With the government's Cash for Clunkers program in full swing, now may be just the right time to convince your parents to trade in that old beater they gave you for something a bit more reliable. Wouldn't it be great to head off to college with a brand new set of wheels - something fun and even worthy of showing off to friends? Of course, if it's going to win your parents' seal of approval, your new car should be safe and affordable, too.
Seems like a long shot, huh? Not quite.
In fact, there are several cars on the market sure to please both you and your parental units. These college-bound rides are pretty close to having it all - cool factor, safety, good fuel economy, fun performance and a realistic sticker price. These models achieve at least 23 miles per gallon combined (in their most efficient trims) and come with a base price that's $22,000 or less -- and in many cases, much less. Plus, if you do have a clunker hanging around, your parents can earn as much as $4,500 on a trade-in -- making your college dream machine that much more affordable.
Now you're just three steps away from achieving that dream: First, enjoy picking your favorite car from our list. Second, see how easy it'll be to convince Mom and Dad to buy that car. And lastly -- and most importantly -- enjoy the ride.
MSRP $13,300 - $17,900
MPG: 28 combined
Kia's brand-new hatchback, the Soul, boasts more youth appeal than any car on the market. In addition to its sporty exterior, the Soul is fun to drive and has a unique cabin with more than 50 optional add-ons -- including glow-in-the-dark embroidery for the seats and the Soul Sport's flashy red and black trim accents. On top of that, the Soul boasts more entertainment and technology options than most cars in its price range -- with the coolest being the Sport's 315-watt audio system complete with glowing lights that pulse to the music. The Soul is affordable, earns excellent fuel economy and receives very good safety scores. If you want to stand out and have fun, what's not to like?
Mazda3 Sedan and Hatchback
MSRP: 15,045 - $22,300
MPG: 28 combined
The redesigned 2010 Mazda3's perky performance and upscale features are rare for its affordable class. Its exterior is also particularly sleek. The interior boasts Bluetooth capability and sexy blue ambient lighting, along with an optional 10-speaker Bose Surround Sound System. And, if you opt for the five-door hatchback model, the 3 can swallow 17 cubic feet of cargo -- although it doesn't look quite as cool as the four-door model, it's more useful for moving in and out of dorm rooms. On top of that, the Mazda3 earns good safety scores and comes with plenty of airbags, Dynamic Stability Control and Traction Control.
MSRP: $17,515 - $23,540
MPG: 24 combined
If you prefer sophistication over quirky bells and whistles, the VW Jetta offers an impressive level of cachet and substance. In fact, many reviewers call the cabin the best in its class. The Jetta is great for hauling cargo or several people -- it features comfortable seats, an especially spacious second row and a cavernous 16-cubic-foot trunk. An especially cool optional feature is the navigation system, which comes with a 30-Gigabyte hard drive that includes CD- and DVD-playing capabilities. On top of all that, reviewers are overwhelmingly positive on the Jetta's power, acceleration and nimbleness.
MSRP: $21,500 - $27,810
MPG: 24 combined
If you prefer the space and versatility of an SUV, the Toyota RAV4 delivers an excellent combination of power, performance and interior comfort. The compact SUV is well-liked for its good balance of comfort and handling agility. Though the interior won't offer the same high-tech perks as Mazda3 or Kia Soul, it does offer an optional third-row seat (which is better used for cargo than people) and nearly best-in-class cargo space, including a bi-level glovebox. Plus, if you're going to school in a snowy climate, the RAV4's optional all-wheel-drive capabilities will get you to class safely.
MSRP: $19,270 - $27,675
MPG: 23 combined
Substantially improved for 2010, the Ford Fusion now boasts one of the most upscale interiors in the affordable midsize class, a more powerful lineup of engines, and available all-wheel drive -- something few competitors can claim. On the inside, the Fusion now features near-luxury fit and finish. A highlight is Ford's SYNC infotainment system, which is optional on SE and standard on SEL and Sport models. The system allows you to access your music collection and operate your Bluetooth-enabled phone with simple voice commands.
Nissan Altima Coupe
MSRP: $19,900 - $29,380
MPG: 26 combined
The Nissan Altima Coupe is fun to drive, out-handles most of its competition and is one of the most upscale models on our list. Even better, it sports a sharp, upscale exterior to go with its classy interiors. And with its four-cylinder base engine and Continuously Variable Transmission, the Altima is one of the most fuel-efficient midsize cars on the market. On the inside, the two-door Altima has several upscale touches, such as chrome detailing and soft-touch materials. It comes with an auxiliary audio input and an optional nine-speaker Bose audio system. But be careful, because optional equipment can increase the Altima's price dramatically.
Ready to Buy?
If you're interested in pitching the Cash for Clunkers program to your parents, check out our Cash for Clunkers page, or better yet, contact local dealers for price quotes. For the latest news on the program, check out Cash for Clunkers news.