Summer has come, school has ended, and students have graduated. If you have a student in your family, you’re probably wondering what would make a good graduation gift. Well, why not a car? Nothing too expensive or super outlandish, of course. Something with a small price tag, good safety features and good fuel efficiency. Well, if you’re generous enough to be shopping in the automobile market on behalf of a recent graduate, let us point you in the right direction. With fuel economy, safety and, of course, affordability in mind, we’ve compiled a list of vehicles we think would make absolutely phenomenal graduation gifts.
10. We begin with the Buick Encore, Buick’s first subcompact crossover and an all-around fantastic choice for a gift. The Encore is quite an attractive vehicle for someone who is looking for a larger vehicle with great fuel economy and safety. Although it’s not the largest SUV out there, the Encore provides the versatility of an SUV with a pretty small price tag. The only thing holding the Encore at the bottom of this list is the fact that there aren’t many used Encores out there. They first went on sale in 2013, meaning you’ll have only 2 years’ worth of vehicles to hunt. Finding a good deal could be a little difficult, but getting an Encore should make any recent grad happy.
9. Next we have the poster child for fuel economy—the Toyota Prius. Prii (yes, that is the official, proper plural form of Prius) have a decently long history of being great affordable and efficient cars for anyone looking for something to drive. Introduced worldwide in 2000, the Prius has offered four generations of consistently above-its-class fuel economy and safety ratings. And with its cheap price tag, finding a good deal on a used Prius should not be a difficult task. And any recent grad would be happy to save some cash by filling up the tank less frequently.
8. All right, I have to admit my (jharrington) slight bias on this one. For my high-school graduation, I was gifted my mom’s 9-year-old Jeep Wrangler. I have to say I loved that thing. Maybe it was because before that I was driving a ’96 Buick Regal, and I was happy to drive something my grandparents didn’t drive, but the Wrangler was perfect for me. Let’s throw the fuel economy and safety criteria to the side for this one. There’s an intangible quality about the Wrangler that makes it an absolutely great gift.
7. The Volkswagen Jetta is Volkswagen’s top-selling model with over 14 million total sold as of 2014, and there must be good reason for that. With its trifecta of affordability, good safety features and good fuel economy in its later generations, the Jetta seems like the perfect fit for this list. Recent Jetta models offer the incredibly fuel-efficient turbodiesel engine in SE and SEL trims, which brings significantly better fuel economy and power for an insignificant price increase. And with diesel prices sometimes (but not always) lower than standard fuel prices, recent grads can look to save even more at the pump.
6. The Chevrolet Cruze has consistently been one of the safest cars on the market since its 2009 introduction, receiving the highest possible rating and the 2011 Top Safety Pick from the IIHS. And the price tag on this car is tiny. The Cruze is a great way to get the most out of your money. The car comes with a variety of great features, a strong-performing engine and decent space for a small car with an extremely affordable price tag. The Cruze has offered a lot on the market for the last few years, so finding a great deal on one should not be a problem. (GM has recently halted the sale of all 2013 and 2014 Cruzes because of a potential airbag defect. Earlier models are not affected.)
5. If your grad could use a little extra space, take a look at the Mazda CX-5. Not only is the CX-5 one of the highest-rated small crossovers on the market, it’s also one of the best-looking. Mazda designers worked hard to incorporate the company’s new Kodo design language into the CX-5, and man, did they do a great job. On top of being the best-looking of the bunch, the CX-5 also enjoys Mazda’s reputation for rock-solid reliability and safety. With 2013 models to be had for less than $20,000, any newly minted Economics grad will tell you it’s a great buy.
4. For graduates who prefer the Blue Oval, the Ford Focus is a great choice. One of Ford’s most popular cars, the Focus comes in a variety of forms, from the basic S all the way up to the absolutely, totally and completely bonkers (in a good way) ST. Sure, it is a smaller car and won’t be able to fit quite as much as the CX-5, but Ford has done a great job with the car, investing a lot of time into making it safe, reliable and an absolute joy to drive.
3. Business grads tend to be fairly practical people. If a car were to embody them, it’d be the Honda CR-V. It’s safe, reliable and, above all, economical—exactly what employers look for in candidates. Prices for new CR-Vs start at a reasonable $23,120, but a 4-year-old model can be had for about $15,000. With available all-wheel drive, room to seat 5 comfortably and still plenty of space in the trunk for goodies, the CR-V is one of the most logical choices for new graduates.
2. The Honda Civic has always been a car of many personalities, just as at home as a 16-year-old’s first car as it is as Dominic Toretto’s go-to ride of choice in The Fast and the Furious. Honda has done a great job maintaining the Civic as a car for everyone, keeping it safe, reliable, comfortable and affordable, while also producing some variants conducive to serious white-knuckle driving. A new 2014 starts at a reasonable $18,190, but dive into the used listings, and some real steals can be found.
1. Some people just want passion in their lives. These are the kind of people who buy a Mazda3. Sure, the Mazda3 may be a reasonably priced economy car on the surface, but dig a little deeper, and you’ll see it is so much more. Also the product of Mazda’s sexy Kodo design language, the Mazda3 blows away the competition in the looks department. Not only that, it’s also one of the most fun-to-drive cars on the road today and also the most well-equipped car in its segment (options like navigation, lane-departure warning and regenerative braking are available). If your grad wants the whole package, that package comes in the form of the Mazda3.
Shopping with a grad this weekend?
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-jharrington and zwaller