Celebrate in style!

Cars have long made the perfect graduation gift. Whether they're off to college or just finishing up, having an efficient, reliable vehicle is paramount to a successful life as an adult – with the exception of those who live downtown, of course. When you're fresh out of school, you need a car to get to and from work, meet up with friends, the occasional stress-melting road-trip, and most importantly, visit home.

If you agree, keep reading. Here are five affordable vehicles you should consider purchasing or leasing for the lucky grad in your life. 

1. Kia Rio 

Starting at $16,315, the Rio is a budget-minded chariot that fulfills more than your basic needs. For a small, affordable car, the Rio is surprisingly grown up and offers available features like Apple CarPlay and XM satellite radio in an attractive, easy-to-use cabin. Its 130-horsepower engine provides enough giddy-up-and-go and gets a wallet-friendly 28 city/37 highway MPG rating. Where the Kia really stands out, though, is with its warranty. Like all new Kias, the Rio is covered by a 10-year, 100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty. 

2. Honda Civic 


2019 Sedan Touring Model Shown*

With a real price of $20,043, the Civic offers turbocharged fun and, if desired, a manual transmission. The Civic offers all of the same gadgets as the Kia and a little more space. You get more in the way of MPGs and horsepower, too. The Civic's turbocharged, 174-horsepower powerplant takes you 32 miles in the city and 42 miles on the highway on one gallon. Plus, it's a Honda, need we say more? 

 

3. Chevy Spark 

The Chevrolet Spark starts at $13,220, and it just happens to be one of Car & Driver's Editor's Choices. With an interior that punches it way above its class, standard Apple Carplay & Andriod Auto, and a 98-horsepower engine that you can ring out with a manual transmission, the Chevy Spark has a simple charm to it that makes it very tempting. 

4. Ford Fiesta 

2019 is the last year to snag the small, but mighty Fiesta. That means dealers will be looking to get them moving to make way for new trucks and crossovers. Considering that they start at $15,235, that won't be hard to do. Not to mention, the blue oval's compact offering is lively and fun to drive. Everything about the Fiesta is on par with its competition, so if you see one for a good deal, nab it. 

5. Mazda3 

Starting at $21,920, the Mazda3 is the most expensive car on this list, but it's well worth the premium. From a driver's standpoint, the Mazda3 is communicative, balanced, playful, tight, and lively to drive on curvy roads. The interior is elegant, and in higher trims, it competes with cars like the Audi A3 or the Mercedes CLA. Functions like adaptive cruise control, automated emergency braking, and lane-keep assist are all available, but you'll pay for it. 

Of course, if you're looking to spend less, you can always go used. Something like this used VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI for $12,995 would be perfect for cruising up to Fort Collins and back. 

What are your thoughts? We know there are other great small cars out there! Let us know what they are in the comments below! And congrats, graduates!