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10 Best Affordable Cars for College Students

By Pat S

college girl student carBefore buying a new car, learn more about sensible vehicles for today’s college student. Students can save money by purchasing cars with low sticker prices, low associated insurance premiums, and minimal operating expenses.

College students can estimate costs for maintaining and driving cars by projecting the total amounts of fuel, car insurance, and other fees and expenses associated with owning a car.

To help with this important buying decision, we’ve compiled a list of 10 economical vehicles with the lowest combined sticker price, and the best miles per gallon. Students shopping for new cars should consider miscellaneous costs associated with owning a car. Miscellaneous costs vary depending upon a number of factors, including the type of car purchased, and where the student resides.

These miscellaneous costs might include: citations, emissions inspections, finance charges, gas, insurance, maintenance, parking, safety inspections, taxes, tags, and traffic citations.

Using information from Car and Driver, we’ve listed ten affordable, fun, and reliable cars for today’s college student.

Top 10 Cars for College Students

1. Nissan Versa

  • MSRP: $10,710
  • EPA Mileage: 29 MPG

nissan versa

Economics majors love the Nissan Versa sedan, whose bare-bones styling and modest amenities make it an economical choice for today’s college student. The sedan has 14″ wheels and a 1.6 liter engine.

According to Nissan’s website, the Versa Hatchback offers more than you would expect from its small cost, including AM/FM/CD audio system, auxiliary audio input jack, power windows and door locks, dual power body-color outside mirrors, rear intermittent windshield wiper with washer, and Vehicle Dynamic Control with Traction Control System.

The Versa offers a modest sticker price, a 3-year/36,000-mile limited vehicle coverage warranty, and a 5-year/60,000-mile limited powertrain coverage warranty, making this a smart choice for the financially conscious college student.

2. Hyundai Accent

  • MSRP: $10,690
  • EPA Mileage: 31 MPG

hyundai accent

The Hyundai Accent stands solidly in the number two spot on our list of least expensive vehicles for today’s cost-conscious college student. Described by Car and Driver as “delightful,” the Accent has a sticker price of less than $11,000 brand new, and boasts affordability, sleek styling, a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, and a 10-year/100,000-mile drivetrain warranty that minimizes unexpected expenses.

3. Smart ForTwo

  • MSRP: $12,635
  • EPA Mileage: 36 MPG

smart fortwo

The tiny Smart car rests in the number three spot on our list of the most cost-effective vehicles for college students. This tiny ride may appear more at home on a bike path than the highway, but the price tag, and the estimated miles per gallon, makes this car an excellent choice for the cash-strapped college student. Smart cars have a 2-year/24,000-mile limited warranty.

4. Chevrolet Aveo

  • MSRP: $12,685
  • EPA Mileage: 30 MPG

chevrolet aveo

The Chevrolet Aveo is the only American car on our list, and the fourth most economical vehicle for college students. American auto enthusiasts may want to consider the Chevy Aveo, which comes equipped with a 3-year/36,000-mile limited vehicle coverage warranty, and a 5-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain coverage warranty.

5. Kia Rio

  • MSRP: 12,390
  • EPA Mileage: 31 MPG

kia rio

The Kia Rio ranked high in a Car and Driver comparison test of economy cars, with the test driver rating the vehicle “cute and fun to drive.” At number five on our list of affordable vehicles, the Rio comes with a 5-year/60,000 mile limited basic warranty and a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty.

6. Toyota Yaris

  • MSRP: $13,355
  • EPA Mileage: 32 MPG

toyota yaris

The tiny Toyota Yaris is number six on our list of the best vehicles for the modern college student. If you want style and reliability, look no further than the Yaris. This small production vehicle couples beautiful styling with affordability, low ownership costs, a 3-year/36,000 basic warranty, and a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain coverage warranty. The Yaris offers the peace of mind that comes from owning a Toyota, one of the most reliable car manufacturers in the world.

7. Kia Soul

  • MSRP: $13,995
  • EPA Mileage: 28 MPG

kia soul

At number seven on our list is the Kia Soul, the boxy small vehicle by the Korean auto maker. This affordable new car offers a menu of customization options which include stripe packages, custom wheels, body-kits, a 5-year/60,000 mile limited basic warranty, and a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty. Kia offers a number of limited edition models reminiscent of the Toyota Scion line of vehicles, including special paint jobs and unique interior trims.

8. Suzuki SX4

  • MSRP: $14,094
  • EPA Mileage: 26 MPG

suzuki-sx4

The Suzuki SX4 comes in at number eight on our list of the ten most cost-effective cars for modern college students. With its sleek modeling and choice of trim packages, including a hatchback or a 4-door, the SX4 offers a decent 9 second, 0-60 mph time. Suzukis have a 3-year/36,000 mile new vehicle limited warranty, and a 7-year/100,000 mile limited powertrain warranty.

9. Hyundai Elantra

  • MSRP: $14,865
  • EPA Mileage: 28 MPG

hyundai elantra

The manual transmission model of the Hyundai Elantra is the ninth most cost-effective vehicle on our list. Coupling sleek styling with fuel efficiency, and a conservative sticker price of around $15,000 brand new, Hyundai also offers an industry-leading five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and a 10-year/100,000-mile drivetrain warranty on the purchase of any new vehicle.

10. Kia Forte

  • MSRP: $14,390
  • EPA Mileage: 29 MPG

kia forte

The Kia Forte finds itself in the tenth spot on our list of the most fuel-efficient vehicles for college students. An added bonus: Kia, like Hyundai, offers an industry-leading 5-year/60,000 mile limited basic warranty and a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty.

Final Word

Factor in all the associated miscellaneous costs and fees associated with purchasing a vehicle before buying a car. The fees and costs can easily add up to thousands of dollars on top of the purchase price. Used models of the above-listed vehicles can reduce the costs of ownership even more, but keep in mind that used cars may have additional expenses related to car maintenance.

Are you a cash-strapped college student? What is your car of choice, and how has it worked out for you so far?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Pat S
Pat S is an active duty military officer. On his off time he enjoys working out, reading, writing and spending time with his dog. Pat became interested in personal finance after several costly mistakes early in his military career that could have been avoided by a basic understanding of personal finance.

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  • Jon | Free Money Wisdom

    I drove a 1995 Geo Prizm. Beast of a car but I didn’t get any ladies haha.

  • Jon | Free Money Wisdom

    I drove a 1995 Geo Prizm. Beast of a car but I didn’t get any ladies haha.

  • http://www.savings.com/blog/blog.html Amy Saves

    what about honda civics? that was my first car.

  • Amanda

    Go Ford baby! My car’s got 187000mi and I get 30MPG. It’s a 99 Ford Escort. The ones they made after 2000 arent’ so good. I bought mine used and reconstructed from a mechanic I know. After a year, my check engine light came on and it ended up being something in the EGR system really minor. I would recomend buying a used car out of pocket to minimize monthly expenses. No college student wants to be working just pay their monthly car payment, insurence, and gas.

  • Alexvajiac

    u are just listing the cheapest new cars in america, doesn’t mean that they are the best cars for students. they cost about the same as a used mercedes, which 99% of college students would rather buy instead of these cars.

  • Nissans rule

    Your information on the Versa is incorrect… For 2012 all Versa come standard with ABS, A/C and a AM/FM/CD radio. What a great value story!

  • Pat S

    Thanks for the input, everyone.
    @ Nissans Rule: I made the changes you pointed out. Thanks!
    @ Alex: You are right, I focused on new vehicles. Maybe I’ll consider another article on used.

  • Rsauer_43

    when a country like india can p[roduce a car that gets over 40 niles per gal of gas and sells for around $2,000.00 i wonder why the us auto industry can’t??????

    • Sphillips48

      because the people required to make cars in the U.S. make much more than the people in India. Technically we are paying for labor. Also cars made in India aren’t very reliable.

  • http://twitter.com/mtewes7 Matt Tewes

    It’s not for everyone, but I’ve had a motorcycle for three years in college and have loved it. Cheap in gas, inexpensive to insure, and everything you need can usually fit in a backpack. The only real issue is getting all your stuff to school at the beginning of the year and home at the end. Overall though I would highly recommend it.

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