For many students, having a car isn’t optional. Many students following the pandemic choose to commute to and from classes. Others might have jobs that are not accessible outside of getting behind the wheel.

When shopping for a car as a college student, it is smart to pay attention to the long-term costs of the vehicle and how its fuel economy might impact your monthly budget. Bankrate handled the heavy lifting and chose the top 10 vehicles for college students based on price, Consumer Reports and Kelley Blue Book ratings and gas mileage.

What is the best way for a college student to get a car?
The better your credit is, the more favorable your rates will be if you opt for a loan. As a student looking to buy, you may not have a strong credit history. If this is the case, consider adding a co-signer — such as a parent or other relative — or applying to lenders that consider factors such as education or employment.

Top new cars for college students

Buying a new car means the latest technology packages and the assurance that trips to the automotive shop will be kept to a minimum. But convenience comes with a higher price tag. Although new vehicle prices are no longer skyrocketing, they are still steep — especially for student wallets. The average new transaction price for a new vehicle in the month of June was $48,408, up $150 compared to the month of May, according to data from Kelley Blue Book.

If you decide new is the way to go and convenience and safety outweigh a higher price tag, consider the following options that still boast reasonable lifetime costs.

Vehicle Price
2023 Honda Civic $23,750
2023 Hyundai Elantra $20,500
2023 Honda HR-V $23,800
2023 Kia Seltos $23,340
2023 Nissan Sentra $20,050

(Source: Kelley Blue Book)

Is it better to buy a new or used car as a college student?
Buying a new car means it’s less likely to need pricey repairs while buying used will cost you less money upfront. Consider how heavily you’ll be using the vehicle along with how much you can afford to determine which choice is best. 
picture of a honda civic
Courtesy of Honda

1. 2023 Honda Civic

  • Avg. MPG: 36
  • Max seating: 5 passengers
  • Cargo capacity: 14.8 (cu. ft.)

The classic Civic has been a favorite of young drivers for many years based on its easy handling and sleek design. The small sedan gets 36 MPG on highways, which is fairly competitive for the vehicle size. It is best for a student that doesn’t need much vehicle space and will primarily be commuting and running errands — without many road trips.

Picture of a Hyundai Elantra
Courtesy of Hyundai

2. 2023 Hyundai Elantra

  • Avg. MPG: 37
  • Max seating: 5 passengers
  • Cargo capacity: 14.2 (cu. ft.)

Similar in size and handling, the Elantra costs less than the Civic of the same year. It made its way high on the list due to its high Kelley Blue Book rating of 4.6 and its safety features. Features such as collision warning, automatic emergency braking and land centering are all important for college drivers.

A Honda HR-V
Courtesy of Honda

3. 2023 Honda HR-V

  • Avg. MPG: 28
  • Max seating: 5 passengers
  • Cargo capacity: 55.1 (cu. ft.)

A subcompact SUV, the Honda HR-V has a sleek exterior design coupled with an expansive interior. Although the vehicle is larger in size it still boasts strong gas mileage, which can help cut down on trips to the gas station. Consider a vehicle this size if you plan to transport a lot when heading up to school or if you tend to bus your friends around town.

A Kia Seltos
Courtesy of Kia


4. 2023 Kia Seltos

  • Avg. MPG: 31
  • Max seating: 5 passengers
  • Cargo capacity: 62.8 (cu. ft.)

Similar in size to the Honda, the Kia Seltos is recognized for its safety features, almost perfect KBB score and high Consumer Reports rating. Its 8-inch infotainment system is outfitted with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The Seltos has one of the higher price points on the list; you can also upgrade and benefit from more features.

A Nissan Sentra
Courtesy of Nissan

5. 2023 Nissan Sentra

  • Avg. MPG: 39
  • Max seating: 5 passengers
  • Cargo capacity: 14.3 (cu. ft.)

Finally, the Nissan Sentra receives high marks for its comfortable handling and safety features. The sedan is outfitted with 10 airbags along with SafetyShield 360 driver aids to ensure student drivers make it to class safely. It also has great fuel economy.

Top used cars for college students

While buying a new vehicle is attractive, buying used has its own advantages — especially for college students on a budget. Outside of the obvious perk of a less expensive price tag, a used car will also tend to carry cheaper insurance rates and boast much less depreciation than its new counterpart.

When shopping for a used vehicle, pay close attention to the vehicle history report and get a used car inspection to understand how the previous owner handled it. Buying a beater can mean issues in the future. But some used vehicles stand out for their reliability. The following options were chosen based on their consumer ratings, price tag and MPG.

Vehicle Price
2015-2017 Toyota Camry $14,600-$18,000
2012-2015 Toyota Prius $12,000-$17,000
2016-2018 Honda Civic $15,900-$17,000
2015-2019 Honda Fit $12,700-$19,500
2007-2014 Honda CR-V $6,800-$15,000

(Source: Kelley Blue Book)

1. 2015-2017 Toyota Camry

  • Avg. MPG: 24-28
  • Max seating: 5 passengers
  • Cargo capacity: 15.4 (cu. ft.)

While the price points for these model years are slightly above the other vehicles on the used list, it boasts features that live up to the high cost. The 2015 Camry even comes fitted with a 7-inch touchscreen and a rearview camera perfect for fitting into tight campus spots. But gas mileage is only so-so.

2. 2012-2015 Toyota Prius

  • Avg. MPG: 50
  • Max seating: 5 passengers
  • Cargo capacity: 21.6 (cu. ft.)

Well-regarded for its fuel-efficient drive, a Prius is an excellent option for a more climate-conscious driver. While it might not be sporty, does still boast optional tech add-ons such as lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control, all for under $20,000.

3. 2016-2018 Honda Civic

  • Avg. MPG: 30-36
  • Max seating: 5 passengers
  • Cargo capacity: 46.2 (cu. ft.)

Scoring once again on the list, the Honda Civic is a reliable option for college drivers who are looking for a safe and trusted sedan option. The 2016 to 2018 model years all come outfitted with advanced technology packages, including CarPlay, to ensure passengers are entertained on long drivers. Along with this, it was a top safety pick for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2017 and 2016.

4. 2015-2019 Honda Fit

  • Avg. MPG: 32-36
  • Max seating: 5 passengers
  • Cargo capacity: 52.7 (cu. ft.)

A compact car can be a great way to get around a college campus. It gets competitive mileage, and the size ensures parking spot availability. And even with the smaller size, the back seats can be folded flat, making moving a breeze. The vehicle also boasts standard tech such as Bluetooth and a back-up camera.

5. 2007-2014 Honda CR-V

  • Avg. MPG: 26
  • Max seating: 5 passengers
  • Cargo capacity: 37.2 (cu. ft.)

The least expensive on our list, the Honda CR-V offers a large interior, fit for moving or road trips with friends. The 2007 to 2014 model years are especially good options, as the vehicle received a full redesign in 2007 with major safety upgrades. If you are willing to spend a bit more money, models 2012 and beyond offer a large infotainment screen.

Next steps

The freedom that comes with entering college is exciting, but new beginnings tend to carry new costs as well. Before signing off on the coolest set of wheels you see, take some time to understand how much the vehicle will cost you throughout your four years of university, not just that initial purchase.

And when comparing auto loans, pay close attention to expected fees, rates and range of repayment terms.