The parent’s guide to the best cars for students in Ontario
Your child is all grown up and going off to university! You’ve watched the savings build up slowly, and now they’re off to buy their first set of wheels. They’ll probably ask you for your opinion on the best car for them at some point, too (and you might be paying for their car insurance).
While we’re all tempted to send off our kids in style, it’s important to remember that factors like gas mileage, safety rating, and cost of repairs count for a lot more than style and speed. Being stylish and fun to drive never hurts, but definitely keep those as secondary priorities.
We’ve rounded up the best cars for students to consider, ranging from the most economic to the most powerful. You’ll find classic student cars on our list (like the Volkswagen Jetta), but also a few surprises, too. Don’t forget our list of the cheapest cars to insure, either.
Let’s start with out top 10 list.
Top 10 cars for university students
They’re easy on the wallet, cheap to fix, safe enough for mom and dad, and it might even be able to fit all of your friends. Here’s our top 10 list of cars for your university-bound kids:
1. Mazda 3
- About $25,000 new and as low as $15,000 used.
- You get a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback.
- 2019 models have a combined fuel efficiency of 30mpg.
- IIHS Top Safety Pick for 2019.
- Standard features include: keyless entry and ignition, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, a 7-inch touch-screen, Bluetooth connectivity, and an auxiliary input.
2. Volkswagen Jetta
- It’s a long-time favourite with students for price and reliability.
- Older models go for $7,000 – $15,000 and the 2019 model starts at $19,000.
- It has an average fuel efficiency of 30 mpg city / 40 mpg highway.
- Known to have an excellent 6 year warranty.
- The 2018 model received 5 stars from The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
3. Toyota Corolla
- The new 2019 model is $18,500, but older models are plentiful and can go as low as $10,000.
- Typical fuel efficiency is 30 – 32 mpg.
- It’s extremely reliable, easy to maintain, and budget-friendly.
- Newer models have great features: like automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, rear-view camera, and LED headlights.
- IIHS Top Safety Pick for 2019.
4. Honda Civic
- Very affordable with used models ranging from $5,000 – $18,000.
- 2020 models starting at $23,000, which is still low for new cars.
- Excellent safety ratings and standard safety features such as Lane Keeping Assist System and Adaptive Cruise Control.
- 2020 Honda Civic selected as one of Edmund’s Best Gas Mileage Cars for 2020 (on average combined 33 mpg, 29 mpg city and 37 mpg highway).
5. Toyota Prius
- One of the most practical and economical options, a new 2020 Toyota Prius starts at $28,550 while used can range from $12,000 – $24,000
- Although some think it’s not very stylish, you can’t argue with the fuel efficiency: 58 mpg city and 53 mpg highway. Definitely a top choice for the eco-conscious student.
- Strong reliability and safety ratings as with all Toyota vehicles, however some minor recalls have been issued for recent models.
6. Jeep Wrangler
- Definitely look at buying this one used, as new 2020 models start around $35K. Older models can range anywhere from $16,000 – $28,000.
- Great in all weather conditions,, and perfect for a snowy campus!
- While popular for its stylish look and off-roading capabilities, the fuel efficiency is notoriously poor at 20 mpg combined.
- Great reliability and safety ratings with features like ParkView Rear Back-Up Camera, Blind-Spot and Cross-Path Detection, and ParkSense Rear Park Assist System.
- Can be expensive to repair.
7. Honda CR-V
- Although a bit more on the expensive side, you can buy a Honda CR-V new from $30,000 and as low as $11,000 used.
- Known for great reliability and winter driving.
- Good fuel efficiency with 28 mpg city and 34 mpg highway.
- 2020 Honda CR-V is Edmunds.com #1 Small SUV.
- 5/5 Stars from The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
8. Hyundai Elantra
- Very budget-friendly with new 2020 models selling for $22,000 and used ranging from $8,000 – $18,000.
- Excellent fuel efficiency with 31 mpg city and 40 mpg highway.
- Fairly inexpensive to repair.
- 4/5 star safety rating from The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
9. Honda Fit
- Buying new will cost you $23,000, but used cars range from $5,000 – $18,000.
- Great on gas with 31 mpg city and 36 mpg highway.
- The cargo space is versatile and can accommodate long items, like hockey sticks or furniture.
- Excellent safety ratings and features including Forward Collision Warning, Collision Mitigation Braking System, and LaneWatch.
10. Kia Optima
- A new 2020 Kia Optima starts at $25,000.
- Older models range from $7,000 – $18,000.
- Not as fuel efficient as other options with 24 mpg city and 33 mpg highway.
- Lots of cargo storage and a great infotainment system.
- Great safety rating and an excellent level of safety features in the standard models.
How did we make our choices?
We took into consideration these top 7 criteria that are the most important to students according to the money experts at thepennyhoarder.com:
- Price ($25,000 or less)
- Reliability score
- Fuel efficiency (at least 30mpg)
- Basic bluetooth streaming audio or auxiliary cord
- Safety rating
- Cargo room
There were quite a few cars we came across in our research that didn’t quite make the list, but we’d like to give them a quick shout out for their price, safety, and reliability.
- Chevrolet Sonic (excellent safety ratings and very inexpensive to buy new)
- Chevrolet Cruz Hatchback (on the pricier side, but has a large interior cargo space and fancy tech features like a built-in 4G LTE hotspot)
- Chevrolet Spark (inexpensive to buy new, has a great infotainment system, and gets 30mpg city / 38 mpg highway)
- Scion FRS or IM (very reasonable price new or used, lower than average ownership costs, and good fuel efficiency)
- Ford Focus Hatchback (more expensive option but has great technology, like a dual-clutch transmission)
- Toyota Tacoma (new starts at $25K but lots of cargo and passenger space, great reliability and capability, stylish, and the only truck on our list!)
Price comparison for the most affordable student cars
Used (2010 – 2018)
- Ford Fiesta ($2,000 – $12,000)
- Nissan Versa ($4,000 – $12,000)
- Mazda 3 ($5,000 – $19,000)
- Honda Fit ($5,000 – $18,000)
- Honda Civic ($5,000 – $18,000)
- Hyundai Elantra ($8,000 – $18,000)
New (2019 / 2020)
- 2019 Nissan Versa ($13,000+)
- 2019 Ford Fiesta ($14,260+)
- 2019 Honda Fit ($16,190+)
- 2020 Chevrolet Spark ($13,220+)
- 2020 Mitsubishi Mirage ($13,995+)
- 2020 Hyundai Accent ($15,195+)
- 2020 Kia Rio ($15,750+)
- 2020 Chevrolet Sonic ($16,720+)
- 2020 Toyota Yaris ($17,750+)
First-time car buyer questions
What are some good cars for college students to lease?
Be aware that while leasing is about 30% less expensive upfront than buying, it does become the more expensive option as time goes on. That being said, there are a variety of affordable options to look at if you are planning to lease while at school:
- 2020 Hyundai Elantra
- 2019 Hyundai Ioniq Electric
- 2020 Kia Forte
- 2020 Chevrolet Bolt
- 2019 Honda Fit
- 2020 Kia Optima
- 2019 Ford Fusion
- 2020 Nissan Altima
- 2020 Jeep Cherokee
- 2019 Kia Niro
- 2019 Toyota C-HR
Are there rental cars for students under 21?
There are only a few companies who have a minimum age of 20 to rent a car. For big names like Enterprise and National, you’ll need to be 21. At Hertz, Dollar, and Thrifty, you only have to be 20, but you’ll pay an additional $24 – $30 per day. You can rent most cars, trucks, and compacts as well, but luxury vehicles, vans, and SUVs tend to be reserved for older customers.
What are the best AWD cars for college students?
If you’re looking for all-wheel-drive but need it to be budget-friendly, we recommend looking into these options:
- Subaru Legacy
- Subaru Crosstrek
- Ford EcoSport
- Volvo 260
- Jeep Wrangler
- Subaru Impreza Hatchback
- Honda HR-V LX
- Nissan Juke
- Mazda CX-3 Sport
Does your child need car insurance while away at college?
If your child intends to drive, then he or she will definitely need car insurance. The only question is whether you should keep your child on your own policy or start them off with their own. Unless they’re entering post-secondary as a “mature student” with a few more years of road experience than their peers, it will probably be more cost-effective to keep your child on your existing policy.
How do you insure a G2 driver?
Chances are good that your child still has a G2 license instead of a full G. Here’s how you can secure insurance for a G2 driver. We’d still recommend putting G2 drivers on a parent’s or guardian’s auto policy until after age 25, though.
Should I go with a convenient compact or a spacious SUV?
The “small cars vs big cars” debate is a heated one. People tend to picture students driving around in tiny eco-friendly compacts, but some people need to be able to transport a lot of furniture, sporting equipment, and people (especially on moving day).
Which cars for students have the best safety ratings?
Is safety your #1 concern when it comes to getting behind the wheel of your new car? You can see a complete list of cars with the best safety ratings right here.