2009 Top 10 Back-to-School Cars
Along with choosing the right books, calculator and backpack for the upcoming academic year, the return to school often calls for selecting a new (or used) ride. Choosing the right kind of car can be a difficult process, especially so when parents and their children are at odds with what they need versus what they want in a set of wheels. While features such as reliability, safety, affordability and practicality are important to any parent, how quickly their car accelerates and how cool it looks when cruising to the school football game are often bigger concerns for students. The good news is that there are plenty of vehicles out there that can please both parties. Those considering a new entry-level vehicle will find the latest and greatest safety and technology advancements, a full warranty and, of course, that new car smell. If saving money places higher on the "must" list, then there are plenty of dependable used cars out there that would suit the needs of any young adult. Every new car listed on this year's Back-to-School list features Fair Purchase Prices that start at under $18,000. (Values listed are for the lowest-priced entry in each model's lineup. All Fair Purchase Prices reflect transaction prices during the last week in July 2009). Every used car identified has a Kelley Blue Book Suggested Retail Value of less than $12,000. These values represent what you can expect your local dealer to ask for the vehicle in question, and from which you can negotiate downward. (For each model, we chose the most recent model year available that came in under $12,000, priced using mileage matching each car's age. We chose 2005 as the earliest qualifying year.) 2009 Ford Focus Like the honor student that can get good grades while maintaining a rockin'social life, the Focus can live two lives. It can please the parents as a safe and economical buy, but still knows how to be the life of the party with its sporty driving dynamics and available voice-controlled SYNC communication and entertainment system. 2009 Honda Fit For students looking to get more bang for their buck, the Fit is a sound buy. Sporting a clever flexible interior, the Fit stickers in at a reasonable price even when equipped with available features like an iPod interface and navigation. 2010 Kia Soul Those going away to school will appreciate the Soul's cargo van-like proportions. And if it's a long drive, the well-thought-out iPod integration and 30-mpg highway fuel economy will be especially welcome. The Soul's distinctive styling will turn heads on campus, and the long warranty includes powertrain coverage that will take a college freshman through grad school. 2010 Mazda MAZDA3 The all-new, second-generation MAZDA3 has picked up right where its predecessor left off. A regular entry on our 10 Coolest Cars and Back-to-School lists, the MAZDA3 delivers an unmatched blend of fun, style and economy. 2009 Nissan Cube Think of the Cube as the automotive equivalent of Frosted Mini-Wheats. The kids will dig its hyper-modern exterior, lounge-like interior, optional Rockford Fosgate audio system and host of add-on accessories, while parents will appreciate the standard stability and traction controls, six airbags, 30-mpg highway fuel economy and a starting price under $15,000. 2005 Chevrolet Silverado A used Silverado may not be the best urban back-to-school vehicle, but move outside the city and a proper pickup truck makes plenty of sense. The Silverado provides reasonably priced transportation to and from school during the week, and can do double duty on the weekends by hauling furniture or a lifetime supply of instant noodles back to the dorms. 2005 Ford Escape Available all-wheel drive and room for five with cargo space to spare make the Escape a very capable and versatile crossover for any student -- whether it be driving to school or doing some light-hearted adventuring on the weekend. 2006 Honda Civic With its refined interior, reputation for reliability and good fuel economy, the Civic is arguably one of the best values on the market, in both new and used form. And when it comes to resale, the Civic holds its value much more so than a used textbook. 2005 Scion xB The original box-on-wheels still proves it's hip to be square. With its retro scene-stealing slab-sided styling and surprisingly roomy interior, the xB can easily accommodate five passengers and their stuff. Band practice, anyone? 2007 Suzuki SX4 The SX4 has the distinction of being the least expensive all-wheel drive car sold in America, offering peace of mind for parents and students alike in exchange for little cash. Available in practical wagon and sporty sedan body styles as well as front- or all-wheel drive, the Suzuki SX4 gets our vote for "Most Well-Rounded" out of the bunch.