While the word "bulletproof" might leave you thinking of military tanks and presidential limos, we think the 2012 Toyota Corolla fits the bill, too. This compact cruiser is big on reliability and safety, and, let's face it, there's little more to ask for when shopping for your teenager's first car.
In the past 20 years, Toyota has sold more than four million Corollas. That's a lot of cars, but even more impressive is the fact that more than 80 percent of those vehicles are still on the road today. It's the Corolla's reputation for being nearly indestructible that's earned it the title of most-sold compact car in the United States. At bare minimum, reliability and affordable maintenance are two of the most important things in a teenager's tight budget, and the Toyota Corolla has both of these in spades.
In the past few years, the compact car segment has become full of cool choices for today's young drivers. If you're looking for luxury, the Hyundai Elantra has features fit for a Lexus. If you want sport, the Mazda3 feels like a mini-BMW. Technology? Take a look at the Ford Fiesta. While the Toyota Corolla isn't all new, the S model has a few features that make it a little more hip than past models. On the outside, ground effects, fog lights, a spoiler and 17-inch alloy wheels all make the Corolla S look like a sport sedan, and iPod connectivity and the available Entune infotainment system give the interior a few modern updates. Entune is new; think of it as having a smartphone built right into the dash of your car. You can access apps such as Pandora and Open Table.
The Corolla's 1.8-liter 4-cylinder makes 132 horsepower, and while that isn't super powerful, we don't necessarily think Corolla buyers are looking for a sports car. If you're looking for a little more pep, take a look at the Ford Focus or Kia Forte--both have more horsepower. The upside of the Corolla's small engine is its good fuel economy numbers: 27 mpg in the city, and 34 mpg on the highway.
If you're going to get a Corolla, we recommend the 2012 Toyota Corolla S with the automatic transmission, priced just below $19,000.