Useful Car Tips

Best Cars for College Students

May 17, 2019
College students rely on their cars to give them safe, reliable transport on campus while still remaining relatively affordable. Some of the best cars for college will come in various sizes and form factors, depending on your individual needs and budget. From a no-fuss Toyota Prius to a spacious Honda Fit, they all must share this common DNA: a mixture of safety, reliability, low maintenance costs, and practicality. First, begin by defining a budget for the upfront cost of the car. Then, especially if the car is used, put away some money to be used in the event of unexpected repairs or maintenance. We’ll be focusing on cars that you can buy used for well under US$20,000, a doable budget for a college student if given a little financial assistance by family. Let’s jump in!


The Toyota Prius checks all the boxes for a good college car, among its best traits being its reliability, practicality, and excellent fuel efficiency thanks to its hybrid drivetrain. The Prius was one of the first and certainly one of the most popular hybrids on the market for good reason. Even a 2009 model year Prius, now a decade old, still holds up with an impressive 48 city and 45 highway miles per gallon rating, significantly more than almost any conventional gasoline-powered car. Factor in its size (small enough to fit into tighter parking spaces, yet spacious enough to comfortably seat five), reliability, and practicality due to its hatchback design, and the Prius proves to be a winner for the budget-conscious college student.


Much like the Prius, the Honda Civic is an excellent choice for almost any college student. It features Honda’s legendary reliability, low maintenance, and all the practicality most college students would need. You’ll be sure to find many clean used Civics of almost every generation for well under US$10,000. Don’t be afraid of high mileage either, Honda builds these cars like tanks! Many owners and publications report steadfast reliability well past even 150,000 miles (or about 241,000 kilometers) on the odometer. Stay on top of scheduled maintenance items and you’ll see this car last for many more hundreds of thousands of miles. What the Civic lacks in driving spirit, it makes up for in many other ways.


In need of a hatchback? Take into consideration the Honda Fit, a diminutively-sized but surprisingly practical offering from one of Japan’s most storied brands. The Fit offers a little less interior room than some Civic generations, but counters with the practicality of its hatchback design. This small hatch can seat five, with ample leg and head room even for passengers in the rear seats. Open the trunk and you’ll find not only a large opening, but plenty of cargo space to fit large and awkwardly-shaped objects, a clear advantage over more-conventional sedans. Just like the Civic and Prius, the Fit is reliable, spacious, and has relatively low maintenance costs.


The lone American car on our list, the Ford Fiesta ST is the enthusiast’s choice for a college car. Based on the standard Fiesta hatchback, the performance-tuned ST eschews the regular 1.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder Fiesta engine in favor of a 1.6 turbo I4, giving this tiny Fiesta a respectable 197 horsepower and 214 pound-feet of torque. You get suspension tweaks too, significant enough that they transform the placid base Fiesta into what many journalists have described as a go-kart for the road in the ST. Besides its fun factor, you get seating for five passengers (although they won’t be very comfortable), decent fuel efficiency with an EPA-rated 25 city and 32 highway, and of course, the practicality of a hatch. The ST’s pitfalls lie in its rough suspension and limited space for passengers. If you’re only looking for an automatic transmission, the Fiesta ST won’t be for you either, as it’s offered exclusively with a 6-speed manual.


As you can see, there are many great choices for a college student’s primary vehicle. They all share the same characteristics, but execute their physical packages in vastly differing ways. From the hybrid Toyota Prius, to the classic Honda Civic, to hatchbacks like the Fit and Ford Fiesta ST, there’s a car for any student out there. Now, it’s time to choose the best one for you, one that will last you through all four years of college and for many more years of success to come!
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