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Discussion Starter · #1 ·

Over the next few weeks, students are graduating. Some will be lucky enough to get into the best colleges or land perfect jobs. A luckier few will get a new set of wheels as a graduation gift.

Fortunately for parents looking for affordable, reliable, safe, fuel-efficient cars, there are options aplenty--some offering style, others substance and some with a bit of both.

The reason there are so many solid, affordable options is that automakers are aggressively competing for the attention of young drivers. Unlike their parents or grandparents, younger car buyers don't carry any strong brand loyalties, especially not with American-made cars, says Jim Hall, managing director of 2953 Analytics, an automotive analysis firm.

Behind The Numbers

To make our list of the best cars for teens and graduates, all vehicles had to score the Insurance Institute crash test ratings score of triple "good" or a minimum of four out of five stars in the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration's ratings. We used EPA combined mpg estimates to gauge fuel economy and the 2008 five-year maintenance and repair estimates by Vincentric, an auto analysis company. Finally, we used Consumer Reports' reliability scores, which range from "excellent" to "poor"--all vehicles had to earn at least "good" or better to make the list.

Topping our list of best cars for teens and graduates is the 2008 Honda Civic, which earned the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety's highest crash-test rating of triple "good" for front, side and rear impact, as well as Consumer Reports' highest score of "excellent" for predicted reliability.

But small cars aren't the only vehicles priced US$25,000 and less. The mid-size 2009 Toyota Camry has a base MSRP of US$18,920 and comes loaded with standard features that might help a younger driver feel like they're in a much higher-end car, like power outside mirrors, and a tilt and telescopic steering wheel with mounted audio controls. And the crossover 2008 Chevrolet HHR, which costs US$16,615, comes equipped with electronic stability control, tire-pressure monitoring system and a power-opening lift gate.

Rounding out our list of the top 10 best cars for teens and graduates are the 2008 Nissan Versa, with a US$15,810 base MSRP; the 2009 Toyota Scion tC at US$17,800; the 2009 Toyota Corolla at US$15,250; the 2008 Ford Focus at US$14,995; the 2008 Honda Accord at US$21,160; the 2008 Toyota Prius at US$21,500; and the 2008 Mazda 6 at US$18,990.

Safe, Affordable And Cool

Of particular interest is Toyota's Scion, a group of distinctively styled subcompact and small cars, which the automaker bet on five years ago to capture the attention of young consumers. In lieu of TV advertising, the Scion is marketed where young buyers congregate--in person as well as virtually. The Scion is a sponsor of events such as Movement '08, a three-day electronic and techno music festival held Memorial Day weekend in Detroit, for example, and there's even an online network for Scion owners called Scion Broadband.

It worked. The average age of the Scion tC sport coupe is 24 years old, the youngest demographic of all automotive brands, says Curt McAllister, a Toyota spokesman. "Four million young people turn 16 every year, so we continue to be on the radar for young consumers," says McAllister. The Scion even comes standard with an iPod connectivity kit for the car's audio system.

Similarly, Chevrolet launched the HHR (Heritage High Roof), originally launched in 2005 to attract younger buyers, is a retro-looking compact wagon that is not only safe (it earned the NHTSA's five-star crash safety rating for front and side impact testing), but includes an auxiliary audio input jack to plug in an iPod or other MP3 player.

Initially, GM hoped to sell 60,000 to 80,000 HHRs per year, but it quickly surpassed that mark. The company sold more than 100,000 HHRS in 2006 and 2007.

So parents looking to reward a new graduate in a big way can find some well-equipped rides. Chances are, the cars will last longer than their first job.

· Super Moderator
21,458 Posts
I only wish my parents will get me a car for graduation.
And they know better than to get me anything but a GM.
Lately, I've been dropping hints for a new Malibu or FlexFuel capable Impala...hehe. :D
If everything works out as planned with a proposed commercial development here, I may be driving a G8 GT soon.

· Registered
11,124 Posts
My kid got his h/s graduation gift two years early! He better enjoy it, 'cause I ain't buying him another new car when he finishes college.

Well, never say never. Maybe I'll give (if I can afford it by then). After all, my parents bought me a new car after graduation to go off to college in ('85 Mustang GT) and new car when I finished college ('91 BMW 325i).
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