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TACH’s Choice

All vehicles on this year’s 10 Best Cars for Recent College Graduates list – a mix of new and used cars and SUVs – are available for under $25,000 and achieve a combined fuel economy rating of at least 30 mpg. Check out the Great Cars for Grads selections for 2021 (unranked and listed below in alphabetical order):

Autotrader’s 10 Best Cars for Recent College Graduates in 2021

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer
The recently re-introduced new Chevrolet Trailblazer, with a starting price of $20,195, is a great choice for young adults looking for something stylish, versatile and affordable. This subcompact crossover is roomier than you may expect and comes with a solid list of standard tech features. 

2018 Ford Focus
Available as a hatchback or sedan and a starting price of around $13,200, the Ford Focus is a great option in affordable used compact cars. The 2018 Focus features a well-designed interior that is aging well so far, and a fun-to-drive character – especially in the high-performance ST model.

2017 – 2018 Honda Civic
The reliable and efficient Honda Civic is a value-conscious choice that becomes an even better value on the used market after a little depreciation. You should be able to find one starting between $15,500$17,400. Available as a sedan, coupe or hatchback, you can choose the Civic model that best suits your needs and style. 

2018 – 2020 Hyundai Kona          
The Hyundai Kona is a small, stylish, high-tech SUV. While it’s likely most practical if you won’t have regular backseat passengers or a ton of cargo, it’s surely an affordable way to stand out in traffic – especially if you pick one of the more eye-catching paint colors available. A 2018-2020 Kona starts between $17,300$20,000.

2021 Kia Soul
Some call it a hatchback and some call it an SUV, but either way the Kia Soul consistently is one of our favorite small cars. This quirky yet practical vehicle has a low base price (starting at around $18,765), a great warranty and a roomy interior thanks to its funky boxy shape.

2021 Mazda3
The athletic Mazda3 is a great choice for something on the sporty side of practical compact cars. Available as either a sedan or a hatchback and also available with AWD, it’s fun to drive at any speed with agile handling, an eager base engine and a more exciting available turbo engine that still keeps the price under $25k (the Mazda3 starts at around $21,645). It also has available AWD, which is rare in this segment.

2021 Nissan Sentra
The Nissan Sentra is an affordable compact sedan with a muscular attitude, drawing inspiration from bigger, more expensive Nissan sedans. With a stylish exterior, an upscale interior and a lot of standard safety features, we like that you can go up to the top SR trim while still staying in the low-$20,000 range—the Sentra starts at around $20,410.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek
The Subaru Crosstrek is a small crossover that’s big on quirks. Starting at around $23,295, there’s nothing else quite like it with its unconventional look and impressive off-road chops thanks to tall ground clearance and standard AWD. If you need an efficient, practical car, but also like the idea of occasional off-road adventures, the Crosstrek can do it all without breaking the bank.

2016 – 2018 Toyota Prius
While some may argue that the Toyota Prius won’t win any beauty contests, a used Prius is one of the most sensible car-buying decisions a college grad can make. Starting between $15,100$19,300, the Prius is safe, reliable, affordable, roomy for a compact hatchback, and incredibly fuel-efficient. It achieves over 50 mpg in the city and on the highway.

2016 – 2018 Volkswagen Jetta
The Volkswagen Jetta boasts a strong engine lineup along with a spacious cabin and trunk for a compact sedan. Starting between $11,700$14,500, the 2016 model year is a good spot to begin your search because that’s when the Jetta got a standard touchscreen infotainment system and USB port plus a new turbocharged base engine.

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