Autotrader reveals top vehicle picks for recent college graduates

Life transitions can fuel the need for a new vehicle

Graduating from college brings about big and exciting changes like new jobs, new cities, new living arrangements and-for many recent grads-new needs in a car. With hundreds of makes and models to choose from, young car buyers can find it challenging to select the best match for their new lifestyles, not to mention navigating the process of actually purchasing the car. To help college graduates who are on the hunt for a new set of wheels, Autotrader experts compiled a list of Great Cars for Recent College Grads, as well as their top insights for young car buyers.

“The car that got you through your college years may not work for your new lifestyle, but the great news is that there are a lot of options on the market today,” said Brian Moody, executive editor at Autotrader. “All of the vehicles we picked for this list are fun, reliable and thoughtfully designed-perfect choices to fuel the next phase of your journey.”

For the list, Autotrader editors rounded up nine great new and certified pre-owned (CPO) cars that are affordable to buy, lower cost to own, highly practical and-in their opinion-excellent vehicles with great styling and a lot of available equipment. Each vehicle has a starting price under $25,000 and gets at least 30 miles per gallon on the highway.

The nine models that recent college grads should have on their shopping lists are:

  • FIAT 500X
  • Honda Civic
  • Kia Soul
  • Mazda3
  • Scion iA
  • Subaru Crosstrek
  • CPO Chevrolet Equinox
  • CPO Lexus CT
  • CPO Hyundai Sonata

“Some young car buyers may think that a new car is out of their reach, but there are many new cars that are relatively affordable, and some manufacturers even have special offers and programs designed specifically for recent graduates,” Moody added. “CPO cars also merit close consideration, as they offer many of the benefits of a new car, like low mileage and bumper-to-bumper limited warranties, without the new-car price tag.”

To get those car search engines started for new grads, Autotrader has rounded up the top three facts that might surprise young car buyers about the car shopping process.

CPO vehicles offer the best of both worlds. Consider CPO cars first, as a lower-cost alternative that gets you into a nearly new car. CPO vehicles are pre-owned, but they are late-model, low-mileage vehicles that have been fully inspected according to manufacturer guidelines and come with a warranty. You can likely get a CPO vehicle in a higher trim level (or class) for the same price as a lower-end new car.

Credit has a bigger impact than you may think. Your credit score has a big impact on the deal you can get, as well as what programs and promotions you qualify for. It not only determines how good your interest rate will be, it also affects how much you’ll pay monthly and over the life of the loan. Most advertised deals are for people with excellent credit, which many young car buyers haven’t yet built.

There are two kinds of test drives. The test drive you do when you’re shopping should be completely different from the test drive you do when you’re ready to buy-and these should happen on different days. When you’re shopping, get behind the wheels of two or three models you’re considering to find out which ones are as good in the real world as they are on paper. Once you’ve decided which model you want, take a long, thorough test drive on a different day in the exact vehicle you plan to purchase.

To find out more about the selected vehicles and why the experts at Autotrader picked them for recent college grads, check out Great Cars for Recent Grads at