5 of the Best New Cars for College Students

These new vehicles are rated highly for safety, prices that start under $27,000, and plenty of room for people and cargo.

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If you’re a college student, or the parent of a college student getting ready for the school year, now is the time to consider purchasing a new vehicle. You’ll need something safe, reliable, practical, and fuel-efficient.

We’ve factored in base prices, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Safety Ratings, J.D. Power Consumer Ratings, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel economy estimates to narrow the broad field of great new cars on the market.

Alphabetically, here are five of the best new cars for college students.

2022 Honda Civic Hatchback

One of the safest and most recommended and reliable vehicles on this list is the 2022 Honda Civic Hatchback (which also comes in sedan form.) For many good reasons, the Civic continues to win accolades from several different publications and automotive groups. It’s incredibly reliable, fuel-efficient, and priced right.

The Civic Hatchback offers around 25 cu.-ft. of cargo space behind its rear seats—or 5 more than the Mazda3 hatchback. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard. In addition to ample space and technology, the 2022 Civic Hatchback comes standard with plenty of safety equipment with the Honda Sensing safety suite, including road departure mitigation, collision mitigation, and adaptive cruise control.

When equipped with the base 158 hp 2.0L four-cylinder engine and continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), it also gets about 33 miles per gallon city and highway combined EPA estimate, making the Honda one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles on our list. JD Power gives it an 82 out of 100 score, and the Honda scores a 5-Star Safety Rating from NHTSA. Starting price: about $24,700

Blue 2023 Honda HR-V in the rainHonda

2023 Honda HR-V

If you're looking for something spacious and fuel-efficient for your college student, look no further than the redesigned 2023 Honda HR-V sub-compact SUV. Honda is known for its reliability and resale, and the HR-V offers about 55 cu.-ft. of cargo space with its rear seats folded, though the company has gotten rid of the amazing Magic seat feature that allowed the back seat to fold down into the floor.

Based on the latest Civic platform, the HR-V gets a thorough redesign for 2023, making it look sportier and more stylish. Sharing the Civic's base four-cylinder engine and CVT powertrain, the HR-V delivers plenty for a new college student to manage. It also comes with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and an all-wheel drive (AWD) is available. J.D. Power and NHTSA haven't yet evaluated the new 2023 model, but the EPA says that the front-wheel drive HR-V gets 28 mpg, and like the Civic, the HR-V also comes equipped with Honda's safety suite. Starting price: about $25,000

Blue 2023 Kia Soul in the mountainsKia

2023 Kia Soul

The 2023 Kia Soul is powered by an efficient CVT mated to a 2.0L four-cylinder engine that makes 147 hp, which makes the Kia a good choice for getting around campus or crowded city streets. It comes in various poppy colors and has around 62 cu.-ft. of cargo volume with the rear seats folded, making it great for moving in and out of dorms and apartments.

Kia’s sub-compact hatchback also gets a 4-Star NHTSA rating, largely thanks to the Soul’s suite of safety features and advanced crash avoidance technology. The standard safety suite includes forward collision warning and pedestrian detection. It also scores an efficient 30 to 31 mpg (depending on the trim). J.D. Power has given the Kia Soul an 80/100 score for the previous two years. And it comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard. Starting price: about $21,100

2022 Mazda3 Hatchback

If your college student is looking for something that isn't an SUV and offers some really enjoyable driving, look no further than the 2022 Mazda3 Hatchback. The compact hatch gets all of Mazda's good looks with a relatively powerful 186 hp base 2.5L four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission that still scores about a 30 mpg estimate (a manual transmission is optional).

Standard equipment includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Mazda's Radar Cruise Control with Stop & Go safety features include forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning/lane-keeping assistance, automatic high beams, and driver attention monitoring. The result is a 5-Star rating from NHTSA for the compact hatchback. Like the Civic, the Mazda also comes in sedan form. Unlike in the Civic, AWD is available. Starting price: about $24,000

Black 2022 Toyota Prius NightshadeToyota

2022 Toyota Prius

No new cars for college students list would be complete without a Toyota, and the 2022 Toyota Prius fits the bill. Though it is the most expensive vehicle on this list, Toyota's hybrid hatchback is great for the college student who may have to commute a long distance to work or school. There's also plenty of interior space to carry friends or furniture, with up to around 27 cu.-ft. of cargo room behind its rear seats.

The Prius is perfect for students who want to be environmentally conscious and efficient. It also offers plenty of safety tech, including a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, full-speed adaptive cruise control, and road sign assist. Its 121 hp gas-electric hybrid and CVT powertrain score an impressive 56 mpg—the most frugal on this list. J.D. Power reviews give the Prius a 76/100 rating, and NHTSA awarded the Prius a 5-Star rating. The main drawback of the Prius is that it only supports Apple CarPlay. Starting price: about $26,200

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Abigail Bassett
Abigail Bassett is an award-winning freelance journalist based in Los Angeles. There, she covers everything from automotive and business to travel and luxury. She has a passion for 1980s-era Volvo wagons, microcars, and dogs. She is also a World Car Juror.