The Best Cars for College Grads

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college graduate in his car

The old family minivan is the perfect ride for new drivers. College students are fine driving an old beater. But when it comes to cars for college grads, the bar is set higher. 

New grads are going far — to new jobs, new cities and new adventures — and they need a car that can keep up.

Here are some of the best cars for new graduates and characteristics you should consider when making your purchase.

Characteristics of the Best Cars for New Graduates

When shopping around for a new car post graduation, you might be ready to finally upgrade to a set of wheels you’ll love after years of hard work earning your degree. But you don’t want to rush off and buy the first car you see that excites you. Here are some other considerations (besides how it looks) to think about. 

  • Reliability: As a new grad you need a vehicle that will get you where you need to go every time. You don’t have time for breakdowns and constant recalls. Plus, purchasing a new car every few years can be expensive, so it’s best to opt for one that you can keep for a while until you progress in your career and make the decision to upgrade your ride.
  • Affordability: Repaying your student loans is bad enough – you don’t need to add an expensive car payment to the list.  When you graduate and get your first grown up car, you’re still figuring out life post graduation, and that includes your budget. You might initially think it’s something you can afford, but when you get a better understanding of your bills you could find that’s not the case. 
  • Maintenance Costs: When considering affordability, you have to think beyond your monthly payment. How much are oil changes, tires, brakes and all the other maintenance costs. Does it take premium or regular gas? You want to look up the average maintenance costs for a vehicle before committing.
  • Fuel-efficient: The best cars for recent college graduates have great fuel economy, making them both eco-friendly and easy on the wallet. You might even consider a hybrid or electric vehicle this time around. 
  • Safety features: You want to be safe while on the road, and if your vehicle has the right safety features it can really help you do just that. Look for a car with common features like lane departure warnings and automatic brakes. Plus, vehicles that are equipped with these features often let you earn a discount on auto insurance for helping you drive safer. 

Volvo XC40

Volvo XC40 side view

The spacious Volvo XC40 gives you plenty of room for all of your adventures. Whether you are moving across the country or just totting things around town, the extra space within this compact SUV will come in handy. In addition, the optional towing package makes it easy to hitch up a trailer for moving anything that doesn’t fit in the trunk. 

With all of the space and a well-known reputation for safety, it might be surprising that the MSRP starts at $36,350 for a new model, so you can certainly score a used model for less.

Nissan Leaf

2021 Nissan Leaf

Nissan Leaf drivers can go green with this electric vehicle and its impressive reputation. You’ll be able to get up to 121 MPGe with a range of up to 212 miles. The Nissan Leaf won the 5-year Cost to Own Award for best EV in its class from Kelley Blue Book. So, you’ll be saving for years to come.

When you consider gas savings, this makes for a relatively affordable ride. The compact EV has a starting MSRP of $27,800. And it’s possible to score a federal tax credit!

Honda Civic

honda civic hybrid one of the best gas mileage cars under $10000 (1)

The Honda Civic has become a legend for affordability and reliability. With a starting MSRP of $22,550, it’s not a surprise this stylish sedan is in the running for college grads. You’ll find great gas mileage with up to 40 MPG on the highway. 

The latest redesign of this classic daily driver gives college grads a sleek look at a relatively affordable price point. Standout interior and exterior details set this new ride apart from the crowd. Even the standard features make it a pleasure to drive off the lot. 

Toyota Prius 

Toyota Prius

The popular Prius base model starts at around $25,000. Its amazing gas mileage (58 city/53 highway), low depreciation and reliability make it an affordable car to own. Plus, you could choose to spring for a used Prius at a lower price point in the range of $15,000. 

The hatchback design gives this surprisingly spacious vehicle built-in functionality. One of the most surprising features is that the back seats fold down in a 60/40 split. That gives you the space you need to tote around gear without eliminating all of the back seat options. 

Volkswagen Passat TDI

It’s classic. It’s sporty. And with the TDI Clean Diesel engine, the VW Passat gets an impressive 43 mpg on the highway. The Passat is known for its good looks, reliable German engineering and low cost of ownership, making it one of the best cars for college grads who are beginning a professional career. 

The Passat TDI can be found on the used car market for around the $15,00 to $20,000 price range. Most models include Bluetooth, a rearview camera, a touchscreen sound system, and other luxury touches. If the sticker price is too high for a recent graduate, consider an older Volkswagen Jetta TDI, which can be found for under $10,000.

Nissan Juke

Yellow Nissan Juke

Sure, you could go the more common route and purchase a Honda Accord or Toyota Corolla, they’re both great vehicles. But grads who want a different kind of ride should consider the Nissan Juke crossover. 

Its unusual design turns heads, and the Juke gets good gas mileage for a crossover: 27 city/32 highway. While Edmunds’ review says the space for rear passengers and cargo is limited, the Juke delivers “surprisingly responsive and engaging performance.”

You can find these on the used car market for around $20,000. 

Honda Fit

Honda Fit

Starting a big job in the big city? The Honda Fit is perfect for a new grad’s budget (and parking space). The Honda Fit offers a nicely appointed interior, flexible seat configurations, and excellent 33 city/41 highway gas mileage. In terms of compact cars, it offers a relatively spacious interior.  

You can find this ride on the used car market for around $20,000. 

The attention to detail also gives you a great driving experience at an affordable price point. 

Subaru Crosstrek

Best hybrid SUV: Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid AWD

Recent grads will find a sporty and affordable option in this great choice. It offers all wheel drive, driver-assist features, Apple CarPlay, and a suite of other features. All of this capability comes with a starting MSRP of less than $24,000. Talk about a great value! 

The Crosstrek, like other Subarus, is built to last. According to the company’s site, 97% of Subaru Crosstrek vehicles sold in the last 10 years are still on the road today. 

Ford Maverick 

Hybrid pickup truck: 2022 Ford Maverick Hybrid

If you are a recent grad looking for a small pickup, this Ford might be your best bet. It’s a good choice for those looking to get to and from work without burning through their paycheck with gas costs. And you’ll have plenty of room to throw things in the bed of the truck. 

You can choose between a standard 2.5L hybrid powertrain or a 2.0-liter engine. With seating for 5, it also packs a payload of 1,500 pounds. It’s relatively affordable with a starting price of $20,995. 

In terms of fuel efficiency, the Ford Maverick comes with an EPA-estimated 42 miles per gallon in the city. Plus, you can get a range of up to 500 miles on a single tank of gas. That’s terrific fuel economy for a truck.

Don’t Forget About Car Insurance

When car shopping for your first vehicle post graduation, don’t forget to include car insurance in your total costs. Most states have a minimum insurance level you must maintain, but if you lease your car or take out a loan, your lender will likely require higher levels. This cost should be considered when you think about how affordable your vehicle is. 

Before you just settle with the insurance company your parents use or the one your co-worker recommends, be sure to do your research. 

You can compare car insurance rates to see who can give you the best price using a simple car insurance comparison tool. 


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