I asked a friend graduating from college what the best cars were for recent ex-students. His answer: “A car that is paid off.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone who graduated college had a car that only took gas and the occasional oil change? Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for many setting off to find their new post-collegiate life. Whether the new graduate has a hand-me-down beater from their folks or are buying their first new set of wheels, going to job interviews, commuting to new jobs, moving, or taking some time off to travel all require cars that will be safe, reliable, and have features that will make the daily drive more comfortable.
There are some cars suited to take on the big, wide world, both new and used, that will be gentle on the pocket for fuel, maintenance, and car payments. Here’s a look at the best in a variety of categories:
New: 2015 Subaru Impreza
Used: 2012 Subaru Impreza
Let’s start with the Subaru Impreza. Hatchback, or sedan, the 2015 Subaru Impreza starts at $18,195 and in addition to Subaru reliability and safety, the real kicker is the value. Subarus hold their values really well and are known to last owners years of enjoyment. If you think that price is too steep and are still committed to a Subaru, try shopping for one at least 3 years old in order to get a an Impreza for under $18,000, but appointed with the Premium or Premium Sport package: a definite upgrade and a car that will take you into your 30s.
New: 2015 Ford Fiesta
Used: 2012 Ford Fiesta
Another compact car that comes in both a sedan and a hatchback and is fun to drive is the Ford Fiesta. For 2015, a base Fiesta starts at $14,455, and can be priced up to the super sporty Fiesta ST for $21,435, Like the look but not the price? A 2012 Fiesta still can bring all of the fun but will set you back $5,000 to $6,000 less than a brand new version — although you won’t find a Fiesta ST older than 2014 because that was its first year of production.
New: 2015 Kia Optima
Used: 2011-2014 Kia Optima
If a midsize sedan is what you are seeking, look no further than the Kia Optima. For 2015, the Optima’s styling has held it’s own and is still as sleek, sophisticated, and sporty as the day it was first revealed in 2010. While a used 2011-2014 Optima can be found at discounts from the original MSRP, it’s probably a good idea to keep an eye on the 2015 model year which will soon be marked down to make way for the newly redesigned 2016 Kia Optima coming out later this year.
New: 2015 Nissan Juke
Used: 2011-2014 Nissan Juke
The Nissan Juke may not have the styling that suits every graduate, but with it’s affordable sticker price, fun driving dynamics, and quirky looks, this compact SUV is a great choice. For 2015, the Juke starts at $20,250, and even the FWD NISMO version comes in under $25,000. Looking to express yourself with your quirky car for less money? Have a look at a pre-owned 2011-2014 model year Juke and get customize it with Nissan’s Color Studio accessories like a brightly colored spoiler and matching side door sills.
New: 2015 Mazda3
Used: 2012-2013 Mazda3
Another versatile buy is the Mazda3. For 2013, the sedan starts at $16,945, and the hot hatchback starts at $18,945. Widely considered to be one of the best interiors its class, the Mazda3 is also a fuel-sipper with an estimated 29-mpg in the city and 41 on the highway. Trying to save money immediately? Forgo the improved fuel economy on the 2014 and 2015 model years and have a look at the 2012 and 2013 models. They both are the older, yet still attractive design, get an estimated 25 city miles per gallon and 33 highway. These older model years will both boast sticker prices under $15,000.
New: 2015 Jeep Renegade
Used: 2011-2013 Jeep Patriot
Looking for a modern looking SUV and the brand that epitomizes American off-road driving? For 2015, Jeep has introduced the five-seater Renegade. Starting at $17,995.00 for the front-wheel-drive version, the Renegade is a sophisticated new look for Jeep that compliments the elegant Grand Cherokee, but on a smaller scale. It even comes in the dirt-loving Trailhawk 4X4, starting at $25,995. The older, less well-liked Patriot will have more cargo room and can be found used for under $15,000, although Jeep quality has been iffy in the past; as with any used car, a thorough inspection is recommended.
New: 2015 Honda Civic
Used 2011-2014 Honda Civic
If there is any car that represents affordability, reliability, and familiarity on U.S. freeways, it has to be the Honda Civic. Starting at $18,290 for 2015, the Civic comes in 22 trim levels, including 4-door, 2-door, gas, and compressed natural gas (CNG). The real reason to go with a used Civic from 2011-2014 is to upgrade to a higher trim level that is more affordable the more miles it has been driven. More luxury at a lower car payment means more real food and less ramen noodles.
New: 2015 Chevrolet Trax
Used: 2013-2014 Buick Encore
New to the United States, the 2015 Chevrolet Trax is a 4-door compact crossover that starts at $20,040 for the FWD 1LS, 1.4-liter trim that gets an estimated 26 mpg in the city and 34 on the highway. Even at the base LT trim level, the 2015 Trax comes with Chevy MyLink and OnStar with a Wifi hotspot, all controlled through a 7-inch LED screen. Feel like a luxury badge would help you keep up appearances on your job hunt? Have a look at a used 2013 or 2014 Buick Encore. The Encore is the Trax with a luxury badge, and by buying used, you could have the Leather or Premium trim levels for the same price as the new 2015 Trax — just behind a Buick badge with under 50,000 miles.
New: 2015 Toyota Prius
Used: 2011 Lexus CT 200h
If it is a hybrid that you want, then the 2015 Toyota Prius is the traditional green car of choice. EPA estimated to get over 50 miles per gallon, the Prius starts at $23,215. Want something hybrid more sophisticated, a little less like every one else, and backed by a luxury badge? Look no further than the 2011 Lexus CT 200h. Yes, it is older now, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a CT 200h 2012 or newer that has less than 75,000 miles on the odometer and has a sticker less than $20,000.
As always, make sure to do your research online and be open to both used and new. About half of all car buyers who intend to buy new end up in a used car, and vice versa.