The 5 Best Cars for College Students

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Last updated on October 31, 2019

Having a car in college can be a huge benefit. It can also be expensive. So we put together a list of the five best cars for college students.

Before heading off to college, you have many decisions to make. What should you study? Should you take out student loans? How much can you budget for monthly expenses? You may even be considering a new car for getting to and from class or back home to visit the parents. But which vehicles are a wise choice for college students?

Let’s take a look at some of the most economical cars on the market today. These cars are both reliable and budget-friendly.

Vehicle Expenses

There are many costs to consider in college. Tuition and fees can run tens of thousands of dollars, on top of room and board, books, and even fun money. When you consider that most college students are working part-time (if at all) and strapped for cash, it makes sense to minimize expenses where you can.

Owning a vehicle can be a considerable expense. First you have to consider the actual cost of the car, of course. But you also have to consider its fuel efficiency, insurance premiums, and maintenance costs. If you plan to park a vehicle on campus, you also need to think about the added fee for parking permits. And don’t forget about the potential for citations for speeding or improper parking.

Of course, you also want a vehicle that meets your needs. Beyond simply getting you from point A to point B, you need a car that is reliable, safe, and has the features you use most often. Considering that some of these high-tech features like hands-free Bluetooth, USB ports, and GPS are standard in many of today’s vehicles, there’s no reason you can’t find exactly what you need.

With all these factors in mind, let’s explore five of the best, most cost-effective vehicles for students today.

Honda Civic

Honda has been a popular vehicle with the younger crowd for decades, largely because it’s affordable and fuel-efficient. Today’s Civics, though, also boast incredible safety ratings as well as a high-tech interior. All combined, it’s an excellent vehicle choice for college students.

The base model sedan has an MRSP of only $18,840, yet comes with an impressive list of tech features. Backup camera, bluetooth phone, bluetooth audio, and USB ports come standard. You can also add features like real-time traffic and navigation, voice recognition, weather, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, heated and cooled seats, side mirror cameras, and more.

The 2018 Civic gets an impressive 40 MPG on the highway and 28 MPG in the city. This makes it easy to get to and from class or back home to visit, without spending a ton on gas.

Lastly, and most importantly, the new Honda Civics are incredibly safe. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the 2018 model an overall five out of five stars, the highest possible safety rating.

  • Sedan base price: MSRP $18,840
  • Standard features: backup camera, bluetooth, USB ports
  • Fuel efficiency: 40 MPG (highway) / 28 MPG (city)
  • Safety: 5-star NHTSA rating

Kia Forte

Another incredibly safe, yet affordable, college car is the Kia Forte. This little gem is fuel-efficient and sporty, while also giving you all of the newest features standard.

If opting for the most affordable model, the LX, you’ll see a starting MSRP of only $16,800. With that comes a backup camera, standard on all vehicles beginning with the 2018 model year. It also comes with heated mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, an audio- and phone-controlling steering wheel, and USB port. Upgrade to the S model (with an MSRP of $19,400) and you’ll also get Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a 7” touch-screen display, and dual 12V outlets. There are also additional options like a Smart Trunk, blind spot detection, and lane change assist.

You won’t spend an arm and a leg for fuel with the Kia Forte, either. This car gets an impressive 37 MPG highway and 29 MPG city, while still bringing along between 147 and 164 horsepower.

Of course, it’s also a safe vehicle, getting a full five-star safety rating from the NHTSA.

  • LX base price: MSRP $16,800
  • Standard features: backup camera, bluetooth, heated mirrors, steering wheel controls, USB ports
  • Fuel efficiency: 37 MPG (highway) / 29 MPG (city)
  • Safety: 5-star NHTSA rating

Chevrolet Sonic

If you’re looking for a fuel-efficient car that offers plenty of storage space for your weekend adventures without being too big, the Chevy Sonic is for you. This car comes in three trim options, each with neat features standard and excellent gas mileage.

The base trim model, the LT, starts with an MSRP of $17,395. It comes standard with features like steering wheel controls, OnStar, power outlets and auxiliary jacks, and a rear vision camera. Bump up to the next trim, the LS, and you’ll also get a standard remote start system, SiriusXM, and heated mirrors. This model starts at only $19,295. All models boast 138 horsepower and get 37 MPG highway and 28 MPG city.

You’ll get a complimentary two years’ scheduled maintenance with the Sonic, as well as a 3 year/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and a 5 year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty. This gives you the peace of mind that you won’t have to worry about any mechanical failures or added expenses for quite a while!

Yet again, we have another car with a perfect 5-star safety rating from the

NHTSA, so you can feel safe and secure in the Chevy Sonic.

  • LT base price: MSRP $17,395
  • Standard features: backup camera, bluetooth, OnStar, steering wheel controls, USB ports
  • Fuel efficiency: 37 MPG (highway) / 28 MPG (city)
  • Safety: 5-star NHTSA rating

Hyundai Elantra

This next vehicle comes with six trim options, giving you many choices for finding the perfect combination for your needs. The 2018 Hyundai Elantra is a sporty sedan with good gas mileage, reliability, and a ton of tech features.

The base model (SE) has a starting MSRP of only $17,950 and comes with standard features like steering wheel audio controls, Bluetooth audio and phone capability with voice recognition, as well as USB and auxiliary jacks. Upgrade to the SEL trim (MSRP $18,850), and you’ll also get a 7-inch touchscreen display, SiriusXM, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, Blind Spot Detection, Lane Change Assist, heated side mirrors, and individual tire pressure indicators.

All trims come with a 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, 5 year/60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, and 5 year/unlimited miles 24/7 roadside assistance. This added security can be invaluable, especially when a college student is living far from home.

The SE trim gets 38 MPG highway and 29 MPG city, while the SEL drops slightly to 37 MPG highway and 28 MPG city. The 2018 Elantra also scores well for safety, getting a 4-star rating from the NHTSA.

  • SE base price: MSRP $17,950
  • Standard features: backup camera, bluetooth, steering wheel controls, USB ports
  • Fuel efficiency: 38 MPG (highway) / 29 MPG (city)
  • Safety: 4-star NHTSA rating

Mazda 3

Last but not least, we have the sleek Mazda 3. This sedan comes in three trims (Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring), all of which have an MSRP under $25,000.

The Sport is the base model but brings with it an impressive 155 horsepower for an affordable $19,145 price tag. It also comes standard with a high-end suite of features, like a 7-inch touchscreen display, Pandora/Stitcher/Aha radio integration, SMS text message audio delivery/reply, steering wheel controls, rear view camera, E911 automatic emergency notification, power side mirrors, USB ports and auxiliary jacks, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, push-button start, 12V outlet, and a voice command system. That’s a pretty impressive list for a base model’s standard features.

It’s estimated fuel efficiency is 37 MPG highway and 28 MPG city, even though it has a SKYACTIV transmission with sport mode. But don’t worry, it’s also a safe car: it scored 5 out of 5 stars from the NHTSA.

  • SE base price: MSRP $19,145
  • Standard features: backup camera, Bluetooth, steering wheel controls, USB ports, 12V outlet, online radio integration, voice command system, 7-inch touchscreen, power side mirrors, push-button start, and more
  • Fuel efficiency: 37 MPG (highway) / 28 MPG (city)
  • Safety: 5-star NHTSA rating

Going off to college brings with it many new considerations and expenses. One of them might be a new car. That way, you can ensure that your child has a safe, reliable vehicle for getting to and from class, or back home to visit (and do laundry!).

These five cars are perfect for getting around campus, finding parking before class, and staying safe while on the road. They all have excellent safety ratings, high fuel efficiency, and a reasonable price tag, while still offering the features that young kids want most.

Is a new car a consideration for your new college student? What are your biggest priorities, if so?

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