Something that will be substantial if an involved in an accident. Something like a Nissan Frontier truck. It's not good for a teen to have a vehicle that will hold several people. You don't want him/her loading all the friends in. That's too much noise and distraction for a new, inexperienced driver.
A Honda Accord with less than 20,000 miles on it is a good choice as a first car. Buy something used that is under warranty. Most manufacturers (Honda being one of them) will warranty their car bumper to bumper for the first year if you buy a certified car. You'll save a gigantic lump of cash that you would otherwise lose by buying a new car. For example, if you buy a new car for $20,000, it'll be worth about $15,000 after you drive it off the lot. If you buy a certified car for $20,000, it'll be worth $20,000 when you drive it off the lot. It also makes it easier to switch to a different car before it's paid off because you won't be "upside down on the loan" quite as bad. However, I recommend always paying cash for cars. In personal finance, houses (primary residence) are really the only thing that you should ever borrow money for. Business finance is a little different story. I've heard that some of the Ford cars are pretty reliable. Toyotas are good too, but all cars have maintenance and breakage issues because they are mechanical devices.
It depends on what you're looking for. If you just want something that will get you around safely, and cheaply, a honda accord. But if, like me, you want something a bit faster, a bit sportier, but still don't want to spend that much, then a Mazda mx5. The mx5 is a very small, fast and agile car. it is very cheap, and extremely reliable. It is cheap to ensure also. The only problem is that it might not be very safe. you're going to loose the battle if you get in a crash with just about any other car. The majority of them come as convertibles, so that's a plus. And if you're buying used, this might be one of the least expensive cars there is out there. You could get a good used one for around $2,000 at the lowest. hope you found this helpful.
I've had good luck with Pontiac's, plus parts are easy to find.
You can spend a lot of money on a vehicle, and still come to have problems. I'd just look for something that is easy to find parts for. Honda's are good quality, but I've heard that parts are hard to find for them. Toyota's are great too, but Pontiac's are cuter and way easy to find parts for. So it just depends on what you are looking for and how well the driver is. I'd personally hate to pay 50 grand for a vehicle, only for it to be totaled in a year. Vehicles nowadays are made to be fuel efficient at the sacrifice of the quality and safety of the vehicle.
Do not go for 1997 Pontiac Grand Am. Experimental engine craps out and expensive to fix since there is no room to work under the hood. My engine was pulled more times than I can count. I'd go with VW Jetta, Chevy Camaro, Toyota, Honda... those get great reviews and happy owners.
Get something that you are willing to make changes and fix up. If you make a mistake who cares you didn't pay too much for it so junk it. What you learn from trial and error is worth more than the car.
If you have a Taurus, find a good mechanic and fix it up. Just don't put more $$$ into it than it's worth! I love Hyundai and now Kia. They have warranties that are transferred to second owners and you can still get these cars (example-elantras) relatively cheaper. They are also gas-friendly! If this is a 1st car for a teenager, buy one that isn't cool and certainly not one friends want to be seen in. A first car is to bang up and scratch. First drivers literally learn on their first cars!!!!
Talk to ER workers or those who do your surgeries after you've been in an accident. Get the car with the heaviest frame that will protect you if hit by a truck for which you can afford the gas. Second, teens need lots of drive time alone so that they build up automatic responses to dangerous situations before they have to deal with distractions of other passengers in the car. Third, go for reliability so you don't go broke with repairs. CaroleR had a good idea with Hyundai - can't beat the warranty, good frame, not high on gas costs.