2018 Honda Civic Si
There’s a reason everyone and their mother drives a Civic: It’s a really, really good car. The turbocharged 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine is our top choice, available in the sporty Civic Si or in the still-quite-good base Civic models. The 2018 Honda Civic sedan starts at $18,840, but you can also have a two-door coupe for $19,250 or a hatchback for $20,050. The Si coupe and sedan both start at $24,100. Of course, you can always go full-on wannabe-racer with the Civic Type R. With more than 300 horsepower, you shouldn’t have any problem getting to your first day of work on time.
2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata
A Miata is always the answer, so we couldn’t resist putting it on our list. It starts at $25,295, but we like the Club trim, which costs $29,155 and gets you Bilstein shocks, a limited-slip differential and optional Brembo brakes. The 2018 MX-5 is available with a soft top or with a supersexy retractable hardtop as on the Miata RF. With a car as small and light as a Miata, 155 horsepower feels like much more. And do yourself a favor, get it with the six-speed manual transmission.
2018 Toyota Tacoma
At some point in your life, everyone could use a truck, and we totally dig the Toyota Tacoma. A 2.7-liter engine is standard with 159 horsepower, but trust us, go for the 3.5-liter V6. The larger engine puts out 278 horsepower and 265 pound-feet torque, all the better for hauling and towing. With the TRD Pro model, you can get pretty much anywhere, but if you’re more price-conscious, a base SR starts at $25,200 and includes Toyota’s suite of advanced driver’s aids standard. Toyota’s Entune infotainment system, however, is merely OK. It doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. But hey, at least the Tacoma has Qi wireless smartphone charging.
2018 Jeep Wrangler
If your post-academia plans entail convertible rock-climbing, you can’t go wrong with the 2018 Jeep Wrangler. Even the lowest trim comes standard with four-wheel drive and a new electric soft top can easily bring in the sun. Oh, and did we mention the windshield folds down? The Wrangler starts at $27,495 and comes standard with a strong Pentastar V6 engine, or you can swap in a new 2.0-liter turbocharged engine for an extra $1,000.
2018 Ford Mustang Convertible
Celebrate your academic achievements with some classic Americana: the Ford Mustang Convertible. A convertible with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine starts at $31,180, but we can’t resist the 5.0-liter GT with 460 horsepower and a standard six-speed manual transmission. Mustang Convertible on the beach. Sounds nice doesn’t it? (Just don’t get stuck!)
2018 Volvo XC40
If you know you’ll be getting a big signing bonus (or have really generous parents), why not splurge on a Volvo XC40? And while you’re at it, spring for the top-level Inscription trim, starting at $39,750. The XC40 comes in a number of two-tone combinations, like the R-Design model in white with a black roof. The XC40’s interior features sleek Swedish design, but it’s way better than Ikea. A 9-inch touchscreen houses Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system, and everywhere you look, the cabin is nothing but clean lines and lovely inlays.
2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV
Looking for an EV? If range is your top priority, go for the Chevrolet Bolt EV. With 238 miles of all-electric range you should be able to get to work and back with no problem. The Bolt starts at $37,495 but that can drop down to under $30,000 with federal tax credits, or even less than that, depending on state and local incentives. A 10.2-inch touchscreen runs the Bolt’s intuitive MyLink infotainment system, complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
2018 Nissan Leaf
If you want an EV but are more concerned with price, the Nissan Leaf is a great choice. The smartly designed Leaf starts at $29,990 before state and federal rebates. The trade-off? Less range. The Leaf is estimated to get 151 miles of electric range. It’s good, but the Bolt goes farther. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are only available on the upper SV trim. Nissan’s excellent ProPilot Assist lane-centering system with adaptive cruise control can be had as part of the SV Technology Package.
2018 Ford EcoSport
The Ford EcoSport is a cute little crossover that starts under $20,000 and comes standard with a turbocharged 1.0-liter engine. For an extra $1,595, you can get a more powerful, 166-horsepower 2.0-liter engine, as well as all-wheel drive. An 8-inch touchscreen with Ford’s Sync3 infotainment system is available, and it includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
2019 Volkswagen Jetta
For 2019, the VW Jetta is all new and vastly improved thanks to sharper looks, more features and a better ride. Under the hood is a 1.4-liter turbocharged I4 that puts out 147 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. The powerplant gets an EPA-estimated 40 mpg on the highway. A 6.5-inch touchscreen is standard, but we recommend upgrading to the 8-inch. Not only is it visually more pleasing, it also comes with Volkswagen’s Digital Cockpit. VDC is a fully configurable dashboard that puts all information right in front of the driver. It’s guaranteed to impress your Tinder dates.
2018 Hyundai Kona
The subcompact Hyundai Kona crossover SUV is a funky little runabout, perfect for those who want to stand out in the crowd. Available with both front- and all-wheel drive, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is standard, good for 147 horsepower. We recommending stepping up to a Limited or Ultimate trim, with 1.6-liter turbocharged engine putting out 175 horsepower. The Hyundai Kona starts at just $19,500 for a base front-wheel-drive model, but a top-of-the-line Ultimate trim will set you back $27,400.
2018 Subaru Crosstrek
The all-wheel-drive Subaru Crosstrek is great choice for adventure types who need to get to work, the hiking trails and nearly everything in between. A 2.0-liter engine puts out 152 horsepower and is mated to a six-speed manual transmission in lower trims or a continuously variable transmission in higher models. The Crosstrek gets Subaru’s available EyeSight driver’s aid technology, with lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control. The StarLink infotainment system now features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. The 2018 Subaru Crosstrek starts at $21,795 for a base 2.0i model, but our most recent, close-to-fully loaded Limited test vehicle with its tech upgrade ran $30,655.
2018 Kia Soul
For fuel-efficient fun, the Kia Soul is a quirky, roomy ride. We particularly like the 1.6-liter turbo model, with 201 horsepower, 195 pound-feet of torque and punchier dynamics. The Kia Soul starts at $16,200 for the base model with manual transmission, but the top-of-the-line trim with the turbocharged engine starts at $22,650. A $3,000 technology package adds driver aids. The Kia Soul comes with the newest-generation UVO3 dashboard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Users interact via either a 7- or 8-inch color touchscreen depending on options chosen.
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