Considering giving your son or daughter a car for a graduation gift? We've compiled a list of some exceptional choices for the 18 to 24-year-old driver.
To do that, we looked at the April 2011 Consumer Reports "Most Reliable Cars for Every Budget" list and culled it down to the best ones for drivers finishing high school. Our top picks are either fuel efficient and practical or hip enough to put a big grin on your graduate's face.
20 City / 29 Hwy
The Ford Mustang is the original pony car ? a sports car-like coupe with a long hood and short rear-end. Introduced in 1964, the immensely-popular Mustang spurred competitors such as Chevrolet and Dodge to birth their respective Camaro and Challenger nameplates. The 2004 model features commemorative 40th Anniversary badging and a 3.8-liter engine capable of 190 hp. While this car definitely will be fun for your graduate, remember it's a rear-wheel drive probably best suited for year-round use in snowless states. Either that, or plan to invest in snow tires that will need to be switched out seasonally.
24 City / 34 Hwy
This four-door sedan is the car for the sensible and mature graduate. The Optima holds its ground against similarly outfitted Toyota Camrys or Honda Accords, but is a more affordable used car. While reviewers don't rave about this model for anything in particular, the adjectives "solid" and "value" are commonly used to describe the 2007 Optima.
23 City / 28 Hwy
Subaru is known for making all-wheel drive vehicles used in rally races around the world. While they don't sell as many cars in the United States as the other Japanese automakers, they're well-loved by staunchly loyal fans. As for the Impreza, it's a fun car to drive and because of its AWD drivetrain, grads won't be able to use weather as an excuse for not coming home on weekends. Fun fact: There's a reason behind the cosmic-looking Subaru logo. It turns out "Subaru" is the name of the Pleiades star cluster in Japanese.
23 City / 31 Hwy
You have to give Ford credit for not only being the only US automaker to make our list, but also the only one to land on it twice. Since its inception in 2006, the Fusion has become a favorite with car buyers because of its styling, handling and enjoyable drive. Indeed, today the Fusion is the most popular domestic-bult car in America. For a more upscale option, check out the 2006 Mercury Milan, which also gets high marks from consumers.
28 City / 35 Hwy
If you remember the Protegé, known for its handling and reliability, the Mazda3 is what replaced it in the affordable small car segment. Not only is the Mazda3 hatchback a peppy car that accelerates quickly and handles well, the interior is much more finished than you would expect from an economy car.
31 City / 38 Hwy
Three modified Civics starred in the original "Fast and the Furious" movie in 2001 and helped Dom and his crew hijack more than $6 million in merchandise. While enthusiasts still like to invest in aftermarket parts to trick out the immensely-popular Civic, the stock Si model also performs admirably as just a regular commuter. With gas prices high and likely to go higher, budget-minded buyers might also consider the Civic Hybrid, which gets about 38 mpg in the city and 45 on the highway.
22 City / 29 Hwy
In 2006, Scion added a few features to the tC popular with the younger crowd such as audio controls on the steering wheel, a port for music players and optional connectivity to an iPod, which can be controlled through the audio system. Other cool features include 17-inch alloy wheels and a panoramic roof with a power sunroof over the front seats and fixed glass over the passenger seats.
30 City / 38 Hwy
This car has the bragging rights of no other. First introduced in 1968, the mid-size Corolla sedan is the best-selling car of all time with more than 8.6 million sold in the United States. What accounts for such popularity? First, the Corolla has been consistently rated highly in terms of reliability. Its fuel economy isn't too shabby either at 28 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway. Incidentally, its name means "small crown" in Latin.
24 City / 31 Hwy
Another best-selling mid-size sedan reputed for its quality construction and dependability, the Altima is a more affordable alternative to the upscale Nissan Maxima. The 2005 model benefits from a major facelift and you'll find them with optional satellite radio capability and navigation.
22 City / 30 Hwy
You may remember the Rabbits hopping around from 1975 to 1984, known far and wide for their fuel economy and long life spans. Originally debuting in Europe as the Golf, it was renamed the Rabbit for the US market until Volkswagen changed the name back to Golf in 1985. The German carmaker briefly revived the Rabbit moniker from 2006 to 2009 until again switching back to Golf. While VW name makers might be fickle, the car itself has been greatly esteemed by drivers in the 36 years it's been gracing American roadways.
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