Being a college student in the U.S. certainly has its ups and downs. We have incredible colleges, scholarships to help people access these institutions, and many ways to learn and succeed from time spent in school. Many college campuses are designed to be easily traversed by walking and have extensive public transportation systems. However, most students will agree that having a car while in college is incredibly important.
The cars that are driven by students have certain criteria that must be met. They should be relatively cheap to purchase, making them easy on a tight student budget. They should be reliable, which is also easy on the wallet. They should be reasonably good-looking, as students like to look sharp and stylish. They should also have a solid selection of features, as the new age of technology requires such from the younger generation. These cars offer this and more. They can be bought new and used with similar results, and many of these models have excellent older years that are still stylish and reliable.
Graduates, on the other hand, have different needs than students do. Accomplished, educated, and setting off in the real world, they're hungry for success. With the first encounter of a salaried job, grads are able to buy themselves much nicer cars than students can. Grads want to look professional, as impressions in the workplace are important. They want a car that's practical, as adult life comes with adult responsibilities. Read on to find the best cars for students as well as the best cars for recent grads.
20 For Students: Volkswagen Jetta
One of the best cars for a student to have is the Volkswagen Jetta. Due to Volkswagen cheating on diesel emissions numbers, the value of the company's cars has tanked drastically. Given this, Jettas that are only a year or two old can be purchased for about 30% off original MSRP. The cars also come with a 6-year, 72,000-mile warranty that's friendly on strapped student wallets. Additionally, the 2018 models get 30 mpg during city driving and 40 mpg on the highway. The Jetta is stylish, too, and can be had with quite a nice leather interior. This is a cheap, practical, and quality all-rounder that's perfect for any student.
19 For Students: Hyundai Elantra
The Hyundai Elantra is an excellent choice for any student. The 2018 model starts at about $17,000, which is reasonably cheap for a new car. It's economical, getting 32 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway. It also comes with Hyundai's incredible 10-year 100,000-mile warranty that's just about the best you can get anywhere. Additionally, the top trim has 200 horsepower, which is a nice amount for coasting around campus. The Elantra is cheap to service and maintain, which is important for students. The Elantra is also fairly cheap on the used-car market and has aged well, making this a versatile option for students.
18 For Students: Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback
The Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback is a little expensive for new students, starting at around $21,000. A pre-owned model will be a little cheaper, however. As far as U.S. hatchbacks go, this is about as good as it gets (besides the Ford Focus RS) in terms of looks and value. A ground effects package makes the Cruze look fast and agile, and the practical hatchback can fit lots of cargo and friends.
The car is peppy, fun to drive and equipped with excellent technology that's perfect for students.
It has a turbocharged engine and even a built-in 4G LTE hotspot, which means that all of your friends can Instagram your sweet new ride.
17 For Students: Mazda 3 Hatchback
The Mazda 3 Hatchback is another practical and reliable choice for students. The newest generation is the best looking, by far, but older generations can be found used for less than $10,000. The most recent model years get 28 mpg during city driving and 37 mpg on the highway, which will save students lots of money on gas. The hatchback is incredibly fun to drive for a cheap car, which holds true to the philosophy behind Mazda's vehicles. The interior is also one of the best you can get for around $20,000, which is on par with Volkswagen's refined design.
16 For Students: Volvo S60
The Volvo S60 is an upscale and mature sedan that appeals to many students. The new model starts at $34,000, which is a little spendy. Students are better off opting for a used S60, which can be found for under $10,000 and which fits perfectly into a student budget. It comes with AWD as well, making it ideal for students in colder climates who receive a lot of snow.
Volvos are regarded as incredibly reliable and dependable, and the last thing you need when you're on your way to class or work is your car to not start.
This is a solid, handsome choice for just about anyone.
15 For Students: Toyota Prius
The Toyota Prius isn't the car of choice for most car enthusiasts, but for students focused on reliability and economy, the Prius is the clear choice. It has legendary Toyota reliability and will drive until the wheels fall off.
With the hybrid powertrain, the newest Prius gets 58 mpg city and 53 mpg highway, which will save you quite a lot of money on fuel.
The Prius can also be had for reasonable prices used, making them one of the cheapest options for students. The looks improve as the car ages, and while you may catch some flak from your friends, the Prius is an excellent choice that's practical, economical, and reliable.
14 For Students: Chevrolet Spark
The Chevrolet Spark is a small subcompact car that's big value in a little package. Starting off at about $13,000 for a 2019 model, it’s one of the cheapest cars that you can buy new in the US. It gets 30 mpg city and 38 on the highway, which will keep you driving to and from classes without having to fill up often. It may only have 98 horsepower, but what it lacks in performance, it makes up for in technology offerings. The infotainment system is excellent, and many desirable features come standard that otherwise don’t in subcompacts.
13 For Students: Toyota Corolla
The newest Toyota Corolla starts at around $18,500 and is perhaps the classic college car. Small, cheap, and reliable, it fills just about every need that students have. Features that come standard include automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control. This will keep you safe on the road, and getting to class in one piece is pretty important. Sadly, the Corolla is most definitely boring to drive and underpowered and will leave car enthusiasts unimpressed. However, if your main goal is to simply get where you’re going without any added flair, the Corolla is the car for you.
12 For Students: Toyota Tacoma
The 2018 Toyota Tacoma starts at around $25,000, which isn't a bad price for the dependability and capability that the classic truck gives you. The Tacoma is a solid ride no matter what model year you purchase, as it truly has stood the test of time and earned its credentials.
Used, the Tacoma holds its value well, illustrating demand and quality.
The simple truck can fit a bunch of your friends and all of their stuff in it. Having a truck in college will make you socially in demand, too, so this choice for the perfect ride is easy to make.
11 For Students: Ford Focus Hatchback
The Ford Focus Hatch starts around $20,000, making for a handsome ride with an appealing price. Lower on power, the Focus is reportedly fun to drive, agile, and surprisingly maneuverable around town. Rivals may offer more cargo space, but the Ford is perfectly adequate at satisfying student needs. It even has a dual-clutch transmission, which is actually some nice technology to find for this price. While those with a bit of money saved may opt for the higher-performing ST and RS models, the base Focus is a great car on its own. Hatchbacks are a quintessential part of the college experience, and your friends will thank you for having one.
10 For Students: Mazda Miata
The Mazda Miata is a classic driver's car and is held in high regard by the majority of car enthusiasts. It's cheap, reliable, and easy to work on, and it'll last you much longer than you think.
Older Miatas can be found online for just a few thousand dollars and sip fuel, making them easy on the thin student wallet.
You'll have limited space for friends and cargo, sure, but this just means that your car will be spared the wear and tear that five rambunctious students can dish out. Not to mention, with the appeal of the convertible top, you'll be the coolest kid on campus.
9 For Students: Scion iM
The Scion iM is an innovative entry into the small-hatchback segment, and it delivers immense appeal. It's fairly affordable to finance, starting around $18,000. It has a relaxed and quiet interior that blocks out road noise nicely, providing for a smooth ride that won't have you shouting to talk to your friends. One of the main appeals of the iM is its excellent reliability. Kelly Blue Book notes that this hatchback will also have lower than average ownership costs, which is great for students. The ride may be a bit lacking when it comes to power and handling, but with solid features and sharp looks, the iM is a strong contestant.
8 For Students: Scion FRS
The Scion FRS is the modern Miata and is an excellent choice for students. It's a flashy, fun-to-drive car that's reliable, dependable, and fuel efficient.
You can drive the FRS hard all day and still get fuel mileage in the 20s, as well as an engine and powertrain that are built to drive that way.
The FRS is cheap, too, and can be found on the used market for about $15,000. Unlike the Miata, it has a back seat. While it may not be the most spacious or most practical of all rear seats, you'll still be able to fit a friend or some cargo back there, which is a welcome find.
7 For Students: Jeep Wrangler
The Jeep Wrangler is the car of choice for students at colleges that get snow. The Wrangler's four-wheel-drive capability won't leave you stranded at class or stuck in a parking lot; you'll be up and away in no time, having fun in the snow while all of your friends are stuck at their dorms. The Wrangler is reliable and practical, easily fitting you and your friends' gear with no problem. Ready for adventure, this badass car is great to own. Even better, it attracts both men and women alike, so if you're looking to impress, the Wrangler is a clear winner.
6 For Students: Subaru Impreza Hatchback
One of the best all-rounders is the Subaru Impreza Hatchback. Its versatile AWD system keeps you moving confidently in snow or rain, and your friends may be calling on you to give them rides when they get stuck in snowbanks. The Impreza is reliable and good on fuel and is classically one of the longest-lasting cars on the road. The newest version has great looks and an affordable price, but the older generations are still good-looking and can be bought used for very reasonable prices. Low to the ground, the driving experience is enjoyable, which helps to make this car perfect for anyone.
5 For Grads: Volkswagen Passat
Now that you're graduated and making more money, it's time to get a car that reflects your new professional persona.
The Volkswagen Passat is a great place to start and is a more "grownup" sedan alternative to the Jetta.
It's handsome, refined, and practical—everything that an adult needs out of his or her car. In its most powerful version, it makes 280 horsepower, which is a respectable figure. The interior can be quite nice, wrapped in attractive two-tone leather. For the money, this is one of the best interiors you can get, making the Passat an enticing choice for new grads.
4 For Grads: Mazda CX-5
The Mazda CX-5 is quite pretty, especially in Mazda's brilliant red paint. A quality interior will make you, still riding the wave of graduation, feel accomplished. Adult responsibilities require that you carry people and cargo, and the space provided by the CX-5 allows you to do just that. The car is fun to drive, keeping with Mazda's commitment to providing vehicles that handle well while being easy on the wallet at the same time. This compact crossover feels more expensive than it is, which means that your money goes quite far. Engaging driving dynamics and a great selection of features make this a clear-cut choice for graduates.
3 For Grads: Subaru Forester XT
Being an adult means that you may have to bite the bullet and buy an SUV, and if you do, the Subaru Forester XT is an excellent choice. It's spacious, reliable, and capable of handling all of the people and junk that you throw in it. In addition to this capability, as well as a great all-wheel-drive system, the Forester XT is fast. It gets to 60 mph in about 6.3 seconds, which is speedy for an SUV. You may have to make the adult choice when buying this car, but at least you can do it with speed and style.
2 For Grads: Audi A4
The Audi A4 is the car of choice for graduates heading to work at a big finance company where they'll be making significant money. The A4 is well designed, good-looking, and sporty. Reaching 60 mph in 5.1 seconds, you'll speed by others on the freeway and truly enjoy your commute to work. A roomy backseat will easily hold co-workers and clients, showing that you're mature, responsible, and deserving of their business. Many technology feature offerings and a beautifully crafted interior drive the appeal of the Audi. The ride will be comfortable when it needs to be, but on your days off, you can head to the track with confidence.
1 For Grads: Lexus iS F
The Lexus iS F is the car to buy if you're making a lot of money. Starting at $64,000, you'd better be fresh out of law or medical school to afford this beast. A quick-shifting transmission, a roaring exhaust, and an engaging driving experience make it one of the best luxury sport sedans that you can buy.
A 0-to-60 time of 4.7 seconds eclipses most other cars on the road and shows your friends that you're powerful both at work and on the road.
Lexus reliability and build quality mean that the iS F will be in your garage for many years to come, and who can blame you? Not many drivers would want to give this incredible car up.
Sources: Car and Driver, Wikipedia