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Top Ten Back to School Used Cars in 2012

List Inspired by Best of New Cars in 2008


Top Ten Back to School Used Cars in 2012

The 2008 Honda Fit is a great used car for a child heading off to school.

Photo © Honda

In the market for a used car for a new college freshman or high school senior craving his or her first set of wheels? You would do well to consider this top 10 list of back-to-school used cars.

For this list, I looked for inspiration from the KBB.com list of back-to-school cars published back in 2008. I've made some tweaks here and there to better reflect these cars four years later, as well as to include Consumer Reports information when possible.

Also, now is a good time to consider some of these cars before gas prices continue to creep up in early August 2012 as this is being written. Gas prices are starting to creep up again, which could mean compact cars could start creeping up in price as demand increases.

For the KBB.com dealer used price, I'm going to assume all of the cars are in excellent shape with 60,000 miles on them. (KBB treats all dealer-sold cars of this age to be in excellent condition.) Most of these models should also be available as manufacturer certified pre-owned depending on mileage, if that is something that interests you.

I am also going to look at the base models in most instances so you have a starting price to work up from. It could help your budgeting. All suggested prices are as of August 11, 2012.

2008 Chevrolet HHR

KBB.com originally put the Chevrolet Cobalt on the list but I was always underwhelmed by it. I think the more practical choice is going to be the Chevrolet HHR, which is the station wagon version of the Cobalt. It's got that whole retro vibe going, too. Plus, I think station wagons are always a practical choice for students because of cargo capacity.

KBB.com Dealer Used Price: $11,341

Consumer Reports Recommendation: It's not good but I can't understand why. It receives overall strong marks but a weak recommendation for its electrical system.

2008 Ford Focus

As KBB rightly pointed out back in 2008, "It's affordable, economical and offers surprisingly sound driving dynamics." I have to disagree with this assessment, though. The available SYNC was problematic when first introduced. Make sure you're comfortable with the available SYNC communication and entertainment system with voice control before buying it. Otherwise you're paying for an expensive toy.

KBB.com Dealer Used Price: $9,661

Consumer Reports Recommendation: The used car prediction for this model is good - leaning towards strong.

2008 Honda Fit

Sometimes you just can't add to what somebody else has to say: "A low starting price and highway fuel economy of up to 35 miles per gallon are appealing, but the five-door Fit wins over the in-crowd with clever interior flexibility and an available sport model that knows how to have a good time." OK, my one add would be I recommend this model to anybody looking for a practical used car with flexible cargo space.

KBB.com Dealer Used Price: $11,616

Consumer Reports Recommendation: The consumer testing agency considers it all but bullet proof. With routine maintenance it should last a long time.

2008 Hyundai Tucson

This is probably one of the best SUVs (well, technically crossover utilities) in the used car market. It gets good fuel economy and has all the practicality a college student is going to need for the beginning and end of the semester.

KBB.com Dealer Used Price: $12,750

Consumer Reports Recommendation: It has an overall good recommendation because of potential problems with the fuel system. Otherwise, it scores high marks.

2008 MAZDA3

The Mazda3 really is a sleeper of a vehicle. People wrongly associate it with the high performance, tuner crowd but it's a relatively sedate little coupe or sedan that's a lot of fun to drive. I'm a proud Mazda owner and recommend it whenever I'm asked. In this instance, for practicality reasons, I'm also recommending the hatchback because it's a better choice for college students.

KBB.com Dealer Used Price: $14,389

Consumer Reports Recommendation: It says it's a very good car and has this to add, "The 3 has precise, responsive handling and a firm, comfortable ride."

2008 Scion xB

This boxy little wagon is winner in my book. As KBB.com adds, "Complementing the xB's cubic capacity are entry-level luxuries like air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors and a Pioneer sound system with iPod integration, all standard." What college kid or high school senior wouldn't love that?

KBB.com Dealer Used Price: $13,155

Consumer Reports Recommendation: Consumer Reports deems it practically bullet proof. After all, it is just a hip Toyota.

2008 Subaru Impreza

The only knock I would have against Subarus is they tend to be expensive in the used car market. Plus, more than one person has warned me against any Subaru more than seven years old. I'm not sure how true that is because I see plenty of old ones on the road in New England. They're popular here because of their all-wheel drive.

KBB.com Dealer Used Price: $13,579

Consumer Reports Recommendation: There's only a good recommendation, when all the circles point to a very good recommendation.

2008 Suzuki SX4

Four years later, I would have qualms about recommending any Suzuki simply because it does not have a huge dealer network. I think it might be tough to get mechanics to work on them without traveling some distance. But, it does have all-wheel drive, is pleasant to drive, and has lots of interior space. The price below is for the hatchback.

KBB.com Dealer Used Price: $10,919

Consumer Reports Recommendation: It gets very good recommendations so maybe you won't have to worry too much about repairs after all!

2008 Toyota Matrix

Let's leave the verbiage to KBB.com, "Toyota's tall but sleek econo-hauler combines available highway fuel economy of more than 30 mpg with enough seat height and cargo versatility to satisfy reluctantly displaced but open-minded SUV drivers."

KBB.com Dealer Used Price: $12,655

Consumer Reports Recommendation: Practically bullet proof. The fuel system is only rated at good, which gives the Matrix just a "very good" score instead of excellent.

2008 Volkswagen Rabbit

Just like real rabbit, I think the Volkswagen Rabbit is an acquired taste that I never quite got. However, KBB.com disagrees as it says, "Every time we drive the Rabbit we're re-impressed by the responsive five-cylinder engine, the curiously tenacious cornering grip and an interior unmatched in materials and build-quality by anything within several thousand dollars."

KBB.com Dealer Used Price: $12,016

Consumer Reports Recommendation: As with the Corolla, the Rabbit gets a very good rating but it gets a bad recommendation on its fuel system. That's something to keep in mind when getting a pre-purchase used car inspection.

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