A guide to choosing the right car
By Simon Etra, Contributor
Cars—there are so many to choose from, and of those, there are many varieties. But when you factor in a college student’s budget, the number of options dwindles significantly. What I hope to shed light on, however, is the best choices that offer the most value. That is, their manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) generally falls within a college student’s budget, yet they offer great performance, fuel economy, styling, reliability, and fun.
Now, what do great performance, fuel economy, styling, reliability, and fun really denote?
Great performance means going from 0 to 60 miles per hour (or just under 100 km/hr)—that’s better than average. Nobody enjoys pulling away from a red light or stop sign like a slowpoke. The sensation of a responsive gas pedal can be thrilling. An engine that returns a lot of horsepower and a high top-speed is also indicative of good performance, especially if you drive up a lot of hills or frequent highways regularly.
A good fuel economy really needs no further explanation. Anything from 10–15 miles per gallon (or 4.3– 6.4kilometres per litre) is too low. Take into consideration a student budget and the fluctuating prices of fuel and you’ve got a certainty that no pickup trucks or sport utility vehicles will make the cut (sorry Hummer aficionados).
Styling is fairly subjective. There are some vehicles that don’t have a polarizing design whereas others do (like the Pontiac Aztek, which is no longer in production, but whose design yours truly does not particularly mind). So keep in mind that you may not fancy the design of a finalist—don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Reliability in an automotive context pertains to few (read “cheap”) repairs and maintenance, both safety and longevity. Buying a car is a substantial investment—with the exception of beaters costing no more than $500 (and even then, we are college students after all!). With that said, who wants to deplete their bank account only to have to buy another car in a year or two due to it breaking down? Or increase credit card debt by paying for repairs, parts, and maintenance? And the worst-case scenario is paying with your health if a vehicle is unsafe.
Finally, fun is a little bit of each of the other factors I cited. Fun is a car that’s enjoyable to drive, isn’t as thirsty as a desert-dwelling nomad, turns heads (in a good way), and will keep its owner—as well as itself—safe.
Now, you may ask what qualifies me to render wisdom as to the cars that offer the best value. Well, first of all I know an individual (who shall remain nameless) who has access to an abundance of vehicles because he works at a vast dealership. Sometimes when he brings an automobile home, he offers me the opportunity to test drive it—mind you, responsibly and with him present. So don’t imagine I put the cars through rigorous tests and do professional tests on race tracks.
Another reason that I can comment on best value is because I am a lifelong automotive enthusiast. I know a lot about cars in general as well as individual models from manufacturers.
And now, without further ado, I present to you the top five vehicles (in no particular order), that offer the best value for college students. I have test-driven all of these automobiles.
Honda Civic: The Honda Civic is synonymous with young people. You look on the road and it’s hard to reach a traffic light without spotting one. Almost every model year is worth buying. I had the opportunity to drive a 2014 Honda Civic Sedan SI. The price is around $26,000. The handling of this ride is truly phenomenal—that’s one of the first things I noticed. If your commute has a lot of turns, this will probably be your choice.
Mind you, $26,000 is not even close to affordable to college students. However, a lot that the SI has the more basic trims will offer as well. The basic trims should be in the $15,000 range.
Hyundai Accent: Yes, I know what you’re thinking. “Hyundai? Why not just drive to school in a box on wheels?!” Don’t be mistaken though: Hyundai and Kia have come a long way since the days when they manufactured astonishingly cheap automobiles with poor engines. While the Accent is still not a Bimmer or Mercedes Benz, it has come a long way and improved significantly. First thing to catch your attention will be the stunning design. This machine has curves that will puzzle calculus mathematicians! Inside, room is ample at best. But hey, you’re in college, so I doubt you will be wanting to start a family too soon! Performance is reasonable given the price tag. Just avoid going up long hills!
Chevrolet Cobalt: Don’t worry, you don’t need to check your vision. You actually read correctly: there is an American entry in this best-of list. The Cobalt is arguably the sportiest ride on this list, and it boasts an ambitious four-cylinder engine that on most days will get the job done. Inside, I found the stereo system to really up the excitement factor when driving. The sound, even when turned up to nearly maximum, compromises that elusive spectrum between trembling and too much bass. This was the case with the radio as well as CDs. Optional for not a lot of money is an MP3 player, which in the opinion of yours truly, is worth the expenditure. Also notable are the dual airbags and impressively fancy upholstery.
Kia Rio: Some consider the Rio to be the aforementioned Hyundai Accent’s twin. While that may be true in an anecdotal sense, it is not the case when we get down to the nitty gritty. The Rio is like the Accent 2.0. That is, it has some features that the Accent doesn’t. For example, the basic model comes with power everything. Take a second to think about that: a basic KIA subcompact car being offered with power everything. I too was surprised when I first sat in the diminutive two-seater. For a second I almost thought I may be sitting in a Prius—but I digress. A feature I found especially useful in the Rio is its rear defroster. Sure, it’s not a sexy option per se, but in rainy Vancouver it’s as useful as an umbrella.
Toyota Corolla: Honda and Toyota among vehicles with best value? Shocker, right? Yes the Toyota Corolla seems to stand the test of time. It is a sleek car with a practical price tag and small yet capable engine. The result? A fuel-efficient automobile that looks good and gets the job done. The back seat is also quite roomy should you decide to take a trip with friends or enjoy the company of a lover in anticipation of hanky panky. I found the four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic to be very reliable. The transmission shifting is so seamless that you may feel you’re inside a Lexus. Just watch your speed because a few times I had to look at the speedometer only to realize I was going faster than I thought!
There you have it. Keep this guide in mind the next time you want to spend several Gs on a ride. Choose wisely…