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Graduation brings new opportunities, new responsibilities and, for many students, a new set of wheels.
But before stepping into a dealer showroom, graduates and their families should research online the makes and models in which they have interest. Like picking a college major, one size does not fit all.
Even if parents or grandparents are helping with a down payment or even more, the first factor is budget: Financial advisors suggest buyers spend no more than 15 percent of their pretax income on a car payment.
“In most cases, graduates will find themselves in need of reliability,” says Alex Lauderdale, founder of EducatedDriver.org. “At the end of the day, nothing fancy is absolutely ‘needed’ … (graduates) most likely will be looking for something in the $15,000 to $25,000 range.”
These days even frugal shoppers can find great gas mileage, reliability and personality. Cars are also safer than ever: Backup cameras will soon be standard equipment, and blind-spot radar and crash-avoidance systems are increasingly common. Plus, most include Bluetooth connectivity — a necessity for this phone-addicted generation.
New rides worth considering:
PHOTO BY: Courtesy Mazda
No need to settle for stripped-down wheels. You can get the top Grand Touring trim line on this compact car at a surprising price. “Mazda is known for its handling and this one does not disappoint,” says Valerie Coleman of the mobile marketplace, 5miles.com. It includes a Bose nine-speaker surround sound system, a seven-inch touch screen and Bluetooth for a suggested price of $24,195.
PHOTO BY: David Dewhurst Photography
Long one of America’s top-selling cars, the Camry got a makeover this year that’s turning heads and will do a new grad proud. But the beauty’s more than skin-deep. Even the basic L trim comes with safety devices like forward-collision warning system, lane departure alarm with steering assist, and radar adaptive cruise control for a suggested price of $23,495.
PHOTO BY: Bruce Benedict
This distinctive compact proves that cool things come in small boxes. “It can be a fun choice for college grads, due to the unique design and bright colors,” says Rune Hauge, of DriveMotors.com, an e-commerce tool for car dealerships. On the practical side, it offers ample cargo space, and an impressive 10-year powertrain warranty at a suggested price of $16,200.
PHOTO BY: Courtesy Subaru
A new sports car isn’t out of reach for a new graduate. He or she will get fancy features like push-button start and dual climate control. Plus, it's just fun to drive. Inside, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, HD radio and eight-speaker sound system keeps things entertaining. Suggested price: $25,595
PHOTO BY: Courtesy Honda North America
This perennially popular compact stands out for its price, low maintenance costs and proven reliability. The basic LX sedan earns a five-star rating for crash-test safety and includes a multi-angle back-up camera, LED daytime running lights and Bluetooth. Suggested price: $18,840
PHOTO BY: Jessica Lynn Walker
Commuting grads will appreciate this mid-size standby’s 36 mpg highway mileage, and low-price point. Plus, in-car 4G LTE wifi for up to seven devices is available as an upgrade but could make working on the go a breeze. “This car has all the technology you need,” says Valerie Coleman of 5Miles.com. Suggested price: $21,680
PHOTO BY: Courtesy Chevrolet
If your grad’s planning to haul cargo or help buddies move, this compact pick-up that almost drives like a car is an option, and a relative bargain. It comes with Bluetooth and USB port, and even has 110-volt outlets, handy for going off the grid for a suggested price of $21,195.
PHOTO BY: Courtesy Toyota
Who says you can’t be green, and have a sharp set of wheels? This long-popular hybrid delivers an average of 54 mpg highway and 50 mpg city. A higher configuration (which is still affordable) will get you the large tablet display with GPS, Bluetooth, touch display and smartphone charging for a suggested price of $23,475.
PHOTO BY: Courtesy Nissan
This roomy, compact SUV offers plenty of extras to keep a new grad happy. Not only are Android Auto and Apple CarPlay standard, but so are blind-spot warnings, rear cross-traffic alert and automatic emergency braking. Plus, road-trippers will be pleased with the ample cargo space. Suggested price: $24,800