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June 1, 2020, 5:04 a.m. EDT

The 10 best cars for new college grads

Suggestions for new and used cars and SUVs that are affordable and stylish

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By Rob Nestora


Toyota
The 2020 Toyota Yaris hatchback is affordable and practical.

Students graduating from college in 2020 are entering the next stage of their lives at a very strange time. The coronavirus pandemic has rocked our way of life in a way that nobody could’ve predicted. Still, college grads have a lot to look forward to. Their careers will span many years, and we can say with some confidence that a pandemic won’t be happening during the most of those years.

Besides, no matter what the economy is doing, many college grads need a car. Shopping for the best cars while practicing social distancing is easier than you might think, especially with Autotrader’s Accelerate program. With Accelerate, you can apply for financing, determine the value of your trade-in and schedule a test drive from the comfort and safety of your home.

We have a few suggestions for new and used cars and SUVs for recent college graduates. These rides offer stylish looks, high-tech features, excellent fuel economy or some combination thereof. One thing they all have in common is affordable pricing.

Here are the 10 best cars for recent college graduates in 2020.

2011-2015 Chevrolet Volt

The first-generation Chevrolet Volt was a groundbreaking plug-in hybrid. A common complaint about it when it was new was its price, but depreciation has brought the Volt down to a price range that’s affordable for most recent college graduates. The Volt has an all-electric range of up to 38 miles, which is still pretty impressive today, meaning that if you have a place to plug in every day, you can do a lot of your driving around town without burning any gas at all. A Volt can be found for less than $10,000, making it a strong value in used PHEVs.

Also see: These 3 EVs are the lowest cost to own over 5 years

2012-2017 Fiat 500

As long as you don’t need a lot of back-seat passenger space, a used Fiat 500 can be a great little city car for college grads with an eye for style. This Fiat is a breeze to drive and park on urban roads thanks to its small footprint. The base engine doesn’t have much punch, but the available turbocharged engine gives the 500 some more guts while still being good on gas. For some fun in the sun, you can get a Cabrio convertible model with a roof that folds down. There’s even an all-electric 500e, but those can be hard to find depending on where you live. You can get a lot of style for your money, as used Fiat 500s often carry prices under $10,000. 

2015-2017 Ford Mustang

Few cars have a better smiles-per-gallon factor than the Ford /zigman2/quotes/208911460/composite F +4.45%   Mustang, and early examples of the current generation of the iconic pony car can be found for less than $20,000. The V8-powered GT models are a riot, but the more affordable EcoBoost Mustangs strike a fantastic balance of performance and efficiency by making 300 horsepower and achieving more than 30 miles per gallon on the highway. Coupe or convertible, automatic or manual — no matter what configuration you go with, the Mustang is just plain cool. 

2016-2018 Honda Civic

The Honda Civic always comes up in conversations about practical, affordable compact cars, and with good reason. It’s a segment leader thanks to its safety, its reliability, its efficiency and its surprising level of refinement for the price. A used current-generation Honda /zigman2/quotes/207173990/composite HMC +1.04%   Civic can be found pretty easily for less than $20,000, and it’s one of the best values in compact cars. College grads simply can’t go wrong going with a used Honda Civic to drive them into the next stage of life. 

Also read: The pros and cons of buying a certified used car

2018-2019 Hyundai Kona


Hyundai
The Hyundai Kona

The Hyundai /zigman2/quotes/204364212/delayed HYMTF -2.39%   Kona is a cute subcompact crossover with head-turning style and an equally attractive price tag. The Kona came out in 2018, but they’re already easy to find under the $20,000 mark. Tech-savvy college grads will appreciate the excellent UVO infotainment system, which comes standard with Android Auto, Apple /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL +0.25%   CarPlay and a USB port. It’s upgradable to a bigger 8-in unit that has even more features. The Kona is also available as a fully electric vehicle. While we think a nice pre-owned example will be the best value, the car is largely unchanged for 2020. If a new car is in your budget, the Kona works both ways. Nimble handling, a peppy available turbocharged engine and an eye-catching palette of available paint colors are just a few more things to love about the Kona. 

2012-2017 Jeep Wrangler

The Jeep Wrangler has a well-deserved reputation as an off-road icon. Surveys have shown that it’s one of the top dream cars in America, and it’s more within reach than you might think. The current JL generation of the Wrangler is still a little pricey on the used market, but there are many used JK-generation Wranglers out there for under $20,000. The Wrangler finally got standard 4-wheel drive in 2012, which makes that a good model year to start your search. The Wrangler has unmatched off-road capabilities for your adventurous side, and it can also serve as a practical daily driver, especially the 4-door Wrangler Unlimited. 

2021 Kia Seltos


Kia
The Kia Seltos

The Kia Seltos is an all-new subcompact crossover that manages to be both cute and rugged. It has an affordable starting MSRP of $21,990, and even the higher-end trims with the optional turbocharged engine stay under the $30,000 mark. The Seltos has a bigger interior than you might expect for such a small SUV and a level of interior quality that might surprise you at this price point. One of our favorite things about the Seltos is that all-wheel drive is standard on almost every trim, giving you confidence-inspiring traction when the roads get slick. 

2020 Nissan Sentra

The Nissan /zigman2/quotes/207656007/delayed NSANY +0.43%   Sentra is all-new for 2020, and it’s a massive improvement over its aging predecessor. It gets a sharp new design inside and out that looks muscular on the outside and upscale on the inside. The Sentra offers a strong value with an affordable starting MSRP of $19,090 and generous standard technology that includes the Nissan Safety Shield 360 suite of driver assistance tech, which includes automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and more. Even if you go up to the top SR trim of the Sentra’s range and add the optional Premium Package, pricing remains affordable in the mid-$20,000 range. 

See: 5 important facts about car insurance no one ever tells you

2010-2015 Toyota Prius

We know it isn’t the most stylish car on the list, but a used Toyota /zigman2/quotes/200537742/composite TM +0.92%   Prius is one of the best financial decisions a college grad can make. If you have student loan debt that you want to aggressively pay off, a used third-generation Prius can help you do that. A used third-gen Prius can easily be bought for less than $10,000, and you won’t be making a lot of trips to the gas station, as this car has a combined fuel economy rating of 50 mpg. But it’s not just the fuel economy that makes the Prius a practical choice. It’s also surprisingly roomy for a compact hatchback, and it has the stellar safety and reliability ratings you’d expect from a Toyota. 

Also on MarketWatch: 8 affordable new cars that get at least 40 mpg

2020 Toyota Yaris Hatchback


Toyota
The Toyota Yaris

The subcompact Toyota Yaris gets a hatchback variant for 2020, and it’s an affordable, practical car that would be a great choice as a new car for a college grad. It starts at just $17,750 and it only has two trim levels, making it an easy car to shop for. Upgrading to the XLE trim for an extra $1,000 nets you automatic LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, leatherette-trimmed seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio, cruise and phone controls. The Yaris hatchback delivers great fuel economy, agile handling and a solid predicted reliability rating.

Also see: 8 affordable new cars priced well below $20k

This story originally ran on Autotrader.com .

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