If insurance, registration, fuel, repairs, and parking expenses do not feel like much to you, buying a car for your college commutes isn’t a bad idea. However, with all the stress of moving to a new campus, registering for classes, and buying books, finding the best cars for college students can be a mind-numbing task.
Table of Contents
What Factors Should Students Look For While Buying Their Cars?
The best vehicle for a college student is one that is within their means, reliable, safe, fuel-efficient, and tech-oriented.
- For safety, you must pick a vehicle with the highest crash test ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
- The vehicle’s dependability is another significant factor. The fewer problems a car reports, the more reliable it is. Here you can blindly trust J.D. Power Reliability and Quality rating.
- The vehicle must be highly fuel efficient; anything from 30 mpg or above is excellent for minimizing operational costs.
- The best cars for college students have modern technology amenities like smartphone compatibility (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are preferable), Wi-Fi hotspots, wireless charging, etc.
- Additionally, you’d want to find cars with advanced driver assistance technologies like forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, etc.
Today, we have picked our seven best cars for college students, ranging from hatchbacks and sedans to crossovers and trucks. For dependability, we considered J.D. Power ratings, while for awards and critic reviews, we took into account the U.S. News rating. The pricings are for new models, so expect costs to be a lot less when you buy these vehicles in used condition.
Best Cars for College Students
With all the stress of moving to a new campus, registering for classes, and buying books, finding the best cars for college students should not be a difficult job. Here is our list of the 7 best vehicles for college boys and girls.
1. 2020 Honda Fit
MSRP: $16,190 | U.S. News Overall Score: 8.8/10 | J.D. Power Quality & Reliability: 82/100
Honda stopped offering the Fit hatchback two years back in the USA, but it does not mean it has left the people’s hearts. It won the 2020 Best Subcompact Car for the Money honor as well as the 2020 Best New Cars for Teens award. For college students, it offers the best combination of quality, expected dependability, top safety ratings, and accident-avoidance systems.
The cheerful little car is easy to park on the campus and is highly affordable to own – a projected $4,892 per year.
Available in four versions – LX, Sport, EX, and EX-L – go for the Fit Sport to enjoy a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 7-inch touch screen, a six-speaker stereo, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Pandora compatibility, and HondaLink.
For better safety tech, opt for the EX trim that comes equipped with forward collision warning, collision mitigation braking, lane keep assist, lane departure noticing, road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam headlights, and Honda LaneWatch.
The 130-horsepower (128 with CVT) 1.5-liter four-cylinder mill delivers a phenomenal fuel economy EPA-predicted 33/40 mpg city/highway with CVT and 29/36 mpg city/highway with the manual transmission.
The 16.6 cubic feet of cargo room after the rear seats (maximum 52.7 cubic feet) is enough for your belongings while going to college. Furthermore, the Magic Seats are a real gem. They allow you to recline the rear seats in a variety of ways and even create adequate space for your vinyl collection.
2. 2021 Kia Soul
MSRP: $17,490 | U.S. News Overall Score: 8.3/10 | J.D. Power Quality & Reliability: 89/100
The 2021 Kia Soul does not look like a traditional utility vehicle. Almost similar to a big wagon with its boxy styling, the Soul is a strange-looking automobile. Due to its dimensions, the subcompact SUV serves up to 62.1 cubic feet of boot space and has lots of room for passengers inside.
Teens would love to have a 7-inch touch screen, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, a six-speaker stereo for the base trim or get a higher trim to add a 10.25-inch touch screen, wireless device charging, navigation, and a Harman Kardon audio system.
Besides being one of the most reliable used cars in the market, it is also one of the most affordable vehicles for college students. In fact, it got the 2021 Best Subcompact SUV for the Money award from U.S. News.
A 147-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine paired with a standard six-speed manual transmission or an available continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) won’t win races but offers adequate push for daily commutes to campus. For a more lively drive, you can opt for the 201-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder mill with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
If fuel economy is the concern, we highly recommend the 2.0-lire mill with CVT returning 28/33 mpg city/highway. It is not the best in the class, but it is certainly okay.
With a Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS and a Four Star score from the NHTSA, it is also one of the best SUVs for women. For the advanced safety features, you have to move up the trim ladder with the Soul Turbo, offering all the bells and whistles.
3. 2021 Toyota Prius
MSRP: $24,525 | U.S. News Overall Score: 7.8/10 | J.D. Power Quality & Reliability: 64/100
If fuel economy is your biggest concern and you don’t want to lose the comfort and spaciousness for passengers and cargo hold, the 2021 or 2022 Prius would be ideal.
With 27.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the back seats, a 7-inch touch screen, a six-speaker audio system, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa, 3 USB ports, and a Wi-Fi hot spot, you will find this Hybrid as comfortable as your living room.
A 1.8-liter four-cylinder mill, assisted by an electric motor, generates 121 horsepower, which is adequate for short and long trips to the campus. While the horsepower and acceleration are a tad slow compared to its rivals, a 58/53 mpg city/highway rating is best-in-class.
Although the reliability rating of 64 is Fair, the standard advanced safety features make up for it. The Toyota Safety Sense P suite features adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, automatic high-beam headlights, pedestrian and bicyclist detection, and road-sign recognition.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration didn’t crash test the 2021 Prius, but the IIHS rated it ‘Good’ in five collision examinations.
4. 2020 Mazda CX-30
MSRP: $21,900 | U.S. News Overall Score: 8.4/10 | J.D. Power Quality & Reliability: 82/100
Mazda introduced a new subcompact SUV in 2020, named CX-30, and it quickly gained attention for its luxurious cabin, engaging handling, and comfortable ride. The standard amenities such as an 8.8-inch infotainment display, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, an eight-speaker stereo, and a Wi-Fi hotspot are some of the features college students would fancy in an affordable price tag.
If you seek to take your mind off the class work, the CX-30 offers sharp handling and enjoyable drive, courtesy of the 186-horsepower turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder. The EPA-calculated 25/33 mpg city/highway with front-wheel-drive and 24/31 mpg city/highway with all-wheel-drive isn’t bad for a subcompact.
Apart from the reliability rating of ‘Great’ from J.D. Power, it gets a Top Safety Pick award and a Five-Star overall safety score from the NHTSA. For young souls who love to get driving assistance would appreciate the Mazda’s i-Activsense driver assistance suite that comprises forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, low-speed automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and lane-keep assist.
Besides, a rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam headlights, driver attention monitoring, and rain-sensing windshield wipers are also part of the deal.
5. 2022 Subaru Outback
MSRP: $27,645 | U.S. News Overall Score: 8.2/10 | J.D. Power Quality & Reliability: 71
The Outback is not the fastest car from Subaru nor a sports car for teens, but it is certainly more practical for students. One of the most costly options on our best cars for college students list, this midsize SUV will be valuable for you even after you collect your degree.
The Japanese automaker packs a wide range of active safety features such as forward collision warning, lane keep assist, and standard all-wheel drive, which aids in taking some of the pain out of the price. Besides, its above-average fuel economy (EPA-rated 26/33 mpg city/highway), decent towing capability (up to 3,500 pounds with turbo), and an energetic turbocharged mill option (2.4-liter four-cylinder with 260 horsepower) make it one of the best choices for students.
The 2.5-liter flat-four with 182 horsepower is preferable for city commutes, but if you want to load up with your friends and take the beaten path, we highly recommend Outback Wilderness with 9.5 inches of ground clearance, turbo mill, and the highest towing capacity.
If all that praise is not enough for the Outback, consider its safety ratings. The IIHS rated it ‘Good’ in all crash tests and ‘Superior’ in Front Crash Prevention. The NHTSA also bestowed its overall Five out of Five Stars rating.
6. 2021 Kia Forte
MSRP: $17,890 | U.S. News Overall Score: 8.5/10 | J.D. Power Quality & Reliability: 87
The 2021 Kia Forte is an attractive and agile compact sedan wearing an affordable price tag without bargaining on elegance or amenities. It has everything a college student would love to have in a car. We are talking about above-average expected dependability & fuel economy rating, roomy cabin & cargo hold, and plenty of safety and tech features. It also won the 2021 Best Compact Car for the Money accolade from U.S. News.
Two engine choices starting with the 147-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and the 201-horsepower 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, are on offer with an option of auto or manual transmission. The best part about the Forte isn’t the engine choices, though; it is the 31/41 mpg city/ highway fuel economy (2.0-liter with CVT).
As you save on fuel, you should also not be worried about defects, as the Forte comes with a near ‘Best’ predicted reliability & quality rating. Besides, the IIHS rating of ‘Good’ in all crash examinations and NHTSA’s Four out of Five Stars make you feel safe.
In addition, an 8-inch touch screen, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, remote keyless entry, and various active safety facilities like rearview camera, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, and driver attention monitoring, make the Forte one of best cars for college students.
7. 2022 Ford Maverick
MSRP: $20,995 | U.S. News Overall Score: N/A | J.D. Power Quality & Reliability: 81
We just realized we didn’t add a pickup truck to our best vehicles for college students list. While the low initial price of the all-new Maverick is the number one reason to consider this compact pickup truck, there are plenty more things that would compel you to buy it.
These include punchy, fuel-efficient powertrains, SUV-Esque ride, and handling, excellent fuel economy figures, and poised driving dynamics.
Starting with the power, which young college students are primarily keen on, the standard powertrain includes a 191-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder, an electric motor, a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), and the front-wheel drivetrain.
The second option is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 250 horsepower, eight-speed automatic transmission, and a choice of front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Both mills are quick off-the-line and have excellent passing power at highway speeds.
Ford claims 40/33 mpg city/highway fuel economy, which is exceptional for a compact hybrid truck and even beats compact cars.
Additionally, college students would love an 8-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a six-speaker stereo, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and a range of Work and Performance packages to boost the truck’s capabilities.
If you are an adventurous college student, you may want the Maverick EcoBoost with AWD and elective 4K Tow Package for towing up to 4,000 pounds.
The IIHS and the NHTSA didn’t crash test this new pickup truck from Ford, but rest assured, it has the solid build quality the American automaker is famous for.
There you have it; our best cars for college students, covering almost all famous body styles. These offer a mix of reliability, fuel efficiency, driver assistance, practicality, convenience, tech, performance, and safety.