As summer draws near, thousands of high school students are preparing to move on, leaving behind the structured confines of high school and, in many cases, their homes and families. Of course, going to college can be a stressful time ? but the right car is sure to make a good impression on your classmates. We've compiled a list of some of the best new cars sure to win favor with your peers ? and we've capped the price at around $20,000, so mom and dad might have a little room left over for tuition.

  • 1 2011 Nissan Juke

    2011 Nissan Juke

    $21,725

    27 City / 32 Hwy

    One of the oldest rules in show business is that you've got to know your audience ? and the certainly won't play well to everyone. Its wacky styling and asymmetrical profile may get disapproving looks at a stuffy, buttoned-up university. But if your college is the kind of place where students wear pajamas to class and call professors by their first names, feel free to thrash the Juke's 188-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder on your way to impressing your classmates ? when they're not busy protesting against the administration.

  • 2 2011 Honda CR-Z

    2011 Honda CR-Z

    $19,450

    31 City / 37 Hwy

    You don't have to be a tree-hugger to appreciate the exciting purpose behind Honda's new CR-Z hybrid. While most people associate hybrid cars with a dull, uninspiring driving experience, Honda has pumped new life into the technology, giving the hatchback a rakish design and a fun 6-speed manual to play with. But the CR-Z can be serious, too, achieving nearly 40 miles per gallon in the city and offering exceptional cargo space. Either way, your friends will be impressed with your sporty fuel-sipper ? especially when you show them that the instrument panel can change colors.

  • 3 2011 Suzuki Kizashi

    2011 Suzuki Kizashi

    $17,475

    21 City / 31 Hwy

    Many people haven't heard of the Kizashi ? but anyone who's driven Suzuki's new small sedan knows that it's one of the best-kept secrets in the auto business. Loaded with premium features and featuring a 185-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder and capable of more than 30 miles per gallon on the highway, the small Suzuki offers unprecedented value in its class. Your fellow students are sure to be impressed with your automotive savvy and independent spirit.

  • 4 2011 Kia Sportage

    2011 Kia Sportage

    $19,600

    21 City / 29 Hwy

    Believe it or not, Kia's smallest SUV comes in under $20,000, with the least-expensive version available at just over $18,000. But it's not the money you've saved that'll impress your classmates: it's the Sportage's handsome design. Styled by former Audi designer Peter Schreyer, the Sportage offers a choice of two efficient four-cylinder powerplants or a strong V6, in addition to its good looks. While past Sportages haven't stood out from the pack, the newest model has all the tools to help you make a notable entrance.

  • 5 2011 Ford Fiesta

    2011 Ford Fiesta

    $16,750

    28 City / 37 Hwy

    If you're the type who always winds up shuttling your friends and classmates everywhere, the Fiesta is the car to have. Featuring a well-appointed interior with a thoughtful, edgy design, Ford's newest subcompact starts at around $13,300. That means $20,000 will buy you a well equipped, top-of-the-line model, featuring heated seats, satellite radio, a power sunroof, Bluetooth, and even a navigation system. Thanks to an intelligent use of space, the Fiesta also comfortably seats you and four friends, and can even carry some luggage, assuring its place among the most impressive cars $20,000 can buy.

  • 6 2011 Volkswagen Jetta

    2011 Volkswagen Jetta

    $19,475

    23 City / 33 Hwy

    Volkswagen's smallest sedan already has a cult following among drivers who appreciate its European styling and handling. The all-new 2011 Jetta starts at around $2,000 less than the outgoing model, which should help broaden its appeal. It also means that $20,000 can actually buy a nicely equipped Jetta, featuring keyless entry, cruise control, a stereo with MP3 capability, and a 170-horsepower 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine. Best of all, you get clean, European styling that would look equally at home in a bustling, downtown campus or a well-manicured, rural college.

  • 7 2011 Mini Cooper

    2011 Mini Cooper

    $25,725

    28 City / 35 Hwy

    If your only goal is curb appeal, look no further than the Mini Cooper. While prices for fully loaded Cooper S models can easily crest $35,000, a base-level Cooper with a manual transmission slots in at around $19,400 ? just under our $20,000 cap. It doesn't offer many luxuries, doing without heated seats, sunroof, and automatic climate control, but it does boast one of the best driving experiences around ? and could earn you major respect for getting a great deal on a trendy, universally loved icon.

  • 8 2011 Ford Mustang

    2011 Ford Mustang

    $21,825

    19 City / 29 Hwy

    It's hard to make a Mustang fit under our $20,000 price cap, but with Ford offering $1,500 cash back on base-level 2011 models, the sporty coupe's $22,145 base price is discounted almost enough to make it. We think pushing the budget limit is worth it for the Mustang, though, as the pony car's powerful-yet-fuel-efficient 305-horsepower 3.7-liter V6, retro styling, and sporty rear-wheel drive handling make it one of the best values on the market. At the $20,000 price point, don't expect many luxuries ? but remember, you can always tell your friends you didn't spring for all the extras in order  to save weight.

author photo

Jeffrey Archer is fortunate to have turned a passion for cars into a career. His wide-ranging automotive experience includes work for automakers and dealers in addition to covering the news. When not writing, he spends his time searching for unique cars on AutoTrader.com.

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