Celebrating graduation from college may also be an occasion to venture into the new car market. With about-to-be college grads, and perhaps some of their parents, looking for that just-right and affordable vehicle to fit the bill, Total Car Score’s list of the top cars for college grads might come in handy.
Total Car Score, a car comparison website and comprehensive auto rating system, assigns a Total Car Score (or TCS) to each vehicle in the market. The TCS score is an overall industry assessment combining quantitative car reviews from all the major automotive authorities (including The Car Connection).
According to Karl Brauer, editor-in-chief of Total Car Score, “College grads are looking to make an investment in a car that is reliable and cost conscious.” The following list of cars for college grads comprises the top-rated cars “that offer the best quality while being very affordable.”
How affordable? Each of the cars on the list has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) that starts under $25,000. Seven of the ten start under $17,000.
2012 Volkswagen Golf – With an overall TCS of 83.86, the compact 2012 Volkswagen Golf earns the top spot for a number of attributes, including its powerful engines, refined driving dynamics, quick steering response and well-damped ride. Availability of a clean-diesel powertrain is another noted benefit. The Car Connection review of the Golf says it “has a premium feel that’s pervasive and superior to most of the competitors, but it’s also expensive compared to the likes of the Ford Focus, Mazda3 and Kia Forte/Soul…” Prices range from $17,995 to $24,695.
2012 Volkswagen GTI
2012 Volkswagen GTI – Among the strengths of the sixth-generation 2012 Volkswagen GTI, available in two- and four-door hatchback body styles, are a robust turbocharged 2.0-liter engine and sport-tuned suspension. The VW GTI comes in at a strong 82.23 TCS. Meanwhile, The Car Connection review notes that, “It isn’t the fastest or flashiest sporty hatchback around, but the 2012 Volkswagen GTI may well be the most balanced, carrying forward its legacy into the 21st century.” Prices range from $23,695 to $30,535.
2012 Ford Focus
2012 Ford Focus - Receiving high marks for its sporty handling, supple and controlled ride, excellent steering feel and relatively high fuel economy, the 2012 Ford Focus earns a 82.01 TCS. The Car Connection, rating the 2012 Ford Focus an 8.8 (out of 10), also named it the 2012 Best Car to Buy winner. Our editors come straight to the point: “With the 2012 Focus, Ford shows that small cars don’t have to feel so banal, with charismatic compacts that are more satisfying to drive, more luxurious, and better equipped.” Prices range from $16,500 to $22,700.
2012 Mazda Mazda3 SkyActiv
2012 Mazda Mazda3 – Noting that automotive reviewers praised the 2012 Mazda Mazda3 sedan and hatchback for precise and responsive handling, excellent stability, firm but comfortable ride, class-leading steering feel, and all-around fun-to-drive character, Total Car Score rates the compact at 81.10. The Car Connection gives the 2012 Mazda Mazda3 an overall 8.2 (out of 10) rating and remarks, “With its new SkyACTIV powertrains, the 2012 Mazda3 is the eco-conscious choice that sure doesn’t drive like one.” But the SkyACTIV powertrains are only available in the Mazda3i Touring and Grand Touring models. Prices for the 2012 Mazda3 range from $15,200 to $23,400.
2012 Chevrolet Cruze
2012 Chevrolet Cruze – With a 79.99 TCS, the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan scored high marks for its solid overall feel, stylish cabin, and well-equipped interior with the roominess of a mid-size, along with high safety ratings, steady and controlled ride and fuel economy in the Eco model that’s one of the best of its class. The Car Connection rates the Cruze a bit higher, 8.2 (out of 10), calling the compact “a practical, comfortable, fuel-efficient and a strong value, but it does lack the nimble, tossable feel that some small-car fans appreciate.” Prices range from $16,720 to $21,110.
2012 Mazda Mazdaspeed3 – The high-performance version of the Mazda3, the 2012 Mazdaspeed3, with its 79.13 TCS, was “revered” by automotive reviewers for its precise handling, high-performing engine, higher-responsive steering and sure-footed driving manners, among other attributes. The 2012 Mazda Mazdaspeed3 is included in The Car Connection’s review of the 2012 Mazda Mazda3 and has the same overall 8.2 (out of 10) rating. The price of the Mazdaspeed3 starts at $24,000.
2012 Hyundai Elantra
2012 Hyundai Elantra – Abundant features, adequate passenger space, large trunk, high fuel efficiency and comfortable ride are standout characteristics of the 2012 Hyundai Elantra compact sedan, enough to net the small car an 78.87 TCS. Again, The Car Connection found the Elantra to rate a bit higher, ranking it an 8.2 (out of 10) in this review. Summing up the Elantra’s appeal, our editors said, “The 2012 Hyundai Elantra has officially left the Civic and Corolla in the dust, thanks to a 40-mpg gas mileage rating, a sleek look, and tremendous value for the money.” Prices range from $15,995 to $20,445.
2012 Scion xB
2012 Scion xB – Known for its unique exterior styling that translates to exceptional passenger and cargo room on the inside, the 2012 Scion xB also offers a wide range of features, excellent maneuverability, unobstructed forward visibility and easy-going ride. These result in Scion’s 78.23 TCS. Over at The Car Connection, our editors rate the 2012 Scion xB a 7.8 (out of 10), commenting that, “Trendy or odd, the Scion xB jams plenty of space and versatility into its compact footprint.” Prices range from $16,300 to $18,110.
2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
2012 Volkswagen Jetta – It’s affordable, well equipped and roomy, with a notably spacious rear seat and a large, functional trunk. These attributes, and a few more, result in the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta earning a TCS of 77.5. As for The Car Connection, which gives the 2012 VW Jetta a 7.8 (out of 10) rating, the bottom line is that the 2012 Jetta “delivers a better driving feel and more back-seat room than many other compact sedans.” Furthermore, our editors advise buyers to “skip the cost-cutter base versions in favor of the TDI or the GLI for a distinctive choice in the compact class.” MSRPs range from $16,495 to $25,595.
2012 Kia Forte
2012 Kia Forte – An airy cabin with good visibility, quality interior materials, and a good number of standard features, including Bluetooth and USB interface help account for the 77.28 TCS afforded the 2012 Kia Forte compact sedan and hatchback. Our review calls out the Forte’s elegant, simple styling, cabin space and standard connectivity features and rates it an overall 7.4 (out of 10). Furthermore, The Car Connection editors say that the Forte family of vehicles “manages to feel more eager, comfortable and sophisticated than its sticker price might suggest.” Prices range from $15,200 to $19,200, making the 2012 Kia Forte the most affordably-priced of Total Car Score’s top cars for college grads.