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Best Cars for College Students

Let’s face it, college is expensive.  While you are in college, you are preparing yourself for your future career and earnings. When you are paying for college expenses, clothes, food, and weekend outings, one thing that you may want to save money on is your car. However, you should still have a quality set of wheels that is safe, gives you good gas mileage, is easy to maneuver and allows you to fit your stuff in it. Keep reading to find out the best cars for college students.

What Types of Cars Should College Students Consider?

College students normally do not have children and families that they need to transport; therefore, a compact car is cost effective. Furthermore, most college students want to make sure that they get a fuel-efficient car so that they do not have to spend a tremendous amount on gas. Other good choices for automobiles for college students include hatchbacks and car/SUV crossovers.  These vehicles allow students to transport their belongings to and from campus while still being fuel efficient and economical. Additionally, because college students are young drivers without a tremendous amount of driving experience, car safety features are important and so is maneuverability.   Thus, compact sedans with many of the advanced safety technologies are also good choices for college students.

Category: Great Gas Mileage

Toyota Prius

The Toyota Prius is a safe car that has excellent fuel efficiency for college students who take a number of trips home and don’t want to end up paying that much for gas.  According to Consumer Reports, this car’s gas mileage is among the best for a car that does not have to be plugged in; this can help your college student save a lot of money on gas. It is also known for its responsive handling and comfortable ride. The car also has spacious front and rear seating.  The biggest drawback to the Prius is its price. This vehicle is not as affordable as the other cars on the list. Other drawbacks include the car’s low stance that makes it difficult for some people to get into and out of, noticeable tire noise, and seats that could be more comfortable. This auto received an 8.3/10 from US News & World Report and 4.8/5 from Cars.com. The 2019 Toyota Prius starts at a MSRP of $23,770. MPG up to 54 in the city/ 50 highway.

Honda Civic

The 2017 model of the Honda Civic received a perfect safety score from US News.  Consumer Reports states that this car gives a comfortable ride with precise handling.  Furthermore, this car is known for its solid performance, gives great gas mileage, and has a number of high-tech features that college students will love.  Some features include a rear camera, Bluetooth, USB ports, and a four-speaker stereo. One drawback of the car, however, is that it has a rather low stance making it difficult for some to get in and out of.  The 2019 model starts at a MSRP of $19,450. MPG up to 32 city/ 42 highway. This car received an 8.3/10 rating from US News & World Report and 4.9/5 from Cars.com. This car’s fuel tank holds 12.4 gallons.

Category: Top Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Safety Picks

Kia Soul

Kia Forte

The 2019 Kia Forte sedan comes standard with safety features such as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure, and lane keeping assist.   The car also comes with an 8-inch rear view monitor and parking guidance standard. This is one of the reasons that the Kia Forte is an IIHS Top Safety Pick. Furthermore, it has Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration.  One drawback to the Forte, however, is that it does not offer the most comfortable ride and the car is rather loud. This car received an 8.4/10 rating from US News & World Report and 4.8/5 from Cars.com. This car starts at a MSRP of $17,790.  MPG up to 31 city/ 41 highway. The car’s fuel tank holds 14 gallons.

Hyundai Tucson

Category: Value For Money

Kia Soul

The Kia Soul is our top pick for a safe, affordable, maneuverable vehicle for college students that gets good gas mileage and has some interior space to boot.  This unique looking boxy hatchback is definitely designed with the younger generation in mind. The car features elevated seating position and large doors to make entry and exit easier.  The car’s available safety features include automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, smart cruise control, and blind spot detection.  The car also features standard rear camera display to assist with parallel parking and driving in reverse. For this reason, the 2019 Kia Soul is an IIHS Top Safety Pick. US News & World Report rated the 2020 model an 8.4/10 and Cars.com rated it a 4.5/5.This car starts at a MSRP of $17,490. MPG up to 27 city/ 33 highway. The car’s fuel tank holds 14.3 gallons. Furthermore, the car has a cargo volume of 24.2 cubic feet. Thus, this is a safe and affordable car that college students can appreciate.

Hyundai Elantra

Another quality compact sedan for college students to consider is the Hyundai Elantra.  This car has an eye-catching sporty look. US News claims that the comfort and cargo space of this car makes it feel more like a mid-sized car than a compact car.  The car contains 14.4 cubic feet of cargo space. The GT hatchback model includes up to 55.1 cubic feet of cargo room when seating area is included and 24.9 cubic feet otherwise. Furthermore, the car received high ratings from both the IIHS and the NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration) for its safety features. According to Consumer Reports, the main drawbacks of this automobile are that sharp bumps are very noticeable, road noise is rather high and its seats’ lumbar support leaves something to be desired. US News & World Report rated the 2020 model an 7.8/10 and Cars.com rated this a 4.8/5. This car starts at an MSRP of $16,950. MPG up to 32 city/ 40 highway.  The car’s fuel tank holds 14 gallons.

Honda Fit

The Honda Fit is a very affordable compact car that gets great mileage per gallon and is a safe car as well.  The Honda Fit is known to offer a smooth ride, with responsive steering and great suspension which sets it apart from some of the bumpier autos on the list.   The car has up to 52.7 cubic feet of cargo room due to multi-configuration seating. One of the primary drawbacks to the vehicle is that it has a loud cabin which may make it less suitable for long drives.  Furthermore, the seats are not the most comfortable. The car does, however, have a number of safety features as it includes the Honda Sensing suite of safety features. The Honda Sensing suite includes lane departure warning, lane keeping assistance system, road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and collision mitigation braking system.  These are great safety features for a vehicle in the Fit’s price range. US News & World Report rates this auto an 8.4/10 and Car and Driver rates it a 4/5. The vehicle starts at a MSRP of $16,190. MPG up to 33 city/ 40 highway.

Mazda 3

This car comes as a compact sedan or a hatchback, but both have the sporty look that many college students may desire.  The car has quick and responsive handling, making it very maneuverable. Additionally, the car features a number of safety features to keep your college student safe.  These safety features include a low-speed auto braking system, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, and a lane departure/ keeping system. This car was ranked #1 by US News.com for the best compact car tied with the Kia Forte.  Edmonds rated the car a 4.7/5. This car starts at a MSRP of $17,845. MPG up to 28 city/ 37 highway. The car’s fuel tank holds 13.2 gallons.

Volkswagen Jetta

Rounding out the list of safe and affordable autos with good gas mileage as well as good handling and responsiveness is the Volkswagen Jetta.  According to Consumer Reports, this car features easy-to-use controls, great gas mileage, and good cabin room. Furthermore, the cabin is quieter than many compact sedans.  Moreover, advanced safety features which are available for this automobile include automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, and blind spot warning. This auto is rated an 7.7/10 by US News & World Report and a 4.3/5 by Cars.com.  This car starts at a MSRP of $18,745. MPG up to 30 city/ 40 highway. The car’s fuel tank holds 13.2 gallons.

Category: Crossover SUV

Hyundai Tucson

Another great vehicle for college students is the Hyundai Tucson, a crossover SUV for college students looking for more interior space. The car is a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS and received 5 stars from the NHTSA for being a safe ride. Its safety features include forward collision avoiding assistance, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, driver’s blind spot mirror, blind spot detection system and lane keeping assistance, rear cross-traffic alert, front crumple zones, hillstart assist control, and more. In fact, this crossover has some of the best safety features in its price range. The car also features a wireless charging pad for mobile phones, voice activation for apps and a 7-inch touch screen. The compact SUV can be upgraded with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. One drawback is that this vehicle will get lower gas mileage than some of the other vehicles on the list due to its size.  Furthermore, it will cost you a little more than the compact cars on the list. US News & World Report rated the 2019 Tucson an 7.8/10 and Cars.com rated it a 4.7/5. This vehicle starts at an MSRP of $23,200. MPG up to 23 city/ 30 highway.

Kia Sportage

Another affordable crossover for college students who like the roominess of an SUV is the Kia Sportage.  This is one of the most affordable vehicles of its type that you will find. Furthermore, you can add a number of comfort, convenience, and safety features for a little more money.   One safety concern of the Kia Sportage is that visibility to the rear and side may be lowered by thick rear roof pillars. However, the 2020 model comes with a number of safety features that include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and pedestrian detection as well as blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic warning on all but the base model.  This vehicle is rated an 8.1/10 by US News & World Report. This vehicle starts at an MSRP of $24,590. MPG up to 23 city/ 30 highway.

Here is a comparison of the top 10 cars for college students with the top performers in each category highlighted in blue:

 Gas Mileage (MPG City/Highway)Safety FeaturesCost (MSRP Starting Price)Cargo Space (cubic feet)Ratings (US News and World Report)
Kia Soul27/33IIHS 2019 Top Pick$17,49024.28.4/10
Kia Forte31/41IIHS 2019 Top Pick$17,79014.98.4/10
Hyundai Elantra32/40$16,95024.97.8/10
Mazda 328/37$21,00013.28.4/10
Hyundai Tucson (Crossover SUV)23/30IIHS 2019 Top Pick$23,20031.08.3/10
Honda Fit33/40$16,19016.68.4/10
Kia Sportage (Crossover SUV)23/30$24,59030.78.3/10
Toyota Prius54/50$23,77027.48.3/10
Honda Civic32/42$19,45015.18.3/10
Volkswagen Jetta30/40$18,74514.17.7/10

Car Insurance For College Students

When you are considering a car as a college student, you should also consider the price of auto insurance.   Most college students are in the age range that auto insurance can add significantly to your bills. This is because most auto insurance companies base your rates partially on your age. The good news is that many of the cars on this list include advanced safety features that should qualify you for a discount with most auto insurance companies. Furthermore, if you are a good student, many car insurance companies give discounts for having good grades.  Learn more about which auto insurance companies give college students the best rates on car insurance.

>>MORE: How to Make Money As A College Student

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is that there are a number of safe and affordable cars out there for college students.  The cars and crossovers on this list give you some of the best bang for your buck with safety features such as automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, and departure/lane keeping assistance that make some of them Top Safety Picks from the IIHS. Furthermore, several of the cars on the list start at under $18,000. These vehicles and the others on the list are known for responsive steering and great handling to make these cars and crossovers maneuverable for your college student. Moreover, the gas mileage that many of these vehicles get make them excellent for traveling back and forth from home to campus.

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