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Top 15 Back-to-School Cars for 2014

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 8/5/2014 Kelly Pleskot
Back to School Cars© Provided by MotorTrend Back to School Cars

Even with so many choices on the new-car market, finding a good vehicle for a student can prove difficult. A great back-to-school car should be versatile -- ready for moving boxes, midnight pizza runs, and tight parking. More important, it needs to be safe and budget-friendly. For many students, it will be their first car so, if possible, it should also be a memorable selection.

The most obvious college car choices -- for those fortunate enough to get a car at all -- include small sedans, but buyers need not limit themselves to searching in just one segment. On this list, we included a wide range of competitive cars to represent the needs of different students. Parents can rest easy, as each car new car listed earned either 4 or 5 stars in recent government crash-test ratings.

Mazda CX-5

2014 Mazda CX 5© Provided by MotorTrend 2014 Mazda CX 5

Practicality and fun join forces in this eye-catching small crossover. Inside, the cabin represents style and function with easy-to-use controls and soft-touch surfaces. On the road, this crossover handles bumps with poise for its class. Sharp steering and great handling are what really sets apart the CX-5. Best of all, students will enjoy plenty of space for friends and gear without sacrificing that small-car feel.

Honda Fit

2015 Honda Fit© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Honda Fit

Redesigned for 2015, the Honda Fit is easy to drive and easy to park. It also makes loading cargo simple. This subcompact makes the most of its small size thanks to some clever interior engineering. Multiple seating configurations help drivers load tall, long, and large items. Students should have no problem fitting in that 7-foot-long surfboard, a 4-foot-tall shelf, or even two mountain bikes without front wheels. On top of this, the Honda Fit is affordable because of its great fuel economy and $16,315 base price. Also consider used second-generation Fits, which don't come with the latest technology but still provide all the basics.

Dodge Dart

2013 Dodge Dart© Provided by MotorTrend 2013 Dodge Dart

The Dart might not be a class leader in dynamics, but if sporty looks in a compact sedan are important, put this one on your list. Achieving up to 41 mpg on the highway with a lower-volume efficiency-oriented trim, the sedan offers a 7-inch customizable gauge cluster and an available 8.4-inch touchscreen as well as quality materials on every trim level.

Toyota Prius C

2013 Toyota Prius C© Provided by MotorTrend 2013 Toyota Prius C

Everyone knows Prius is synonymous with practicality, but its smaller sibling is also a great bet for college students. Achieving a combined rating of 50 mpg with a price tag just under $20,000, the Prius C represents a great value for young buyers who are willing to sacrifice interior space for lower emissions. It is smaller than the standard Prius, which makes it easy to park and zip around town. Standard features include remote keyless entry, automatic climate control, Bluetooth, USB port, and a four-speaker sound system.

Kia Soul

2015 Kia Soul© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Kia Soul

What would a college campus be without a few funky box cars roaming around? While best known for its hamster commercials, the Kia Soul is a surprisingly refined choice in its segment. On the new 2014 model, high-quality interior materials mix with a smooth ride and desirable base price for a great package. Because of its boxy shape, the Soul provides plenty of headroom and legroom to accommodate passengers -- see how many people you can stuff in the car. Available technology includes a competent UVO infotainment system, panoramic sunroof, and an Eco package with engine stop-start system that saves fuel.

Honda Civic

2014 Honda Civic© Provided by MotorTrend 2014 Honda Civic

When buying a Civic, one thing you can count on is reliability. The compact sedan and coupe also boast good resale value and safety ratings. Inside, drivers will enjoy an available HondaLink infotainment system that makes it easy to access music, navigation, and more. Buyers looking for used Honda Civics should note that 2012 models feature Spartan cabins and more road noise compared to newer models.

Chevrolet Cruze

2015 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ In Motion© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Chevrolet Cruze LTZ In Motion

Introduced in 2011, the Chevrolet Cruze has become one of the automaker's most popular products. Trunk room is respectable for this segment, and parents will be relieved to know their kids are in the hands of OnStar, free for the first six months and available 24/7. Those on a budget will also want to look at Cruze models from the past few years since they haven't changed much from the 2015 model shown here.

Ford Mustang

2015 ford mustang© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 ford mustang

A sports car may seem like the last thing a college student needs, but the 2015 Mustang gets the job done in style. This classic car pumps out plenty of fun whether equipped with the base model's V-6 or the efficient yet more powerful turbocharged I-4. One available feature parents may like? MyKey allows them to limit speed and audio volume in the car. Since the Mustang is new for 2015, buyers should be able to snag good prices on 2013-2014 models.


2014 Mazda3© Provided by MotorTrend 2014 Mazda3

Thanks to its sleek exterior styling and fun driving dynamics, the Mazda3 attracts its fair share of young buyers. This model is available as a sedan or a spacious four-door hatchback version. Buyers may find this model a bit sportier than the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla, and a variety of other cars in its class. But best of all, this sporty appeal doesn't take away from the fact that is extremely fuel efficient, achieving over 40 mpg on the highway.

Toyota Tacoma

2014 Toyota Tacoma© Provided by MotorTrend 2014 Toyota Tacoma

Sometimes a compact hatchback just won't do the job. For those who are constantly lugging supplies to and from home, a small truck may be the best option. The Tacoma name brings along with it a history of reliability and capable performance, and it is also suitable as a daily driver. Buyers can opt for a V-6 or a four-cylinder engine on lower trims. This compact/midsize pickup has remained the same for almost a decade, so buyers shouldn't worry about getting a used model.

Honda CR-V

2013 Honda CR V Front Three Quarters View© Provided by MotorTrend 2013 Honda CR V Front Three Quarters View

The CR-V may not be flashy, but it is one of the most practical small crossovers on the market. With 70.9 cubic-feet of cargo space, the CR-V bests competitors such as the Ford Escape and Mazda CX-5 and is perfect for hauling sports equipment and light furniture or hosting tailgate parties. Its relatively tight turning radius makes it maneuverable on the road. Optional accessories include running boards, a tailgate spoiler, a cargo organizer, and roof rails for bikes, kayaks, surfboards, and snowboards.

Volkswagen Beetle Convertible

2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible© Provided by MotorTrend 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible

If you think about it, there's no better time than high school or college to own a Beetle Convertible. So until the time comes when a larger, more practical car is needed for work, why shouldn't students enjoy a drop-top? The Beetle Convertible is a great, if slightly pricey, first car that comes standard with leatherette upholstery, Bluetooth, an eight-speaker sound system, and Car-Net telematics providing automatic crash notification and roadside assistance.

Volvo 240

Volvo 240 Glt Wagon© Provided by MotorTrend Volvo 240 Glt Wagon

The Volvo 240 was last produced before most college students were born. And while it may stand out in the college parking lot, it has a certain hippie charm that's hard to deny. The 240 also is well known for its incredibly roomy interior and high-for-its-day safety marks. Buyers can snag one for $1000 to $5000, depending on the model year and condition.

Subaru XV Crosstrek

2013 subaru XV crosstrek© Provided by MotorTrend 2013 subaru XV crosstrek

The XV Crosstrek is a compact crossover that delivers capable performance in the urban landscape and off-the-beaten-path. Its good fuel economy and carlike driving characteristics make it reliable for everyday driving, but its all-weather capability and high ground clearance help it conquer any challenges drivers might face on a long journey.

Volkswagen Jetta

2015 Volkswagen Jetta© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Volkswagen Jetta

Something about the Jetta makes it stand out from the sea of Corollas and Civics on our highways. The compact sedan's youthful yet sedate exterior complements a simple cabin, satisfying the basics for college students. New Jettas feature an efficient and surprisingly quick 1.8-liter turbocharged engine or a fuel-efficient diesel. Available features include a sunroof, soft-touch dash, and touch-screen navigation system.

Now that you've read about our top back-to-school cars for 2014 -- what are yours? Give us your thoughts below.


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