Something modest yet still fun, affordable without being miserly — giving a car as a gift can be a challenging proposition, even for the proud parent of a high school or college graduate.
Fortunately, several car models rise to the top of the list of smart choices for young adults in both the new and used car categories. Personal preference also plays a big part for this crowd. Even if your gift will be a surprise, do your best to find out what kind of car your grad dreams of driving. See if you can’t slip in some questions about the cars you see when you’re out together to help pin down the models and features your grad would love to take for a spin.
Best new models
If you’re buying a new car for your grad, you’ll be able to choose from a host of new safety features and tech packages. Pricing can be a little harder to cap if you’re working with a modest budget, but these three cars shake out among the best choices for young adults.
Hyundai Tucson If your student has grown up in Mom or Dad’s SUV, the Hyundai Tucson makes an affordable way to keep the theme rolling, with a base price of less than $23,000. Play it safe with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. You’ll appreciate that the Tucson isn’t a gas guzzler, and your grad will appreciate tech like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla For a reliable small car, it’s hard to beat either of these: outstanding safety scores, smart performance, great gas mileage, and the kind of high-tech features any young person will love. No longer the basic compact car of your past, these come with a rearview camera, Bluetooth and a USB port, and a four-speaker stereo — all starting at around $18,000.
Hyundai Elantra Want a new car on a smaller budget? The base Elantra model starts at just $17,150 and is upgradeable with an impressive tech package for just $800 more. The Elantra earns high marks for passenger compartment roominess and solid safety results, and there’s a hatch model for drivers who’d like more cargo space.
Best used models
Some 67 percent of car shoppers are looking for used cars, which make a smart choice for a high school or college grad. Here are the today’s best buys for $15,000 or less.
Nissan Leaf Eco-savvy grads will embrace the all-electric Nissan Leaf — no more stops at the gas station. With prices for recent used models ranging from $10,500 to $13,500, the Leaf’s driving range averages 84 miles on a charge. Safety features include a standard RearView Monitor and hands-free text messaging, plus options like a navigation system, a 360-degree monitor and a premium Bose audio system.
Toyota Prius Go hybrid with a used Prius, at prices averaging $12,000. With a respectable 50 mpg fuel economy rating, the Prius is fun to drive too, thanks to added oomph from its electric drive. Check out tech features such as a moonroof with solar panels, a guided parking system and a solar-powered ventilation system that helps reduce the temperature inside the car when it’s parked in the sun.
Honda Fit For about $11,500 to $14,000, your grad will love the flexible little Honda Fit. The so-called Magic Seat in this five-passenger car can be configured to carry the odd loads students tend to end up with, including tall and long objects like bookshelves and skis. Stick with model years after 2011 to get Vehicle Stability Assist, and choose a 2012 model or later to get the newer interior and exterior styles.
Competitive financing from PenFed
Whether you’ve chosen a new or used vehicle for your student, you’ll find competitive financing at PenFed for new cars or used cars. If you’d prefer spending time with your student and not researching a car purchase, let the PenFed Car Buying Service help you make you locate the right car for the right price and save you both time and money. Search and sort cars by exactly the features you’re looking for, and get a free CARFAX® report on most used cars to ensure you’re choosing a reliable, well-maintained car.