Share Details Back to School Auto Picks

As America’s high school and college students head back to school this fall, the Kelley Blue Book company is offering a new list of good all-around car choices for students through its web site. This annual list includes new and used options for families who want to get the most out of a car purchase for their commuting student. Along with criteria like style and good handling, as well as safety ,reliability and a low cost of ownership, Kelley looks at fuel efficiency as well as the total sale price. The cars on this list all fall under Kelley’s sale price estimates of $18,000 or less and represent the company’s best findings about how to get value for cost.

At the top of the list of five new models for students, Kelly names the 2012 Hyundai Accent as the favored pick, citing a “finely tuned sense of value” that also extends to other parts of the Hyundai lineup. Second is the 2011 Honda Fit, a top choice from this very popular brand. The 2012 Ford Focus comes in next, where Kelley cites a modern image and good overall design from the American manufacturer. Next in fourth place is the Fiat 500, a different kind of small car with a distinctly Euro-styled exterior. The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, a car known for efficiency in design, also makes the list.

In used cars, Kelly starts with the 2007 Suzuki SX4, an all-wheel drive ride for tougher climates and conditions. Next is the 2008 Chevrolet HHR, a wagon-type crossover with youthful style. The 2007 Kia Sedona minivan is next, although students generally don’t need this large of a vehicle, other than for that initial move-in or the occasional carpool. Kelley’s next choice is also unlikely: the 2007 Ford F-150 is a great work truck, but whether your average student is going to need its hauling capacity is questionable. The fifth choice, the 2007 Nissan Sentra, is a more reasonable student ride, with space for five and good mpg that will save at the pump when student drivers are paying with spare change.

Kelly’s list is so important for families because choosing a vehicle for a student is one of the most important kinds of car buying decisions. Getting too much power or speed can ratchet up insurance prices for these younger drivers, and investing too much in the vehicle can backfire if it ends up getting scraped, sideswiped or otherwise dinged up. On the other hand, safety and reliability are key. Kelley’s chart shows a series of great compromises that will help parents make those decisions about how to fit a student car purchase into a family budget.