CarGurus taps into minds of young buyers, makes recommendations

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - 

A majority of this year’s college grads who plan to buy a car have their sights set on a used one, and nearly half expect to spend no more than $15,000, according to a recent CarGurus survey.

For those young buyers-to-be, the car-shopping website has released a list of what it thinks are the best bets among used models.

CarGurus looked for high safety ratings, above-average technology and impressive driving dynamics among cars with an average list price under $15,000 that get at least 25 mpg in combined highway/city driving.

Tops in environmental friendliness, according to CarGurus, are the 2014 Nissan Leaf ($10,500-13,500) and the 2010-2011 Toyota Prius ($12,000). The Leaf has about a 75-mile range, and earlier Prius models get about 50 mpg.

In other categories, CarGurus recommends:

Sedans: 2010-2012 Volkswagen Jetta and Jetta Sportwagen ($9,500-14,000); 2011-2014 Chevy Cruze ($11,000-15,000); 2012-2013 Mazda 6 ($12,000-15,000); 2010-2015 Hyundai Elantra ($8,000-14,000). The Jettas boast great cargo space; the Cruze is full of technology; the Mazda is known for superior driving dynamics; and the Elantras are cost-effective, according to CarGurus.

Hatchbacks: 2010-2013 Honda Fit ($11,500-14,000); 2010-2012 MINI Cooper/Cooper Clubman ($11,000-15,000); 2010-2014 Kia Soul (as low as $9,500). The Fit scores well in cargo, mileage and safety; the MINIs boast a premium feel at a value price; and the Soul is economical and not lacking in technology.

SUV: 2011 Ford Escape ($13,500), which received some of the best overall CarGurus reviews for cars under $15,000.

Two themes emerged from among the 300 grads-to-be who responded to the CarGurus survey: fiscal responsibility and financial independence.

“We are pleasantly surprised to learn that today's college students have relatively rational and moderate expectations toward the cars they'll buy after graduating and how much they plan to spend," said Steve Halloran, editor of GarGurus. “We also found that this group has a lot to learn about car ownership costs, but our survey demonstrates they clearly want to be financially independent and make sound decisions.”

Among the survey findings:

—Reasonable expectations. 57 percent of those students getting a new car will pay for the entire purchase; only 13 percent of those getting a new car expect that their parents will buy them one. 67 percent of those getting a new car plan to purchase a used car, and 46 percent of those getting a car expect to spend $15,000 or less

—Commuting by car. 71 percent plan to drive their car to work rather than use public transportation. 58 percent expect to have a job in a city, while 40 percent plan to live in the city after graduation.

—Not sure on insurance. While the average auto insurance cost for this age group is close to $2,000, 25 percent think auto insurance will cost $250 or less per year, and 28 percent think auto insurance will cost $500 per year.

—Share the road, not the car. This year’s grads do not have plans to use car-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft as a replacement for buying a car. Just 1 percent of those with a job after graduation said they will use a ride-sharing service to commute.

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