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Cars for College: AutoWeek's list of the best rides for campus cruising

Thu, 16 Jul 2009

High school seniors across the country have long since moved their graduation tassels from right to left. And before they start buying mini-fridges and extra-long bedsheets for their dorm rooms, prospective undergraduates need an affordable, safe and mpg-friendly ride that will leave Mom and Dad stress-free during trips to and from school. Here is a look at AutoWeek's top cars in which to send a kid off to college.

2009 Hyundai Elantra Sedan

J. D. Power and Associates named the Elantra one of its “Ten most problem-free cars and trucks” for 2009. All Elantra sedans feature front-wheel drive and a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine earning up to 33 mpg on the EPA highway cycle. Base prices for the Elantra range from $14,795 to $18,495.

2009 Honda Civic

The Civic MSRP is from $15,505 to $20,855, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the sedan with vehicle stability assist as a top safety pick for small cars. The Civic also features available satellite-linked navigation with voice recognition, perfect for finding your way around campus for the first time.

2009 Mitsubishi Lancer

With loads of standard features, Lancer gives you plenty of bang for not so many bucks. Standard features sure to impress the academics include auto-off halogen headlamps, two-color multi-information display and a 140-watt CD/MP3 head unit with a digital signal processor and speed-compensated volume control. MSRP starts at $14,540.

2009 Ford Escape

All Escape models come with a standard AdvanceTrac with roll stability control. An Escape also offers an Intelligent 4WD System to provide traction control 100 times per second. The traction control automatically adjusts torque distribution needed for maximum grip. MSRP is $20,435.

2010 Toyota Prius Hybrid

Eco-friendly autos are a must on the college scene. The base MSRP for the gas-electric Prius is $21,000; the third- generation model only offers one grade. Bottom line: The car is great on gas mileage and is even better for the environment. Plus, Leonardo DiCaprio used to drive one, so that makes it cool in some circles.

2010 Kia Soul

The Soul has a quirky, youthful design with a reasonable price tag. Available in four trims--Soul, Soul+, Soul! and Soul Sport--pricing begins at $13,300 for the base model and extends to $17,000 when all options are included. Kia also released a 2010 Denim Soul that is based on the Soul+ model that is denim colored and has an upgraded audio package.

2009 Dodge Caliber SE

A big part of college is tailgating, and this car would be perfect to fill with party supplies. It has a cooled beverage storage bin that holds four 20-ounce bottles or cans with illuminated cupholders in the front. It also has UConnect technology, which offers voice-activation and touch-screen capability. The Caliber can get any full-fledged fan to the away game in time with an optional turn-by-turn voice assistance and traffic guidance. MSRP starts at $17,090.

2009 Ford Focus

This environmentally conscious car has Earth-friendly seating with bio-based foam cushions derived from plant seeds and can get up to 35 mpg highway with a manual transmission. Safety features include a reinforced steel safety cage, six standard airbags, a tire-pressure-monitoring system and optional ABS with traction control. MSRP starts at $15,520.

2009 Chevrolet Cobalt sedan

As far as assistance goes, this car is stacked. OnStar is standard for one year when purchasing or leasing a Cobalt. In addition, the Cobalt is backed by a 100,000- mile/five-year transferable powertrain limited warranty, plus roadside assistance and courtesy-transportation programs.

Used cars will do the trick, too

Older cars have one main perk--price--and used-car quality depends on how the car was treated by the previous owner. However, cars such as Volvos can still perform after packing on some miles. Consumer Reports also ranked Japanese brands such as Toyota and Honda as “reliable” used cars with some newer safety features built into them.

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