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Graduation season is here, and that means its time for a fresh start. And if you are or you know a recent college grad, getting them the right new car can help take that next step. These cars are safe, affordable, and make a great first impression. And even better, they’re reliable, so grads won’t have to worry about high maintenance costs as they establish themselves.

Toyota Corolla Hatchback: Safe and sensible for new college grads

A blue 2023 Toyota Corolla Hatchback, one of the best new cars for college grads
2023 Corolla Hatchback SE | Toyota

Starting at just a shade over $24,000, the 2023 Toyota Corolla Hatchback is a very affordable car for a new college grad. With the Toyota Safety Sense suite of advanced features, it’s one of the safest small cars on the market today. And thanks to Toyota’s more evocative design language, it makes a visual impact that far outstrips its price tag.

Other plus points – the Corolla Hatch comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while automatic climate control makes comfort a breeze. Efficiency up to 41 mpg means it’s easy to fill the tank on a tight budget. And with two years of complimentary maintenance, your grad won’t have to pay out of pocket for upkeep as they establish their new life.

In addition, the Corolla Hatchback offers 18 cubic feet of cargo space. And when its time to move, this compact hatch offers folding rear seats. This expands total cargo area to 24 cubes, which isn’t great, but allows for at least a few extra suitcases when necessary. But for getting around town, to job interviews, on their new daily commute, the Corolla Hatch delivers a well-rounded experience that doesn’t cost much to keep going.

Hyundai Elantra N-Line: Substance meets style

A grey 2023 Hyundai Elantra parked in front of a sunset on a beach, one of the best small cars of 2023.
2023 Hyundai Elantra Hybrid | Hyundai Motor Company

While the base Elantra is certainly more affordable, the top-spec Elantra N-Line still checks in at under $30,000. So why not recommend the base Elantra for seven grand less? As a new college grad first impressions matter, and the dinky wheels on the base Elantra drastically reduce the car’s visual appeal.

In the N-Line, 18-inch alloy wheels fit the aggressive lines and bold accents of the new Elantra’s design. And inside, features like the Hyundai Digital Key, a digital instrument cluster, and Hyundai’s Suite of Driver Assistance features offer both easy connectivity and safety for daily driving.

The 1.8-liter turbocharged engine is also good for an EPA-estimated 36 mpg highway and 28 mpg around town. Even better, the upgraded N-Line sport seats provide added comfort for those long days on the road.

Cargo space is good for the segment at 14 cubic feet, and the rear seats offer an additional 45 cubic feet when not carrying passengers.

Honda Civic: An economical choice for new college grads

Front angle view of blue 2023 Honda Civic compact sedan
2023 Honda Civic | Honda

The new-generation Civic has much more grown-up looks than its predecessor. As such, it’s much better for a young professional looking to make a good first impression. And as a new college grad, this car is also economical and reliable, so running costs are relatively low.

The base Civic comes in at around the same tag as the Corolla Hatchback, though the Honda doesn’t include any standard maintenance plan like the Toyota.

However, the new Civic nips the Corolla hatch in fuel economy, offering 33 mpg city and 42 mpg on the highway. And with a suite called Honda Sensing, the new Civic offers a host of advanced safety tech to keep your college grad safe in their new car.

With the Civic Hatchback, 25 cubic feet of cargo space means plenty of room for stuff. Meanwhile, the slightly cheaper sedan still checks in at 14 cubic feet in the trunk. Either way, it’s efficient, safe, and versatile for a young graduate taking the next step.

Your college grad may want something bigger than a new car

If you’d rather put your college grad in an SUV instead of a new car, check out this list of affordable SUVs under $25,000 instead! And keep in mind that maintenance costs and reliability are just as important as price when it comes to buying a new vehicle on a budget!

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