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Autotrader: The best cars for new college grads


So, you’ve graduated college after what will hopefully be the weirdest school year in history. Congrats! A great way to reward yourself for this achievement is with a new ride.

Maybe you’ve been driving a hand-me-down since high school or maybe you’re shopping for your first car. Whatever the case, we’ve put together a list of cars and SUVs that offer good value, efficient fuel economy, and strong records for safety and reliability.

Here are the 10 best cars for recent college graduates. This mix of new and used cars and SUVs can be had for under $25,000 and achieve a combined fuel economy rating of at least 30 mpg.

1. 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer

The recently reintroduced Chevrolet Trailblazer is now an affordable and practical subcompact crossover. With a starting price of $20,195, the Trailblazer is a great choice for young adults looking for something stylish, versatile, and affordable. It’s roomier than you might expect for its size and it comes with a nice list of standard tech features that anyone with a smartphone will appreciate.

2. 2018 Ford Focus

The most recent iteration of the Ford

Focus that was available in the U.S. is a great option in affordable used compact cars. Available as a sedan or a hatchback and a starting price of around $13,000, the Focus has a well-designed interior that is aging well so far. It also has a fun-to-drive character, especially the high-performance ST model. 

3. 2017 – 2018 Honda Civic

The reliable and efficient Honda

Civic is an easy car to recommend. It’s a value-conscious choice in compact cars and becomes an even better value on the used market after a little depreciation. You should be able to find one starting between $15,500 and $17,400. It’s available as a sedan, coupe, or hatchback meaning you can pick the Civic that best fits your needs and your style. 

4. 2018 – 2020 Hyundai Kona

The Hyundai

Kona is an SUV that is small, stylish, and high-tech. It’s not the roomiest SUV, but it’s practical if you won’t regularly have back-seat passengers or a ton of cargo. The Kona is an affordable way to stand out in traffic, especially if you pick one of the more eye-catching available paint colors like Lime Twist or Surf Blue. A 2018-2020 Kona starts between $17,900 and $20,000. 

5. 2021 Kia Soul
The Kia Soul


Whether you want to call it a hatchback or an SUV, the Kia

Soul is consistently one of our favorite small cars. It has a low base price (starting at around $18,765), a great warranty, and a roomy interior thanks to its funky, boxy shape. The UVO infotainment system is fantastic and adds to the pleasant experience of driving the quirky, yet practical Soul. 

6. 2021 Mazda3

For something on the sporty side of practical compact cars, consider the athletic Mazda3. Available as a sedan or hatchback, the Mazda3

is fun to drive at any speed with agile handling, an eager base engine, and a more exciting available turbo engine that still keeps the price under $25,000 (the Mazda3 starts at around $21,645). It also has available AWD, which is rare in this segment. 

7. 2021 Nissan Sentra

Drawing inspiration from bigger, more expensive Nissan

sedans like the Maxima, the Nissan Sentra is an affordable compact sedan with a muscular attitude. It has a stylish exterior, an upscale interior, and a lot of standard safety features. One of our favorite things about the Sentra is that you can go up to the top SR trim while still keeping the price in the low-$20K range (the Sentra starts at around $20,410). 

8. 2021 Subaru Crosstrek

The Subaru

Crosstrek is a small crossover that’s big on quirks. Starting at around $23,295, there’s nothing else quite like it with its unconventional look and impressive off-road chops thanks to tall ground clearance and standard AWD. If you need an efficient, practical car, but also like the idea of occasional off-road adventures, the Crosstrek can do it all without breaking the bank. 

9. 2016 – 2018 Toyota Prius

We know the Toyota

Prius won’t win any beauty contests, but a used Prius is one of the most sensible car-buying decisions a college grad can make. It checks every box when it comes to practicality. Starting between $13,500-$19,300, the Prius is safe, reliable, affordable, roomy for a compact hatchback, and incredibly fuel-efficient. It achieves over 50 mpg both in the city and on the highway. 

10. 2016 – 2018 Volkswagen Jetta

The Volkswagen

Jetta has a strong engine lineup and a pretty spacious cabin and trunk for a compact sedan. Starting between $8,700-$14,000, the 2016 model year is a good spot to begin your search because that’s when the Jetta got a standard touchscreen infotainment system and USB port plus a new turbocharged base engine.

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