It's graduation time in America. College graduates will soon be launched into the worst possible economy since the war and depression years. Congratulations! Whether those graduates will find work in their fields will depend a lot on what they studied, how much co-op experience they gained and when our governments across America decide to open. With that in mind, we have compiled a list of the best vehicles for college graduates in a range of budgets.
Torque News does not accept payments for advertisements from dealers or manufacturers. So, as you read along, you may be surprised that we don't recommend new cars for college graduates. If you find a list that runs down a bunch of pricey new cars, be assured that publication is just showing what they were paid to show you. Our list is for folks who value a dollar saved as much as a dollar earned.
You are also not going to find any sports cars on this list. All of the picks we offer are "sporty." Are college graduates really in the market for $50K Camaros with V8 engines? No. Not many.
Best Vehicle Option for Recent Graduates - Mom and Dad's Old Crossover
Our opinion is that the very best pick for a college graduate is a used car from inside the grad's own family. Perhaps a Toyota Highlander with 100K miles? Or a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry that has a bit of fraying on the driver's seat and a healthy dose of rim rash and door dings. Let's be real. College grads have not earned a penny. Many are in debt. Why in the world would a new car be a sensible choice right now?
Mom and Dad have worked harder than any college grad. They are the ones that deserve the new car. And their old but reliable midsized or larger vehicle would be our top recommendation for a new grad to drive.
Best Used Crossover For College Graduates - Mazda CX-5
If the cars in the family are all in service and unavailable, our top pick is a two-row crossover. This particular segment is the largest in the automotive world for a reason. Safety is great in these vehicles. They are also a good value and don't use more fuel than a sedan with the same passenger space. Plus, graduates move stuff a lot. They will love the space afforded by a crossover.
There are many great choices. The Honda CR-V is a decent choice. However, we feel that there is one that rises above the rest. That vehicle is the Mazda CX-5. This particular crossover is more fun to drive than the crowd, has better looks than the majority of the field, and has proven reliable. The Mazda CX-5 has been a Wheels TV Pre-Owned Vehicle winner for 2016 and it is also a JD Power APPEAL winner for 2015.
Best New Crossover For College Graduates - Hyundai Kona
We understand that there are some very successful graduates with solid jobs and enough money to finance a new crossover. Also, we get that some wealthy families will opt to buy the graduate in their family a new vehicle. For those who opt to buy new, we recommend the Hyundai Kona.
To begin with, the Kona is fun to drive and very cool. Hyundai also offers the best warranty in the business and now Hyundai also has the most included maintenance. Those starting out in life don't need financial surprises. The Hyundai Kona offers a fixed cost of ownership for three years and no big bills for up to 10. Plus, check out how good it looks with a bike in the cargo area. Slam dunk.
Best New Affordable Electric Vehicle For Graduates
EV sales have dropped in the past 18 months. Manufacturers are trying to move unsold 2019 EVs off the lots ahead of the plants re-opening and sending them more EVs they can't sell. We suggest graduates keep an open mind if they want an electric vehicle. The Chevy Bolt can cost a new buyer who can take advantage of the tax incentives around $20K. The Nissan Leaf is not much more expensive.
That said, we have tested all of the best EVs and the one that we feel is better than all the rest of the Kia Niro EV. We drove the Niro EV back to back with the Tesla Model 3 SR+ and found it had many advantages over the Tesla. If you can find a Kia Niro,and if your local area dealers are offering a fair price, consider it if the final cost after incentives will be under $28K. Above that, we suggest skipping it and either getting a Prius or a different EV for the money.
Best Truck For College Graduates - Honda Ridgeline
Whether you are shopping new or used for a truck for a graduate, we recommend the Honda Ridgeline. The Ridgeline is so much better than every other truck on the market it is hard to overstate its advantages. It drives dramatically better than any other truck. It has ample adventure capability. The Honda Ridgeline is economical, safe, and reliable. Give the Ridgeline a drive and you will see what we are talking about. ps - It's built in America. From mostly American-made parts.
Shopping Tip: DId you know that many companies offer college graduates a special discount on the price of a new car? Be sure you ask your dealer for details! Here is what Toyota offers.
Graduates are supposed to be smart. That was the point of the college years. If your graduate is smart and is looking for a great vehicle to begin their careers driving, this list is a good place to start. Feel free to tell us in the comments below what you think of our picks.
John Goreham is a life-long car nut and recovering engineer. John's focus areas are technology, safety, and green vehicles. In the 1990s, he was part of a team that built a solar-electric vehicle from scratch. His was the role of battery thermal control designer. For 20 years he applied his engineering and sales talents in the high tech world and published numerous articles in technical journals such as Chemical Processing Magazine. In 2008 he retired from that career to chase his dream of being an auto writer. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin
Top of page image by the author. Toyota Highlander image by the author. Kia Niro Image by the Author. Hyundai Kona images by the author. Mazda CX-5 image courtesy of Mazda Media Support. Honda Ridgeline image by Honda Media Support