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Cool Cars for College Kids

Safe and stylish vehicles that students and parents love

College students may be mid-semester, but many are dreaming of packing up their own car for weekend visits to mom and dad's and holiday breaks. To help students and parents find the best car, CarMax, the nation's largest retailer of used cars, and Driver’s Edge, a national nonprofit organization providing youth driver education, have teamed up to recommend their favorite cars for college students.

"Typically, parents' top priorities when looking for a vehicle for their student are price, reliability, and safety, while young people are usually interested in style, features, and performance," said Ron Costa, CarMax's regional vice president of purchasing. "We recommend conducting online vehicle research first and then finding a car retailer that provides a transparent, customer-friendly, and easy car buying process."

The top cars recommended for college students that fulfill both parents’ safety and reliability demands and the young drivers’ requirements for looks and performance include (in alphabetical order by manufacturer):

  • Audi A4

  • Ford Five Hundred

  • Honda Civic

  • Hyundai Sonata

  • Scion tC

  • Subaru Impreza (except WRX models)

  • Toyota Corolla (models with ABS)

  • Volkswagen Jetta

  • Volkswagen Passat

  • Volvo S40

"When deciding on a vehicle for a young driver, safety has to be a top consideration," said Jeff Payne, founder of Driver’s Edge. "Vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death for people under 24, outnumbering the combined deaths resulting from drug use, guns, and other violence." Driver’s Edge recommends that parents review crash-test ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) when considering any vehicle, as well as advice and ratings of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

"It’s pretty tough to come up with a list of cars that will satisfy both parents and students," said Steve Tepper, chief operating officer of Driver’s Edge. "Issues of looks, cost, safety, and performance don’t always line up, but there are some great cars out there that fit the bill safety-wise while still being cool."

The cars on the list are recommended for drivers who have at least two years of practical driving experience. (Smaller cars would not be on a list of cars recommended for true novice drivers.)

Driver’s Edge and CarMax used the following criteria to select the recommended cars:

Each of the selected models scored at least a four star rating from NHTSA for both frontal and side impact protection in each of the last four years. Exceptions are the Ford Five Hundred and the Scion tC, each of which have only been available since 2005.

Each car offers an array of active safety features (e.g., anti-lock braking systems, traction control, etc.).

Cost and vehicle styling have been considered, but safety weighs most heavily in determining the cars to recommend.

"It’s not just about choosing the ‘right’ car," Payne said. "There is no five-star rating or safety device that can take the place of a well educated driver. A lousy driver can make even the safest of vehicles a bad place to be. That’s why we also recommend that all drivers seek out the proper training and learn the skills needed to help them stay safer on the highways."

Click here to read ROAD & TRAVEL's review
of the Driver's Edge program