Top 10 cars for college students 2015

Top 10 cars for college students in 2015

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There’s a reason for the cliche that college kids are broke – it’s true. So in coming up with a list of the best cars for students, money was a deciding factor. To make the cut, vehicles had to start at under $25,000 new, and shuttling back and forth to class and trips home meant good gas mileage was also a must.

For the moms out there, we made sure the cars had at least a 4-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and for the kids, the vehicles had to have at least a dash of style. (Pulling up to school in a wood-paneled Dodge Caravan circa 1990 is not something you’ll live down easily.)

Another factor that’s often overlooked: reasonably-priced auto insurance. Premiums for students can be sky-high, but choosing the right vehicle can minimize the damage. To see how each vehicle stacks up, we ran them through the Goji estimator, using the profile of an 18-year-old female attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Things like your state, gender and urban versus rural campuses can have a big impact though, so for more personalized results, we’d recommend using the estimator for yourself before deciding on a vehicle. Getting multiple personalized estimates is totally free and only takes about 2 minutes from start to finish.

We ranked them according to overall cost to own, value, features, price and style, but students won’t go wrong with any of the vehicles on this list. Personal needs will also vary. If your school is in the frozen North, you’ll probably want an SUV or an all-wheel drive vehicle for dealing with ice and snow. For students attending a college in a city where parking is at a premium, a compact car will make life much easier. And now, let the countdown begin…


10. Ford Focus


Ford Focus

$17,170

Base price

26/36

City/highway mpg

5 star

Safety rating

$182/mo*

Cost to insure

Last year’s Focus was far from sporty enough to make the cut, but a thorough makeover lands it in our top 10. The base model is reasonably well-equipped, but you’ll need to spend a little extra to get some of the goodies that come standard in other models on this list.


Sources:
Price & mileage   |   Safety   |   Cost to insure


9. Subaru Crosstrek


Subaru Crosstrek

$21,595

Base price

26/36

City/highway mpg

5 star

Safety rating

$156/mo*

Cost to insure

Sort of halfway between a station wagon and a CUV, the Crosstrek strongly resembles its big brother the Outback. It’s not for everyone, but people who drive Subarus love their Subarus. Seriously, just ask them. Starting at $21,595, the Crosstrek is a few thousand dollars cheaper, but shares the all-wheel drive that’s made Outbacks so popular.

It also comes with a generous standard feature set, including a rearview camera and 6-inch touchscreen with smartphone integration. Some reviews do say the base model’s engine is a bit underpowered though, which can be a problem if you plan on taking the Crosstrek off-roading.


Sources:
Price & mileage   |   Safety   |   Cost to insure


8. Ford Escape


Ford Escape

$22,960

Base price

22/31

City/highway mpg

4 star

Safety rating

$171/mo*

Cost to insure

The Ford Escape may not be the best in any of the particular areas we’re judging, but it’s a solid performer in every category. With sleek styling, decent gas mileage, solid crash ratings and plenty of standard options, we have no qualms recommending it. Some of the high points: Roll Stability Control™, a standard rear-view camera, voice-activated communications and entertainments system, and MyKey®, which programs unique settings for different drivers.


Sources:
Price & mileage   |   Safety   |   Cost to insure


7. Dodge Dart


Dodge Dart

$16,495

Base price

25/36

City/highway mpg

5 star

Safety rating

$172/mo*

Cost to insure

For a compact car that starts under $17,000, the Dart sure is a beauty. Unfortunately, the base model is pretty bare-bones, lacking even AC. The next model up, the SXT, is the real winner. For $18,895 you’ll get a nimble machine with 16-inch aluminum wheels, Bluetooth® voice command, Tigershark® engine, and yes, air conditioning. Throw in a 5-star safety rating and affordable insurance, and the Dart is easy to recommend.


Sources:
Price & mileage   |   Safety   |   Cost to insure


6. Jeep Renegade


Jeep Renegade

$17,995

Base price

24/31

City/highway mpg

5 star

Safety rating

$189/mo*

Cost to insure

The Renegade hasn’t yet been crash tested by the NHTSA, but received 5 stars from Euro NCAP, their European counterpart, so safety shouldn’t be a concern. The styling represents a departure for Jeep. Compared to its boxier cousins, the Renegade is far more youthful, but still retains Jeep’s toughness. The compact SUV is small enough to not become a burden in the city, and has respectable gas mileage for a vehicle that’s capable of weathering tough conditions.


Sources:
Price & mileage   |   Safety   |   Cost to insure


5. Chevy Sonic


Chevy Sonic

$14,245

Base price

26/35

City/highway mpg

5 star

Safety rating

$183/mo*

Cost to insure

Good things come in small packages. Starting at just $14,245, the subcompact Chevy Sonic earns praise for its zippy performance and smooth handling. The Sonic also comes standard with 10 airbags, which explains the 5-star overall safety rating. Also included in the base model are remote keyless entry, six months of OnStar, and a 4G LTE hotspot. The only negatives we could find were some complaints about the plastic trim in the interior and a lack of legroom in the back seat. But for a car starting under $15,000, those aren’t too troubling.


Sources:
Price & mileage   |   Safety   |   Cost to insure


4. Volkswagen Jetta


Volkswagen Jetta

$18,780

Base price

28/39

City/highway mpg

5 star

Safety rating

$156/mo*

Cost to insure

The Jetta has lost a bit of its distinctive styling over the years, but it’s still a great value. For under $20,000, you get a well-equipped car that’s roundly praised by reviewers. The base model includes Bluetooth® audio streaming, touchscreen sound system, AC, cruise control, and more. They’re also just plain fun to drive.


Sources:
Price & mileage   |   Safety   |   Cost to insure


3. Honda CR-V


Honda CR-V

$23,445

Base price

27/34

City/highway mpg

4 star

Safety rating

$166/mo*

Cost to insure

You’d think SUVs would be expensive to own, but they can be surprisingly affordable. The CR-V is on par with a much smaller sedan in terms of both gas mileage and cost to insure. At around $24,000, it’s a little pricier than some of the other vehicles here, but comes with some impressive features standard. Students especially will appreciate things like Bluetooth® integration, hands-free texting, rear-view camera, remote entry system and more, all included in the base package.


Sources:
Price & mileage   |   Safety   |   Cost to insure


2. Honda Civic


Honda Civic

$18,290

Base price

30/39

City/highway mpg

5 star

Safety rating

$151/mo*

Cost to insure

The Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla were in a dead heat for this spot until we ran them through the Goji estimator. The two cars have similar prices and feature sets, nearly identical gas mileage, and both sport a 5-star overall safety rating from the NHTSA, but at just $151 a month on the low end, the Civic came out almost $50 less per month to insure. Fifty bucks buys a lot of pizza.


Sources:
Price & mileage   |   Safety   |   Cost to insure


1. Mazda 3


Mazda 3

$16,945

Base price

29/41

City/highway mpg

5 star

Safety rating

$166/mo*

Cost to insure

It’s not usually difficult to find negative reviews of anything on the Internet. Not so with the Mazda 3, as the affordable compact is a hit with pretty much everyone. It’s particularly well-suited for the college crowd, starting at only $17,000. Most of the buzz revolves around the sporty design, responsive handling and premium-feeling interior. It’s a lot of car for the price, and doesn’t sacrifice performance for economy.


Sources:
Price & mileage   |   Safety   |   Cost to insure


10. Ford Focus

Ford Focus

$17,170

Base price

26/36

City/highway mpg

5 star

Safety rating

$182/mo*

Cost to insure

Last year’s Focus was far from sporty enough to make the cut, but a thorough makeover lands it in our top 10. The base model is reasonably well-equipped, but you’ll need to spend a little extra to get some of the goodies that come standard in other models on this list.


Sources:  Price, mileage & features   |   Crash test rating   |   Cost to insure


9. Subaru Crosstrek

Subaru Outback

$21,595

Base price

26/34

City/highway mpg

5 star

Safety rating

$156/mo*

Cost to insure

Sort of halfway between a station wagon and a CUV, the Crosstrek strongly resembles its big brother the Outback. It’s not for everyone, but people who drive Subarus love their Subarus. Seriously, just ask them. Starting at $21,595, the Crosstrek is a few thousand dollars cheaper, but shares the all-wheel drive that’s made Outbacks so popular. It also comes with a generous standard feature set, including a rearview camera and 6-inch touchscreen with smartphone integration. Some reviews do say the base model’s engine is a bit underpowered though, which can be a problem if you plan on taking the Crosstrek off-roading.


Sources: Price, mileage & features   |   Crash test rating   |   Cost to insure


8. Ford Escape

Ford Escape

$22,960

Base price

22/31

City/highway mpg

4 star

Safety rating

$171/mo*

Cost to insure

The Ford Escape may not be the best in any of the particular areas we’re judging, but it’s a solid performer in every category. With sleek styling, decent gas mileage, solid crash ratings and plenty of standard options, we have no qualms recommending it. Some of the high points: Roll Stability Control™, a standard rear-view camera, voice-activated communications and entertainments system, and MyKey®, which programs unique settings for different drivers.


Sources: Price, mileage & features   |   Crash test rating   |   Cost to insure


7. Dodge Dart

Dodge Dart

$16,495

Base price

25/36

City/highway mpg

5 star

Safety rating

$172/mo*

Cost to insure

For a compact car that starts under $17,000, the Dart sure is a beauty. Unfortunately, the base model is pretty bare-bones, lacking even AC. The next model up, the SXT, is the real winner. For $18,895 you’ll get a nimble machine with 16-inch aluminum wheels, Bluetooth® voice command, Tigershark® engine, and yes, air conditioning. Throw in a 5-star safety rating and affordable insurance, and the Dart is easy to recommend.


Sources: Price, mileage & features   |   Crash test rating   |   Cost to insure


6. Jeep Renegade

Jeep Renegade

$17,995

Base price

24/31

City/highway mpg

5 star

Safety rating

$189/mo*

Cost to insure

The Renegade hasn’t yet been crash tested by the NHTSA, but received 5 stars from Euro NCAP, their European counterpart, so safety shouldn’t be a concern. The styling represents a departure for Jeep. Compared to its boxier cousins, the Renegade is far more youthful, but still retains Jeep’s toughness. The compact SUV is small enough to not become a burden in the city, and has respectable gas mileage for a vehicle that’s capable of weathering tough conditions.


Sources: Price, mileage & features   |   Crash test ratings   |   Cost to insure


5. Chevy Sonic

Chevrolet Sonic

$14,245

Base price

26/35

City/highway mpg

5 star

Safety rating

$183/mo*

Cost to insure

Good things come in small packages. Starting at just $14,245, the subcompact Chevy Sonic earns praise for its zippy performance and smooth handling. The Sonic also comes standard with 10 airbags, which explains the 5-star overall safety rating. Also included in the base model are remote keyless entry, six months of OnStar, and a 4G LTE hotspot. The only negatives we could find were some complaints about the plastic trim in the interior and a lack of legroom in the back seat. But for a car starting under $15,000, those aren’t too troubling.


Sources: Price, mileage & features   |   Crash test rating   |   Cost to insure


4. Volkswagen Jetta

Volkswagen Jetta

$18,780

Base price

28/39

City/highway mpg

5 star

Safety rating

$156/mo*

Cost to insure

The Jetta has lost a bit of its distinctive styling over the years, but it’s still a great value. For under $20,000, you get a well-equipped car that’s roundly praised by reviewers. The base model includes Bluetooth® audio streaming, touchscreen sound system, AC, cruise control, and more. They’re also just plain fun to drive.


Sources: Price, mileage & features   |   Crash test ratings   |   Cost to insure


3. Honda CR-V

Honda CR-V

$23,445

Base price

27/34

City/highway mpg

4 stars

Safety rating

$166/mo*

Cost to insure

You’d think SUVs would be expensive to own, but they can be surprisingly affordable. The CR-V is on par with a much smaller sedan in terms of both gas mileage and cost to insure. At around $24,000, it’s a little pricier than some of the other vehicles here, but comes with some impressive features standard. Students especially will appreciate things like Bluetooth® integration, hands-free texting, rear-view camera, remote entry system and more, all included in the base package.


Sources: Price, mileage & features   |   Crash test ratings   |   Cost to insure


2. Honda Civic

Honda Civic

$18,290

Base price

30/39

City/highway mpg

5 star

Safety rating

$151/mo*

Cost to insure

The Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla were in a dead heat for this spot until we ran them through the Goji estimator. The two cars have similar prices and feature sets, nearly identical gas mileage, and both sport a 5-star overall safety rating from the NHTSA, but at just $151 a month on the low end, the Civic came out almost $50 less per month to insure. Fifty bucks buys a lot of pizza.


Sources: Price, mileage & features   |   Crash test ratings   |   Cost to insure


1. Mazda 3

Mazda 3

$16,945

Base price

29/41

City/highway mpg

5 star

Safety rating

$166/mo*

Cost to insure

It’s not usually difficult to find negative reviews of anything on the Internet. Not so with the Mazda 3, as the affordable compact is a hit with pretty much everyone. It’s particularly well-suited for the college crowd, starting at only $17,000. Most of the buzz revolves around the sporty design, responsive handling and premium-feeling interior. It’s a lot of car for the price, and doesn’t sacrifice performance for economy.


Sources: Price, mileage & features   |   Crash test ratings   |   Cost to insure

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*Cost to insure calculated for an 18-year-old single female born in August 1997, living in ZIP code 61820, 2 years of prior insurance, licensed at age 16, renting an apartment. The price displayed is the lowest estimate returned, and is not a guarantee of actual rates. Your results may vary.