I come from an upper middle class neighborhood just outside Denver, Co. While some of my classmates were driving around in an Audi or late model BMW, my parents opted (for my older siblings and myself) for used Hondas. My brother was given an '92 Civic Hatchback and I drove an '01 CRV. They are reliable, even once they become high mileage vehicles, affordable, and easy to maintain. But this might not get at the heart of your question...
I would choose used over new; the loan on a new car costs an arm and a leg and the value of the car is depreciated as soon as it drives off the lot. Even a vehicle that is a year or two old will save you money.
In terms of brands, the best choice for your teen depends on the needs your teen has. If you live in an area that gets a lot of moisture or snow, check into vehicles that are either optional 4-wheel drive or all time 4-wheel drive. I would also suggest looking to purchase a small SUV instead of a sedan or coupe that does NOT have a tendency to be involved in roll-over accidents. This is a benefit for a few reasons; limiting the acceleration power discourages street racing, a larger vehicle forces your teen to be more careful when driving simply because of the size, and if they happen to get into an accident the bodily harm to the driver is reduced (under most circumstances).
Here's a list of car companies that sell great small SUVs: