kia Sportage: The Sportage, one of Kia’s midsize crossover utility vehicles, handles well and received 4 stars and a “no tip” evaluation in the NHTSA New Car Assessment Program. The Sportage is economical, dependable and comes with a wide range of safety features. The TrueCar national market average of the 2012 Kia Sportage 2-wheel drive SX is $26,563, 4.1 percent less than the MSRP.