For some parents, spring signals a time to gently encourage their recent graduate to take the next steps toward independence. In my head, it goes something like this: Little bird, real life is calling; it’s time to leave the nest and start your own life. In real life, it’s probably a bit more like this: Kid, it’s time to get out of my basement and become a productive member of society.
Or maybe you’re so far past ready for your kid to start his or her own life that you’re planning to pony up for a car that will help get them there. Or maybe you’ve scraped and saved your paper route money and you’re looking for something affordable, safe … and, OK, cool, for your first “big kid” purchase.
Regardless, here’s some advice for first time auto-shoppers from those who have been there, as well as those who are preparing their kids for this new stage. Check out our editors’ list of the best cars for graduates and new professionals:
Save money with an electric vehicle. No more spending those hard-earned pennies at the gas pump. The interior is surprisingly roomy, and the hatchback allows for flexibility when moving out of your college apartment and into something a little nicer (or possibly back into your parents’ house).
— Jennifer Newman, editor-in-chief
I’ll wait a second for your anticipated reaction to the effect of, “a minivan? Ew!” Now that we’ve got that outta the way … yeah, minivans aren’t cool. Noted. But consider this: You just graduated. You’re staring down the barrel of years, maybe decades, of student loan payments. And the job market in recent years has not been kind to millennials and whatever their successors are called. Starting your new life, by its nature, is undignified — so why fight it? Buy a vehicle that’s gonna give you nearly everything you might need besides caché.
The Pacifica will carry up to eight of your friends, and misery loves company. You’ll probably move to multiple crappy apartments and from city to city before you finally find that golden career opportunity, and the Pacifica’s 140.5 cubic feet of max cargo volume will help you accommodate your nomadic lifestyle.
— Matt Schmitz, assistant managing editor, news
More grown up than the compacts you drove before college, the Accord is a sedan that has a large enough backseat to schlep around clients or coworkers — plus standard stop-and-go adaptive cruise control to take the sting out of your daily commutes.
— Kelsey Mays, senior consumer affairs editor
The Civic was my first car, and even though it was from 23 model years ago, it still fits the bill! Great size for maneuvering a city, good gas mileage, ample storage for moving yourself from (or back?) home, and relatively affordable.
— Melissa Klauda, assistant managing editor, multimedia
Also offered with a manual, and it is cheaper (yet Honda automatic transmissions get better mpg figures) but delivers big with value with flexible cargo and passenger areas. Plenty of room to move from city to city (or from couch to couch) with all the lockable space in back. Could even sleep there as needed.
— Mark Williams, PickupTrucks.com editor
If you’re looking for some fun with a dash of practicality, the Elantra GT hatch has it. This sporty car is fun to drive, and its hatch makes it a natural for hauling your stuff.
Young folks got no money, point blank. So the answer to this question has to be affordable, tech savvy, and at home in the city or on those outdoors-y trips they love to talk about but never take — and that leaves us with the 2018 Hyundai Kona. It gets up to 30 mpg combined, has optional all-wheel drive and features a solid multimedia experience.
— Brian Wong, L.A. bureau chief
Because you graduated and don’t have a white-collar job yet, you need wheels to get to your interviews (and the new Rio ain’t a bad set) but a low car payment that all your side hustlin’ can cover.
Everyone should know how to drive a manual, and the Soul’s base model (around $17,000) comes with one. Little engines get good mileage, and this looks quirky and cool enough to keep your hipster friends happy. Call it your “Soulmate.” It will be ironic.
The Kia Sportage compact SUV gets my vote as a great vehicle for a grad or young professional. Why? It’s what we helped our youngest daughter purchase when she transitioned from college student to working girl not so many years ago. She loves the way it handles, the standard backup camera and higher seating position the Sportage provides. Its roomy backseat and generous cargo area — 30.7/60.1 cubic feet with seats deployed/folded — make traveling with her friends or her dogs a breeze. A base 2018 Sportage LX starts at $24,590 including destination.
— Jen Burklow, assistant managing editor-production
Young grads are likely to be moving around a lot for their jobs or music festivals or whatever. And when their friends need to move or pick up that dumpster couch, you’ll have the means to get a free pizza out of it.
If you have a little more than an econobox budget, a VW Golf GTI is a good choice for new grads, particularly those with newly minted professional school degrees. You can’t beat it for Euro-cool image for the dollar; it’s like a bargain BMW that’s fun to drive but priced like a nice mainstream compact. Plus, it’s practical, with a hatchback configuration that suits an active lifestyle and a tidy size that fits city parking needs.
— Fred Meier, D.C. bureau chief
Bonus: Something Practical
The best car for this person is the one they can afford, not the coolest one they can finance. You just graduated. You’re in debt. You don’t need much. It needs to go from A to B. Unless you’re carting around clients, you don’t need anything new or nice-looking. Find something that you can pay cash for, or pay off soon — then find a good mechanic.
— Evan Sears, assistant managing editor, photo
Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.
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