Top Cars:  College Cars

Best Cars for Recent College Graduates: 2018 Edition

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author photo by Eric Brandt May 2018

College graduates deserve to reward themselves with a car. But with average car prices getting higher and college getting more expensive, it can be hard to find a new car that's affordable and something recent grads actually want to live with.

Luckily, there are a lot of great used and certified pre-owned (CPO) options on the market right now. What's great about CPO cars is they've already experienced depreciation that drives their price down, yet they still come with a warranty. Here are a few of the best cars for recent college graduates. Since we know not all grads are created equal, we've included a wide variety of cars in different categories for all automotive tastes.

All-Arounder: Honda Civic

The Civic is not only an affordable, reliable, practical car, but it's extremely versatile. The fact that you can get one as a sedan, coupe or hatchback in trims ranging from base LX to the sporty Si to the luxurious Touring model and several other options in between means there's a Civic for everyone and every budget. The Civic starts at $18,940 new, and there are a ton of good deals on well-appointed, current generation CPO Civics for less than $20,000.

Find a Honda Civic for sale

Compact SUV: Toyota RAV4

The RAV4 might not be the most thrilling crossover, but maybe you're not looking for anything particularly exciting. If you want the ride height and versatility of a crossover and just need something you can count on, the RAV4 is one of the most trustworthy offerings in its competitive segment. Available all-wheel drive makes it a great year-round performer in snowy climates. Another nice thing about a compact SUV is it's ready to report for family duty if you're planning on having kids shortly after graduation. A new RAV4 starts at $24,510 and a lot of good CPO deals can be found around the $20,000 mark.

Find a Toyota RAV4 for sale

Subcompact SUV: Fiat 500X

The subcompact crossover segment has been growing fast. One of the earliest entries in that field is also one of the most forgotten, the Fiat 500X. It's mechanically the same as a Jeep Renegade, but is depreciating much faster than the Jeep, making it a better value on the used and CPO market. What makes the 500X different from the Renegade is a different, more Italian-looking body with the Euro-inspired look continuing in the interior. Like the RAV4, available all-wheel drive ads to this crossover's versatility. A new Fiat 500X will set you back at least $19,995, but this car is very affordable on the CPO market with several examples costing less than $15,000.

Find a Fiat 500X for sale

Off-Road: Subaru Crosstrek

The Crosstrek isn't the meanest or toughest off-roader on the market, but it's one of the most affordable. Straddling the line between hatchback and crossover, the Crosstrek is something a little different that stands out. Standard all-wheel drive makes it great for grads living in snowy climates or anyone who wants to do some light off-roading. Sure, it's not as tough as a Jeep Wrangler, but it also isn't as expensive and it's arguably more practical for everyday driving. New Crosstreks start at $21,795 and CPO models are a little more affordable, but this Subaru holds its value pretty well, so you might be better off buying new.

Find a Subaru Crosstrek for sale

Truck: Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon 

A full-size truck can be tough for a recent college grad both in terms of the purchase price and the fuel pump. A more affordable and more efficient mid-size truck like the Chevy Colorado is easier on the wallet while still being thoroughly capable. For a more luxurious truck with a more refined look, the mechanically identical GMC Canyon is a good option at a similar price. With so many different options for these trucks, like different cab sizes, different engines, including a diesel option, 2- or 4-wheel drive and different trim levels going from the bare-bones Colorado WT all the way up to the ritzy Canyon Denali, there's a mid-size GM truck for everyone in the market for a pickup. Both trucks start at a little over $20,000 new. Like the Crosstrek, these trucks hold their value well, but it's still worth shopping around on the CPO market for a good deal.

Find a Chevrolet Colorado for sale

Find a GMC Canyon for sale

Luxury: Cadillac ATS

A recent study from car research site iSeeCars listed the Cadillac ATS as the second fastest depreciating car on the market. That makes it an excellent deal on the used and CPO market for college grads looking for a ride that's affordable, luxurious and fun to drive. Any used Cadillac is a great way to make it look like you're a little more well-off than you actually are and the ATS, which can be had as either a sedan or a coupe, is no exception. With available features like heated leather seats, navigation and even semi-autonomous features like adaptive cruise control available on the ATS, it's not a bad way to get around for less than $20,000. The ATS loses a little over half of its value in just three years, so we wouldn't recommend buying one new.

Find a Cadillac ATS for sale

PHEV: Chevy Volt

For the tech-conscious, environmentally-friendly college graduate, a Chevy Volt is both a practical way to get around and a cool piece of tech. The Volt is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) which means it can run on pure electricity -- and when it runs out of juice, it has a gas engine to charge it back up. It has the benefits of an all-electric car without the range anxiety. The second generation of the Volt began for the 2016 model year and has a longer all-electric range and a little more refinement than the first-gen model, but it's also more expensive. There are a lot of affordable used and CPO first-gen Volts on the market, but if your budget it a little higher, a second-gen Volt is a bit more modern. The Volt depreciates pretty fast, so a used or CPO option is a better value than new.

Find a Chevrolet Volt for sale

EV: Nissan Leaf

 The Leaf has been around long enough to become pretty abundant on the used market. A used or CPO Leaf is one of the most affordable ways to get into the electric vehicle (EV) lifestyle, as long as you can live with the sub-100 mile range. The Leaf is all-new for the 2018 model year, which makes the first-generation models even more affordable. There are a lot of CPO Leaf models available around the $20,000 mark, but used models with higher miles can get below $10,000, making it a very affordable car that doesn't burn any gas.

Find a Nissan Leaf for sale

Enthusiast: Ford Focus ST 

For the college grad who wants to blend practicality with driving excitement, a Ford Focus ST is an excellent choice. This hot hatch has been around just long enough to see some pretty deep depreciation on the used market, but it's still new enough to be modern. With a turbocharged EcoBoost engine, the Focus ST offers exciting performance while returning respectable fuel economy. Like the smaller Fiesta ST, the Focus ST is only available with a manual transmission, which is a downside for most drivers, but a definite plus for driving enthusiasts. This car is a good deal new starting at $25,170 and an even better deal in the CPO market coming closer to $20,000.

Find a Ford Focus for sale

Sports Car: Scion FR-S

 If you don't require the practicality of a hot hatch like a Focus ST and just want pure driving enjoyment, the Scion FR-S has become a great used car value. Being a 2-seater, it's not super practical, but if you live in a climate that's friendly to sports cars and you aren't planning on having kids anytime soon, why not treat yourself to a proper sports car? The FR-S was already pretty affordable when it was new and depreciation has made this sporty coupe even more accessible. Now known as the Toyota 86, the Scion FR-S is just as sporty for a lower price now that Scion isn't around anymore. Despite the discontinuation of the Scion brand, CPO examples of the FR-S can still be found between the $15,000-20,000 range.

Find a Scion FR-S for sale

The cars listed above are some of the best cars for recent college graduates because they're both modern and affordable. If you're still not sure which one is right for you, do some shopping around on Autotrader to find your perfect car.

College graduates deserve to reward themselves with a car. But with average car prices getting higher and college getting more expensive, it can be hard to find a new car that's affordable and something recent grads actually want to live with.


Luckily, there are a lot of great used and certified pre-owned (CPO) options on the market right now. What's great about CPO cars is they've experienced depreciation driving the price down and still come with a warranty. Here are a few cars that are great for recent college graduates. Since we know not all grads are created equal, we've included a wide variety of cars in different categories for all automotive tastes.


All-Arounder: Honda Civic - The Civic is not only an affordable, reliable, practical car, but it's extremely versatile. The fact that you can get one as a sedan, coupe, or hatchback in trims ranging from base LX to the sporty Si to the luxurious Touring model and several other options in between means there's a Civic for everyone and every budget. The Civic starts at $18,940 new and there are a ton of good deals on well-appointed, current generation CPO Civics for less than $20k.


Compact SUV: Toyota RAV4 - The RAV4 might not be the most thrilling crossover, but maybe you're not looking for anything particularly exciting. If you want the ride height and versatility of a crossover and just need something you can count on, the RAV4 is one of the most trustworthy offerings in its competitive segment. Available all-wheel drive makes it a great year-round performer in snowy climates. Another nice thing about a compact SUV is it's ready to report for family duty if you're planning on having kids shortly after graduation. A new RAV4 starts at $24,510 and a lot of good CPO deals can be found around the $20k mark.


Subcompact SUV: Fiat 500X - The subcompact crossover segment has been growing fast. One of the earliest entries in that field is also one of the most forgotten, the Fiat 500X. It's mechanically the same as a Jeep Renegade, but is depreciating much faster than the Jeep making it a better value on the used and CPO market. What makes the 500X different from the Renegade is a different, more Italian-looking body with the Euro-inspired look continuing in the interior. Like the RAV4, available all-wheel drive ads to this crossover's versatility. A new Fiat 500X will set up back at least $19,995 and this car is very affordable on the CPO market with several examples costing less than $15k.


Off-Road: Subaru Crosstrek - The Crosstrek isn't the meanest or toughest off-roader on the market, but it's one of the most affordable. Straddling the line between hatchback and crossover, the Crosstrek is something a little different that stands out. Standard all-wheel drive makes it great for grads living in snowy climates or anyone who wants to do some light off-roading. Sure, it's not as tough as a Jeep Wrangler, but it also isn't as expensive and it's arguably more practical for everyday driving. New Crosstreks start at $21,795 and CPO models are a little more affordable, but this Subaru holds its value pretty well so you might be better off buying new.


Truck: Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon - A full-size truck can be tough for a recent college grad to afford both at the dealer and at the fuel pump. A more affordable and more efficient mid-size truck like the Chevy Colorado is easier on the wallet while still being thoroughly capable. For a more luxurious truck with a more refined look, the mechanically identical GMC Canyon is a good option at a similar price. With so many different options for these trucks like different cab sizes, different engines, including a diesel option, two- or four-wheel drive, and different trim levels going from the bare-bones Colorado WT all the way up to the ritzy Canyon Denali, there's a mid-size GM truck for everyone in the market for a pickup. Both trucks start at a little over $20k new. Like the Crosstrek, these trucks hold their value well, but it's still worth shopping around on the CPO market for a good deal.


Luxury: Cadillac ATS - A recent study from car research site iSeeCars listed the Cadillac ATS as the fastest depreciating car on the market. That makes it an excellent deal on the used and CPO market for college grads looking for a ride that's affordable, luxurious, and fun to drive. Any used Cadillac is a great way to make it look like you're a little more well-off than you actually are and the ATS, which can be had as either a sedan or a coupe, is no exception. With available features like heated leather seats, navigation, and even semi-autonomous features like adaptive cruise control available on the ATS, it's not a bad way to get around for less than $20k. The ATS loses a little over half of its value in just three years, so we wouldn't recommend buying one new.


PHEV: Chevy Volt - For the tech-conscious, environmentally-friendly college graduate, a Chevy Volt is both a practical way to get around and a cool piece of tech. The Volt is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) which means it can run on pure electricity and when it runs out of juice, it has a gas engine to charge it back up. It has the benefits of an all-electric car without the range anxiety. The second generation of the Volt began for the 2016 model year and has a longer all-electric range and a little more refinement than the first-gen model, but it's also more expensive. There are a lot of affordable used and CPO first-gen Volts on the market, but if your budget it a little higher, a second-gen Volt is a bit more modern. The Volt depreciates pretty fast, so a used or CPO option is a better value than new.


EV: Nissan Leaf - The Leaf has been around long enough to become pretty abundant on the used market. A used or CPO Leaf is one of the most affordable ways to get into the electric vehicle (EV) lifestyle, as long as you can live with the sub-100 mile range. The Leaf is all-new for the 2018 model year which makes the first-generation models even more affordable. There are a lot of CPO Leaf models available around the $20k mark, but used models with higher miles can get below $10k making it a very affordable car that doesn't burn any gas.


Enthusiast: Ford Focus ST - For the college grad who wants to blend practicality with driving excitement, a Ford Focus ST is an excellent choice. This hot hatch has been around just long enough to see some pretty deep depreciation on the used market, but it's still new enough to be modern. With a turbocharged EcoBoost engine, the Focus ST offers exciting performance while returning respectable fuel economy. Like the smaller Fiesta ST, the Focus ST is only available with a manual transmission which is a downside for most drivers, but a definite plus for driving enthusiasts. This car is a good deal new starting at $25,170 and an even better deal in the CPO market coming closer to $20k.

Sports car: Scion FR-S - If you don't require the practicality of a hot hatch like a Focus ST and just want pure driving enjoyment, the Scion FR-S has become a great used car value. Being a two-seater, it's not super practical, but if you live in a climate that's friendly to sports cars and you aren't planning on having kids anytime soon, why not treat yourself to a proper sports car? The FR-S was already pretty affordable when it was new and depreciation has made this sporty coupe even more accessible. Now known as the Toyota 86, the Scion FR-S is just as sporty for a lower price now that Scion isn't around anymore. Despite the discontinuation of the Scion brand, CPO examples of the FR-S can still be found between the $15-20k range.

College graduates deserve to reward themselves with a car. But with average car prices getting higher and college getting more expensive, it can be hard to find a new car that's affordable and something recent grads actually want to live with.


Luckily, there are a lot of great used and certified pre-owned (CPO) options on the market right now. What's great about CPO cars is they've experienced depreciation driving the price down and still come with a warranty. Here are a few cars that are great for recent college graduates. Since we know not all grads are created equal, we've included a wide variety of cars in different categories for all automotive tastes.


All-Arounder: Honda Civic - The Civic is not only an affordable, reliable, practical car, but it's extremely versatile. The fact that you can get one as a sedan, coupe, or hatchback in trims ranging from base LX to the sporty Si to the luxurious Touring model and several other options in between means there's a Civic for everyone and every budget. The Civic starts at $18,940 new and there are a ton of good deals on well-appointed, current generation CPO Civics for less than $20k.


Compact SUV: Toyota RAV4 - The RAV4 might not be the most thrilling crossover, but maybe you're not looking for anything particularly exciting. If you want the ride height and versatility of a crossover and just need something you can count on, the RAV4 is one of the most trustworthy offerings in its competitive segment. Available all-wheel drive makes it a great year-round performer in snowy climates. Another nice thing about a compact SUV is it's ready to report for family duty if you're planning on having kids shortly after graduation. A new RAV4 starts at $24,510 and a lot of good CPO deals can be found around the $20k mark.


Subcompact SUV: Fiat 500X - The subcompact crossover segment has been growing fast. One of the earliest entries in that field is also one of the most forgotten, the Fiat 500X. It's mechanically the same as a Jeep Renegade, but is depreciating much faster than the Jeep making it a better value on the used and CPO market. What makes the 500X different from the Renegade is a different, more Italian-looking body with the Euro-inspired look continuing in the interior. Like the RAV4, available all-wheel drive ads to this crossover's versatility. A new Fiat 500X will set up back at least $19,995 and this car is very affordable on the CPO market with several examples costing less than $15k.


Off-Road: Subaru Crosstrek - The Crosstrek isn't the meanest or toughest off-roader on the market, but it's one of the most affordable. Straddling the line between hatchback and crossover, the Crosstrek is something a little different that stands out. Standard all-wheel drive makes it great for grads living in snowy climates or anyone who wants to do some light off-roading. Sure, it's not as tough as a Jeep Wrangler, but it also isn't as expensive and it's arguably more practical for everyday driving. New Crosstreks start at $21,795 and CPO models are a little more affordable, but this Subaru holds its value pretty well so you might be better off buying new.


Truck: Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon - A full-size truck can be tough for a recent college grad to afford both at the dealer and at the fuel pump. A more affordable and more efficient mid-size truck like the Chevy Colorado is easier on the wallet while still being thoroughly capable. For a more luxurious truck with a more refined look, the mechanically identical GMC Canyon is a good option at a similar price. With so many different options for these trucks like different cab sizes, different engines, including a diesel option, two- or four-wheel drive, and different trim levels going from the bare-bones Colorado WT all the way up to the ritzy Canyon Denali, there's a mid-size GM truck for everyone in the market for a pickup. Both trucks start at a little over $20k new. Like the Crosstrek, these trucks hold their value well, but it's still worth shopping around on the CPO market for a good deal.


Luxury: Cadillac ATS - A recent study from car research site iSeeCars listed the Cadillac ATS as the fastest depreciating car on the market. That makes it an excellent deal on the used and CPO market for college grads looking for a ride that's affordable, luxurious, and fun to drive. Any used Cadillac is a great way to make it look like you're a little more well-off than you actually are and the ATS, which can be had as either a sedan or a coupe, is no exception. With available features like heated leather seats, navigation, and even semi-autonomous features like adaptive cruise control available on the ATS, it's not a bad way to get around for less than $20k. The ATS loses a little over half of its value in just three years, so we wouldn't recommend buying one new.


PHEV: Chevy Volt - For the tech-conscious, environmentally-friendly college graduate, a Chevy Volt is both a practical way to get around and a cool piece of tech. The Volt is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) which means it can run on pure electricity and when it runs out of juice, it has a gas engine to charge it back up. It has the benefits of an all-electric car without the range anxiety. The second generation of the Volt began for the 2016 model year and has a longer all-electric range and a little more refinement than the first-gen model, but it's also more expensive. There are a lot of affordable used and CPO first-gen Volts on the market, but if your budget it a little higher, a second-gen Volt is a bit more modern. The Volt depreciates pretty fast, so a used or CPO option is a better value than new.


EV: Nissan Leaf - The Leaf has been around long enough to become pretty abundant on the used market. A used or CPO Leaf is one of the most affordable ways to get into the electric vehicle (EV) lifestyle, as long as you can live with the sub-100 mile range. The Leaf is all-new for the 2018 model year which makes the first-generation models even more affordable. There are a lot of CPO Leaf models available around the $20k mark, but used models with higher miles can get below $10k making it a very affordable car that doesn't burn any gas.


Enthusiast: Ford Focus ST - For the college grad who wants to blend practicality with driving excitement, a Ford Focus ST is an excellent choice. This hot hatch has been around just long enough to see some pretty deep depreciation on the used market, but it's still new enough to be modern. With a turbocharged EcoBoost engine, the Focus ST offers exciting performance while returning respectable fuel economy. Like the smaller Fiesta ST, the Focus ST is only available with a manual transmission which is a downside for most drivers, but a definite plus for driving enthusiasts. This car is a good deal new starting at $25,170 and an even better deal in the CPO market coming closer to $20k.

Sports car: Scion FR-S - If you don't require the practicality of a hot hatch like a Focus ST and just want pure driving enjoyment, the Scion FR-S has become a great used car value. Being a two-seater, it's not super practical, but if you live in a climate that's friendly to sports cars and you aren't planning on having kids anytime soon, why not treat yourself to a proper sports car? The FR-S was already pretty affordable when it was new and depreciation has made this sporty coupe even more accessible. Now known as the Toyota 86, the Scion FR-S is just as sporty for a lower price now that Scion isn't around anymore. Despite the discontinuation of the Scion brand, CPO examples of the FR-S can still be found between the $15-20k range.

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Certified 2018 Honda Civic Sport Hatchback
Certified 2018 Honda Civic
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Used 2018 Honda Civic Si Sedan
Used 2018 Honda Civic
$22,500
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New 2018 Honda Civic EX-L Hatchback
New 2018 Honda Civic
MSRP $26,645
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New 2018 Honda Civic EX-L Hatchback
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Best Cars for Recent College Graduates: 2018 Edition - Autotrader