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Buying a Car for a New Graduate?

Many are cool and tempting, but you can get cute and safe

spinner image Young man behind the wheel of a silver sports car

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.

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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 “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:

spinner image 2018 Mazda 3
Courtesy Mazda

Mazda 3

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, It includes a Bose nine-speaker surround sound system, a seven-inch touch screen and Bluetooth for a suggested price of $24,195.

spinner image 2018 Toyota Camry
David Dewhurst Photography

Toyota Camry

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.

spinner image 2018 Soul
Bruce Benedict

Kia Soul

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, 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.


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spinner image 2018 Subaru
Courtesy Subaru

Subaru BRZ

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

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spinner image 2018 Honda Civic Sedan
Courtesy Honda North America

Honda Civic

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

spinner image 2018 Chevrolet Malibu
Jessica Lynn Walker

Chevrolet Malibu

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 Suggested price: $21,680

spinner image 2018 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
Courtesy Chevrolet

Chevrolet Colorado

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.

spinner image Toyota Prius
Courtesy Toyota

Toyota Prius

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.

spinner image 2018 Nissan Rogue
Courtesy Nissan

Nissan Rogue

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

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