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5 cars that are perfect for new college grads

Jerry Kronenberg
12 July 2013


They might not have jobs yet, but 2013's college graduates still need wheels to get around — and here are five great models they (or gift-giving parents) should consider buying.

"These are all affordable, sharp-looking cars with good performance — and some have a practicality to them as well," says John DiPietro of car-buying site Edmunds.com, which recently named 2013's Best Cars for College Graduates.

Edmunds compiled its fourth-annual list by asking readers to rank some two-dozen 2013 models that cost around $25,000 and offer good looks, a fun driving experience and the kind of features 20-somethings want.

DiPietro says the candidate models included more than just econoboxes, as "not all college graduates are alike. Some business grads need formal-looking cars to take associates at a new job to lunch, while other kids want something sportier."

Ultimately, readers gave high marks to a group of cars DiPietro says are not only good choices for recent grads, but really for any consumer who wants good performance, sharp looks and a modest price. "All of these cars are affordable, nice-looking and fun to drive," he says.

Here are the 5 models that Edmunds readers gave the most votes for best college-grad cars of 2013. All dollar figures refer to manufacturer's suggested retail prices for base versions of each model:

Fifth place: Honda Civic Si
Base price: $22,515

DiPietro calls this sport version of the Honda Civic "a car that you can buy for an affordable price, but still have some fun with on the backroads."

Honda gave the entire Civic lineup an extensive refreshing for 2013 because a 2012 redesign of the model fell flat with consumers and auto reviewers.

As a result, this year's Civic Si feature a better-looking exterior, a higher-quality interior and upscale features such as Bluetooth and a rearview camera as standard equipment.

The 140-horsepower Si — which 6.7% of Edmunds readers picked as 2013's best college-grad car — also comes standard with improved suspension, better steering and additional soundproofing for a smoother, quieter ride.

Fourth place: Hyundai Genesis Coupe
Base price: $24,250

The sporty Hyundai Genesis Coupe boasts rear-wheel drive, a turbocharged engine and other performance features you'd normally only expect on higher-priced vehicles.

"The Genesis Coupe is budget-friendly car that still manages to be sharp looking," DiPietro says. "It's a good choice for recent grads who are looking for a performance coupe."

Hyundai has refreshed the model for 2013 with better suspension, improved steering and a standard, 274-horsepower four-cylinder turbocharged engine. The Genesis Coupe, which 6.8% of Edmunds readers picked as 2013's best college-grad car, also comes standard with Hyundai's industry-leading 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Available options include a 348-horsepower V-6 engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Third place: Kia Optima
Base price: $21,350

This midsize sedan carries a modest price, but offers good looks, posh finishes and an impressive 200-horsepower four-cylinder engine.

"The Optima is one of those models where you seem to get a lot more car than you paid for in terms of styling, quality and refined performance," DiPietro says. "It has this upscale vibe about it that belies its price tag."

And like the Hyundai Genesis Coupe, the Optima (which 8.5% of Edmunds readers chose as 2013's No. 1 college-grad car) includes a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty as a standard offering.

Second place: Volkswagen GTI
Base price: $24,200

DiPietro calls the Volkswagen GTI "a well-rounded package of a car. It's got a sporty ride, it's comfortable on the inside and it's got a hatchback style that lets you fit a lot of stuff into it."

The GTI also comes standard with lots of upscale amenities, from a 200-horsepower turbocharged engine to 18-inch alloy wheels and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

All told, 12.2% of Edmunds' readers voted the hatchback the best 2013 for recent college grads.

Best car for grads: Scion FR-S
Base price: $24,500

Jointly developed by Toyota and Subaru, the FR-S is an affordable rear-wheel-drive sports car added to Scion's lineup for 2013.

"The FR-S is a real 'back-to-basics' sports car in the vein of the 1970s Datsun 240Z or the [1980s] first-generation Mazda RX-7," DiPietro says. "It's lightweight, well balanced, responsive and very rewarding to drive."

The model — which 15.2% of Edmunds' readers chose as the best 2013 for college grad — starts at less than $25,000, but boasts a 200-horsepower four-cylinder "boxer" engine, a rear-wheel-drive system and a race-car-like dashboard.

"Personally, I think very highly of the car," DiPietro says.

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