With tuition costs ballooning at universities nationwide, it’s no surprise fewer students want to drive themselves to college. Why pay to fuel, park, and insure a car when you can walk, bike, or take the bus around campus? Well, having a car means you can take impromptu weekend road trips, hit up the grocery store whenever necessary, take a date to more far-flung locates, or go tailgating before the big game.
Many college students end up with used cars, often ones handed down from relatives toward the end of high school. There’s no shame in that: Automobile staffers have fond and not-so-fond memories of jump-starting and otherwise fixing rusty, used cars during our university years. But some students are fortunate enough to arrive during welcome week with a shiny new ride. For those people, we’ve assembled a list of five brand-new cars that make sense for different types of undergrads.
2014 Jeep Cherokee: The Northerner
The new Jeep Cherokee is a far cry from the boxy old Cherokee that is still a staple of dormitory parking lots. Despite its soft-roader looks, though, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee still has tough Jeep bits underneath its modern sheetmetal. Sure, front-wheel drive is standard, but the Cherokee has 7.7 inches of ground clearance and two types of four-wheel-drive systems. Grab the $30,590 Trailhawk model and you’ll be rewarded with cool red-painted tow hooks, skidplates, different bumpers that improve approach angles, a locking rear differential, and an additional inch of ride height. In other words, no matter how far north your university and no matter how many feet of snow fall during winter semester, the Jeep Cherokee should be able to get you home, to class, or to your buddy’s apartment in the most inclement weather. Our Four Seasons Jeep Cherokee’s elevated ride height already helped us escape our office park when record-setting deluges flooded metro Detroit. Imagine how well it’ll conquer blizzards on your remote college campus.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Specifications
- Base Price: $23,990 (with destination)
- Engines: 2.4L I-4, 184 hp, 171 lb-ft; 3.2L V-6, 271 hp, 239 lb-ft
- Transmission: 9-speed automatic
- Fuel Economy: 18-22/27-31 mpg (city/highway)
2015 Scion FR-S: The Enthusiast
While many students look forward to their time off from studying in order to party, a car enthusiast knows that sometimes cutting loose means carving up some pavement, not flipping cups. It might not be the most practical ride, affording only 6.9 cubic feet of storage with the rear seats up, but the Scion FR-S (and its mechanical twin, the Subaru BRZ) is best measured in smiles-per-mile. It’s the ideal joy-rider to show off to your friends — stylish, sporty, and not overly expensive to own or maintain. The FR-S has a 200-hp boxer-four that packs enough heat to get moving, but it’s modest enough to keep an overzealous college kid from quickly getting into hot water. The rear end is eager to let loose, but also easy to reel in — Sammy from psych class will think you’re James Hunt when you drift the nearest traffic circle with some practiced opposite lock.
2015 Scion FR-S Specifications
- Base Price: $25,670 (FR-S)/$26,490 (Subaru BRZ)
- Engine: 2.0-liter boxer-four, 200 hp, 151 lb-ft of torque
- Transmissions: 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic
- Fuel Economy: 22-25/30-34 mpg
2015 Honda Fit: The Econ Major
The sensible choice isn’t often the sexiest set of wheels on the lot. But the econ major will be laughing all the way to the bank when she unpacks her entire life out of the bargain-priced Honda Fit on move-in day, while her classmates blow hundreds of dollars renting a minivan or U-Haul. Yet the Fit’s magic is the sum of more than its low sticker price, wallet-saving fuel economy, or clown-car-like 52.7 cubic feet of total cargo space: Honda made a 130-hp subcompact that’s enjoyable to drive. Particularly with the joyous six-speed manual transmission, the Fit ticks every must-have box on the checklist. It’s just as much car as you’ll ever need, without sacrifices or gimmicks. It’s your friendly, reliable neighborhood Honda Fit.
2015 Honda Fit Specifications
- Base Price: $16,315
- Engine: 1.5-liter I-4, 130 hp, 114 lb-ft
- Transmissions: 6-speed manual, CVT
- Fuel Economy: 29-33/37-41 mpg
2015 Mazda CX-5: The Out of Towner
Today’s compact crossover is a perfect choice for students who have to pack up and drive their stuff to a school far from home, and the 2015 Mazda CX-5 is our favorite example of the breed. It gets up to 35 mpg on the highway so you won’t pay too much for gas when you head home for winter break; it packs 65.4 cubic feet of cargo space so you can stuff plenty of beanbag chairs in the back; and it even manages to include a bit of that Mazda “zoom-zoom” spirit with its nimble handling and responsive four-cylinder engine. We recently picked the Mazda CX-5 as our favorite among seven compact-crossover competitors. It combines a reasonable price with a stylish exterior to make for a practical, logical compact SUV that avoids being boring — and you can even get a manual transmission on the base Sport model. The Mazda CX-5 was also an All-Star in 2013.
2015 Mazda CX-5 Specifications
- Base Price: $22,375
- Engines: 2.0-liter I-4, 155 hp, 150 lb-ft; 2.5-liter I-4, 184 hp, 185 lb-ft
- Transmissions: 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic
- Fuel Economy: 24-26/30-35 mpg
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class: The Show-Off
Mercedes-Benz really nailed the looks of its new entry-level model, as this compact CLA transcends its front-wheel-drive, economy-car roots with a swoopy, upscale shape that prominently displays the three-pointed star up front. It’s perfect for the student with a bit of extra cash who wants to stand out from the Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas that crowd most university parking lots. If the front-wheel-drive (AWD is optional), 208-hp CLA250 isn’t quite enough to impress your buddies at the frat house, there’s always the wild, 355-hp CLA45 AMG version shown here. You’ll pay more than $17,000 extra for this high-performance machine, but it does look (and sound) pretty mean with its extra AMG bits, such as the sporty body kit, upsized wheels, and sport-tuned exhaust that will get plenty of attention around town. Oh, and it’s a riot to drive, too.
2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class Specifications
- Base Price: $30,825 (CLA250); $48,375 (CLA45 AMG)
- Engines: 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4, 208 hp, 258 lb-ft; 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4, 355 hp, 332 lb-ft
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Fuel Economy: 23-26/31-38 mpg